Updated: May 1
“To keep the body in good health is a duty.
Otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
It turns out Moms everywhere were right: you are what you eat. Most of us are smart enough to have recognized the fundamental cause and effect of a bad diet, at least in terms of our appearance. We get it that eating fast food 3 meals a day will make us chubby and set us up for heart disease. But a less-than-optimal diet has mental consequences as well, and it can be eye-opening to recognize that our mental stuff isn’t all in our heads.
Aside from the obvious consequences to our physical health, diets high in sugars and processed foods are also linked to Attention Deficit Disorder (with or without hyperactivity), autism, anxiety and depression, behaviour disorders, irritability, aggression, schizophrenia, addiction, low performance on exams, and even high crime rates.
Just as our cars need good quality fuel to run properly, our bodies and minds do too. Our bodies are not designed to process synthetic foods and concentrates such as sugar. When we eat these things, rather than giving us necessary fuel they deplete our bodies of nutrients and become a source of stress in our systems. Our bodies respond to stress- whether we’re dealing with bad traffic, an upsetting emotional experience, a threat to our survival, or bad food- by releasing adrenaline, which surges through our system to catapult us into action- fight or flight- leaving us in a mental/emotional state of aggression or fear. When this chemical reaction takes place over and over, our adrenals get burned out; fatigue sets in, our immune systems struggle, and we have difficulty thinking clearly, making decisions, or remembering things. Stress is cumulative and comes in many forms. While we can’t control all of the stressors we are exposed to in life, we can control what we put into our own mouths.
“My body is the shape I live in,
and it shapes the way I live.”
~ Raquel Welch
Chemicals and sugars in our foods also distort our perceptions. I have a dear friend who is very self aware, and who shared with me her experience. The child of two alcoholic parents, she struggled with alcoholism herself before overcoming it; sugar addiction, however, has been very challenging, especially as it is so prevalent and is “socially acceptable.” When she has been able to eliminate sugar from her diet, my friend notices she is calmer and kinder, and that her perceptions are also brighter. On sugar, she finds she takes things personally and gets easily triggered into anger and reactivity; her perceptions of others’ actions, words, and motives is skewed and negative. It is only because she’s been able to attain some control over her diet that she’s been able to recognize this, by experiencing the contrast between being OFF sugar and being on it. But most people are not that self aware. Most people do not stray from their habitual diets long enough to experience what could be possible for them, never recognizing this may be at the very root of their unhappiness, reactivity, distorted perceptions, and broken relationships.
When our bodies are clean inside, they run like well-oiled efficient machines: aches and pains go away, we have more energy, and we sleep better. Inflammation decreases, including the inflammation of reactive mental patterns. Both physical and mental imbalances begin to ease back to a healthier state. We are able to think more clearly and calmly, our memory and outlook improve, our concentration is better, and we find we are more capable of handling the unavoidable stressors in Life as well.
Self Care Suggestion: Begin to increase your consumption of whole, natural foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables. Try starting your day with a piece of fresh fruit before you eat anything else, or exchanging your usual breakfast for a fruit salad sprinkled with chopped nuts. Make it a point to have vegetables at lunch and dinner. Have some ready-prepped snacks on hand for when you get the urge to munch, so you make it easy to eat healthy: baby carrots, cucumber slices, celery sticks, grapes, bananas, a handful of nuts, and apple wedges are all excellent choices when you need a quick pick-me-up or something to grab on-the-go. Whatever your current diet is, even a little shift in the direction of cleaner foods will have big pay offs in both your body and your mind.