How to transform your mood-motivated food cravings
Eating icecream as you bliss out to avoid feelings you are not comfortable with is not a calming practice around your food but an addictive practice of avoidance. The line can be fine, as we all choose foods to make us feel good in one form or another — in the most primal sense to avoid starvation or in the most enlightened way to fuel the body with clean food to bring about balance with little to no highs and lows.
The first principle in using food to calm your body is to listen to the subtle and obvious signals your body is constantly using to communicate with you. Feelings of euphoria that are followed shortly after by feelings of aggression and anxiety are signs of an addictive food that has toxic after-effects. So how can you eat to create some calm in your life?
A recipe for stress
If you wish to feel calm, what you choose not to eat is as important as what you choose to eat. Processed foods are fragmented and create mixed messages in your body, confusing your body’s signals. All foods create chemical reactions in the body, just like drugs, some subtle, some more powerful.
A simple example is when you are on the sugar high-low roller coaster. If you have the sweet food that sends your blood sugar soaring then you will want the salty food to balance the overly sweet sensation and maybe some protein to even out the blood sugar levels. Choosing natural whole versions of these foods is less problematic but, as they are increasingly processed and have other chemicals added, the chain of reactions is complex and unbalancing to the body. A food may give you a false sense of calm moment while providing a hit that makes your body feel good, only to be followed by a negative fall-out effect.
A characteristic of these stress-inducing foods is that they have no intrinsic value for the human body as most of their nutrients have been removed. Their denatured form creates havoc and imbalance in the body and even strips nutrients that may be present. They are also highly addictive.
The primary ingredients of the “lethal recipe” are refined sugars, oils/fats, salts, grains, excessive dairy and synthetic chemicals. As you remove them or moderate them in your diet you will observe a measurable change in all bodily functions, increased energy levels and ability to concentrate as well as feeling less disturbed and less prone to strong emotional reactions that seemingly come out of nowhere.
Know your constitution
Developing an understanding of how your body works is valuable in discovering what foods work best for you. Foods that are calming for some can have the opposite effect for others. The Ayurvedic tridosha system is a good place to start to explore your personal body and mind constitution. The Ayurvedic system was developed more than 5000 years ago and is simply the science of daily living. There are comprehensive tests you can take as well as online versions to give you an idea of your dominant constitution and what foods can bring about balance and imbalance in your body.
It doesn’t matter how generally calming a food is if your body has a particular adverse reaction to it. A great way to learn which foods are causing reactions is to embark on an cleansing process whereby you initially strip away all processed foods and then go on a green smoothie cleanse (see below) and slowly start to introduce foods, observing their reactions on your body; then move on to observing how they interact with other foods.
Address the cause of stress
No matter what you eat, or how disciplined your approach to life is, if you don’t have balance in your emotional, mental and spiritual life, the ability of any food to calm and heal is limited. If you are eating foods to assuage guilt or pain, it’s strictly a Band-aid measure that will have limited effect. Addressing the cause (there is almost always an emotional cause behind poor food choices, even if unconscious) is the best way to eliminate the stress and in doing so you will most likely gravitate toward the food that is most balancing for your system.
Oats and whole grains — carbohydrates produce tryptophan, which triggers the production of serotonin, which is the calming drug your body produced in the womb and has made you feel wonderful ever since. I’ve found soaking my grains overnight to activate enzymes and disable anti-nutrients increases the feeling of wellbeing when eating them.
Dark leafy and bitter greens — these include kale, spinach, dandelion greens, rocket, broccoli, watercress, cos lettuce, bok choy. Lettuces have been discovered to have an opiate-like substance called lactucarium that has a calming effect.
Cold-pressed oils and raw fats — they are known to provide vital nutrients for brain development with none of the downside of cooked oils and fats.
Ginger — has been used for centuries, as it is known to calm the stomach. Use it freshly grated in teas and salad dressings as well as morning tonics.
With all foods taken as medicine it’s important to understand they are like all things in nature: meant to be used judiciously, seasonally and not all the time throughout the year. Year-round use will see their efficacy wane and any toxic elements in the plant build up over time in the body.
Yes, chocolate does deserve its own section as it is such a popular food and one that is so often used as self-medication for a low mood. Chocolate can both calm and upset the system. It contains an array of powerful compounds, including theobromine, the love drug, and anandamide, which can alter dopamine levels in the brain to create a sense of peace and relaxation. It also contains caffeine, phenylethylamine (PEA) and xanthine.
In highly processed chocolates containing refined sugars, many of the vitamins and minerals that are so richly supplied in cocoa will have been removed or destroyed in the processing, meaning there will be more downsides than upsides. It’s important to note as well that pure raw cocoa can also have an intense effect on the body and, like all powerful foods, should be used with cautious observation of how your body responds both while eating it and a few hours after.
Calming herbs for teas and tonics
Green tea contains the amino acid L-theanine, which can have a calming effect on the brain with the ability to override the effects of the caffeine in green tea. As always, listen to your body and it will tell you what is right for you.
California poppy is the non-addictive cousin to the opium poppy that has been known to have a calming effect while improving concentration. Chamomile, in particular German chamomile, contains a carminative volatile oil that can reduce flatulence and irritation of the gut wall.
Peppermint has calming effects on the intestinal tract and stomach. Tulsi, also called Holy basil, is a known adaptogen, which means it helps the body adapt to different causes of stress, whether mental, emotional, physical or environmental.
Lemon balm contains eugenol, a substance that has a calming effect on the nervous system. It is also described as a “nerve tonic” as it can moderate anxiety.
Valerian is one of the most powerful, non-addictive, non-narcotic sedatives and a central nervous system relaxant.
How you eat is as important as what you eat. Creating the right environment, sitting at a table, taking time between bites and actually observing the sensations, tastes and how the food changes as you chew bring a consciousness to eating that is all about awareness, a vital step in being at peace with what you eat and how you feel about it. Ultimately, when the body is nourished, its natural state is one of calm wherein you can handle stress infinitely better than in a malnourished body. Seeking a wholefoods diet in which you master what is right for your body will create a state where resisting once-addictive, nutrient-stripping, unbalancing foods becomes a natural, spontaneous act.
Breathe and eat The power of the breath to still the mind and body is well documented; the power of using the breath effectively when it comes to the calming powers of food is a multiplier. It will increase the power any food has to calm. The observation of the breath stills the mind. To then focus on the food you are eating while consciously breathing, tasting and observing can take the mind from the actual cause of stress and bring it back to that which you can control immediately.
Appropriate use of the breath when consuming healthy foods and feeling a loving intention toward your self is a tool for calming, energising and loving the body.
RECIPES FOR CALM
Porridge with apples, cinnamon & walnuts
Allow 1/3 cup of organic rolled oats per person for breakfast, ½ cup for big eaters.
Soak in double the amount of water overnight (for 1/3 cup of oats you soak it in 2/3 cups of water). A pinch of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon will help make the nutrients more bioavailable.
Dice 1 apple per person.
Place in a pot with a lid and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Steam apples with lid on until apple is tender; this varies depending on the variety. I prefer to use heirloom varieties such as Reinets from the farmers’ market, as they cook quite quickly. Stewart Seedling apples are quick-cooking, too, when the Reinets season finishes.
You can cook up a batch of apples at the beginning of the week to add to your porridge throughout the week if you are time pressed, but I prefer them freshly cooked or, if in a hurry, grated raw as you remove the cooked oats.
Add apples to the oats when finished and top with freshly shelled nuts and sultanas and fresh milk, raw if you can get it or my nutmilk below.
Chia seeds contain omega-3s, good calcium, soluble fibre, digestible protein, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. There is no processing and no cooking, so it’s all good.
2 tbsp chia seeds
200ml filtered water
Mix seeds and water, making sure the seeds are not clumping and are covered with water. Soak overnight.
To serve, simply add toppings as desired: chopped raw nuts, sultanas, fresh fruit and nutmilk.
1 cup raw almonds
1/3 cup raw cashews
1/3 vanilla bean
1 fresh date, pitted
Soak almonds in plenty of filtered water overnight.
Drain water in the morning and add 4 cups filtered water, 1 fresh date and 1/3 vanilla bean finely chopped.
Allow to sit for at least 2 hours to allow the date to break up and the vanilla bean to soften.
Blend at the highest speed until the mix is very smooth.
* Strain the liquid from the pulp through a nutmilk bag or strain through cheesecloth over a mesh strainer.
Keep in a covered glass container in the fridge for no more than 4 days.
** If you do not need the nutmilk to be pulp-free simply omit the straining stage and you will have a wholefood version of nutmilk, which I’ve become quite fond of in my porridge and smoothies.
Green juices and smoothies can contain:
- Kale and other dark green leaves such as rocket, cos or romaine lettuce, spinach, beetroot leaves
- Grasses such as wheatgrass, barley grass, wild grasses from clean, pesticide-free paddocks
- Vegies including celery, carrots, beetroot, capsicum/bell peppers
- Herbs such as parsley, mint, basil, coriander/cilantro
- Fruit including tomato, cucumber, apple, all citrus but particularly lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange, pear, pineapple, berries*, mango*, avocado* and banana*
* These are particularly good for smoothies as they create thickness and creaminess.
Tree Hugger Salad
You can use any assortment of organic greens that are in season, such as asparagus, zucchini and bok choy. I also occasionally use the flesh from fresh young coconuts sliced thinly as it gives a lovely textural contrast to the crunchy vegetables.
100g green beans
150g broccoli florets
1 ripe avocado, diced (optional)
100g mixed lettuce leaves or spinach
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cold-pressed olive oil
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 freshly grated clove of garlic
Toss all ingredients together.
Tangelo Ginger Tonic
Grate 1 tsp fresh ginger into a mug.
Squeeze the juice of 1 tangelo into the mug.
Top up mug with boiling water.
Sip and make sounds of awe!
Ginger Apple Vinegar Tonic
Grate 1 tsp fresh ginger into a mug.
Add 1 tsp organic apple cider vinegar and 1 tsp organic cold-extracted honey.
Mix in warm filtered water.
Raw Cocoa Fruit & Nut Slice
I can’t tell you how often I am asked to bring this slice to meetings. Sometimes I think I’m invited only because they think I will bring it. It’s so easy that when people see how simple it is to make it they are stunned. Try it yourself and see how delicious raw food can be. This recipe helped wean me off my biggest addiction: refined sugar.
1 cup raw macadamia nuts
½ cup raw cashews
½ cup raw almonds
½ cup sunflower seeds
1 tbsp each of flaxseeds and chia seeds, ground
1 cup sultanas
1 cup coconut
16 prunes, pitted
10 fresh dates, pitted
Seeds of 2 vanilla beans
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 cup raw cacao
1 tbsp cold-pressed coconut oil
Place macadamias, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, sultanas and coconut in food processor until the sultanas are broken up into a crumb size. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until well mixed. Press evenly into a plastic container 30cm x 20cm, cut lines for squares and refrigerate. When firm, remove and break into squares and place in an air-tight container.
Sherry Strong is a food philosopher and nutritional strategist based in Melbourne and Vancouver. She is the Curator & Co-Founder of the World Wellness Project, runs workshops and speaks globally on food and its connection to wellness. www.sherrystrong.com
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