I love to eat; if anyone knows one thing about me, it’s that. This is why, as a nutritionist and a model, I find it infuriating when people judge me for polishing off a chocolate milkshake, or ordering a burger with fries. These things make me happy; they are part of the joy of eating. Green smoothies packed full antioxidants, bone broths and steamed broccoli (one of the first things I ever loved) are also a joy. But is one style of eating truly better than the other?
We are told that clean is the way to go when it comes to food and our diet, that green is always better, and that sugar and fat are the enemy. I’m not contradicting these statements, most of them are true – however, there is boundless wisdom in the old adage, “A little of what you like does you good”.
There is also science to prove that slowing down while eating something truly delicious can be just as good for you – if not better – than hurriedly guzzling a dry salad. When you’re enjoying a meal, and are truly present while consuming it (put down the iPhone at the dinner table, I know it’s hard…), you’re more likely to take your time. This means you are less likely to overeat, due to the body’s satiety response, which takes around 20 minutes for the brain to trigger the message that you’re full. If you really focus on being present, the enjoyment also becomes so much more than just about the taste; it’s about the company you’re in, the ambience surrounding you, and the moment of peace from the stress of the day-to-day.
To get even more technical, when we are enjoying ourselves, serotonin is released. Serotonin is known as the happiness hormone, and is released by the digestive system and the brain when you are enjoying something. It’s responsible for your memory, learning, mood and appetite, can aid with sleep and is even important in dementia prevention. So by simply eating what you enjoy, you can see improvements in your mood, health and ability to cope with stress.
The enjoyment of food is just one part of the philosophy behind the hygge craze currently taking social media by storm. Hygge is a Danish word that roughly translates to cosiness, or wellbeing. Part of Danish culture, the concept promotes taking time out to enjoy the good things in life, whether that be curling up in cashmere with a hot chocolate, or catching up with family and friends. Don’t dismiss it; there’s a reason Denmark is consistently named the world’s happiest country.
Of course, all this doesn’t give you permission to exist solely on chocolate and live at the local chippy; a balanced and guilt-free diet is the key. When talking with my 100-year-old Nanna (yes, 100! So listen to her), she would tell me how she never once dieted, she just ate the things she truly loved, but in moderation – and that this surely was her key to longevity.
Take it or leave it, but this makes huge sense to me. You have to take some time out to do something you enjoy once in a while, or you’ll burn yourself out trying to do it all.
That said, I’m now off to bake a mean chocolate cake. But before I go, here are my top five foods for increasing serotonin. Try incorporating these into your diet this week:
1. Dark chocolate