Guest Post: Food & Mood: A Chicken and Egg Relationship?

Josie Elles is a qualified Nutrition Coach with a special interest in stress related issues, such as fluctuations in weight and mood, lack of energy and depression. She is publishing articles to The Doctify Journal, which is a Patient-Facing Medical Journal, where Doctors and health specialists write in-depth articles on the latest relevant healthcare topics in their field of expertise.


Food influences mood which influences food

We have heard it over and over again: we ARE what we eat. Glossy hair, clear skin, a strong body – all these attributes are promised to us if only we consume the right food and drink.

But what about our feelings? Do we also feel the way we eat?

Absolutely! And what’s more, there is even a feedback loop between feelings and food choices. The purposes of today’s post is to explore this fascinating connection.

Let’s take a typical example that we have probably all encountered at some point in our lives: someone voicing their frustration at you – whether it’s just through a particular choice of words or by actually raising their voice.

Now, we are probably all aware that, depending on our psychological state, we will judge this situation to be a major or a minor threat. That is, if we feel self-assured and confident in that given situation, we may decide not to take their words personally or we may respond in an assertive way. However if we feel vulnerable, the situation can easily turn into a major stress that will hang around all day.

What may come as news to you is that how you feel and respond in that situation will also depend on your physiological state. Calmness and level-headedness are as much the result of physiological interactions as they are of psychological ones. And this is where the crux of the matter is: they are inseparably dependent on each other.

So where can we intervene and influence this cycle to our advantage?

Since the ancient Greek word “protos”, means “first” let’s start with protein (i.e., our diet, a major determinant of our physiological state). Protein is made up of amino acids. Apart from having countless other functions, amino acids are needed to synthesise neurotransmitters. You can think of neurotransmitters as text messages that our nerve cells send to communicate with each other. One such neurotransmitter is GABA. Numerous studies have provided evidence that GABA can block the activity of the part of our brain that is responsible for triggering anxiety and nervousness – the locus ceruleus. That means that if the building blocks for GABA are provided (i.e., if we ingest adequate amounts of protein) we are less likely to judge a given situation as a threat.


Photo by Tera Agro

As this experience repeats itself throughout life, you may learn that someone expressing their frustration at you doesn’t necessarily signal a threat. As a result, you gain confidence and build resilience that you can apply in similar situations – the psychological component.

However, the less stressed you go through life, the less likely you are to crave high carbohydrate, high fat foods. Consequently, you are more likely to naturally default to a balanced diet containing adequate amounts of protein. And that is where the cycle continues: food influences mood which influences food and so forth.

Hold on a minute, you might think. Why will I crave more carby, fatty food when I am stressed?

That will be the topic of another post. For now, let me close by saying that I do not wish to sound simplistic. I am not saying that a steak a day will keep all sorrow away – it’s far more complicated than that and many more nutrients have a role to play in this interaction than just protein.

To conclude…

My aim is purely to draw attention to the fact that food influences mood and vice versa. Given that 50% of Brits have rising levels of stress and anxiety, this relationship is a fact that, in my opinion, is not promoted enough. So if you are interested in finding out more, watch this space as I am going to explore various aspects of this relationship in the weeks to come.

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  • What a fascinating angle for thinking about our relationship with food! Now that you mention it, it seems so obvious – whenever my partner has had a bad day at work he comes home and immediately asks if I want to order takeaway. It’ll be good to see how a healthy home cooked meal helps his mood!