Have you ever wondered whether what you eat can affect your mood? You’ve probably noticed that it can work the other way around – your mood can dictate your choice of food. Now, hand over that chocolate…
In 1998 Amanda Geary was given a Millennium Award from the mental health charity Mind, to carry out some research into the link between food and mood. Over 18 months she worked with 50 women, and found that changing their diets produced a variety of positive benefits including lower anxiety levels, less depression, improvements in mood swings and less fatigue.
Investigating the mental effects of food is a very complicated process. There are so many foods – and they all contain so many different chemical constituents. One carrot is not necessarily the same as another – there are variables like fertilizers, pollutants, naturally-occurring chemicals in the soil, micro-organisms, mycotoxins, and of course GMOs to take into account. And any one of these might have a drastic effect on one person, and leave another entirely unaffected. In fact, you might have noticed that sometimes food has an obvious effect on you, and that sometimes you can ‘get away with it’!
The good news is that our bodies can adapt to all sorts of stress, including the stress caused by eating foods that are wrong for us. Back in the 1950s, Professor Hans Selye developed a theory he called the General Adaptation Syndrome. Here’s how it works:
- Step 1 – your body encounters something stressful – your first ever strong cup of coffee, or pint of beer, or plate of cream cakes. Your body sends out distress signals – your heart starts beating faster, you get a headache, you feel nauseous. But you just shrug off the symptoms.
- Step 2 – your body learns to cope! The food no longer seems to disagree with you. Jolly good, tuck in!
- Step 3 – your body is putting up a good front, but behind the scenes it is struggling. Coping with a food that causes stress to the body’s systems uses up energy. You may feel tired, unenthusiastic or irritable. As time goes on, all sorts of niggling aches and pains, coughs and sniffles, bloating, constipation and headaches can become part of your ‘normal’ life – something you just take for granted.
- Step 4 – eventually your body forces you to take a few days off work. You’ll have no appetite for the foods that are at the root of your symptoms. You’ll stop eating them, and start to feel better!
- Step 5 – now you have a choice. Stay at step 5, or go round again…
It’s not surprising that more and more people are noticing food allergies and intolerances. Our bodies can only absorb so much stress, and modern lifestyles can use up a lot of the body’s forgiveness! These days it doesn’t take much to push us over the edge.
It is surely no coincidence that the idea of health being a matter of balance is central to so many of the world’s systems of medicine. For example, the macrobiotic dietary system classifies foods as relatively ‘yin’ or relatively ‘yang’ and teaches us to interpret any food cravings as an indication that our food intake is not well balanced. In the macrobiotic system, foods like grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables are considered relatively well balanced. Over-reliance on very ‘yin’ foods like sugar, alcohol and fats and oils can make us lethargic and anxious. ‘Yang’ foods, which include meat but also eggs, cheese and salt, can make us aggressive, inflexible and hyperactive.