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Joyriding the Food-Mood Highway

It's generally accepted that how we feel influences what we choose to eat or drink (mood to food). We chomp at the bit for just about any reason to indulge in bites and brews. We turn everyday mundane events into celebrations. We use food and alcohol to quell our emotional discomforts, even minor ones like when a run in our stockings prompts a run to the liquor store. Clearly, conditioned patterns of emotional rewards involve satiating our bellies or saturating our brains. Our moods dictate our food choices.

Less convincing is the opposite. That is, what we eat affects our mental functioning (food to mood). The use of caffeine is one example of this complex bi-directional relationship between the central and enteric (digestive) nervous systems. Caffeine found in tea, coffee, cola drinks, and chocolate is probably the most widely used behavior-modifying drug in the world. When a "pick me up" is on the front burner, we grab the java grande not the java script. Coke is the real thing when water won't satisfy the need for a carbonated, caramelized concoction we can almost sink our teeth into. Beloved chocolate is the panacea for women at least 3 days a month before our moon, or 30 days a month if we're healing through a brake-up.

Having a cup of coffee or tea also has positive psychological associations. We meet a friend for "coffee and a chat" or vacate a rough day by sitting down with a cup of tea to decompress. We listen for the sound of our spouse's snore to know it's go-time on the Lindor. But too much caffeine can cause neuro-disruptive conditions like anxiety and depression. We feed ourselves without caution. Adventures with food have consequences with mood causing harmful, long-term mental and physical illness. The connection between mood and food is two-directional, and can easily spiral out of control if we remain ignorant about the reasons why we choose to fuel our bodies, and with what kinds of food. Notice when you're cued to the local Burger Bin for a 3-stack-cheese-attack special. I'm not minimizing the traditions and joy in using food to celebrate and socialize. Just suggesting while we're popping corks and dipping chips, we consider the whys, then weigh out the risks. If we eat better, we feel better.

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