Fuel for the body, fuel for the mind
In the last article Fitness for the mind. The little predator within us I invited you to acknowledge and observe that inner living creature, the one which often brings out our wildest face. Of the many aspects of our lifestyle leading us to feed this little predator, our diet is the most essential one. That is why this time we will examine the way we fuel our body, focusing on the raw material in a strictly physical way and how this affects our behavior.
First of all, let’s be clear about one thing: nutrition plays an important role not only in our physical but also our mental and emotional health. This involves and affects pretty much all our world, from the sort of thoughts and ideas we have to the ability to respond efficiently to any circumstance. The quality of the food we eat defines the quality of our life. From the moment we are born, our body works 24 hours a day 365 days per year with no break or day off and will keep doing so until our last breath. Now, do you really believe there is any justification to deprive it from good quality foods? Time, money and other circumstances are poor excuses. It is a matter of self-education, when we get to understand that nourishing our body should be at the top of the agenda every single day.
Apart from quality, quantity is another big issue and it has to do with our lifestyle, culture and education. A sedentary lifestyle often leads to overconsumption of food as it does for poor food choices. When our body lacks certain nutrients, we keep asking for food in search of what it is needed in the same way as it will when we stay inactive. An ancient survival mechanism takes us to detect and understand a ‘long break’ as the chance to ‘replenish the stock’. Our body is not designed to stay fit but to have more than enough reserves for a hypothetic lean season, but the lean season never arrives so our immune system is damaged leading to a chain of side effects. Briefly said, overeating, going for low-nutritional-value foods and a sedentary lifestyle may bring many health and mental issues such as anxiety, depression, obesity, anger, irritation, restlessness and nervousness.
Another aspect worth mentioning about quantity is when to stop eating. I find particularly interesting how some Asian cultures eat until they do not feel hungry while in Western culture we stop eating when we feel full. Think about it.
Regarding what to drink, keep it simple: go natural, drink water. Most soft drinks are packed with artificial sweeteners, sugars and flavors highly harmful for our body, not to mention the effects these substances have on our mood and energy levels. If you fancy an alternative drink to water maybe you can go for a fresh fruit juice or smoothie. In any case, keep in mind that your body prefers fruit as it comes, with its proteins and fiber. Up to 60% of our body is water so make sure more than a sixth part of your liquid daily intake is pure water.
As different fuels lead to different levels of performance, different foods take us to different states of mind and body. Particularly, certain foods exacerbate our irritation and anxiety feelings. As we have to deal with the consequences of our acts, learning which effects food causes over our behavior is a wise thing to do. Perhaps you can start checking which impact these foods and substances have on your mood and energy levels: caffeine, alcohol, dairy, meat, sugar, aspartame, agave nectar, sucralose, HFCS (High Fructuose Corn Syrup) and MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). This is not meant to be taken as a ‘forbidden list’, although I would definitely recommend you to stay as far away as possible from the last six. It is just an invitation for you to check how these make you feel. Then you decide which should be completely removed from your diet or what is the right amount for you. Remember to stay always connected to your body, not every moment or every day is the same, be present.
Caffeine increases your concentration, productivity and creativity. Coffee is actually a fantastic drink to boost your energy, mood and libido, just remember to take it easy with it. As a stimulating drink I recommend you to reserve it for those moments in which you will stay physically or mentally active for a while. Otherwise the ‘overflow of energy’ will start running through your body with no ‘exit point’ and will eventually find it with a highly reactive response to any given situation. I personally only drink coffee when I am going to have a very active day and my mind is at peace. Only one a day, always by the afternoon time to ensure I have a good rest at night. In any case, coffee is not for everyone and some of you probably already know that. Just check what it feels right for you. The same thing can be applied to tea, as it has a slightly less stimulating effect but this lasts for longer. There are plenty of tasty healthy alternatives to coffee to boost your energy. Some of my favorites are chicory drink, green tea, raw cacao, goji berries, maca and spirulina. Why do not give them a try during one of your days off? It might be a great start!
Finally we can find that keeping meat consumption to a minimum is a good aid to manage that inner little wild creature. Meat has a similar effect to caffeine due to one of its components, creatine, an acid that helps to supply energy to all cells of the body, mainly muscles. It is a non-essential nutrient, as it is naturally manufactured in the human body. However we can increase our creatine levels by food, primarily meat. Meat then aids our body to convert energy more easily and efficiently. It works as a type of energy shuttle. Then it is the excess of energy moving through our body which gives raise to a more aggressive version of ourselves. This is the reason why some people use creatine supplements to maximise their workouts results at the gym -something I would never recommend by the way. Then, how much meat is too much? I would suggest to eat good quality meat one or maximum two times per week. Please, be aware that removing or reducing meat consumption from your diet drastically, may lead to major health issues, so best to have an expert guidance if you cannot take the time to do an in-depth research from competent sources.
Important note: It is highly advised to consume certain types of foods such as meat, dairy, fish, coffee and some fruit and veggies only from organic grown cultivations due to the high levels of pesticides, hormones and genetically modified organisms used in its manufacture.
There is practically nothing more important than nurturing your body and mind. Be aware of the quality of your food choices. Drink plenty of water and eat only as much as you need, no more, no less. Stay away from anything which has not been shaped by the earth – especially processed and transgenic food, follow a balanced diet rich in veggies, fruits, pulses and eat as much organic food as you can. Do not forget the importance of good quality rest and regular exercise.
When we do not care about ourselves as we should, we step down to a more animal stage. Then that inner wild living thing within us gains power and we become more impulsive and highly reactive. These basic guidelines will definitely help you to gain awareness and therefore power over that little predator within you.
We can find thousand of reasons to remain stuck in the same unhealthy habits but we must believe in ourselves, step out of our comfort zone and make our existence an on-going process of positive growth at all levels; the way we fuel our body it is certainly the basis of anything else. It is not about changing your lifestyle on the day but gradually including new healthy habits into your life to feel better and stay authentic to who you really are. Love and look after yourself by making wise food choices and make this a priority in your life.
Written by Pilar