Nutrition: Good for way more than your waistline

Nutrition: Good for way more than your waistline
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You are what you eat

When your mother told you, ‘You are what you eat’ you probably didn’t care if you were made up of broccoli or peanut butter. But as the years go by, without good nutrition, cracks start to show. For many, it’s difficult to see the role nutrition plays beyond our weight and waistlines.

For dedicated fitness brothers and sisters, we become more attuned to how nutrition affects performance and results. And yet, there are a vast amount of other important things that have a relationship to nutrition. Other than the obvious factors of weight, lean mass and appearance, here are my 5 areas where you might not realise that nutrition is playing a critical role:

1. Mood

From that low level funk feeling to full out depression, your food intake has a central role to play in both how you feel and your ability to break out of a bad mood. Medical approaches treat the symptoms of mental distress with medication and therapies that focus on the brain and thinking patterns. But also, common sense tells us that in our brains are part of our bodies. They are fed and fuelled from what we eat. That’s not say that depression started because of a poor diet. Nor does it mean that you should skip speaking to your GP or medical professional about your mood problems. It simply means that how we feel is related in some ways to what we eat. If our diet is filled with low nutrient, high preservative, processed food we should not be surprised to feel low in mood.

Nutrition has a huge impact on the fine hormonal balance that keeps us feeling normal and even tempered. Including foods with selenium, like brazil nuts, are thought to help fight depression. Omega-3 oils are also important. So eating oily fish or taking a supplement, like krill oil, is an idea. Foods with tryptophan, like chicken, turkey and bananas, are thought to be useful because they raise serotonin levels, a key neurotransmitter often lowered during depression.

2. Willpower and decision making

Why is it harder to get to the gym after a day at work? Willpower typically wanes in the afternoon and evening. These are the times of day for people to give into temptation – a drink, a binge, a cigarette, a night on the sofa rather than at the gym. Willpower is related to nutrition more than you might think. Our ability to make decisions in line with our goals – to exercise willpower – is harder when we are hungry and depleted of fuel. Willpower abilities are also increased with practice. So by planning ahead to make sure you’re not caught out hungry can make it less likely that you’ll break those promises to yourself. Also, the more you exercise this ability, the better you’ll get. Win-win! The nutrition point here is to be prepared with a plan for how and what you’ll eat, so you don’t get too depleted and start giving into temptation.

3. Skin quality and ageing

I feel like the friends I knew well in my 20’s parted ways with me gradually as I got more into fitness and less into tequila shots. Now when I run into a blast of the past, I’m frightened to see the toll that life has had on them. Not that they look 80. To be honest, they look like most people in their late 30’s. Lines showing, grey creeping in, widening mid-section. Although you won’t see the benefit of good nutrition overnight, it is one of the only things you have any control over that affects how you show your age. Face it, one day you’re going to wish you ate more broccoli and less haribo. Start today. Foods high in antioxidants are useful here, like pomegranates and dark chocolate (in moderation) and nuts like walnuts are linked with collagen production for better skin.

4. Sex life

Back to that delicate hormonal balance, are you willing to sacrifice your libido for junk food? Doesn’t sound like a fair trade to me. Sugar and processed foods send your hormones into meltdown and other than mood, the other essential function of your hormones is to make you want sex. Not only does a poor diet make you less frisky, but proper sexual function relies on blood supply to certain areas (er-hm!) without which you are literally sunk, no matter how much you might want to get it on. So it’s worth remembering as you choose how to eat, that junk food, processed food, takeaways are linked to diseases of the circulatory system. Now try and tell me that kebab and chips was worth it! Cloves have been used for centuries to boost sex drive and foods high in vitamin C, like blackberries and broccoli are also thought to make you a bedroom dynamo.

5. Motivation

You wouldn’t feed a dog on junk food and then expect him to be full of life and energy on his walkies. So it is not surprising that poor diet will make you feel unable and unwilling to tackle the challenges of your life. When we’re feeling unmotivated, nothing sounds better than a bit of comfort food and hiding away from it all. But falling into that creates a very difficult trap to escape. Feeling low in motivation? Eat for energy! That means lots of water, quality carbohydrate sources (starchy veggies and unprocessed carbohydrates are best, like rice) and things rich in B vitamins like green leafy veg, red meat and eggs.

You can’t choose what life throws at you, but you can choose to give yourself the best fighting chance by fuelling yourself right. Every change starts with a small step – start today!

About the author

Jess Johns-Green is a personal trainer, level 1 CrossFit trainer and Psychologist. She specialises in interventions for obesity and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Jess is an athlete and coach at CrossFit Colchester.


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