Change Your Food, Change Your Mood
My relationship with food the last five years has been an interesting and challenging journey. Currently I follow the "Paleo" diet or a modified version of it (i.e., sometimes I eat things like gluten free cupcakes or gluten free pizza). I first learned about the Paleo diet when I was in my last semester of college and started going to CrossFit. I distinctly remember nodding along while my instructor told me “sugar makes you fat, not fat”. And then I went home and had “whole grain” cereal for breakfast with low fat milk...
Clearly the recommendations he had given me did not quite set in as deeply as they should have. That summer after I graduated I went to live with a family in Spain for three months as their live-in nanny. The diet they consumed was typical of most European households… Bread as breakfast, bread with lunch, bread as a snack with nutella, and then bread with dinner. Needless to say, I ate everything in sight. Not only was the food great, but eating was a way for me to fit in and not feel so lonely. I returned home in October and even though I didn’t feel like I looked super different, I knew that I had gained weight all over my 5’9” frame. I don’t know how much I gained but I think it was around 15-20 pounds. Gaining weight, feeling exhausted and unmotivated I turned to the internet to research this “Paleo diet” and stumbled upon the Whole30 diet. (As this is just a story about my journey and my current views, please see the links to understand what all of these words mean.)
I lost about 10 pounds on my first Whole30 and I felt great! I committed myself to eating strict paleo most of the time but I included “cheat meals” frequently as I figured I could handle it and I thought it would be lame to never again enjoy a buttery pastry slathered in nutella. I continued this yoyo eating for a few years and while I felt much better eating this way compared to what I had done previously; something wasn’t quite right. In the midst of my "yoyo dieting" phase I started dating someone and I thought that I could just eat the same things that he was eating, even though I had long cut out gluten and dairy. The here and there cheats turned into weekend-long disruptions in my regular (strictish) diet. Among immediately noticeable things like stomach pain/bloat or other um.. gastro-intestinal issues, my mood was also impacted.
I would become irritable, easily frustrated, and experienced depressive symptoms. This caused significant strain on our relationship and I even though we eventually broke up for other reasons, I know my mood swings probably had a negative effect on both of our lives! When I realized the connection between my mood and my diet, I became even more interested in the way that the food we eat impacts our bodies AND minds. It became clear that this couldn't be a part-time gig, I had to be fully engaged in my health. This interest became a passion and while I realize that some people will certainly not resonate with my message, I know that there are those who will appreciate what I have to say.
Therefore, here are five reasons why I don’t eat wheat/gluten:
1. I saw major results from cutting it out
As I mentioned previously, not only did I lose weight and feel more energetic, I was able to become more sensitive to my body and how food made me feel. The pain of eating food with wheat in it became greater than the pleasure I experienced from eating the yummy treat. The body awareness and attentiveness I have gained has been frustrating at times, but over all it is a huge gift. I know that if I make the choice to not eat well I probably won’t feel great. I still make some sugary choices but the ball is in my court and I can no longer turn a blind eye to how food makes me feel.
2. It keeps my blood sugar in check
Let me break this down for you…Foods with sugar and flour cause an insulin spike to occur within our bodies. More insulin is released when we consume foods that are high in carbohydrates because our bodies have to regulate the amount of glucose in our systems. Over time, if there is excess glucose, our bodies have to figure out a way to get it out of the blood stream, if there is excess it gets converted into fat and stored for later use. This is a natural process that has allowed our ancestors to gain weight to prepare for times of fasting or famine. Great for hungry ancestors, bad for Spain Amy who ate a very high carb diet. Regulating my blood sugar allows me to manage my mood, keep my weight down, and have more sustained energy. If I keep my carb intake to about 100-150g a day, I feel less “hangry” and I rarely experience afternoon energy “crashes”. Regulating my carbohydrate intake requires me to not only avoid products made with flour, I have to be aware of how sugar can sneak into our diets in all kinds of ways.
3. Science supports me*
*Contact me for more articles or check out the books I have linked at the bottom of this blog post.
4. My values and goals are in line with this choice
I am passionate about not only living a long life where I am productive in my community and a powerful member of my family. I am all about doing these things well and to the best of my abilities. This means that I do my absolute best to take care of the body that I have. I know I can’t avoid every illness or malady but I know I have to take responsibility for how I treat my body. I expect to be energetic and emotionally available to my (future) children, husband, and grandkids. Lets be real, when I get frustrated and have a hard week, one night of pizza and ice cream isn’t going to ruin me for life, but eating relatively strictly 99% of the time is what will have the most impact for my future health.
5. I am allergic
You might be rolling your eyes at this point and wondering why I didn’t mention this right away. I saved it for my last point because I only realized this fact about myself last year. I knew that food had an effect on me, but I didn’t know that I had specific allergies. Doing a blood test allowed me to gain insight into this fact and I am now even more careful to avoid wheat and other foods that I am allergic to. My body has a distinct reaction to these foods and I have had to come to terms with this fact.
It has taken me a lot of personal research, soul searching, and troubleshooting to figure out my diet. And while I have figured out a lot in the last few years, there is still so much to learn. The field of nutrition is an ever-changing, ever-evolving beast. While I do understand that my views on this topic may seem strict, I encourage you to consider my words. I do not think that a one size fits all model is appropriate for a diet, but I would encourage you to research wheat and gluten and the potential impact it may have on your body.
“Wired to Eat”-Robb Wolf -Robb's Website
“The Paleo Solution”-Robb Wolf
"The Primal Blueprint" -Mark Sisson -Mark's website is also really awesome.