Are you letting food affect your mood?

Don’t you just love jam! Blackcurrant’s my particular favourite. Jam reminds me of Sunday mornings when I was a child. Coming downstairs to eat jam on toast and watch cartoons. That’s what Sundays were all about.

Oops, my mistake

Then as I got a bit older and wiser and realised that white bread wasn’t good for my health I switched to lathering my jam onto brown bread to go with my cornflakes and orange juice. What a healthy and satisfying start to the day. Or so I thought. I just used to put the 11am crashes down to me not having slept properly the night before.

It wasn’t until I moved into the fitness industry as a personal trainer many years later that I realised my folly. Rather than a healthy start to my day I had basically been guaranteeing myself a mid morning sugar crash.

A sucker for advertising

But how could this be possible, brown bread is good for you, maybe not so much the jam I was piling on, but cornflakes are definitely good for you, I knew this because the advert said so. They’re “fortified with vitamins & iron” after all…

Come & follow me off the cliff edge

So I guess in retrospect, as a youngster I was the poster boy for the worst way to start your day. To overcome these 11am crashes I used to eat biscuits to lift me again. Which they always reliably did, temporarily, until another crash came along. But no fear, there were always more biscuits available to help me outwit my rebellious energy levels.

When I look back at the time I felt the most depressed in my life I had a constant companion that I just couldn’t shake. It was the food equivalent of a stalker that went by the name of sugar. The white stuff. Did you know that there are definite links between people with depression and an inability to balance their blood sugar levels. I was definitely one of these.

I was okay if I steered well clear of the stuff, but as an emotional eater, as soon my mood changed due to an annoyance or something I was unwrapping a chocolate bar faster than the Milky Bar Kid ever could.

A socially acceptable drug

In many circles sugar is now thought of as a drug, and I wholeheartedly agree with this viewpoint. Once you’re hooked on the stuff it’s harder to shake than a crazed stalker. It’s just so quick, easy and effortless to lift your mood by reaching for something sugary, and this is why many of us become reliant on it.

And the lower we feel the more likely we are to want sugar. But the lift it brings comes at a cost of getting on the sugar cycle and being kept there all day long. It can be an exhausting ride…

Enter the hulk

Nobody likes a blood sugar crash, because it doesn’t feel nice. Have you heard of the term ‘Hangry’? Many of us experience ‘hanger’ when are blood sugar levels are low, and turn in to less than nice people till we’ve had our fix.

The ‘Goldilocks factor’

Too low blood sugar = weak and irritable, cloudy mind

Too high blood sugar = boosted

balanced blood sugar = ahh, just right

Don’t put your health on the line

But unbalanced blood sugar levels go way beyond affecting our mood. If we keep elevating our blood sugar levels up and down every day we’re constantly triggering the release of insulin to bring them back down again. All well and good, its an efficient mechanism, but eventually your body will become less sensitive to the insulin and we can’t regulate our blood sugar anymore. The technical term for this is Diabetes.

And to add a little icing onto that cake of doom, insulin is also a storage hormone. So those constant rushes of it make your body store circulating fat as well. Not good if you’re trying to shed a few pounds. This is why you may as well not bother getting on the treadmill if you’ve just drank a Lucozade etc if your aim is to lose fat.

There are three main things to watch out for when it comes to blood sugar imbalances, and they are:

  1. Sugar
  2. Stress
  3. Stimulants

These three things are the fastest ways to thrown your blood sugar out of kilter…

Stress activates your nervous system and triggers the fight or flight mechanism which in turn elevates your blood sugar levels and releases adrenaline to get you ready for action

Stimulants do the same as stress

And sugar itself causes an elevation. But when you hear all this talk about sugar affecting us. Don’t be fooled into thinking its just the white stuff that does this. Sugars are essentially carbohydrates, and they come in varying degrees of how sugary they are. Pure glucose being the fastest to enter your bloodstream, with things like seeds and vegetables being at the slower end.

Become a GI joe in the know…

A good idea is to familiarise yourself with the GI food index, as this tells you which are the fastest and slowest carbs. Basically, the higher GI a food is the more it will disrupt your mood, and the lower GI the less it will disrupt your mood.

A few ideas to get you started

1. When you eat protein (you know, eggs, chicken, fish, seafood, nuts, seeds etc) with your carbs the release into your bloodstream is slowed down. So always eat protein an carbs at every meal. This is why foods such as lentils and chickpeas etc are so good for our mood, they contain a good balance of protein and slow carbs.

2. Don’t let yourself get ‘hangry’, eat small and often to keep your blood sugar levels and therefore your mood nice and stable.

3. Keep the 3 horsemen of the mood apocalypse at bay – avoid sugar, stimulants and stress (I know, easier said than done on the third one)

And hey., if you keep this up for a few months, not only will your mood feel better, but you might get back into those trousers you bought last year…

Jonathan Pittam

Mental Health & Resilience trainer

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