The Intrinsic Nature of Mood & Food
The link between mood and food is intrinsic. Almost every vitamin and mineral is responsible for mental stability – and symptoms such as fuzziness, fatigue, irritability, tension, anxiety, nervousness and depressed feelings can all result from poor dietary choices.
The good news is that there are easy and inexpensive measures we can all take - at work and at home - to reduce and avoid those icky side-effects of a food hangover.
Of course as an employer, you don’t pack the lunches for your staff or place their order at the café or restaurant down the road. And you have little control over that charity chocolate box doing the office rounds, the morning and afternoon group lattes, and the farewell staff lunches.
But there is so much you can do in the workplace to assist your staff to choose the right food to lift their mood.
Because, here’s the thing; many people are desperate to make positive changes to their nutritional choices, but the gap between wanting and doing is overwhelmingly large due to the temptation they face at every turn.
So let’s get to work on reducing some of those unhealthy enticements. There are many workplace friendly initiatives that can easily be implemented without significant cost or changes to your business that will result in major benefits for your staff and your bottom line.
Here’s just a few.
On the Menu:
The single most cost effective and easiest measure to enhance mood in the workplace is through drinking water. So provide your staff with lots of it!
Remember your body is made up of 60% water, with the brain and muscle containing up to 75% water, so it makes sense that thirsty muscles tire easily, reducing work capacity or mental prowess. 100% of the time, your staff will feel better from drinking 6+ glasses of water a day.
Research into omega 3 and its ability to assist with mental disorders such as depression, post natal depression and even ADHA suggests enormous benefits can be obtained from a dietary inclusion, particularly fish oil derived.
Encourage your staff to aim for 2-3 serves of fatty fish a week, and if these food sources are not available in the workplace, omega 3 via fish oil capsules (10g per day) is a good addition to any diet.
Another great strategy for encouraging consumption of omega 3 at work is to place communal bowls of unshelled walnuts around the office. They not only taste great but also provide staff with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. (You can even add a nutcracker to provide tension, stress or comic relief from the exertion required to get to the actual nut!)
B Complex Vitamins
B vitamins are known to improve mood and increase mental function, however daily intake is required due to their water solubility, which means any excess is passed via urine.
B vitamins are found in many foods, negating the need for expensive vitamin drinks and pills, which will not sustain your employees through the day. Instead, encourage staff to opt for regular varied food sources such as whole grains and cereals or other low GI foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A mid-morning green smoothie break could easily provide a bountiful B complex hit and is a ritual that a progressive workplace can encourage and support. (Blenders are cheap, powerful and tax deductible, and a bag of spinach, apples, cucumber and beetroot won’t break the bank.)
Off the Menu:
As a latte lover, I’ll start here with a wee disclaimer, one or two cups of coffee a day can be considered helpful if you don’t react to caffeine. However, if you're using it to improve your mood or provide energy, then not.
Here’s why. Caffeine, the natural stimulant found in coffee, tea, sports drinks, guarana and chocolate, can act on the nervous system, increasing the heart rate and breathing, and causing side effects such as insomnia, headaches, fatigue, irritability and poor concentration.
While masquerading as a source for boosting alertness, concentration, and allaying fatigue (all attractive reasons to consume when under the pump or not feeling 100%), caffeine also triggers the release of fatty acids into the blood stream, which provides an alternative fuel to glycogen – blood sugar. This causes hunger suppression and displacement of your true appetite, meaning you will miss valuable nutrients by not consuming foods. Imagine feeling ‘peaky’, yet fatigued.
Sugary Treats and Junk Food
The quick rise in blood sugar levels from the sugars can cause an addictive short-lived rush, which also triggers a release of the pleasure hormone dopamine. Your subconscious then becomes ‘trained’ to seek these ‘feel good’ foods when your blood sugar levels drop and your brain is seeking more glucose as food. Again ‘peaky’, yet fatigued…
This is a good time to encourage the vegetable smoothies for a vitamin and mineral loaded energy surge that won’t have your staff crashing before the deadline.
Alcohol and health is an issue of considerable discussion and research, and as a Lifestyle Food and Wellness coach, if you choose to drink alcohol, I encourage you to limit your intake. For women who are pregnant, planning pregnancy or breast feeding, abstaining from alcohol is the safest option.
Alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration and fatigue. Even when consumed in moderation it is a central nervous system depressant, and alters mood and sleep patterns; often waking you as it withdraws from your system.
The ‘good news’ on alcohol continues - more than four drinks on any one occasion is considered a binge.
Encouraging staff to limit drinks to 1-2 standard sizes and introducing a number of alcohol free days each week will benefit all, as will giving thought to non-alcoholic ways of celebrating an achievement in the workplace or to wind down from the week.
I can almost feel the shudder of fear at the thought of removing the workplace coffee machine; staff uproar abounds. But to be clear, I’m not suggesting complete removal of all of life’s perceived pleasures. A simple, intentional focus on hydration and swapping the charity boxes content is a great place to start. Remember, many people are actually yearning for change, but are too afraid to ask for it. Why not reverse the norm and include vegetables in the fridge for a group smoothie or donate 50c to the chocolate charity for each apple/carrot consumed instead? Or think about including gourmet salmon kebabs at the social club BBQ and starting the day with a group breakfast such as a bircher muesli which has soaked overnight.
These practical measures are not difficult, time consuming or expensive; but they will go a very long way toward changing the mood and food culture of your organisation.
For more practical advice on how to improve the mood in your office and in turn lift workplace productivity, visit the Healthy Happy Staff website.
Note: It’s incredibly important to understand mood disorders, depression, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions can benefit from dietary changes and any changes should be in addition to, not instead of, getting help from a qualified professional or organisation.
Author Bio: Penni Lamprey is an internationally recognised lifestyle, food and wellness coach, NLP Practioner and the founder of the workplace health and wellbeing consultancy,
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Yours in health,