It’s no secret, I’m partial to a packet of maltesers, will gladly dive in to a box of Jaffa Cakes and have occasionally been known to order ice cream only if it comes with chocolate sauce.
There’s also no secret to the fact that too much of anything, especially with sugar in it, is bad for you, which is why I don’t eat chocolate all the time. But now and then you need some “chicken soup for the soul”; in my case that chicken soup is chocolate.
There is a strong relationship between food and mood. If you’ve grown up with a healthy relationship with food, then you eat when you’re hungry, you eat regularly, in proportion to your weight and you don’t binge or purge food; you know when you’ve “had enough” and don’t eat more than you need.
But for many people, they’ve developed an unhealthy relationship with food, and when stress is present you may starve yourself (albeit sometimes unintentionally, or not for long), withholding food because what you do or don’t put in your body is the only control you have, if it’s even on your mind.
Or you might eat until you feel or are physically sick.
People don’t necessarily like labels like Anorexia or Bulimia (both of which are more detailed than I will go into here), but nonetheless these are words that can spring to mind.
There are many reasons people develop an unhealthy relationship with food. If your main carer gave you food as a child whenever you were upset, you will naturally see food as a source of comfort. If you have lived with someone who associated being attractive with low weight, then you may become fixated with keeping your weight down because you believe they will stop loving you or leave you if you don’t.
But stress also plays its part. For a long time, I wouldn’t – couldn’t – eat if I was stressed. I skipped breakfast, lunch and occasionally dinner, only snacking on chocolate or drinking sugary tea in between. When I started to realise the negative impact this had on my health – my skin was terrible, amongst other things – I made a promise to myself that I would eat breakfast every day, and made a point of having lunch and supper, even if it was something small, but always fresh (never processed). I had to figure this out for myself though, no amount of people telling me I had to eat made much of a difference. Ironically, when I suffered with depression during pregnancy, eating was all I ever seemed to do.
We also know there’s a link between food and anxiety, that being that certain foods – usually containing sugar or caffeine – can make us feel edgy. Keeping a food diary can help you establish connections between what you eat and how you feel.
Keeping a food diary can help you establish connections between what you eat and how you feel.
Depression can be a vicious circle when it comes to food. If you’re low, you may not want to eat, and if you don’t eat your mental health will deteriorate.
In all these cases, particularly if your thoughts are turning to other forms of self harm, seek help from your doctor immediately.
So, I will never give up chocolate because now I have a healthy relationship with it – it’s my occasional ‘treat’, and that’s okay. Plus, there are believed to be some benefits of eating chocolate, particularly dark chocolate. What I also do is make sure I eat, even if it’s little and often. I incorporate healthy foods like fruit and vegetables, and make sure I get the right balance of carbs, protein and fat in my diet. Remember, if you discover links between a negative mood and food, seek the help of a professional.
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This article was produced for Mental Health Awareness Week to start a positive conversation about mental health. Please read the important information at the bottom of this page before leaving a question or comment.