A guest blog post from Rachel Gargano: The food-mood connection

Rachel Gargano is a registered dietician practicing out of Stoneham, MA (www.rgnutritionandwellness.com). The following is a guest blog written by Rachel:

The Food-Mood Connection

Ever eat a meal or snack and end up feeling completely unsatisfied?  As though your stomach may be full but your mind is not? Contentment from food is linked to several things, including both what we’re eating and how we’re eating.  If we’re distracted.  If we don’t really want the food we’re eating in that moment.  If we’re with good friends or poor company.  If we ate just a bagel or a bagel with an egg. All of these factors can play a role in whether we walk away from the meal feeling great … or just ‘eh’.

Problem #1: Mindless Eating

Our society is so ‘go-go-go’ that many times we’re too rushed to pay attention to what it is we’re shoving into our mouths.  In reality, we simply cannot multi-task.  The brain can only handle concentrating on one thing at a time.  So when we focus on the computer or TV, our brain isn’t receiving the signals that we’re eating.

All of a sudden the food is gone and we’re left staring at an empty plate or bag thinking: “Where’d it all go?  I’m still hungry…”  And we may feel this way even though we’ve consumed all the nutrients and calories that our body needs.  Feeling so dissatisfied, we begin looking for other things to eat… chocolate things… or maybe salty, crunchy things. And so our cycle of overeating and guilt persists.

Solution: YOU Time

Even though we have bills to pay, work to do, emails to write, and kids to watch – there needs to be time in your day for you.  Because without a healthy you, nothing else matters. So give yourself 3 minutes when you want to eat a snack and 10 minutes (at least!) when it’s time for lunch.  Eat mindfully.  Turn away from the computer.  Turn away from work or chores.  Look at what you’re about to eat.  Smell it. Taste it.  Eat it slowly.  Enjoy it.  It’s only 3 to 10 minutes; give yourself the time you need to be satisfied.

During dinner, make the commitment to your family to eat at the table.  Enjoy the meal. It takes time to learn to eat more mindfully and slowly, but once you’re able to give yourself that time to enjoy your food, you’ll be much more satisfied and energized once you go back to your day.

Problem #2:  What to Eat?

Ever notice how when you eat that bagel for breakfast you get hungry again 45 minutes later?  That’s because carbohydrates will give you immediate energy, but they break down so quickly that all of a sudden you’re hungry again! When our blood sugar dips low, our body sends signals for us to eat.  The first things we crave are carbohydrates (bread, pasta, candy, sugar, chocolate, chips), which our body knows are broken down quickly to give us a boost.  The problem is that they also leave our stomach quickly – so we end up hungry again.

Solution: Combinations

Think of each eating occasion as a mini balanced meal.  You do want carbohydrates for that quick rise in energy, but you also want protein, fiber, and perhaps some healthy fats.  All three of these foods take much longer to break down, keeping us feeling much more satisfied.  They give us the lasting energy to make it through to dinner…. Or our next snack! To help prevent that dip in our blood sugar from making us ravenous, try to eat every 2 to 3 hours.

Here are some tips for choosing great food combinations:

  • When choosing carbohydrates, go for whole fruits and veggies first, then whole grains.  Quick, easy foods include apples, banana, oranges, berries, baby carrots, sugar snap peas, red bell peppers, whole wheat English muffins, and whole grains such as quinoa.
  • When choosing proteins, go for lean ones such as: low fat or fat free dairy (cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, cheese sticks), eggs, nuts and seeds, peanut/almond butter, beans, poultry and fish.

Once you start feeding your body often with good food combination, as well as with kindness and mindfulness – you’ll start feeling much more energized and ready to tackle your day!