We’ve heard it a million times before, “You are what you eat.” However, when thinking about the idea of mind, body and spirit, there is nothing that affects how you feel more than how you fuel. The food you put in your body determines your physical health, your mental health, and your emotional state.
As a women’s health nurse practitioner, I have patients regularly asking me how they can feel better, less tired, less depressed. These conversations often lead to their diet. Once you fix the diet, you often fix a number of those issues. No drugs or other intervention needed.
The biggest piece of advice I have for women wanting to feel better is to reduce the amount of sugar and carbs they consume. Excess sugar, especially, creates a downward spiral throughout our entire system. It decreases our ability to store glucose, which creates an insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it harder to convert calories to energy, which makes us more tired. When we have less energy, we lose our motivation to exercise. When we don’t exercise, we don’t sleep as well at night, causing us to be even more tired and depressed. Lacking motivation to exercise and wanting a quick way to just feel better, we eat junk food, which starts the whole cycle again.
Of course, all hope is not lost because the reverse of this spiral is also true. When we eat whole foods with low sugar and carbs, we feel better and are more energized. We become more motivated to exercise. When we exercise, we gain even more energy and are motivated to do more throughout the day. Because of our increased daily output, we sleep better at night so we’re less tired. The food and exercise work with each other to make us feel great in a constant cycle upward. If only there was an easy way to start this habit.
One reason why sugar has become such a problem in our diets is because we don’t even realize just how much sugar there is in the foods we eat. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 25 grams of sugar a day. However, just starting with one innocuous meal such as breakfast can put you well over that amount. Raisin Bran cereal has about 20 grams of sugar in it. Add a half-cup of fat-free milk and you’re adding another 9 grams of sugar. Throw in one cup of orange juice with 22 grams of sugar and you’re well over twice the daily recommended amount of sugar in just your first meal.
One way to limit the amount of sugar you consume is to look at the labels of everything you’re buying (be prepared to be shocked). Then, put everything that has more than 5-8 grams of sugar in it back on the shelf. Do this for your next few shopping trips and you’ll decrease your sugar intake pretty quickly. Another way to limit your sugar is to cook more foods from scratch at home. You have more control over what you’re putting in your meals.
Another reason why limiting the consumption of sugar is so difficult is because of the temporary mental boost our brains receive when consuming sugar. Scientists who have been studying sugar for years have discovered that the biofeedback loop between consuming sugar and the feelings of happiness and reward is even stronger than drug addiction.
However, there is hope. While the high that comes with sugar is temporary (and then the feeling quickly drops), the feeling you get from consuming healthy food and exercising is much stronger. If you have any doubts, go outside and take a brisk walk or run for just twenty minutes. After that short period of time, you will feel better than any candy bar could ever make you feel.
At the end of the day, the best way to feel better is to eat real food and limit your consumption of sugar. Consider your food to be like medicine. Think, “What will make my body work better?” when deciding what to eat. If you make healthy food your medicine, you may not need prescribed drugs for years to come.