They say you are what you eat, but what you eat also affects who you are on a day-to-day basis. We tend to separate our brain from the rest of our body, but good health means good health from a holistic perspective – from head to toe. Many of those are now realizing there is not only a psychological connection but a biochemical and physical connection between what we eat, the way it makes us feel and our mental health.
The Science Behind the Food & Mood
The connection between diet and emotions stems from the close relationship between your brain and your gastrointestinal tract, often called the “second brain.”
Your GI tract is home to billions of bacteria that influence the production of neurotransmitters, chemical substances that constantly carry messages from the gut to the brain. (Dopamine and serotonin are two common examples.)
Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.
When neurotransmitter production is in good shape, your brain receives these positive messages loud and clear, and your emotions reflect it. But when production goes awry, so might your mood.
These bacteria play an essential role in your health. They protect the lining of your intestines and ensure they provide a strong barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria; they limit inflammation; they improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food; and they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain.
Now, it’s important to note that we are straying away from this idea of “dieting”, but simply educating those on the concept that the food you consume plays a larger role on your physical and mental wellbeing than many realize.
Let’s break down the ways that food can be medicine for your physical and mental wellness.
1. Mindful Eating
Mindful eating embodies the idea that you are paying attention to how you feel when you eat, and what you eat. It is one of the first steps in making sure you’re getting well-balanced meals and snacks.
Now, well balanced meals and snacks do not all have to be health-filled. There is nothing wrong with splurging on a chocolate bar or your favourite sweet dish.
That being said, mindful eating can be as easy as being grateful for the meal you have prepared. Being grateful for where the meal came from.
2. Listen to Your Body
One thing that we cannot stress enough, is that your body is always right. Your body will always tell you what you need, and what you need more of.
You might discover that a certain food always makes you groggy and that another food energizes you. Or you might realize that you only eat a particular food when you’re anxious or only overeat when you’re sad.
The goal is simply to listen, learn, and then take actions that better support the body’s needs.
3. Enjoy the Experience
Now that we have covered the physical wellbeing portion of food being medicine, it is important to note that food has a drastic impact on your mental wellness.
Food can be medicine in the way it is prepared, shared, and consumed with others.
It can be a social event, or simply something to take your mind off of the stresses of the day.
Whatever the purpose or intent, food can be medicine for your mental wellbeing. Enjoy the experience, and cherish the impact that it has on your wellbeing.
For more information on how food can be medicine for your wellbeing, listen to our latest podcast episode.
Healing Better with Full Circle: Food is Medicine
Available on all streaming platforms.