Food Can Change Your Mood

Four articles you may want to refer to during this.

 

Pleasure and Food

Pleasure is an important driving force for making food choices. If you enjoy the taste of a food, you will be more likely to consume it ie. chocolate! However, the reason that we don't eat chocolate continuously - despite the pleasure - is that it lacks nutritional quality and excessive intake would cause weight gain, tooth loss and probably even a loss of pleasure (long term). Each meal therefore becomes balancing  different drivers of food choice - pleasure, nutritional quality, convenience and potential guilt - to make a selection that satisfies these criteria.

For many people, pleasurable foods are commonly associated with celebrations and social events. Eating out with friends, birthday cake and decadent dinners are all examples of food being used to bring people together. The food enhances the enjoyment of the event and if sufficiently pleasurable, can be more memorable than the event itself!

Pleasurable foods are also associated with negative events. Eating a tub of ice-cream when a relationship end or fast food for dinner because you had a bad day at work are both examples. In this case, food is being used to distract from the negative event and the pleasure associated with food 'balances everything out.' When food is used in this setting, it can often lead to feelings of guilt afterwards.

Both circumstances are examples of food being used to provide pleasure in slightly different ways. In either setting, it is important to note that food is bringing pleasure to the individual who consumes it. This will become a vital consideration when it comes to dieting, where food (and therefore pleasure) will be limited. But we will get to that later. 

 

Food is Cheaper Than Drugs

The relatively low-cost of food make it easy to get stuck in this cycle. If you are feeling bad, a $20 pizza may make you feel better in (and for) a relatively short period of time. There aren't many other items that can have the same effect, at this low price point. 

You may have seen the images of the brain lighting up to cocaine and sugar with a similar response. This is meant to show you that sugar is addictive. In reality, it just more so shows that your brain was excited you ate - because it doesn't want you to starve - and you feel good as a result. People like feeling good, so this reward system is a great way to ensure you continue to eat in the future. 

When people become busy, stressed and overweight, the pleasure from food can become an over-represented source of pleasure in their life. If you are working from 8am - 6pm five days per week, food can quickly become an important and consistent source of pleasure in your life. Whether it could be chocolate bar at 3pm or a tasty fast food meal for dinner - these foods can become an important part of 'me time' where someone can enjoy the food while taking a break from work and life.

Again, the pleasure of food - whether enhancing or distracting - is a important consideration when developing a strategy to improve body composition.

 

Removing Food (Dieting) Requires a Consideration of Pleasure

Let's consider a hypothetical scenario using a John - who wants to lost 25kg. John has been overweight for as long as he can remember. He works 60+ hours per week, doesn't currently exercise and eats fast food for lunch every day. On Saturday nights, he goes to a mate's house to catch up friends, relax and watch football. During this time, he consumes five beers and an extra large pizza.

We want to implement a thrice-weekly training program (which he has committed to) and then begin to alter his nutrition intake. In this scenario, let's consider that the training is going well and John is ready to begin optimising his nutrition intake. 

From a nutrition perspective, the obvious targets to improve are weekday lunches and Saturday night pizza. Both contain excessive fat and carbohydrate intake, relative to John's requirements and goals.  Which one to target first - the five times per week lunch OR the social pizza?

The lunches. 

The pizza is enhancing enjoyment of the social event and plays an important role. This is made even more important by his busy work schedule, because the last thing we want to do is compromise his enjoyable time. If we do, dietary adherence becomes very challenging.

In John's case, the fast-food lunch options are more about convenience than pleasure. Finding an equally convenient - but less caloric-dense - lunch option will allow John to eat according to his requirements and goals, without needing to sacrifice his social pleasure. 

Eventually, John might want to consider taking his body composition to the next level and consider removing or substituting the pizza. By this point, John should have seen results from his training and improved lunch options, which will make it easier to make a new change.

Why?

Because progression is an excellent source of motivation for future endeavours. This is why successful training + nutrition programs incorporate small challenges and wins, then proceed to the next level.

For DIY dieters - consider pleasure when assessing what food choices you want to alter to lose weight. The 'worst' foods are not always the best place to start. Consider the social context, pleasure and convenience. The maintenance of all three will lead to the best outcomes in the long-term.

A reduction in overall energy intake or increase in energy expenditure is all that is required to begin decreasing fat tissue. A small improvement that is consolidated and build upon will be greatly beneficial in the long run. If you create a progressively and sustainable system to follow, you will get results!