Looking back I remember working on my recent book on aging back in August with a hurricane brewing and in the middle of a pandemic. It’s was balmy, windy, humid kind of day, in South Florida, with a cross between a tropical storm and a category one hurricane hovering over as I sat inside working on my final edits for my upcoming book: Release Your Obsession with aging: Heal from the Inside Out.
While pondering over the words spread across the sheet, my mind wandered, as it often does, to the subject at hand—food and mood, and if there’s a connection not only between them but with overall health as we power through the aging process.
I surely believe there is. As a confirmed food addict in recovery, I can attest to many a days, where my moods were as low as low could be, and as high as high could be, with not much in between. These moods were dictated by what I ate. I also noticed back in those foody days my body was arthritic and I walked slow and aged after consumption of processed high carbed foods. If I indulged in a sweet concoction, I got euphoric, but if I ate chips and breads, I got melancholy, and down. But if I ate luscious fruits, vegetables, good sources of quality fats, proteins, and dairy, along with starchy carbs, I felt fabulous.
Hmmmmm… what the heck, maybe food and mood are connected. While I was working through my edits on my manuscript, I happened upon a section where Harvard Health Publishing stated they weren’t so sure if there is a connection. What!? Ask any food addicted, or food sensitive person, if there is a connection between food and mood and they surely will tell you there is.
Harvard Health Publishing, in an article entitled, “Food and Mood: Is there a Connection?” acknowledged there are times when digging into a container of ice cream, while blindly watching television, after a tough day at work, might bring comfort—that food and mood are sometimes linked. The article concurs stress eating is a verified phenomenon, but that the actual relationship between food and mood disorders, such as depression is less clear.
Though a concrete answer is less clear, more and more evidence has emerged that a relationship between food and mood does exist. If we were to ask a food-addicted person, they would agree hands down a correlation is present. And ask any health expert if eating a diet of processed foods is going to give someone an overall stable mood, and again, hands down, the answer will be no.
Charlie and Sherry would attest to that, without blinking an eye. They knew all too well the living hell processed foods and drink caused in their early years of marriage. Charlie is in recovery from alcoholism, and Sherry from food addiction. Both went to twelve-step programs and psychotherapy to work through their issues. Both found their moods would soar and plummet when they imbibed and indulged.
One way to eat, that promotes a positive outcome with foods, is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet presents, overall, a healthy, high quality dietary pattern, not only for promoting a more stable mood but also providing an overall reduction in chronic health conditions. In fact, the Mediterranean diet was named the best for 2019. This was the style of eating that fit Charlie and Sherry’s life, and most likely yours too.
The Mediterranean diet consists of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation. Imagine sweet cherries, juicy strawberries, and broccoli and green leafy vegetables, all foods encouraged on the Mediterranean diet. Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, and rolled oats, can be found in most places traveled. Olive oil is a huge staple on a clean food plan, along with fish, such as salmon, trout and cod.
The list goes on and on with healthy, delicious foods to be eaten from all parts of the world. This is not to promote any diets out there called The Mediterranean diet, though they are a fine place to start, but rather the “real” Mediterranean way of eating, based on that part of the world. The traditional diet in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, and Greece, was once considered a “poor man’s” diet, developed over the centuries as people clamored to create sustenance in less hospitable terrain.
Today, it is recognized as one of the healthiest ways to eat. This style of eating is a great way to replace the saturated fats in the average American diet. The emphasis on fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish and natural sources make up this way of eating. And the bonus is this way of eating can correct the volatile mood swings of highs and lows created by so many processed foods. Have you ever noticed when you’ve not eaten in a while you’re hungry and angry at the same time(hangry)? Or, have you ever noticed when you eat specific foods, regardless of whether you are hungry or not, they make you either irritable or euphoric? Why is this?
One time, at an eating disorder conference, I heard the speaker say, “Maybe it’s no coincidence that food and mood are just a letter apart. The two are peas in a pod.” How cleverly put. They do go side by side for those of us who have awakened to the connection. The speaker went on to say, “Have you ever noticed, on a good day, you eat a large salad with tons of colorful veggies and chunks of chicken, and on a really bad day you eat a tumbler of chocolate-chunk ice cream, with dollops of peanut butter, standing at the counter, spoon after spoon after spoon” Oh my, yes on that one…yes…yes…yes.
Or, have you ever had one of those days where you were stuck in traffic and found as soon as your car was moving again you went to the nearest fast food drive-thru, for greasy French fried potatoes, and greasy fried chicken nuggets, and maybe even a chocolate shake to top it off? Why? It’s because, you were looking for comfort food. So while, Harvard Health Publishing isn’t certain enough to commit to on whether a connection can be found between food and mood, evident to most of us is that our moods do dictate whether we will indulge in certain foods and how specific foods make us feel once we ingest them. Now here are two peas in a pod too—good mood good food, bad mood bad foods…
So imagine yourself on vacation, and everyone seems to be eating decadent foods. Perhaps you’re feeling left out, mouth watering for whatever food experience you believe they’re having. Even if you maintain a healthy diet, desiring the high-calorie, unhealthy treats when feeling agitated, stressed, depressed or left out is normal. The problem is that after the indulgence, reality takes hold.
Maybe you were fueling up for fight-or flight mode because times were getting tough, sitting there eating your Mediterranean style of foods, while others were chomping on some fried concoction—food otherwise known as comfort foods. Why do you think they’re called comfort foods? Because they may make you feel warm and fuzzy at first.
Comfort foods certainly will change your mood for the moment since you’re getting what you think you want—because everybody else is eating it. But after the treat, you will most likely feel depressed or anxious. Research shows that foods full of fat and sugar only increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety, which will lead you to simply want more sugary junk to fight the new bad mood, according to Minati Singh, PhD, of the University of Iowa, in “Food, Mood and Obesity.”
So, it remains balmy, windy, humid kind of day, in South Florida, with a cross between a tropical storm and a category one hurricane hovering over as I plug away with the concept of food and mood, an area I’ve pondered for years. The age old question if there’s a connection between food and mood continues to be a question for debate for some. For me, there’s no doubt food and mood go hand in hand. What do you think?
Do you find you eat for comfort? What about the highs and lows? How have you worked through these issues. Perhaps you don’t buy into the idea that foods and moods are intertwined, that’s okay, let us in on what you know and we can learn from you.
Singh, M. (2014). Food, Mood, and Obesity. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved on May 13, 2019 from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00925/full
Harvard Women’s Health Watch. (2018). Food and Mood: Is there a Connection? Retrieved on May 11, 2019 from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/food-and-mood-is-there-a-connection.
Speaker, writer, licensed clinical psychotherapist, PhD in addiction psychology, eating disorder professional, hypnotherapist changing the view about compulsive eating one addict at a time.