Endorphins, Relaxation, and Good Food

Love those endorphins
One of the purported emotional benefits of exercise is related to the release of hormones in your brain called endorphins. These mood-enhancing hormones bind to your brain’s natural receptors and are responsible for the so-called runner’s high, which is described as a feeling of euphoria after you have been exercising for a while. Those of us who don’t run call it our “second wind,” or when we start feeling good enough to keep on exercising. Some people are positively addicted to this release of endorphins and need to get their daily dose.

Now there is another reason why exercise-induced endorphin release is so good for you: endorphins may actually improve your body’s insulin action, thereby reversing or decreasing insulin resistance. In fact, it is now thought that endorphin release may be a major mechanism in the enhanced insulin sensitivity attributable to moderate exercise training. If that’s the case, go for maximal endorphins on a daily basis, and as a side benefit, you will be less depressed and anxious and enjoy a greatly improved mood.

Try the RIB principle to relax
Another good idea is to use the time that you exercise to simultaneously work on your emotional health through relaxation techniques. Specifically, optimize your mental and physical health by following the RIB principle, where the “R” stands for relaxation, the “I” for imagination, and the “B” for breathing. Try to relax while you are exercising; let your troubles flow out of your body, punch the air with your fists to release your anger or anxiety, and consciously try to relax the tense muscles in your body. Next, use your imagination to visualize more blood flowing to parts of your body that need it (like your heart, muscles, and diabetic feet). Some studies have actually shown that people can enhance blood flow to their feet simply by visualizing more blood flowing to them–verifying that a very strong mind-body connection really exists. Finally, take slow, deep, and steady breaths and release them slowly as well. (Don’t do this during heavy aerobic exercise, however; use the time during your warm-up and cool-down periods instead for best results.) At any time during a workout take deeper breaths if you are feeling winded, as more oxygen is brought into your body during a deep breath than during a shallow one.

The effect of food on your mood
How many times have you found yourself eating out of boredom or because of stress, social pressure, or other reasons? (What about Thanksgiving coming up?) Eating certain foods elicits the release of various brain hormones that can actually soothe your anxiety and depression–but only up to a point. Indulging in foods like chocolate to excess to enhance your mood can later leave you feeling guilty and depressed over the weight you may have gained or the resulting elevations in your blood glucose level due to your binge. Moreover, emotional reactions like these can result in longer-term issues and a dysfunctional relationship with food. Research has also shown that eating sugar and consuming caffeine to alter your mood at best gives you a temporary emotional “high,” which will more often than not be followed by a later “crash.”

If you’re looking for an emotional pick-me-up from your food, some consumables may have a more long-term positive effect. Among these better choices are foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., fish and many nuts), which are also good for the health of your cardiovascular system. Healthy carbohydrates like those found in whole fruits, replete with fiber, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients, also have a soothing effect–in moderation, of course. For the sake of your emotional health and your diabetes, try to avoid bingeing on highly refined carbohydrates. Also focus on taking in enough of the B vitamins, particularly thiamin, folate, niacin, B6, and B12, which are found in abundance in high-fiber carbohydrate foods such as legumes. Drinking plenty of water or other noncaloric, non-caffeinated fluids also helps, as does making sure that you eat a healthy breakfast every morning.

If you are overweight and have diabetes, you are much more likely to have some form of disordered eating given that you’re likely struggling to gain or maintain control over both your body weight and your blood glucose levels. Your excess body weight is not at the core of your disordered eating, though, and should not be the focus of your treatment. Seek out assistance to deal with your altered emotional relationship with food, and your diabetes control will naturally follow.

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