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Pillars To Mental Health: Eat!

Take a minute to think about how you feel after a large helping of spaghetti (or any event in which you've overeaten). Did you feel good, happy, or satisfied? Words that are usually associated with overeating include stuffed, bloated, full, uncomfortable, and lethargic. All you probably want to do when you overeat is lie on the couch like a blob. Words that are usually associated with under eating include, hungry, angry (hangry), anxious, and weak. You probably feel like curling into a ball with stomach pains. These are not words that lend to a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

There has been a surge of research in recent years that has linked mental health concerns to poor diet. Take this article on the effects of sugar on depression for example. Our bodies are well oiled machines that do not function well without proper food be it over or under eating. So here's the break down:

People who overeat are often trying to fulfill an emotional void. Food is an easy and obvious aphrodisiac that sends off a world of endorphins and increases positive neurochemicals that decrease depression and anxiety by increasing serotonin and dopamine. Basically, it makes us feel good! But too much food causes us to be over stimulated and we lose the positive experience. Try repeatedly tapping your forehead, right between your eyes. The first few times, you will notice that you blink but if you keep doing it, you will stop blinking because your body has adjusted to the sensation. You may find the same is true with food. After the first few bites, you can't really taste the full flavor anymore. (I'm a chocolate lover and feel like I would be happier if I could eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But the truth is that there's never enough chocolate to satisfy me).

People who under eat often display more obvious mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. This is due to a variety of crossed signals in the body. For example, anxiety triggers the fight/flight/fright response which shuts down your digestion and causes stomach cramps. Hunger produces the same feeling of stomach pain. As a result, some people who under eat think they cannot eat because they are anxious and will vomit if they do so. The truth is that they need to eat to alleviate the anxiety and increase those positive chemicals. In addition, the right food improves our ability to focus and concentrate. Think about it; if you are hungry, are you focused on the professor's lecture or are you thinking about your stomach?

So eat!

  • Be wise and mindful about what you are putting in your mouth. We are often rushed or mindless when eating. Take the time to smell your food. This sends a signal to the brain that lets the body know it's about to get food and it begins the digestion process. Observe the colors and textures. This keeps you in the moment and lets forget about your stressors for a brief period of time.

  • Eating is meant to be a social activity. Grab a friend or your significant other and sit at the table. Talk about the food you are eating. Stay in the moment.

  • Avoid watching TV or being on your phone while eating. These are distractions that cause us to lose the moment. Put on some music instead.

  • If you are anxious and haven't eaten in a while, try eating something light and easy to digest. Your stomach has shrunk so eating a lot of food will likely make you uncomfortable or sick.

  • Eat in smaller portions and more often. This will allow you to really enjoy the flavors without feeling too full and uncomfortable.

  • Pick a meal plan that is balanced! Too much of any one food group is a bad idea. Again, though I'd personally prefer to only eat chocolate, I cannot live a balanced and energetic life by sustaining myself on sugar.

  • Drink a lot of water. Up to 60% of our bodies are made up of water. So it's important that you keep your machine running efficiently by drinking water.

Overeating and under eating is a big issue in the United States. Try not to add eating to your stressors but rather make small adjustments. Cut one fast food run out of your week and select a crock pot (slow cooker) recipe. Substitute veggies for potato chips. Grab some fruit instead of sweets. In time, you will see the affect these minor adjustments have on our mood and you will be motivated to select a more level minded plan.

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