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Recovery and Relationships with Food

Food is the fuel that our bodies need to function well. The food that we eat can have a big impact on how we feel about ourselves and how our bodies function.

Our bodies digest the food that we eat and use it to create energy to allow us to do the things that we do on a daily basis. This energy is also used by our bodies to renew our body’s cells to help keep us healthy and assist in any kind of physical or emotional recovery process.  Not only does the food we eat affect our bodies physically, it can also play a big role in our moods and how we feel about ourselves. 

The relationship which we have with food, how we view food and what we eat, can be indicative of the relationship we have with ourselves.  People who feel good about themselves tend to eat more healthily and put more effort into their food choices than do people who feel bad about themselves or are experiencing low self-esteem or self-confidence.  Our diet is one of the places where we can begin to make small changes which may have a big impact on how we feel emotionally.

For many people, there tends to be a circular relationship between how they feel about themselves and what they eat.  When we’re taking care of our bodies by feeding them regularly and nutritionally, our bodies have the right mix of fuel to ensure they feel healthier and are working as efficiently as possible.  This then causes us to feel better about ourselves emotionally.  The act of providing ourselves with a healthy diet can also be seen as a way of taking care of ourselves or nurturing ourselves.  When we feel better about ourselves emotionally, we are then also more likely to continue self-nurturing and make the effort to continue eating healthily.  People who feel good about themselves tend to want to eat more healthily and people who make an effort to eat more healthily tend to feel better about themselves.

Many people are unaware of the impact a poor diet can have on how they feel about themselves or about their life.  An inadequate diet or irregular eating habits can feed into feelings of depression, low energy and low self-esteem.

A diet rich in junk food or foods which contain a lot of simple carbohydrates (eg. white bread, white rice, cake, biscuits, crisps, etc) and refined sugars (eg. chocolate, biscuits, alcohol) causes our blood sugar levels to rise quickly as we eat these foods, giving us a quick boost of energy and elevated mood.  However, as our body releases insulin to combat the effects of the high blood sugar levels, our energy and mood can rapidly fall, leading to cravings for more of these energy rich foods.  This is how cravings for such foods begin to develop.  And as we continue through this cycle of eating carbohydrate rich foods we may begin to put on weight, or feel bad about ourselves for eating such calorie rich food.  This cycle also impacts on mood as we experience the highs and lows of the initial carbohydrate rush followed by the plummeting mood often experienced as blood sugar levels fall.  More complex carbohydrates (eg, brown bread, brown rice) and foods which contain fibre (eg. bran, wholemeal bread, vegetables) release energy more slowly so we don’t experience the blood sugar related mood swings.

Drinking too much alcohol can also affect our mood.  Alcohol is a depressive substance which means that it can cause falls in mood for many people, especially the day following a drinking session.  As a result too of its high sugar content, it also affects blood sugar levels in a similar way to the refined carbohydrate foods mentioned above.  These two effects combined lead to unstable moods and cravings for more of the alcohol in order to alleviate the negative effects.

To help maintain a steady mood, a balanced diet with little, or no alcohol, is essential.  Eating protein rich foods (eg. cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, nuts, eggs) at every meal can help sustain a steady mood.  Many of these protein rich foods also contain an element called ‘tryptophan’ which our bodies can convert into serotonin, a chemical our brains produce to naturally raise and regulate mood.  It is not unusual for people who are experiencing depression to be low in serotonin, and indeed, many anti-depressant tablets work by having a positive effect on the serotonin levels in our brain.  Increasing our body’s own serotonin levels in a natural, nutritious way is hugely beneficial, and is also self nurturing as we take greater care in choosing which foods to put into our bodies.

It’s important to remember though that none of these foods work in isolation.  The key is ensuring that the diet you eat includes a good variety of foods from all food groups and that you eat regularly which will not only help you maintain a healthy body, but also a more steady mood.

Sharon Cox is a BACP accredited counsellor and NLP Practitioner based in North Tyneside, offering therapy for a wide range of psychological and emotional issues.  She has a special interest in eating disorders, peoples’ relationships with food and their embodied experience; as well as therapy, she is available to provide training / workshops around these topics.  She is also currently a part-time PhD student researching the impact on the counsellor of working with clients who present with eating disorders.

For more information, please visit one of Sharon’s websites:  www.embodyingchange.co.uk or www.sharoncoxcounselling.co.uk 

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