Feeling terrible? Maybe you just need to eat something

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(Photograph by hang_in_there)
 

Some days, you just get into a rut. Your mood is falling, you’re cranky, you’re snapping at people, you’re getting into arguments over stupid things. Maybe your life is falling apart. Maybe you’re directionless, feeling lost, and your world is coming apart at the seams. Or maybe not.

Stop yourself for a second and ask, What have I eaten today? Chances are, you haven’t eaten enough.

I’m the same way. I’m bad at eating.

Some days I’ll have a small bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and then I’ll just forget to eat. It’ll be seven o’clock, and I’ll feel terrible and have no idea why.

I’m inconsistent with this too. Some days I eat healthily and frequently, throughout the day. Those are the good days. Those other days, though, oof.

Low blood sugar is the culprit. Your brain metabolizes a lot of glucose when concentrating, or working hard, and if you aren’t replenishing that fuel, the usual result is a whole lot of irritability.

This seems like a no-brainer, but in practice, it’s really not. When we feel awful, we have the tendency to blame it on our environment, or on ourselves. But it could just be our diet.

In our fit-obsessed culture, we’re more likely to restrict our calorie intake if we feel we need to eat healthy or get in shape. So we often skip meals. But it doesn’t make us feel good.

The neurotransmitters in our brain that regulate mood run on low glycemic carbohydrates (the sugar you get from grains and fruit). These carbs break down slowly, which feeds the mood-regulating neurotransmitters for an extended period, which keeps you feeling good.

That’s why depriving your body of its daily calorie requirement leaves it feeling out of shape and blue. So when you eat, you feel better.

ARE THERE FOODS TO AVOID EATING?

Yes, absolutely. You can cram a chocolate bar into your face for that quick pick-me-up, but it won’t do you as much good in the long run. You’ll want to avoid empty calorie food like white flour, candy and soft drinks. These sugars rush into your system quickly, break down quickly, and then leave. This means these foods will give you a quick fix, but will also makes you crash hard.

Even worse, your rapidly dropping blood sugar will leave those mood-regulating neurotransmitters unfed, which makes you irritated and tired.

This is the reason that too much sugar is actually a mood depressor, because it spikes your blood sugar up quickly and then drops it drastically.

Too much blood sugar also forces your body to produce more insulin, and damages the pancreas, which can lead to all sorts of health problems, including weight gain and potentially late-in-the-game diabetes. So to improve your mood, your best bet is sticking with healthy alternatives for snacks and eating well.

SO WHAT SHOULD I EAT?

There are foods that are mood stressors and mood supporters. According to WebMD’s Star Lawrence, “In a study of 200 people done in England for the mental health group known as Mind, participants were told to cut down on mood ‘stressors’ they ate, while increasing the amount of mood ‘supporters.’ Stressors included sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate… Supporters were water, vegetables, fruit, and oil-rich fish. Eighty-eight percent of the people who tried this reported improved mental health.“

And according to Livestrong.com, good foods that help build up your mood are, “water, vegetables, fruit, oil rich fish, nuts, sees, whole grain fiber, protein and organic foods.”

You can see a pattern here.

It goes deeper than just an immediate boost, though. Having a consistently balanced diet can be a consistent, long-term mood lifter. It works the other way too—consistently missing something in your diet can have long term effects on your mood. Iron deficiency, for instance, can lead to feelings of depression and listlessness, and not eating consistently can seriously mess with your blood sugar levels.

So the next time you’re feeling low, cranky, and tired, it might feel like there’s something wrong with you or the world. But chances are, you just need to eat something healthy.

 

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