You have three types of relationships with significant others: your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend, and your “WTF are we” person.
However, you have one relationship that you have been committed to for your entire life. You two fight, you love, you hate, you argue, you ignore, you makeup, you go without and you do in excess. Yep, that’s right.
You and Food.
Food for your mood! Essentially, you eat sweets and high-fatty things because it makes you feel a certain way. It makes you feel “better” or “comforted.” We want to feed the pleasure/reward section of our brain so that we can get that serotonin release. We eat when we’re stressed, when we’re happy, or when we’re sad.
Food is bae.
But what if you looked at your diet as a way to control you moods. As a way to make your life less stressful, as a way to supplement the “food feelings” with real feelings, like self-control, feeling health, and feeling proud of yourself for making better decisions. Aren’t these rewarding feelings too? Besides, who feels great after they eat an entire pizza? While you are eating it, you feel magical, but the aftermath is truly hellacious. All it takes, to not have to deal with the aftermath, is the willpower to make better choices. You have to find something deep down in yourself worth fighting for.
Your relationship with food has multiple levels and variables that play into the overall structure of the relationship. Variables such as time of day in which you engage with one another, the type of macronutrients involved, and the amount of time you spend together.
In one study by Spring et al. (1983), 184 adults either consumed a protein-rich or carbohydrate-rich meal. After two hours, their mood and performance were assessed (3). The effects of the meal differed for female and male subjects and for younger and older participants. For example, females reported greater sleepiness after a carbohydrate meal whereas males reported greater calmness. In addition, participants aged 40 years or older showed impairments on a test of sustained selective attention after a carbohydrate lunch. Furthermore, circadian rhythms influence our energy levels and performance throughout the day. “Early birds” feel most productive the first part of the day and their food choices become particularly important during lunch and throughout the afternoon. “Night Owls” feel most energetic later in the day and should pay attention to their breakfast choices as they can increase or decrease energy levels and influence cognitive functioning. For example, according to Michaud et al. (1991), if you are an evening person and you skip breakfast, your cognitive performance might be impaired. A large breakfast rich in protein, however, could improve your recall performance but might impair your concentration (4). This illustrates the complexity of relationships between food and mood and the need to find a healthy balance of food choices.”
There is a third wheel in this relationship. Meet Serotonin. She’s a huge bitch.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and it controls regulation of sleep, appetite, and impulse control. Increased levels of serotonin create temporary euphoria and mood elevation.
As much as food can affect our mood, our mood can also affect our food choices. In a study by Macht (1999), female and male participants were asked to report how their eating patterns changed with emotions of anger, fear, sadness, and joy. When experiencing anger and joy, participants experienced increased hunger as compared to feelings of fear and sadness. Anger increased comfort and impulsive eating, and joy increased eating for pleasure (6). Another study found that people eat more less-healthy comfort foods when they are sad (11). Participants either watched a happy or a sad movie and were provided with buttered popcorn or seedless grapes throughout the movie. The group watching the upbeat movie consumed significantly more grapes and less popcorn than the group watching the sad movie. In addition, when participants were provided with nutritional information, the sad people consumed less popcorn than the happy people and the happy people did not alter their consumption (11).
I am also a firm believer that micronutrients like folic acid, iron and omega-3’s are essential to cognitive clarity and happiness. Micronutrients will always be there for you. They’re like your parents when your relationships suck. Here’s a little secret tip from my world: I take a prenatal vitamin everyday in order to ensure I get my micros. Keeps me sane when “WTF are we guy” sucks.
If all else fails, hire a therapist. It’s called MyFitnessPal. She will keep you on track. And she’s free.