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An Introduction to the Relationship Between Mood and Food: Why We’re Here

If you have ever had a moment of craving chocolate, if you can relate to that feeling in the morning (or afternoon) of needing a cup of coffee, or if you can remember a time when hearing something sad made you “lose your appetite,” then you already have a sense of some of the interactions between your food and your mood. Most of us know these experiences, and we often make choices based on what we’ve learned implicitly helps us to feel better, or to cope with something. If, for example, my childhood experiences consist of being rewarded for good behavior with a sweet snack, it is very likely that I will continue to associate sweets with my achievements; perhaps I will even look to food as a source of validating my worth in moments of self-doubt. This is where these interactions have the potential to be either mutually beneficial, or not.

For centuries, humans have followed some intuitive sense of what to eat, as a form of self-medication for what ails us. Our ancestors watched bears with a visible belly ache crawl over to the berry-bush and smash the leaves in his mouth 20 minutes before feeling better. We have allowed our perceptions and our self-awareness to guide us in getting the nourishment we’ve needed. In the case of drinking a double-shot latte just before a high-intensity business meeting, or after not getting enough sleep, we are, indeed self-medicating, and in so doing, finding some sort of balance. However, in a world as fast-paced and consistently intense as ours, between the nearly constant sensory stimulation of television, radio, billboards, and instant-communication devices like cell phones and twitter, we have lost the opportunity to re-charge, and this is crucial.

While for many of us, that self-medicating cycle of coffee in the morning, sugar in the afternoon, and alcohol at night (or whatever your particular pattern may be) is helpful, for most of us, it is more detrimental than it is adaptive. One reason for this is the drive that leads us to carry out those patterns of self-medication. For some this might be habit (“I ALWAYS have my cup of coffee with the morning paper.”), for others it might be more explicitly emotional (“I crave sweets when I’m sad.”) and for others still, it may be more implicitly detrimental (“I don’t eat when I’m lonely.”). One of the most powerful tools we all have in our toolboxes, though it may be dusty, is the gift of intuitive self-awareness. perhaps it hasn’t been used in years, and perhaps it needs some oiling in the gears, but it is there. Developing a sense of internal awareness for what your patterns are for your particular interactions between your food and your mood is a doorway into more freely living, happily, and healthily.

What do you notice when you start to pay more attention to this relationship? What is the most challenging part, and what is the easiest?

*Stay tuned for another post coming up soon on this two-way street!*