Have you ever noticed that, when you're feeling kind of sad, you might be apt to reach for something warm like lasagna? Or that after you eat a pint of ice cream, you might feel a little bummed out and mopey afterward? There seems to be a clear connection between what you're eating and how you're feeling, but how does food affect your emotions exactly? With all the trends and advice out there, sometimes it can be hard to navigate how to best care for your body and moods.
"Many times we think we are doing right by our body, but many times we are causing our body and our mental health more harm than good," Lindsey Smith, writes in her upcoming book, Eat Your Feelings: The Food Mood Girl's Guide to Transforming Your Emotional Eating, which goes on sale Dec. 26 (but FYI, you can pre-order now!).
Elite Daily had the opportunity speak with the Food Mood Girl herself, Lindsey Smith — a TEDx speaker, culinary expert, and health coach — on how your emotions affect what you eat (and vice versa), and how you can approach what you eat and what you crave as a way of both supporting and listening to your emotions.
Part of Smith's job is to help people learn how to listen to their cravings, identify the emotions accompanying those cravings, and eventually, find the best ways to nourish themselves with foods that help support their moods.
Smith believes that balance is key, so along with living that veggie life, you can absolutely have your cake, too. More than anything, Smith tells me, it's all about feeling in control and in connection with your emotional well-being first and foremost.
"I suffered from anxiety, and was hospitalized at 12 years old for panic attacks," she tells me. "That's when [the work] really started. I was pretty intuitive; I knew that it wasn’t a normal way to feel or live, and I didn’t want to go into middle school [feeling] like that."
Smith says she tried therapy at first to treat the anxiety, but it didn't quite do the trick. Around the same time, her sister, who's eight years older than her, went to a wellness center, and Smith noticed a major difference in how her sister was approaching life as a result. Smith then asked her parents to sign her up to work with a health and nutrition coach who also did Tai Chi, acupuncture, and Chinese medicine.
After six months of working with the health and nutrition coach, "I was a totally different person," Smith says.
Once she recognized how powerful this connection between emotions, cravings, and food actually was, she dove headfirst into educating herself as much as she could on the topic, studying integrative nutrition, and even attending culinary school for a period of time. Her ultimate goal, she tells Elite Daily, is to find ways to effectively help others make major, positive lifestyle changes through this connection between food and mood.
It isn't necessarily about changing what you eat first, either. Smith's work, at the end of the day, is focused on feelings; the ability to identify and honor your emotions is the axis around which the whole "food mood" philosophy operates.
So, yes, while eating lots of fruits and veggies might be great for your mood on an everyday basis, Smith asks an important question: "What happens when something terrible happens?"
"Something terrible can rock your world," she explains. But if you've already been in tune with your feelings and know how they're connected to your cravings, you can find ways to feel better in the bigger picture. You can understand what's happening to you, on a much deeper level, at the height of an emotionally challenging situation.
Smith offers a personal example to illustrate this concept: "When I’m sad, I crave grilled cheese," she tells me. And when she asked herself what exactly was connected to that craving, she figured out that it was tied to the feeling of missing her dad. "I lost my dad in 2012, and something we would do together was eat grilled cheese and watch Unsolved Mysteries," she explains. So, is it the grilled cheese she wants, she started to ask herself, or is it something more?
Now, when Smith craves that grilled cheese during a bout of the blues, she realizes that deep down, she's searching for something to ease her sadness and honor her dad's memory. "I'm wanting the grilled cheese, but I'm also looking for the feeling of comfort," she says.
When you have such an acute awareness of your own emotions, like Smith does, it doesn't mean you have to say no to your craving. While you can choose to eat something totally different that will support and help boost your mood, you can also add mood-boosting ingredients to the exact thing that you're craving.
"Maybe you make the grilled cheese and add avocado, make some tomatoes in there, put some leafy greens in with it," the health coach and author tells Elite Daily. "You’re honoring that craving, but also adding something nutritious."
If you're feeling bummed out, Smith suggests looking for foods that have key vitamins and minerals, like vitamin B12 and magnesium — nutrients that help boost serotonin levels and aid in brain function.
And remember, when you're craving a cookie or something sweet, as many of us often do when we feel down, that's actually your body's way of asking for a boost in serotonin. "Your body wants to be happier," Smith says.
If you're not exactly feeling sad, but you need a bit of an energy boost, Smith says to try fruits and veggies with lots of water in them, or more specifically, an orange, which also has an invigorating scent to wake you up. Spicy foods are also great for awakening the senses, she says.
When it comes to making these changes in your own life, Smith says, try to do so incrementally, and choose habits that you can actually sustain in the long-term; it doesn't have to be all or nothing, nor does it have to be a dietary lifestyle you brag about. Smith adds with a laugh, "I always say, 'Eat kale, but don't be a dick about it.'"