How Food Can Influence Healing and Improve Your Mood

Did you know that eating certain foods can enhance positive emotional reactions to daily life events, improve your overall mood and help you heal/deal with chronic pain/illnesses?
The way you react to small/large life challenges and your mood is called “Affect”. One can have a tendency towards a Positive Affect or Negative Affect. Certain foods and other mind/body exercises can rewire towards a more Positive Affect.

So why is Affect important to heal from chronic pain/illness and how does Food contribute?

A tendency to react positively to daily stresses and an overall good mood actually softens how danger signals from the body get processed in our spinal cord and brain. Danger signals can range from a skinned knee, bruise, bending forward to pick a tissue. A person with a positive affect tends to react to danger signals with either no pain or very little pain. The same danger signals in a person with a negative affect may experience pain more readily and intensely!

Naturally, all humans coexist with a population of healthy gut bacteria called microbiome. A healthy microbiome enhances healthy brain function, which can lead to the likelihood of fostering a positive affect. Additionally, a healthy microbiome may prevent Leaky Gut Syndrome: where bacteria, incompletely digested proteins, fats, and waste not normally absorbed by the body, may “leak” out of the intestines into the bloodstream. Having too many “bad” bacteria in our bloodstream triggers an autoimmune reaction, where lots of inflammatory chemicals like cytokines are released which can lead to gastrointestinal problems such as abdominal bloating, excessive gas and cramps, fatigue, food sensitivities, joint pain, skin rashes, and autoimmunity.

For those with persistent gastrointestinal issues such as Leaky Gut Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) finding a diet that creates balance throughout the body can be an ongoing struggle. Nutritionist Sara Khan provides the following pearls of wisdom for those seeking some relief. According to Sara, the following foods can contribute to symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea:

  • Excess of Prebiotic fiber (found in foods such as: dandelion greens, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root)
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Coffee
  • Sugar alcohols (typically found in sugar-free gum, candy, mints, protein & snack bars, and ice cream)

Do a little experiment to see which of these foods may be strongly linked to your symptoms. First remove these types of foods for about 2 weeks. Then add each, one at a time over a few days to pinpoint which of these affect your symptoms. You may feel better too. Write these down to help you keep track

Or, instead of eliminating foods, you can stimulate good digestion/GI function by doing the following:

  • Hydrating- ensure your diet has an adequate amount water! Water helps to move contents throughout the digestive tract and helps you poop with ease. A suggestion is to drink water first thing in the morning, just before your next cup of coffee/tea, before meals/snacks.
  • Chew your food completely- Smaller pieces are easier for the body to digest. Take one bite at a time- large meals are taxing for the digestive system
  • Manage your stress- consider taking a few slow deep, diaphragmatic breaths to stimulate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, signaling our body to “rest and digest”
  • Move during the day!- Moving the body stimulates motility throughout the digestive system

Your meal plate should be 50% veggies, 25% protein (eggs, fish, chicken/turkey, red meat), and the rest a low glycemic carbohydrate such as sweet potato, quinoa, or brown rice.

Knowing the effect of diet on your Affect allows you to cook up the perfect recipe for healing pain! Think of your recipe for pain relief being a mixture of one part good movement strategies one part good thought processes, and one part well-balanced nutrition. If you are dealing with chronic pain, consider reaching out to a team of health practitioners who can help.

At EMH Physical Therapy our DPT’s provide a variety of manual, movement and teach many self-help techniques to enhance Positive Affect and heal from many chronic GI and pain issues We work with nutritionists to treat chronic gastrointestinal conditions like constipation and diarrhea; as food can be an underlying cause of distress.

Sara Khan offers free 15-minute phone consultations and can be reached at: sara@sarakahnnutrition.com

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