Connecting with food: How to nourish from the inside out

This article was co-authored by Meghan Wilton and Lily Elizabeth Lam, Registered Dietitians

March is nutrition month in Canada and this year’s campaign theme is “More than Food”. We couldn’t agree more with the philosophy behind this mantra. Food is more than just fuel. The way we connect with it can provide the foundation for nourishing our bodies.

But it can take time to break down the walls of 21st-century “diet culture,” which equates thinness to health, promotes weight loss, demonizes foods and oppresses people who don’t match the picture of health.

Most of us have a good idea about what types of food are best for us, but let’s dive a little deeper into our relationship with food — how we connect with it, how it makes us feel and how to incorporate more food mindfulness into our lives.

HOW DOES FOOD MAKE YOU FEEL?

The foods we eat affect our mood, behaviour and brain function. Feeling grouchy, angry, tired or sad can be a result of not nourishing our bodies in a supportive way. It may take years to see physical health consequences of poor nutrition, but our mental and emotional health can be affected immediately.

The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing at a rapid pace. Studies show reduction in the risk for major depression and anxiety disorders in people who regularly consume a diverse and balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high-quality meat and fish. On the other hand, a diet high in refined or ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased likelihood of depression.

Food can play a vital role in how we feel, so it’s important to build this awareness and work towards optimizing your diet.

WHERE TO START?

  • Focus on whole foods instead of processed foods. A great place to start is by having a piece of fruit and some nuts instead of a fruit and nut granola bar.
  • Incorporate more colour and variety across your day and/or week.
  • Try incorporating more local and seasonal produce into your diet.
  • Visit local farmers’ markets, talk to farmers and get to know what’s seasonal and local.
  • Experiment in the kitchen by starting a cookbook club, trying a new recipe weekly or monthly and getting your whole family involved in cooking.
  • Make small, realistic, sustainable changes that work for your lifestyle.
  • Seek advice from a registered dietitian to help achieve your personal goals.

Of course, there are many barriers to eating well. Time, stress, accessibility, cost, lack of education and skills, preferences, fatigue — the list goes on. Some of these barriers can lead to us experiencing distinct types of hunger.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF HUNGER

  • Stomach hunger: The physical need for food. This is when your stomach begins to growl and you are eating for the well-being of your body.
  • Mouth hunger: Craving the pleasure of food. For example, you stand in the kitchen, looking for something to eat: “Where are those salty chips? No, I want creamy…where is that ice cream?”
  • Heart hunger: Eating in response to habits, emotions or how you’re feeling mentally rather than physically.

When faced with these different types of hunger, how can we respond mindfully?

  • Be aware of hunger and fullness cues. Appetite is a natural cue we get from our bodies.
  • Try to enjoy your food by eating slowly and chewing food thoroughly without distractions.
  • Ask yourself “Am I hungry?” and identify the type of hunger that you’re feeling. (Is it stomach, mouth or heart?) If you are hungry, ask yourself “What am I hungry for? What would make me satisfied?” Tune into what your body is craving; is it a specific taste, texture, aroma, temperature?
  • Aim to eat primarily for physical hunger versus boredom, stress, fatigue or emotional reasons. Determine if food or another strategy is required to satisfy your need.

Bottom line? Listen to your body, and eat what will make you feel your best in the long term. There is no perfect path to change, but having patience and compassion for yourself is important.

To learn more about how your diet can affect your mental health, reach out to your Copeman registered dietitian.