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.
-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.
-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?