When you're feeling down or anxious, it's easy to reach for ice cream, chocolate and pizza. For some reason, we assume foods with high sugar and high fat content will make us feel better, and it does - but not for very long.
We crave junk food, and when our mood is low we are at our most vulnerable to indulging in things we crave, no matter how bad they might be for us. Unfortunately, unhealthy foods are designed to be addictive to most people, but the long-term effects are anything but desirable. And the worse we feel in our physical body, the worse we feel mentally and emotionally.
Eating sugary and high carb snacks causes our blood sugar to rise and fall rapidly which can directly impact your mood and anxiety levels. Sugar causes fast but brief releases of energy, which is why we can feel so good after our favourite sweet treat, but that drop in energy is just as noticeable. The lower our energy levels, the lower our mood.
Junk food such as takeaway pizza, burgers, greasy kebabs etc. also cause us to feel particularly fatigued. This is because of the high fat and carbohydrate content. Saturated fats are not easy for the body to digest, so blood and oxygen has to be diverted away from your organs and muscles to your digestive system because it's working harder.
If your brain feels foggy after a fast food binge, you're not going to feel motivated to do anything that might help your mental health, such as exercise. Eating junk food everyday can therefore effect our memories and cognitive function, which only makes daily activity such as work and everyday organisation harder than it already is when you have general mental health issues anyway.
On the other hand, not everyone who struggles with their mental health uses food as a comfort. Sometimes we can feel lacking in appetite, and this is even worse for your mental health. In order for your brain to function properly, you need nutritionally rich foods. If you're finding eating a problem, aim to eat little and often and opt for high calorie foods.
Calorie-rich food can be found in the healthiest of diets; for example, high-fat doesn't mean unhealthy. Avocado, eggs, oily fish and nuts are all full of good fats essential for a balanced diet. High-carb doesn't mean bad either; complex carbohydrates found in wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice, grains and starchy vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre which is essential for digestive function.
Fibre is particularly important when we feel anxious because when we're under stress, our oxygen and blood is diverted to our muscles as a priority so that we are able to take fast action against immediate threats. Unfortunately, this means that our digestive system gets less help doing its work, and a poor functioning digestive system leads to weight gain, irritable bowels, constipation and heartburn. Again, the worse we feel in our physical body, the worse we feel mentally.
Good mental health can only be achieved through improved physical health. After all, the brain is a physical organ that needs just as much care as every other organ - if not more. Healthy living can get you a long way towards happiness and contentment, so next time you feel like gorging on a family sized pizza because you've had a bad day, consider treating yourself to your favourite nutritious meal instead.