The Power of Food: a beacon of happiness

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Food Editor, Jane Cowie, discusses our relationships with food, and how essential it is to feel the affinity with food to bring happiness to our lives.

One of my main passions in life is food. Hands down, no question. Why? Because food has the power to bring people together, whether it be in the cooking of the meal, or dining out together. What’s your favourite part about Christmas Day? For most, it’s the Roast Dinner. And Easter? Most likely those chocolate eggs of joy. And how do most people celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or Valentine’s Day? Why, a meal out – of course.

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Epigram / Jane Cowie

Food is an important part of any celebration all around the world, regardless of the nation’s geography, culture or religion. So, when Cady from Mean Girls says she loves maths because ‘it’s the same in every language’, I’d pose the same point about food. It’s universal; no matter who you are or where you come from, you can connect with someone else through a mutual love of food.

A plate of good food has the ability to drastically alter your mood, whether that be a succulent salmon salad or a mound of baked cookie dough, crafted from your own fingertips. I cannot count the amount of times I have got home feeling stressed, over-worked, and exhausted, but by just having a delicious dinner to look forward to, all of that seems to fade away. All that matters is you, the plate in front of you, and the sensuous enjoyment and fulfilment you feel after finishing.

Food is essential in all of our lives; we eat food to sustain ourselves, and need it to fuel our bodies and our minds. It is no surprise we love food so much. Our brains are hardwired to make us feel good about doing so. Our brains have evolved to develop a reward system, and when we carry our primal behaviours, like eating, it releases dopamine. Dopamine causes a ‘feel-good’ sensation within our bodies, which is why we have such an emotional attachment to food. It’s our brain’s way of congratulating us on surviving. However, evolution hasn’t quite caught up with some of the unhealthy habits that have developed within our society.

There are hundreds of articles out there denoting the negative effects of dopamine-triggering foods that can become destructive, because they can lead to an addiction to this ‘feel-good’ chemical. This dependency had led to the unprecedented rise of obesity and type-2 diabetes that has overwhelmed the Western world.

It is vital to be mindful of this addictive dopamine-trigger that ensues from fast-foods and sugary sweet treats, and make sure we don’t overload our bodies with foods that give us an instant high (followed by a soon-after crash). This is the basic science behind why you find it so difficult to just have one sweet or chocolate brownie, rather than guzzling down the whole packet, leaving you feeling riddled with guilt and slightly nauseous.

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Epigram / Jane Cowie

Nevertheless, the release of dopamine is not a destructive force. By training your mind to associate good food with the feel-good reward, you’ll start reaching for a healthy alternative when you want to satisfy those dopamine cravings. I think it is essential we have a positive relationship with food, so we can use it as a means to enlighten positivity and happiness within us. We want to be able to enjoy that ‘high’ when enjoying our favourite dessert. But, we also don’t want to feel a dependency on that feeling.

Personally, I haven’t always had the healthiest relationship with food, struggling for years with an eating disorder that caused a dysfunctional and obsessive mindset. Luckily, I have fully recovered and can now see the fantastic benefits that having a healthy, balanced diet can have on an individual, without restricting oneself from food deemed ‘unhealthy’.

As I said, food is a passion in my life, and I want you to share that with me. So, here are some of my top tips on my food journey on ways to have a positive relationship with food, so you can really reap the happiness rewards that food can bring to your life:
Use cooking as therapy

Perhaps you aren’t an expert in the kitchen. That’s okay. But if you’re looking at ways to be more mindful, and better your mental health, perhaps you should be spending a little more time in the kitchen. Cooking can be a therapeutic exercise, working like meditation with the rhythmic chopping and slicing, allowing you to slow down, take a moment to breath and think about the delicious meal you are soon to enjoy.

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Learn a Little

Just taking a few moments to educate yourself on the nutritional benefits of food, be that pasta, dark chocolate or butternut squash, will allow you to organise your diet in a way that is satisfies your taste-buds and your body. If you’re feeling under the weather, maybe a vitamin C kick is in order. A little research will reveal what foods you can enjoy to perk you up, be that kiwis, red peppers or the nation’s favourite brussel sprout.

Be kind to yourself

If you’ve had a long hard day, don’t feel guilty for indulging in your favourite chocolate and a glass of wine. That’s totally okay. Food guilt is all too common nowadays; we need to start realising it is okay to tuck in to some Ben & Jerry’s if our bodies crave it, without chastising ourselves for it. Remember, no food should be forbidden. Everything in moderation.

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Appreciate the food in front of you

A lot of people don’t have the privilege of having three delicious meals a day. Remember how lucky you are to be enjoying the food you have, and you’ll start to count your blessings you have the opportunity to look forward to your favourite foods when you feel like it.

Make the good times worth it

‘Balance’. ‘Moderation’. All the best buzzwords that nutritionists, foodies, and Insta famous stars use. Cliched, but true. For me, if I want to treat myself, I find it helps to ensure it is really good. I want to know I won’t regret for a second choosing to eat it, because it just tasted so damn good. A hobby of mine is going out for meals (an expensive one, I confess). When I’m out, I choose whatever so takes my fancy, regardless of how many calories it may contain. By allowing myself the freedom of tucking in to an enormous porchetta and salami pizza, it means I look forward to these moments, and keeps me on track during the week.

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Epigram / Jane Cowie

The relationship you have with food is personal to you. We all have different things that tickle the taste buds and tempt us like no other. In a world with so much choice of the foods we can enjoy, it’s really positive for you to enjoy your food, guilt-free, and use it as a way of bringing happiness to your life.

Featured image: Epigram / Sarah Roller

What does food mean to you? Let us know!

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