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Food and Moods - what's the link?
  • Mindfulness, being 'in the moment', is a technique used to help us to press the pause button on whatever or whoever is taking up our attention, enabling us to tune in to our current awareness. This method has been proven to be effective in controlling our food choices as well as helping to train ourselves to stop eating when we are no longer hungry. This is a subtle but effective difference between eating until we are full, often an uncomfortable physical feeling, perhaps even leading to painful emotions of guilt and remorse. We are now very much into the season of emotional eating as discussed in the October blog and Mindfulness can have a part to play in our decisions about the foods we choose. Instead of fuelling our body with a 'quick fix pick me up', we could stand back for a moment and think about picking a wholesome food which will soothe us for longer than the empty calorie snack we eat mindlessly, soon leaving us wanting for more.

    Even after practising Mindful meditation we may still make the same choices, healthy or otherwise but they may well be more informed ones. Whatever the outcome you will have given yourself a brief time out from however chaotic your life and thoughts may be.

    Catherine Brennan-Harris November 2012

  • As the nights begin cutting in and the temperature drops, we look to ways of soothing ourselves and to feeling more snug and secure. This seems like a perfect time of year to consider comfort food. What constitutes such dishes varies from person to person and it is likely that each individual reading this article will have their own comfort food of choice. I would hazard a guess that the dish you have in mind is functional, for instance it is warming, is a quick fix when feeling sluggish or maybe just tastes great! I am interested where some of the associations originate from that set certain foods apart from others to become our comfort food.

    As has been discussed in a previous blog, memories can sway our food choices, for instance we may wish to reconnect to past good experiences when a specific foodstuff has been present. This is not always a conscious decision but may explain our preference for softly textured nourishment which commonly appears in lists of popular soothing recipes. Could it be that it reminds us of the easily palatable meals given to us as babies; typically a time of nurture and safety? As someone who is conscious of their weight and health, it is a challenge to find comfort foods that are good for me as well as make me feel good but when it's cold and dark outside even the thought of salad makes me shiver!

    Catherine Brennan-Harris October 2012

  • It is the job of food photographers and stylists to make food look as appealing as possible. A large part of our food choices will involve the anticipation for what we are going to eat and this involves our senses and is driven by, or stimulates our mood at that time. Food photography exploits this by making food look good enough to eat and at times, tricks of light and false ingredients will be used to retain shape and form. The photographs used to sell food products and restaurant dishes are designed to look their best and that is everything from confectionary and fast foods to salads and fruits.

    The association we build up between what food choice will be pleasant and rewarding is a very powerful one, so when an ice cream sundae is prepared by a food stylist our brain doesn't care that it may actually be made from scooped mashed potato! This increased brain activity may not be so apparent when presented with healthy foods that are sometimes seen to be dull and bland, no matter how much hairspray and water droplets are applied to help salads and vegetables compete with sugary and other quick fix foods.

    The feel good factor of rainbows were used by government campaigns to encourage us to eat a wide variety of healthy foods and this image is effective in appealing to our senses. It is questionable to what extent even the most eye catching and visually stunning nutritious food could ever sway us when we are fixated on a high fat or empty calorie alternative we are convinced will make us feel better. Returning from your lunch break with a basket of fruit for co-workers may never make you so much the office hero as a box of cupcakes will!

    Catherine Brennan-Harris - September 2012


  • Food can have a powerful impact on our health and wellbeing and there are endless articles and research findings published in the press telling us about the latest diet fad and superfood that we all should be eating and it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Chocolate lovers rejoiced when it was claimed that there is scientific basis for its mood boosting properties however Dieticians believe that the effect is more down to association than scientific fact. When we enjoy chocolate and other sweet treats it may be more about the memories and sensations evoked by such foods for example times of success and celebration when such foods are typically available as rewards or during social occasions and happy times.

    There are other foods aside from chocolate that have the same mood boosting component however green vegetables and liver may not have the same appeal and associated feel-good memories. Perhaps if we were to swap chocolate for mood enhancing foods such as cereals, proteins, fruit and vegetables while we reminisce about good times we would be able to get the balance just right and our waistline and halo will remain firmly intact!

    Catherine Brennan-Harris - August 2012

    • Cat has worked with people in a counselling role in various settings, helping them deal with a range of different issues. She has a particular interest in the way in which nutrition has an impact on both physical and mental health, and we look forward to reading about her views and research on the subject. Contact her through Odyssey to let her know your thoughts!

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