I love this post from Jessica of Energetic Mama. Since working more on my nutrition I have learnt the food I eat has a huge impact on my ability to help me achieve my goal of being a planned, patient and present mum to my kids. If I haven’t refuelled after a solid work out, I can easily find the kids’ behaviour more annoying that I should and can be short tempered. (Ever heard of hangry?) Or if I am unprepared with my food and don’t eat a well balanced meal for lunch, I can find myself waning by the time 4pm comes around.
If this sounds familiar to you, then keep reading as Jessica shares some great tips on how you can use food to help you be a calm, happy and energetic mum.
As mums, we often think of food as a chore. We have lunchbox ideas to come up with, dinners to create and ‘I’m hungry’ complaints to contend with.
Many of us mums are so busy fixing everyone else meals and snacks (among hundreds of other daily tasks), we forget about ourselves. We either skip meals altogether or grab something on the go with little thought about the effect that food will have on our mood or energy levels.
Food does affect these things. After all, it is what fuels our bodies. The first thought many of us give to food is when we start to gain a few kilos. However, paying attention to what goes into our mouths is so much more important than just our weight loss goals.
The funny thing is we are probably more aware of when our kids are hungry or thirsty than when we are. It is our nature as mothers to be in touch with our children’s needs. If they start to get grumpy or have a meltdown, we often recognise they are hungry, thirsty or coming down off a sugar high. In the busyness of our life as a mum we often miss these same cues in ourselves.
How food affects our mood
Have you ever felt Hangry? If you’re not sure what I am talking about, being Hangry is a state of anger and irritability resulting from being hungry. I am sure you have felt it, at times probably not even recognising hunger as being the trigger of your short temper.
We experience Hanger when our blood sugar levels drop too low. This can be caused by skipping meals but also when our diet is too high in sugars and simple carbohydrates. These foods cause our sugar levels to rise initially but they come crashing back down rapidly. This often becomes a vicious cycle of craving sugary foods, feeling good for a short time, followed by Hanger which makes us crave sweet or starchy foods again.
The food we eat can affect our mental health more seriously too. Depression and other mood disorders have been correlated with a ‘starving brain’. Starving of nutrients that is.
The production of our feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA, rely heavily on the nutrients we get from the food we eat. Many of us are eating plenty (often too much) food but not enough nutrients, which can result in an imbalance in our brain chemicals. Our gut health, which is directly affected by the foods we eat (or don’t eat), is also linked to our mental health. The good bacteria in our gut help to produce these feel-good brain chemicals.
I find addressing digestive health in clients with stress, depression and anxiety helps them immensely. This is also an important consideration in children with ADHD and autism.
How food affects our energy levels
The food we eat affects our energy levels in much the same way it affects our mood. When we eat foods high in sugars and simple carbohydrates, we get a boost in energy, we feel good but it is short lived and when our blood sugar levels fall we sink into tiredness again.
Food is meant to provide nutrients to fuel our bodies but much of what we eat these days is void of nutrition for a number of reasons. The main one being our food is tampered with, processed, packaged and made to appear healthy by having a big ‘Low fat’ or ‘Sugar free’ stamp on it. I encourage you to focus on what is in the food rather that what it is free of. ‘Sugar free’ often means ‘packed full of artificial sweeteners’ and ‘low fat; often means ‘high is sugar’.
To get more nutrients from our food we need to focus on ‘Real Food’. That is food straight from a plant or animal – as close to natural as possible.
- REAL food doesn’t need to go through a factory, be put in a packet and have health claims stamped all over it.
- REAL food doesn’t need colours and flavours added to it to make it look and taste good.
- REAL food doesn’t need vitamins and minerals added to it because it has its own.
- REAL food doesn’t need to be raised in artificial, inhumane environments, like many of our animal products are these days.
REAL food is nutritious and energising! There is no need to count calories when you eat REAL food! Vegetables, salads, fruits, nuts and seeds, eggs, chicken and meat are all examples of real foods.
How food affects our weight?
We often hear that weight issues stem from eating too much and to lose weight we need to focus on cutting down on the calories and reducing our portion sizes. While this is somewhat true, it is definitely not the focus I recommend. I am not a fan of dieting, you can read why and my 6 alternatives to dieting here.
For a start, not all calories are equal. Let’s have a look at a nutritionally rich green smoothie, containing fresh fruit, coconut milk, chia seeds and spinach, which contains close to 400 calories. Compare that to a can of diet soft drink that has 0 calories.
Which is better?
The can of soft drink contains no calories but no nutrition either. The artificial sweeteners (chemicals) will leave us craving sugar leading to unhealthy food choices. The smoothie however will fill us up and satisfy us nutritionally for hours. I know which I would choose!
If we simply start to think about nourishing our bodies when we eat, rather than going for the quickest, tastiest option available to us (hello bakery stops and sugar) we are half way there in maintaining a healthy weight. As you can see, our bodies require nutrients to function so giving our body’s nutrient rich, real foods will reduce cravings, enhance energy levels and boost mood which leaves us in a much better place to be motivated to continue to eat well and move our bodies regularly.
Does that mean we can never have chocolate or cake again? Absolutely not! I don’t believe in perfection! What is important is that you eat well the majority of the time, it is absolutely OK to indulge in things you enjoy and are not nutritious once or twice a week.
Tips on changing your food habits to boost your mood, enhance your energy and maintain a healthy weight
We have access to a HUGE amount of resources these days. Surf the web, scroll Pinterest and Facebook or buy yourself a healthy cookbook. Check out my Energetic Mama recipes too! Choose recipes that excite you, buy the ingredients and spend some time experimenting in the kitchen creating your healthy masterpieces.
Prioritise your wellbeing
As mums we tend to put the needs of everyone else before our own which can never sustain us long term. Eventually it drains us – physically, mentally and emotionally. Putting ourselves first is necessary for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of our family. Just as the safety talk goes before the aeroplane takes off, if there is an emergency, put YOUR oxygen mask on first, then see to your children. They won’t have any chance of survival if they don’t have you to look after them. The same goes with your wellbeing, you need to prioritize time to look after yourself so you can be more present, energetic and balanced as a mother. We need to make time to do the things that make us feel good, bring us joy and make us laugh – things that fill up our emotional fuel tanks. Only then can we look after our children and the rest of our family to our best ability!
Nourish your body with real food, here’s how
- Choose whole foods, straight from a plant or animal as much as possible.
- If you don’t recognise an ingredient, avoid it.
- Choose local, free range and organic wherever possible.
- Get connected to your food again by growing your own, even if it is just a few herbs and lettuces!
- Shop at farmers markets. The food available is usually locally grown and seasonal, enhancing the nutrient value. You can support and talk directly to the farmers that have grown the food.
- If shopping in a supermarket, stick to the perimeters where the fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and other ‘real’ foods generally are.
Eat the right carbs
There is a lot of confusion surrounding carbs. We either eat too many of them or avoid them all together. What many people don’t realise is we can get all the carbs we need from vegetables, salads and fruit. Keeping grains such as cereals, breads, rice, pasta and crackers to 1-2 small serves a day benefits our energy, mood, weight and digestive health.
Focus on protein and fats
Protein and fats keep us full and satisfied, as well as providing essential nutrition to our bodies. Focus on getting a palm-sized portion of protein with every meal, such as eggs, nuts, fish, seafood and pasture-raised meats. Also make sure there is fat contained in each of your meals such as avocado, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, cheese and butter.
Take care of your gut health
Our gut is the foundation of our health, so feed it well. I come across gut issues every week in my clinic. Enemies to our gut include too much sugar, gluten, stress, antibiotics and even the oral contraceptive pill. Things that make our gut happy are fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha, bone broth and insoluble fibre from fresh veggies and salads.
Being a calm, happy and energetic mum is totally possible for you. Health has become way too complicated and I want to simplify it for you without the need for dieting, counting calories or fad exercise programs! My approach is all about delicious, satisfying foods combined with a healthy lifestyle, focusing on feeling good and the looking good will follow!
I have put together my Top 10 Wholefood Pantry staples so mums can be well stocked to prepare healthy food quickly and easily. Grab your copy here.
Jessica Donovan is a woman’s holistic health expert who helps mums get their sparkle back and become a more energetic, calm and joyful version of themselves. She is a one stop shop for all things nutrition, stress and hormone related. Jessica combines her deep naturopathic knowledge with a realistic, empathetic, inspiring and down to earth approach to empower women to look after themselves and take charge of their own wellbeing.
You can find her online space Energetic Mama here.