Food & Mood

Gut bacteria…produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. For example, gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.

American Psychological Association

Since learning more about all of the wonderful things that my little gut buddies do for me, I have been more inspired than ever to treat my body with respect and compassion. It added a whole new layer to my concerns around my routine eating habits. I wondered what my eating disorder had done to my delicate gut microbiome. Not only that, I wondered how continued disordered eating (i.e. eating my day’s worth of food all within the span of a few hours right before sleep) was affecting them and in turn my overall quality of life. There were days I certainly felt the physical symptoms of this casual self harm.

The correlation between what we eat and how we feel both physically and mentally is difficult to notice unless you are consciously aware of that connection long enough to reveal a pattern. Before learning about this crucial link, I never really thought about how what I ate and when I ate it changed the way I felt mentally and emotionally throughout the course of the day. But now that I know one of the two neurochemicals I’m always joking that my brain won’t give me actually comes from my gut, I knew I had to make some changes.

When we’re lost in our own heads, it is easy to get the impression that this is simply who we are, that these thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are part of our identity, an accurate reflection of our world. If taking Paxil taught me anything, it was that any change in our brain chemistry whether natural or artificial, is enough to completely reshape our inner landscape. The fluctuations in mood I experience throughout the day are no more a part of my essential character than being deathly afraid of social interaction was. Perhaps the most surprising part is that both SSRIs and our eating habits are influencing the same neurochemical, serotonin.

I’ve always loved food and eating, but it wasn’t until I started practicing mindful eating that I noticed what a huge boost in mood I experience after a meal. Now that I’ve been making an effort to eat at regular intervals throughout the day again, it’s much easier to notice the way eating is about a lot more than nutrients and the cessation of hunger pains. As someone who is used to leaning on kratom, coffee, and cannabis to get them through the day, it feels like meals were actually the lift my body was looking for all along. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about all the years I spent resenting my own body for not giving me the chemicals I needed to be happy when I was starving it of the resources it needed to do so. It’s so easy to assume your “broken” because of genetics rather than searching for solutions within your own behavior and lifestyle first.

It’s such a shame that the mental health industry doesn’t seem to acknowledge this new science at all when it comes to caring for clients. Not only would the incorporation of this information into treatment plans help people with common disorders such as depression and anxiety, but I believe it could also play a role in the treatment of eating disorders. I know there is vague talk in the mental health community about “eating healthy” for your mental health, but even I used to write that off as ableist and out of touch. It’s important that we also include the information behind why our eating habits are so crucial to our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Learning about this connection and then taking the steps to discover it within my own body has been amazing. It has completely restructured my relationship with food and my body. It is a joy to rediscover and reconnect with the signals my gut has been trying to send me. I can’t tell you how long it had been since I was able to distinguish my bodies hunger and satiety signals and respond to them. There is such a softness and compassion in the act of listening and tending to your body’s needs. Food and eating no longer seem like an enemy that I’ve got to work with in order to survive. Nor is eating some hobby to indulge in for sheer sensory pleasure. Eating is a beautiful dance that we learn from these physical forms of ours. It’s a push and pull, a give and take, that is so essential to our overall wellbeing. It’s a reminder that everything in this world is inextricably connected. There are no short cuts or cheat codes. But with patience and compassion we can begin to uncover what it really means to take care of ourselves. I promise you, the effort is more than worth it.

Mindful eating: Techniques and tips to get started - CNN

Mindful Eating

My relationship with food has never been great. I honestly can’t even remember a time when my eating habits were truly healthy. Even as a young child, I would eat out of boredom all throughout the day, especially right before bed. Practically all of my memories of food involve eating alone, in front of a screen. I have always been accustomed to over eating. I never really learned how to tune in to the “hungry” or “full” signals my body was sending me. Whenever I would attempt to reign in my eating or go on a diet, it inevitably ended in an even worse result like over restricting, binging, or purging.

Even though food and eating was always a problem area in my life, it was a huge part of it nonetheless. Problems with food are especially tricky. Unlike other unhealthy addictions, food isn’t something that we can just “quit.” Imagine if an alcoholic needed alcohol throughout the day to live. I think it would be much harder to manage that than never touching liquor again. I really thought for most of my life that I was doomed to keep repeating the same unhealthy cycles with food, never truly finding a healthy balance.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a technique called mindful eating. I had heard it was effective for helping people to stop binge eating. I gave it a try in the past, but only managed to keep it up for couple meals. It is surprisingly hard to take away that mindless zoned out comfort of stuffing your face while watching your favorite shows. I told myself at the time that I just couldn’t handle giving that up. As sad as it may sound, it felt like my one joy, the favorite part of my day.

Fast forward to now, years of yoga and meditation later, and I am finally ready to try again. For the past three days I’ve been trying to live more mindfully in general, but especially when it comes to food and eating. It’s helped me to imagine how my meals would have been in the past when there was no technology to supplement them. I try to imagine generations upon generations of human beings who came before me having meals. I think, this is what a small piece of life must have felt like for my parents, my grandparents, etc. It helps me to feel connected even when I’m eating alone.

I sat down before my dinner last night and watched a couple short videos about how to eat mindfully. I actually began laughing at one point at the sheer absurdity of it all. What a strange world we humans have created for ourselves. A world where we are so disconnected from ourselves and our bodies that there are actually instructional videos on something as basic to our nature as eating. Even so, these videos reminded me of all the little pleasures of food that I have been so carelessly missing my whole life.

When was the last time you paused to smell your food before digging in? Have you ever touched the food to your lips before taking a bite? Do you let yourself eat with you hands when you can? Notice all of the many textures and shapes of this nourishing matter. Notice the colors and contours. Notice the way the mere presence of food illicits a reaction from the body. Our mouths starting to salivate in preparation for digestion. Take the time to eat as slowly, really exploring the way the food feels and tastes in your mouth.

It has been an amazing experience to get back in touch with my body and really start to savor and fully enjoy my food. It is fascinating to take the seat of the observer as I navigate my interactions with food. Mindful eating for me is definitely still something I need more practice with. It is surprisingly hard to sit in silence with my food. It is actually really challenging to eat slowly, to chew thoroughly. I can feel my body switching into autopilot as soon as my food is ready. As I am eating I constantly catch myself zoning out, entranced almost. It takes real effort to concentrate and eat with intention, utilizing all my senses.

I will say that even my far from ideal mindful eating practice has helped me tremendously. Not only with food, but in my life in general. I have been feeling much less anxious over these past few days. My body feels happy, healthy, and respected. I’ve been able to enjoy my food more and feel more satisfied after a meal. Although the urge to binge is still there, especially after dinner, I’ve managed to overcome that urge so far by making sure I am eating enough throughout the day.

For anyone struggling with an unhealthy relationship to food, I would highly recommend giving mindful eating a try. It has definitely been a challenge, but one that I am so excited to keep working at. If you’d like to read more about what mindful eating is and learn strategies for how best to practice it, I found a free pdf of the book Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers. One of the mindful eating videos I found recommended it and I am excited to check it out myself. I truly feel that a mindful eating practice is a beautiful way to get back to our roots as human beings and rediscover what it really means to be alive in these amazing bodies of ours.

Photo by Teona Swift on Pexels.com

How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food

For as long as I can remember, I have always struggled with my relationship to food. I’ve always loved food which gives me the tendency to eat in excess. Yet I’ve also constantly want to lose weight which makes me restrict my eating. This restriction often leads to binges, which are countered by more restriction. The endless cycle is exhausting physically as well as mentally. One of the many goals I have for myself in 2019 is to begin crafting a healthier relationship with food. I’ve created a list of seven things I believe will help me accomplish this goal. I hope you’ll join me in trying to focus on the following things this year so we can all grow a healthier relationship to our food and our bodies.

  1. Healthy Whole Foods: I have been following a vegan diet for nearly seven years now. However, I somehow still manage to eat a lot of processed foods and junk foods. This year I’d really like to have the majority of my diet consist of healthier fresh whole foods. I want to do this as a gift to my beautiful body for all that it does for me every day. I want to look at this dietary shift as an act of self-love. For the first time I want to change my diet, not to lose weight, but to nourish and support my body the best that I can. This body does so many wonderful things for me. I want it to have the best fuel to continue doing so.
  2. Meal Planning: This is something that I have been trying to do for a while now. I keep getting distracted or too lazy to keep it up for very long though. I’m going to try harder this year to make this a part of my routine. It is so much easier to eat healthy when you know in advance what you are going to eat each day. Most of my poor eating habits stem from being so hungry and tired that I end up eating whatever is easily available. When I’ve already planned my meal ahead of time, I don’t have to dig through my cabinets trying to decide and most likely settling on something high in calories but low in nutritional value.
  3. Meal Prep: Another thing that will help me avoid quick processed foods in prepping my meals in advance. Most people that do this choose one day out of the week to fully prepare their food. I’ve tried this method, but found it wasn’t quite right for me. It just didn’t seem satisfying to always be having left overs in a sense that I had to heat up. So instead I have adapted the concept of meal prepping to better suit my needs. Rather than completely preparing the meals, I just prep all of the ingredients. It’s actually quite enjoyable to gather up all of my fresh healthy veggies and cut them up and neatly place them in the fridge for cooking later. I cut only buy and cut up the amount that I will use in the recipes I have planned for the week. Then even though my meals aren’t completely ready to eat when I come home, it only takes a few minutes to combine and prepare my pre-chopped ingredients. This cuts down on how intense the day I choose to meal prep is, as well as still allowing me to have more freshly cooked meal each day.
  4. Trying New Recipes: Often once I’ve been planning and prepping my meals for a few weeks I get into a rut. I make the same food again and again until eventually I just lose interest in the whole thing. It helps to look for new and interesting recipes to plan for future weeks. This keeps the process from becoming maddening and monotonous. There are so many delicious and easy vegan recipes to choose from!
  5. Drink Enough Water: Another thing I’ve often struggled with is making sure that I drink enough water throughout the day. Many times I have over eaten because I just can’t seem to find anything that really hits the spot. In reality, this is because I am not hungry. I’m thirty! There are so many benefits of drinking more water from aiding digestion to increasing your energy levels. My goal is to start increasing my daily water consumption until I am drinking a gallon of water every day.
  6. Eating Enough: I’ve read a lot about what causing food binges. One of the main factors that I see in my own behavior is eating too little calories throughout the day. Then once your mind and body are at their limits it becomes nearly impossible to resist losing all control and eating large amounts of unhealthy foods. It’s important to keep in mind how many calories you need when planning out your meals for the week. Make sure you calculate how much you need to eat each day to maintain your current weight and lifestyle.
  7. Mindful Eating: Many of the things I’ve read about how to overcome binge eating disorder, have stressed the importance of mindful eating. I can see how this would help your body and mind to be on the same page when it comes to food. If you eat mindlessly while watching TV, your stomach gets fuller and fuller, but your brain continues to say, “I’m hungry,” because it hasn’t truly experienced consuming all the food that you’ve consumed. When you truly pay attention and eliminate all distractions from your meals, your mind has the chance to truly connect with your stomach and feel satisfied by the food you eat. This sounds simple enough, but for some reason it gives me a lot of anxiety not to watch something while I eat. I’ve been doing it practically my entire life. Part of me is afraid to give up the habit that has always given me so much comfort. I want to make a conscious effort to push past this illogical fear though. I know it will be the best thing for me.

I hope that I am able to invest more energy into this type of self-care in 2019. I know that my life would be much improved by the implementation of these practices. I also know that they will become easier and easier to do as I concentrate my efforts in persevere through my anxious feelings about changing my habits. Now the only thing I need to do is keep coming back to this list to remind myself where I need to start. I hope this list can also help those of you reading that struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food. Let’s keep trying to be better together.

Eat Like You Love Yourself

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My whole life I have struggled with disordered eating. I’ve never been thin enough. My stomach has never been and probably will never be flat, and I know it’s impossible for me to have a “thigh gap” without being dangerously underweight and malnourished. I’m almost ashamed to say it, but despite all of the incredibly important and meaningful reasons to go vegan, I went vegan so I could be skinny. Thanks to the plethora of vegan alternatives and high calorie plant foods that never happened, but I was lucky enough to finally get the message anyway and stay vegan for the animals.

Despite all of my perceived failures, I continue trying to lose weight. It’s hard for me to remember a time in my life when I wasn’t counting calories, restricting, binging, and endlessly associating food with comfort and shame in a viscous cycle. I know many other women suffer with these same issues. The negative self-talk and the constant comparisons can become all-consuming. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

As I have become more involved with practices such as yoga and meditation, I have begun to realize just how cruelly I have been treating myself all of these years. It’s hard to practice self-love when every meal triggers thoughts of “you’re not good enough.” How many precious moments of my life have I wasted full of negativity and self-judgement? I want to be kind to myself. I know that I won’t change years of bad habits overnight, but I think I’ve finally decided to start consciously trying.

For me, the easiest way to do this is to imagine my brain and my body as two separate entities. My brain is me and my body is a sweet, innocent animal that I care for. Just like the pets that I care for each day, I give them the healthiest food and as much as they desire. I want to also do that for myself. That’s why this week I am trying to make myself the healthiest, nutrient packed, whole-food, vegan meals I can. This way I can eat to my heart’s content, while avoiding all guilt. Because I know that I am giving my body so much love and energy.

I’m not going to lie. I still hope to lose a significant amount of weight this upcoming year, but I hope that in this way I will be able to do so with a positive mindset and with self-love. I have been doing well so far and hope to continue eating in this way.

Wish me luck! ♥