Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mindful Eating Lecture

Often, I talk and write about the emotions that lead us to under- and overeat. But, what about the emotions we experience because of the food we eat? What are some of the biochemical processes, triggered by different foods, that result in us feeling happy, anxious, or tired? This is what I learned from nutritionist Mary Horn, at a lecture entitled, "Thinking, Feeling, Eating: How Food Affects Mood."

Below is much of the material from the lecture (thanks, Mary!). Did you know, for instance, that we make over 200 food choices per day? When to eat, what to eat, how much, should we add salt, sugar, do we want that with ketchup, are we full, or should we keep eating--all of these decisions, whether we consciously experience them or not, occur throughout each day.

-Cravings are different from physiological hunger.
-Carb. cravings often occur mid-afternoon, lingering until we go to bed.
-Cravings are magnified when dieting, under stress, when skipping meals, with depression, and when we're pre-menstrual.
-Cravings do not occur because of a "lack of will-power," but because of an imbalance in the neurotransmitter, serotonin.
-Eating carbohydrates can increase energy levels, reduce hunger and depression, as serotonin levels are balanced.
-Those who experience carbohydrate cravings (or struggle with any of the above) are "doomed on low carb diets," leaving you "powerless to an all out binge."
-Horn encourages choosing complex carbs and satisfying a sweet tooth with, for example, an english muffin topped with honey, or a 1/2 cinnamon raisin bagel with jelly, in order to incur the same serotonin-boosting benefits without the blood sugar crash associated with simple sugars.
-Horn also recommended eating often, and especially eating breakfast, in order to maintain serotonin levels.

-Our cravings for fat are largely unconscious.
-Fat cravings typically have more to do with texture than taste.
-As you'd imagine, we're more likely to crave fatty foods when on restrictive diets, engaged in erratic eating patterns, and on low-fat diets.

Omega 3 Fats:
-Omega 3 fats can also increase serotonin levels.
-A deficit is associated with depression, anxiety, impaired memory and intellectual functioning, and decreased ability to fight inflammatory diseases.
-The goal is to increase our intake of Omega 3 fats (found in fatty fish, flax, walnuts and canola oil), while limiting our intake of Omega 6 fats (found in pretty much every other fat source). Horn recommends a 4 to 1 Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio in our diets.

-Chocolate makes us feel good for several reasons: The sugar in chocolate boosts our serotonin levels, the caffeine increases dopamine, and the substance in its entirety produces endorphin surges.
-Horn recommends using cocoa powder, eating chocolate after meals (not instead of them), and buying good chocolate in small quantities.

-Ingesting caffeine increases neurotransmitter levels.
-The effects of caffeine can last anywhere from 3-5 hours, up to 20 hours after you drink that cup of coffee. Now, does your insomnia make sense?
-Caffeine provides an endorphin rush and a consequent anti-depressant effect.
-In the long run, though, caffeine can lead to anxiety, headaches, muscle-tension, elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and, natch, insomnia.

-Drinking allow us to relax and feel good.
-Alcohol results in increased serotonin, lowered dopamine (associated with less anxiety), and increased endorphins.
-But, and of course, there's a but, alcohol can dehydrate, have an overall depressing effect, disrupt sleep, affect our food satiety, stimulate appetite, reduce inhibitions, and interact with medications we might take.

Horn's Suggestions:
-Eat mindfully (see my previous post).
-Eat 2/3 of your calories before dinner.
-Never allow more than 3-4 hours between meals.
-Balance your intake of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
-Produce endorphins via exercise.
-Manage stress.
-Increase Omega 3's.
-Get adequate sleep.

Well, possibly easier said than done, but it is interesting to understand the biological underpinnings for why we crave certain foods. Horn asked the audience about carbohydrate cravings, and every single woman raised her hand. She noted that women typically crave carbohydrates, while men are more likely to crave protein. Is this true for you? If so, does this help explain why?


PalmTreeChick said...

Do you the that people with EDs make more than 200 food choices per day, since there is usual that obsession/pre-occupation with food??

Anonymous said...

I often crave salt and protein over carbs or sugar especially when it's that time of the month. I'd rather spurge (money wise not calorie-wise) on a great steak and potato entree than on a brownie sundae. This is probably because I am hyper senstive to sugar which leads to me feeling shaky and unfocused for hours afterwards. Protein on the other hand makes me feel full and warm and happy as well as completely capable of doing my exercises at the gym.

On the subject of making 200 food decisions a day, I probably make way more as I have food allergies and am on a tight budget that doesn't really allow wasting food.

Entangled said...

I crave balance.

The idea of eating all-protein makes me nauseous, probably because I've never felt full on a meal without starches. I can eat a pound of steak and I still feel hungry. Nauseated, but my body never registers that it's been fed.

Likewise, no protein leaves me feeling somewhat off balance.

But I know people who feel very differently about what makes them feel good. So while I find this really interesting, I'm also not sure how universal it is. I've just become very wary of any dictation of what others should eat, particularly when it comes to macronutrients.

Femaleclaws said...

I find myself craving for protein more. I love nothing more than a good Korean Hotplate/Steamboat buffet, though I haven't been to one in quite some time.

I do crave for sugars though - esp when I restrict. That's when all I can think about is suar/carby things =/

Eve said...

I have noticed that my boyfriend seems to crave protein more than I do. I'm not sure about carbs though; he generally eats more than me so I think he eats more carbos as well as protein. I do think I get cravings for carbs more than any other thing. Carbs actaully fix some kinds of stomachaches for me.

jenn said...

Fascinating info. Thank you.

nina said...

I crave protein more than carbohydrates, although carbs are something I'll overeat like mad given half a chance, especially pasta and rice, that sort of thing. My husband, who is seriously obese and diabetic, craves carbs FAR more than I do; I suspect that it's an insulin levels thing.

Anonymous said...

seems like a common conflict of inner city pressure..

Hekateris said...

Give me the protein, greens, cheese, and fruit. I feel sick on meals of starches alone, cranky and depressed and will overeat pasta if that's all that's available.

Alas, if only I could eat what I need to be eating now...I just hope my baby isn't taking the hits for me.

MajesticApe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"an english muffin topped with honey, or a 1/2 cinnamon raisin bagel with jelly, in order to incur the same serotonin-boosting benefits without the blood sugar crash associated with simple sugars."

Do honey (and jelly, unless unsweetened) not contain simple sugars? Eating a bagel with honey or jelly will GUARANTEE you a sugar crash. What advice.