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Self-Care Series: Healthy Eating, Healthy Mind.

Hey there! Welcome back to the next installment in our series on self-care. This week let’s talk about diet and how it effects your body and mind. The concept of self-care is a holistic process, which means it combines all aspects of your life. Eating is necessary for living. It gives you the energy you need to survive.  What you chose to fuel yourself with can influence your energy levels, ability to process information and your mood.

Think about the last time you were hungry. Did you feel tired or lightheaded? Was it difficult to work through a specific task? Did you feel irritable? Hanger (hypoglycemia) is a thing.  It is that delightful emotion of unreasonable anger that happens when you are hungry. This is directly caused by low blood sugar and the release of hormones, namely Cortisol, Epinephrine and Neuropeptide Y. Their goal is to try to regulate your blood sugar, but they are linked to irritability and aggression. Your body is under stress. Unfortunately, once hangry, the body craves sugar because it is quick and easy to digest. This can lead to another blood sugar crash later on and then the cycle repeats itself.

There is also research that suggests that chronic hypoglycemia could potentially be linked to Depression and Anxiety. It also can impact relationships. Studies have shown that people who are “hangry” are more aggressive towards their partners.  

The quality of food also is important. If you reach for sugary foods when hungry not only are you prone to these blood sugar crashes, you are also prone to overeating.  Diets rich in protein and fiber can help you stay fuller longer. The trick is knowing your patterns and planning for the times you know you will get hungry.  Snacking can be a lifesaver, but only if the snack has a long-term benefit rather than a short-term impact.

Caffeine intake is important to watch. Caffeine is a drug. Like any drug it has side effects, such as headaches and irritability. It also carries with it the risk of dependency. In moderate doses caffeine can improve cognitive performance and has been linked to decreased rates of depression. Excessive use, however, can potentially induce anxiety or psychotic symptoms. Too much caffeine can impact sleep and have unfortunate gastrointestinal side effects.

What about cravings? There is some research that indicates that cravings are an example of emotional hunger. It indicates that you are not getting a need met and are filling it with food. If you find yourself prone to cravings take a moment and check in with yourself. A good way to do this is through using a technique called a body scan. This exercise is intended to help you take stock with what is going on. Here’s a quick 3-minute body scan to try.

Another way to check in is to use the acronym H.A.L.T. Are you Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? Using these techniques can help you figure out if something else is going on other than hunger. Armed with that insight you can make the best choices for yourself and for your health.