Eating your feelings to cope with stress? Getting ‘hangry’ close to mealtimes? Feeling an energy slump around 3pm? If you discover you tend to reach for a quick fix like a coffee, a muesli bar, or a chocolate treat as a pick-me-up to get through the day, it’s definitely not just you.
The foods we choose to eat shape the building blocks we provide to our bodies to make energy, how long we feel nourished, and the way we make important hormones and neurotransmitters to regulate our mood. Just like putting premium fuel in a car helps it to run smoothly and more efficiently, and a full tank of fuel drives a car much further than a tank running near empty… the foods we choose to eat throughout the day play a huge role in how we feel. Eating a balanced diet and approaching food holistically involves considering our macronutrient and micronutrient intakes and the potential for food as medicine.
Here are some simple tips to help nourish your body, boost your mood, and skip the energy slumps:
✦ Hydration is key. Water is a nutrient. If you’re not getting at least 2L every day, a good idea may be to purchase a water bottle and keep track of how many times you refill it. Choose a design you love on the water bottle that makes you feel happy when you see it, as this may help trick your brain into a positive feeling while drinking water more often. There is nothing that can out-supplement dehydration, and often not drinking enough water is a simple-to-fix underlying cause of symptoms.
✦ Add a protein source and a healthy fat source to every breakfast for slow-release energy to keep you going until lunch time. Ideas may include adding a scoop of protein powder and chia seeds to a blended smoothie, scrambled eggs with a side of avocado, or Greek yoghurt with muesli and crushed walnuts.
We can eat to survive, or we can eat to optimize our quality of life.
✦ If you decide to drink coffee, aim for only one per day, and make sure to drink it at least 15 minutes away from food and medications, as drinking coffee impacts the absorption of essential B vitamins and can decrease our body’s capability to effectively use medicines such as levothyroxine, iron supplements, and some antidepressants (Belayneh and Molla, 2020). If you’re needing to rely on more than one coffee to get through the day, it’s important to consider dietary deficiencies and gut microbiome imbalances as possible driving factors.
✦ If we have food intolerances, continuing to eat those foods without addressing the underlying cause of why we’re reacting to them can make us feel fatigued, and gut inflammation may contribute to a low mood (Tuck et al 2019). If you ever plan to cut something out of your diet, it’s important to find appropriate replacements to ensure nutrients aren’t being cut out too, and that our gut microbes are still getting the food they need to do their job of helping to keep the gut lining nice and strong. At the end of the day, diversity is ideal.
✦ Omega-3 is one of the most common dietary deficiencies; yet it’s such an important and essential nutrient for energy and mood. Aim to include at least 2 sources of omega-3 fatty acids into your daily diet. Sources include oily fish, linseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, or even a spoonful of an omega-3 plant-based oil blended into a smoothie. If you don’t like fish and aren’t a big fan of nuts and seeds, there’s a good chance you’re deficient.
Sometimes the smallest changes can make a big difference towards feeling more like the healthiest version of ourselves. We deserve better than letting our bodies keep going with the fuel light flashing when we could be feeling nourished and energised.