We’re all familiar with that common movie scene depicting a character in crisis, having experienced a breakup, embarrassing moment or career setback, wearing sweatpants, watching a movie and soothing their sorrows with a bowl of ice cream. While not always the case, the idea is that ice cream (or whatever your snack of choice) will provide comfort and pleasure in a time of need. The cliché is correct in recognizing the link between our emotions and the food we choose to eat. But as with most clichés, the relationship might be a little more complicated than that.
There is plenty of evidence that shows long-term, poor eating habits can lead to obesity and sometimes even depression. But what about those short-term fixes and cravings? Can your mood and overall happiness affect your daily food choices? Or do your daily food choices affect your mood? The short answer is “yes.”
In the short term, there is such thing as mood-boosting foods, meaning our ice cream cliché is technically accurate. Ice cream contains sugar, which may momentarily give you an energy boost and raise levels of the pleasing neurotransmitter, dopamine. But relying on foods like ice cream or high-fat, high-sugar choices to achieve short-term sources of pleasure can cause further cravings and create a pattern of overeating down the road.
The good news is there are many foods that offer the mood-boosting benefits of sweet treats without the chemical rollercoaster ride that can produce long-term bad habits. Start with unrefined starches and good sources of protein including shellfish, eggs, oats or sweet potatoes. Each contains tryptophan, another feel-good neurotransmitter that is capable of making a direct connection with your brain. Add some fruits and vegetables, and your brain will be operating at full capacity.
Here are some of our favorite healthy mood-boosting foods:
- citrus fruits
- nuts and seeds
- herbal tea
The guiding principle in creating and sustaining happiness through your choices in food is balance. Eating meals full of fiber, protein and healthy fats will prevent chemical crashes and promote a lifestyle of consistency and confidence. While sweets and unhealthy carbs can momentarily cure your emotional ills, the physical toll they take on your body can soon influence your psychological well-being.
It’s a classic “chicken or the egg” question and a relationship dependent on several factors. Each person has a different experience based on family history and the unique circumstances in which they live, so it’s important to assess your relationship with food and understand your motivations and habits. Once you’ve identified those habits, you can adjust and start eating foods that truly make you—and your body—happy.