Stop me if you’ve heard this one, “You are what you eat”, or — “Your body is your temple and what you put into it affects your entire emotional, mental, and physical being.” Thanks for stopping me.
Now, it’s true — and it is as if we have all heard this, know this, yet it takes a tremendous amount of strength to remember it, and nourish our bodies according to it. After all, once the taco has been ingested, we go about our day, happy, only slightly guilty, and we attribute the later effects of our sluggish mood or short temperament, to a bad day, a flat tire, or a cranky toddler accompanied by a cranky spouse. It is hardly ever the tacos fault, especially if guac’ is extra.
Mindset and mindfulness have always been important to me. It is a passion I have carried with me for many years, so I often relate food intake to thoughts and actions. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame all of my irrational moods on a cheesecake I digested in ‘99, however, I do think our brains and bodies often feel like they are living separate lives. Your body screams, “take a nap”, while your brain yells back, “laundry, gym, and tan”, (err..not necessarily in that order—)
Let’s get serious. Food blesses our bodies with the protein, essential fats, vitamins, and minerals, necessary for energy, muscle growth, weight loss, and complex system functions. Our neurological system is only one of the many systems affected by our dietary habits, but perhaps, for many of us, the most important one because it all begins and ends with your brain — the epicenter of our emotions and thought processes. Many of us fall into a cycle of poor nutrition, leading to poor mood, poor energy, which results in the lack of motivation to make a change — we are waiting for Monday, or after the holidays, after the anniversary, after the cruise, and so on and so on, however, these delays are often related to not knowing where or how to begin.
Now, I can cite sources and quote scholarly articles on how sugar affects your brain, or how Ketogenic diets are the only way of life, or going vegan is the best decision for you, Bambi, and Wilbur, but the truth is, the beauty of a nutritional or fitness journey is entirely unique to the individual. We all have different genetics, ailments, sensitivities, and unique physiological makeups that may not be necessarily uniform from human to human. We also have different physical goals, however, the most common goal is feeling ready to take on the day, energized and clear-headed, free from anxieties and sluggish moods — we all want to feel motivated and happy. This common end goal most definitely begins with the fork and is enhanced by consistent exercise.
Well, here comes the statement I most commonly hear — “I just don’t know what to eat. I cut calories and have been exercising more and nothing is happening.” If you burn more calories than you eat, you lose weight — yaaaas! We are all skinny, in a happy energetic mood, and WOW, that was super easy, blog post over.
Come back. It’s not that simple.
It is the narrative that becomes the problem. Less food = thinner. More food (for the 3 men reading) = MUSCLES. Instead of equating food with energy or physical size, we should try and remember that food is actually information. Every bit of food you ingest consists of vitamins and minerals. The trillions of chemical reactions that occur every second within the human body require a specific mineral or vitamin to be activated. What happens when we are deficient in those minerals or vitamins? You guessed it, those chemical reactions do not occur efficiently, causing a chain reaction of body-wide haywire. For example, let’s assume I have magic fairy dust. Stay with me here. When I sprinkle this dust on you, 10 million dollars in cash will magically appear in your bank account, however, the fairy dust is only activated by Omega-3, Vitamin-D, Magnesium, and B-12. Find me those. Did you just picture yourself running at lightning speed to go find those? Good, I did too and it was huh-larious. Same concept — all of these feel-good things, the mood, the clarity, the energy; we need these vitamins and minerals to activate the chemical reactions responsible for all of it. If you’ll find it for 10 million dollars, eat it for your health.
So, what should you opt to eat? This is always a difficult question due to the ever-changing opinions and fads of what is necessarily “good” for you. Leafy greens are great today, but tomorrow romaine lettuce may or may not kill you, a glass of red wine per day is wonderful in terms of antioxidants and de-stressing and may or may not lead to an AA meeting, and dark chocolate, also full of antioxidants, but your midsection may shame you. In other words, digressing to my previous point, we are all unique, ergo consulting a nutritionist is always the best option to get a personalized plan that fits your body and personal goals, however, we can touch on the basics. When in doubt, think fat — don’t get crazy, I do not mean thighs, waist, or booty, think high-fat foods, especially at the start of your day. Fatty fish, nuts, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, avocado, blueberries, high omega-3 foods — all of these are typically referred to as “brain food”. Beginning your day with these foods can keep your sugar levels stable, decrease cravings, and kick start your day with energy and clarity.
Exercise is a widely discussed, sometimes controversial, topic. Some people love it, some hate it, some love to hate it — taking the stairs twice a week is plenty for many, and squatting 100lbs is not nearly enough for others. Some love to run (not me), some do group fitness (that’s more me), and others go for a casual walk once a day to keep from falling into the forbidden sedentary lifestyle epidemic. We equate exercise with physical fitness, endurance, and heart health more often than mental health, but the link between exercise and mood is essential to overall well-being.
Exercise is well known to stimulate the body to produce endorphins and enkephalins, the body’s natural “feel-good” and pain relief hormones, making stress seem more manageable. We could dive into the science of it all, but I’ll let you do your own research. Give it all a goog’, watch a credible TedTalk, or put on your favorite nerdy hat and read endless scholarly journals. In the meantime, I’ll share personal experiences since medical school eluded me in my early twenties.
After almost a decade of teaching Zumba and personally training a diverse group of individuals, the testimonials remain fairly uniform — an hour in the gym is “therapy”; they walk in with an angry or defeated look after a hard day and leave relieved albeit a bit exhausted. Some have the nerve to even feel energized. Sometimes, I humbly adjust my crown and live in the thought that I have solely cured their day, but the truth is, I understand and appreciate the effect physical activity has on the body and mind — or maybe it is just me. Who’s to say. Either way, studies have proven active people are less depressed and less anxious than those who live sedentary lifestyles.
Regular exercise equates to improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients in the brain. Remember the magic fairy dust? Exercise activates that too. Our mood is highly influenced by biochemical reactions and exercise can really keep those gears oiled and running efficiently. If the science bores you, it never hurts to just try. My suggestion? Wait for a stressful day, head to the nearest gym, adjust your gloves, and punch a heavy bag for 5 minutes without stopping. I can’t assure you that you will immediately feel better, however, if you tape a picture of your boss or spouse on that bag, well then I would bet money on it. Most importantly, choose an exercise you love. You will not love them all, so find your niche, and be conscious of the emotional changes you begin to experience. Feeling better leads to motivation, motivation leads to consistency, and consistency can lead to an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Rinse and repeat.
We feed our body to achieve the ideal physical image we envision — how often do we feed our minds? It is not enough to be health-conscious in a purely physical sense. Just remember, you are in the driver’s seat. We are all in charge of our own behavioral changes and change requires a shift in mindset. Stress is inevitable, a bad mood is guaranteed, so, acknowledge your stress as chemical, as opposed to situational, and feed your body the information it needs to naturally eliminate negativity. Change your mind and your body will follow. Choose happiness.
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