Understanding the Food Mood Connection


It’s easy to connect what you eat to your waistline but have you ever paused and thought about how food affects your mood or
how your moods affect your food choices? If you have ever turned to “comfort foods” during a stressful time than you won’t be surprised to learn that what you eat has both chemical and physiological effects on the brain.  Ayurveda teaches us that the mind and the body exist in a playful dance and that they profoundly impact one another. Some foods bring comfort, some energize and others may leave us feeling dull.

In Ayurveda our digestive fire or Agni holds the key to understanding and creating harmony between what we eat and our moods. Agni is our ability to digest food, information and emotions! Not surprising it takes a lot of digestive fire to process difficult emotions. Often when uncomfortable feelings arise we turn to comfort foods, which are usually heavy, difficult to digest and not healthy.  When we eat over emotions our digestion fire is so busy with all that food—that we don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable feelings. Usually these patterns are set when we are young.  Whether it’s because we are stressed out or overwhelmed, our moods drive us toward foods that leave us feeling heavy, dull and lethargic. This keeps us in a negative loop because our emotions are not digested and the foods that are meant to comfort us are actually not fueling us or feeding a happy soul. They only add to the emotions we are already feeling. Sound familiar? What’s your go-to comfort food?  What is your state of mind when you are drawn to eating it? How do you feel after eating it?

5 Steps to Breaking the Cycle

  1. Awareness: Keep a food/mood journal. One of the best ways to discover how different foods affect your mood is to record what you eat and how you feel after. In your journal record how you feel immediately after eating something and then again a few hours later. As you shift your diet, bring awareness to your triggers and make better choices in your foods and note the shifts in your mood. Choose the foods that make you feel energized, light and clear.
  2. Exercise:  In his book Healthy at 100 John Robbins says exercise is the Magic Pill. Robbins tells us that exercise is equally as good for our brain as for our body; it makes us stronger, more confident and less susceptible to depression. I think we can all agree we feel better and eat better when we are getting regular exercise.
  3. Eat Your Greens: You can’t go wrong when you boost the amount of fresh leafy greens you eat. Greens cultivate a sense of lightness in the body, they are energizing and deeply cleansing. The more greens you eat the less you will be drawn to foods that leave you feeling lethargic and dull.
  4. Eliminate Processed Foods: Along with adding more greens to your diet eliminate processed grains, white sugars and high salt foods and replace them with whole organic (if possible) foods. Choose whole grains or even better gluten-free grains. Whole grains are high in fiber and are nutrient-rich. Try brown rice, quinoa, millet, wild rice (actually a seed), steel cut oats or teff.
  5. Eat Good Mood Foods: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, memory and sleep. Wanna boost your mood? Eat foods that are rich in serotonin or that boost its production. Try pineapples, plums, kiwis, leafy greens, and avocado.

How we feel and what we eat are no doubt linked. When it comes to unraveling the food mood connection it is important to not only be mindful of how your mood affects your eating behaviors but also to be aware of making healthier food choices in order to improve your overall mood and enhance your emotional well-being.