Most of us are familiar with the old adage that you are what you eat.
While we don’t literally turn into a banana or a slice of pizza simply by consuming it, research does confirm that there is a lot of truth to diet’s effects on who we are, how we interact with others, and how well we’re able to handle all of the situations that life tends to throw our way—whether related to family, work, or any of our dozens of other obligations.
Though Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science calls the relationship between food and its effects “complex,” they do point to many different studies that have indeed found a connection between the two.
For instance, one study referenced found that high-carbohydrate meals tend to leave women feeling more tired, while their effect on men tends to be more of a sense of calm.
Age can be a factor as well, as that same study also found that participants over 40 had trouble with “sustained focus” after eating a lunch heavy in carbs when compared to participants in other age brackets. Thus, in addition to gender differences, dietary effects can also vary based on which decade of life you’re in.
Additional studies compiled by Dartmouth further highlight the complexity of this issue with their findings on diet’s effect on energy levels based on whether you tend to be a morning person (making lunch and afternoon food choices more important to keeping up your energy levels at night) or someone who tends to be active later in the day (making eating the right breakfast critical if you need to be more alert in the early morning hours).
Mood, alertness and energy can all either contribute to or detract from quality of life. In other words, if you feel lethargic, foggy and down, then you probably aren’t going to be your best self. Conversely, when you’re happy, alert and feel alive, life is fun to live.
Yet, eating a healthy diet isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
Healthy Eating Obstacles
First and foremost, there are so many different diet plans available. It can feel extremely overwhelming to try to figure out which one is best for you. Some are high-carb, others are low-carb. Some focus strictly on eating a lot of protein and healthy fats, while others call fats “evil” and aim for lower-fat fare instead. It can be daunting to say the least.
Fortunately, some research has been conducted on this topic, giving us more information as to how certain types of foods tend to affect us. For instance, one study published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience revealed that eating omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, flax seeds, soybeans and other foods) can improve brain cognition and mood.
Other food items mentally beneficial include egg yolks, chicken, asparagus, cheese, oysters, red meat and beans, just to name a few.
But then there’s the issue of finding the time to eat more healthfully. In November of 2013, the American Journal of Health Behavior published a study involving 2,287 young adults (which included both men and women, all between the ages of 25 and 30). Each participant completed a survey used to assess their beliefs and behaviors toward food.
After compiling and analyzing the responses, researchers discovered that more than half ate while on the go, stating that they didn’t feel like they had time to prepare and sit down to eat healthier foods.
Not surprisingly, this group of respondents also had a high reliance on fast food—80 percent of the males and 70 percent of the females admitted to having fast food at least once per week. However, this option can easily derail the best of dietary intentions, especially when you’re standing face-to-face with a lot of not-so-healthy options.
This study also found that unhealthy eating behaviors were even more pronounced for young men and women who tended to work more hours per week (with a baseline of 20 hours for women and 40 hours for men).
How can you eat in a way that enables you to take better care of yourself, allowing you to also take better care of those around you?
Massage Therapy and Diet
“As a licensed massage therapist and business owner, I’m always concerned about having enough energy to devote myself to the work of massage, which is very physical,” says Rachel Beider, L.M.T., owner of Massage Williamsburg.
That’s why she chooses to eat a “strictly vegetarian diet—no meat or fish.” Beider says that eating this way means balancing protein and greens, but also credits keeping track of her foods and their effects with giving her a better understanding of what works for her individually.
“I find that keeping a journal of what works and what doesn’t is very helpful for understanding my needs and keeping my energy high,” says Beider.
“For example, I’ve kept a food diary of what I eat, how I feel just after eating, 30 minutes after, and an hour after. I discovered that, for me, foods like almonds and apples gave me a ton of sustainable energy without the crashing feeling that sugar has. I also noticed that carb-heavy foods like pasta make me instantly sleepy.”
Leah Gore, L.M.T., owner of Heavenly Garden A Spa in Greenbelt, Maryland, says that she “eats healthy as a form of self-care, most particularly by adhering to the Paleo Diet.”
In an article published by The New Yorker, writer and 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert, explains that the basis behind the Paleo Diet is to eat only “the sorts of food available in pre-agricultural days.”
This means consuming mainly meats, fruits and veggies, and nuts and seeds, and avoiding the plethora of processed foods available today.
How To Make Healthy Eating Habits
Regardless of which eating plan you decide is best for you, there are a few things you can do to make changing your diet a little easier to take. In a U.S. News & World Report article, health writer Keri Gans shares a couple of them, which include paying attention to the beverages you drink (especially ones with no nutritional value), increasing your fruit and veggie intake and planning ahead to better combat food cravings before they even strike.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases adds that, if you’re not sure you’re ready to transform your diet, it’s helpful to spend some time thinking about the pros and cons of making dietary changes. If the pros outweigh the cons, it may be a good time to start.
However, if you’re at the stage where you’ve already decided that you’re ready to go, it may be more beneficial to anticipate upcoming roadblocks (such as not having much time or not being fond of healthy foods), and deciding in advance how you intend to overcome them.
Changing your diet isn’t easy, but it is a form of self-care, so it should definitely be a priority.
Besides, you’ll likely find you feel better when you eat more healthfully, making it a positive tradeoff that is worth the undertaking.
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