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How Much Does What I’m Eating Affect My Mood?

If the stomach is well-fed and happy, the mind typically follows

There have been countless occasions over the course of my lifetime when I’ve spent an entire workday fantasizing about crushing my evening workout like Superman, only to have those plans derailed by a meal that had kryptonite-level consequences on my brain. In the snap of a finger, I went from feeling like I could move planets to feeling like I couldn’t move a muscle. 

Similarly, I’ve also staggered my way home from work multiple times, feeling as though I was on the verge of being fitted for a pine box, only to have what I ate for dinner amp me up enough to want to grab an axe and wipe out entire rows of pine trees, like a miniature Paul Bunyan. 

Unless I’m overlooking a hidden explanation, there’s definitely something about my food choices that holds profound sway over my mood and level of motivation. 

So what’s the deal? Is food the secret pre-workout that I never knew existed?

I don’t know that I’d phrase it that way, only because that would be an insult to food. 

Lemme put it this way: Do you remember when you were a kid, and you would throw random materials into a bonfire to see how each would burn differently? The leaves, dry grass and other materials that burned quickly and brightly, let off weird black smoke and ceased to contribute any sustaining value to the overall heat-and-light production — that’s the preworkout in this analogy.

Which I guess is also to say, choices over the types of sustenance you put in your body can have drastic effects on your energy level and your mood, and that’s clearly something worth considering as you’re deciding between a store-bought chicken breast and a 40-piece Chicken McNuggets.

I dunno. Sometimes I love the idea of chomping into a tender, golden, crispy McNugget. Do you have any proof to back this up?

Not much, aside from more than 40 studies that demonstrate a link between the consumption of junk food and an increased risk of depression. A unified analysis of the data compiled during all of these studies found that foods containing a lot of fat and sugar — as well as foods that are processed — cause systemic inflammation of the entire body, including the brain. This influences both the mind and body in ways that mirror the effects of “smoking, pollution, obesity and lack of exercise.”

Aside from this, simply by eating undeniably healthy foods, you’re probably going to significantly improve your overall mood. In particular, protein has been shown to greatly enhance people’s ability to concentrate, and vitamin-rich food content has also been proven to contribute toward a positive outlook. Of course, I’d be remiss not to apply this to a workout context, where studies have further demonstrated that eating virtually any form of non-processed food prior to a workout will at least not have a deleterious influence on your level of performance (or your endurance therein).

Whoa. I guess I should never eat fast food or junk food.

Let’s not get carried away. There’s a time and place for everything, and there’s a reason why certain moments in life are often punctuated with indulging in types of food — or quantities of specific foods — that aren’t necessarily healthy. A birthday celebration wouldn’t be the same without a cake, right? 

It’s more a matter of understanding what your food choices are going to do to you physically and mentally, and then planning accordingly. If eating a cookie is going to have you depressed and reminiscing about the person who ditched you on Sweetest Day 2003, instead of brimming with enough energy to knock out everything on your to-do list (whether that involves physical activity or not), choose something else. Or choose the cookie and don’t put pressure on yourself to be anything but heartbroken.

But as far as your mood is concerned, always remember that the cookie isn’t as sweet as it tastes.