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  • Writer's pictureManushi Thakur

Mood Munchies: The Three-Way Connection of Food, Body and Mind

Written by: Manushi Thakur | Edited by: Rubal Prajapati

Connection of food, body, and mind

Remember those Snickers commercials? The "hangry" phenomenon they portray isn't just marketing hype. Hunger and anger have a real-life connection. It's like a gremlin hijacks your brain, turning minor inconveniences into major meltdowns.

Imagine this: you've been hustling all morning, skipping breakfast to get work done before lunch. You reach your favorite restaurant, picturing a delicious reward, only to find a closed sign glaring back at you. This ignites the hangry volcano within. You stomp back to your car, hunger and frustration bubbling over like lava. Hunger is more than just an empty stomach; it’s a complex interplay between your body and mind.

Reaching home, you raid the fridge, hoping for salvation. But the shelves are bare – you forgot groceries in your whirlwind morning. The hunt begins: slamming cupboards, muttering curses, and frantically searching online for delivery. The hunger-induced gremlin is in complete control.

But hunger isn't the only trigger. Hanger can strike when you're low on energy and face frustrating situations. It reminds us of the fundamental connection between body and mind. This link also manifests in stress-related overeating or undereating. You might crave chips during a deadline crunch or skip meals before a big exam. Even feelings of happiness can make us crave certain foods. These are your body and mind's way of coping with stress and other emotional states.

Our gut, also known as the "second brain," plays a significant role in how we react to food, especially when our mental well-being is affected. The food we choose affects our mood, and it's like a two-way street: our mood also affects what we eat.

Being in the Right Mood 

All kinds of foods and moods influence this second brain. When you take a bite of that burger or dig into the pastry you so carefully unpacked, your mood gets temporarily enhanced because of the chemicals it induces and the connections it makes in your brain. Sweet foods and fatty textures are shortcuts to activate the feel-good sensation in your mind (Gibson, 2006). But beware! This short-lived pleasure comes at a cost: overeating because the food is digested quickly, and you get hungry faster and end up with a longer-lasting negative mood.

Though high-sugar, high-fat, low-protein foods offer temporary stress relief, they also create a vicious cycle. Most bodily functions work in a feedback loop. If something is working, it is given positive feedback and repeated; if something is not working, your brain (both the one in your head and the one in your abdomen) gives negative feedback, and it is discontinued. Let’s put our scientific glasses on. A hundred people in a study reported through journal entries the relationship between negative mood and intake of calorie-dense food and poor nutrition food (Fong et al., 2019). When the participants got sad, they had the urge to eat more - especially food like chips, and candy. This was observed in young people than any other age group. 

Interestingly, people in positive moods tend to gravitate towards foods lower in salt and saturated fat, and higher nutritional value. Quite a stark difference, the reason why this happens is because of their focus on the long-term benefits of such dietary choices (Gardener et al., 2014). But, but, but! Never say never. Research by Bongers et al. (2013), suggests that even positive emotions can lead to overeating. How does this work? People who believe that their good mood will not last for a long time indulge in junk food in the hopes that they can increase the duration of said good mood. Whereas, those who think that they are going to be in a positive mood for a long time opt for healthier options.

Finding Balance: From Gremlin to Zen with Food

A complex interplay of internal and external factors influences our food choices. Be it having skipped a meal because of oversleeping or the scent of freshly fried samosa from the street vendor, we have all experienced the weakening of our resolve to eat a healthy meal. Shifting our focus on changing our glasses (read perspective) can be deliciously helpful. Preparing a meal the night before an early class or taking a different route home with a friend to check out a new grocery shop and picking up some vegetables/fruits are some things we can do to help our mind and body. 

Understanding the root of our stress triggers and addressing them directly empowers us to tailor our diets to individual emotional needs. Taking a conscious step to address our mental health can be a significant key to achieving overall well-being. 

Here are some ways to turn down the volume on the “hangry gremlin” and cultivate a healthy romance with food - 

  • Mindful eating - can look like thinking about where your food came from,, how the texture feels in your mouth when you take a bite, chewing slowly to get all the flavor out of the food that you can and expressing gratitude for the meal that you’re having - no matter how big or small (Mindful Eating, 2023). This practice helps us identify our feelings inside rather than focusing on what is happening outside. Focusing on our inner state helps us ground ourselves more (Warren et al., 2017). 

  • Listen to your body - A lot of us eat on autopilot at times. When we’re watching our favorite show on our devices, we don’t even realize when we have wiped our plates clean. Reminding ourselves to “be here” in the moment is a way to step back from this autopilot. Doing this a couple of times will help you relax and make healthier food decisions. 

  • Rate your hunger from 0 to 10 to understand if you’re craving a snack, a full meal, or some sugar. This will help you get more attuned to your body and its cues for hunger or comfort. You will be able to identify your mood and body state and act in ways that addresses both. 

  • Eating regularly - Creating a routine helps you set your body on a biological clock where you feel hungry at specific times of the day and don’t feel too tempted to go for the bread pakoda being sold near your office. If you skip a meal because you’re busy with something, you may feel negative (Morshed et al., 2022) (even if you are unable to identify it) and with a ravenous gaze, you take quick steps toward the vending machine with recently stocked packets of chips. 

Remember, it’s not about eliminating your favorite foods or becoming a food restrictionist. It’s about cultivating a sustainable and balanced relationship with food where you nourish your body, listen to your mind, and create a space for mindful enjoyment. This journey starts with understanding and implementing small, practical changes in your life. Take control of what you eat and witness how you blossom!  

In a positive mood, which type of food do you tend to gravitate towards?

  • Healthier options with lower salt and saturated fat

  • Indulgent treats for instant pleasure

  • No specific pattern

  • I don't notice a change in my food preferences

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