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

Manifesting Self-Love

As the new year approaches, I have a lot of fear in my heart. I have planned to make a lot of changes and I am just worried that I won’t be strong enough. I worry what will happen when I do make these changes. That’s why in the next few days, I want to try to support myself as much as I can. Instead of writing about all of my anxieties, I want to write about why I deserve to be happy. Why I deserve to experience these changes in my life. Why I am enough.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but whenever I sit down to focus kind thoughts and words toward myself, I feel a lot of resistance. That “cool” “emo” teenage girl inside me still cringes hard at the thought. When I was younger I seemed to have learned somewhere that it made you a more interesting person if you hated yourself. I felt dark and dramatic, tragically beautiful. Loving yourself was lame, unheard of, and besides, I surely didn’t deserve it. And I still struggle with these thoughts every day even though I recognize how immature and harmful they are now. My heart seems to seize up whenever I try to direct loving sentiments toward myself.

But I really want to work on this. I know it will get easier if I can just push past this blockage in my heart and practice being kind to myself. I do deserve kindness. Especially from myself. We all do. There is nothing embarrassing or shameful or conceited about thinking that. And I want to make these changes in my life in 2021. I’m not doing them for anyone else but me. It is okay if I gain weight. I will still deserve love and compassion. I won’t be any less worthy if my clothes fit a little snugger, if my face is a little rounder. That shouldn’t even be the focus to begin with. I want to change how I have been eating regardless of the outward effects. I want to do it because I love this body. It does so much for me, and I have been treating it terribly. Telling it that it doesn’t deserve the nutrients it needs to keep me going. Telling it that it’s healthy weight is too heavy, hideous, unworthy. Stressing my heart with disordered behaviors. Isolating myself to accommodate those behaviors. I would never stand for someone else abusing me this way. Why should I be allowed to continue abusing myself?

I want to enjoy food again. To cook fun healthy meals, knowing that they will provide my body with everything it needs to make me happy and healthy. I want to eat mindfully, to eat with my friends and family. To allow food to be a part of my life again, instead of my whole life. Come what may.

I have a lot of other changes I want to work on as well. But maybe for now I’ll just focus on making a plan and tackling this one. I always expect too much of myself, then beat myself up when I inevitably fail. Not this time. This time I’ll give myself all the time I need. There is no deadline. There is no punishment for struggling. There is no “failure.” It’s just living my life. It’s just getting up every morning and trying my best. That’s more than enough.

Photo by Daniela Constantini on Pexels.com

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! ♥