There’s plenty of advice on the web about what to eat and drink, and a lot of it can be more than a bit confusing. What exactly is a “superfood”? Should you be eating a meat-heavy caveman diet or a fruit-rich raw food diet for optimum health? Do you really need two liters of water every day?
Often, we mistrust the advice being peddled – and with good reason. But this shouldn’t lead us to stop caring about what we put into our mouths altogether. One of the best ways to cut through the hype, the fads and the ridiculous promises is to figure out what works for your body. That means being conscious as to how food, water, caffeine and alcohol make you feel – and adjusting what you consume accordingly.
Listening to your body about food
Try thinking through times when you’ve felt ill, lethargic or sluggish after eating. You might want to ask yourself questions like:
– How do I feel after a big meal?
Have you ever been stuck in a boring lecture or conference after a large lunch? Did you find yourself struggling to keep your eyelids open? Most people find that overeating at lunch-time has a poor effect on afternoon productivity: it’s hard to get on with work when you want to curl up and fall asleep.
Eating a big evening meal might help you to sleep – but eating too much near bedtime is likely to leave your stomach unpleasantly full and gurgling as you’re trying to drop off.
– How do I feel if I eat a lot of sugar?
Some people react more strongly to sugary foods than others, experiencing an initial surge of energy followed by the “sugar coma” slump. I find that I invariably feel groggy and out-of-it after a huge ice-cream sundae, and realizing this has helped me curb my sugar intake!
– Do my eating habits help me stay energized and focused?
Most of us are distracted and irritable when we’re hungry – have you ever skipped breakfast and found it difficult to concentrate at school or work? Even if you’re dieting, it’s important to eat enough, which means having a light snack if you’re hungry between meals.
The types of foods which you eat also have an effect: you’ll probably find you get sustained energy from high-fibre foods, starch-rich foods and fruits and vegetables – whereas sugary treats like pastries and doughnuts can leave you struggling to focus.
Listening to your body about water
Many of us are making a conscious effort to increase our water intake, but you probably don’t need to force down glass after glass of water if you’re not thirsty. Ask yourself:
– Does drinking a glass of water perk me up when I’m tired or irritable?
If so, you might be getting dehydrated. I often don’t realise that I’m thirsty until I find myself lacking concentration and getting grouchy. Next time your brain is feeling sawdust-like, have a glass of water and see if it helps.
– Do I get headaches which go away when I drink water?
One of the most common causes of headaches is not drinking enough water. If you find yourself suffering regularly from mild headaches, try drinking extra water. This especially applies if your headaches always occur at the same time every day.
– Am I forcing myself to drink water when I’m not thirsty?
If you really aren’t thirsty, there’s no need to drink more water just to meet a daily quota. Learn to trust your body here – if you feel fine otherwise (no headache or lethargy), it’s unlikely you’re getting dehydrated. Drinking too much water isn’t great for you, because it depletes the amount of sodium in your body.
Listening to your body about caffeine and alcohol
Some people have a much higher tolerance for caffeine and/or alcohol than others. This can be due to genetic factors, body mass, or simply how much caffeine or alcohol you’re used to drinking. When considering whether you need to limit your intake, or limit when you indulge, think about:
– Do I feel ill after drinking alcohol or caffeine?
I regularly drank too much alcohol as a student, and (unsurprisingly!) felt dreadful each time. There’s nothing fun about the room-spinning sensation of being drunk, and if you get to the point of throwing up, that’s your body reacting to what it sees as an attempt to poison it.
Caffeine rarely produces such strong reactions, but too much can leave you wired and jittery rather than perked up ready to concentrate.
With both alcohol and caffeine, you need to figure out how much you can drink without getting a negative effect. Maybe your friend can get through two bottles of wine every evening, or your colleagues drink triple-shot espressos – that doesn’t mean your body will be happy with you doing likewise.
– Does alcohol or caffeine affect my sleep?
Some people find that a small amount of alcohol can help them sleep, and others like a mug of milky tea or coffee last thing at night. But too much alcohol (even just one glass of wine for some of us) results in poor quality sleep, and many people need to avoid caffeine in the evenings in order to drop off easily. After sleeping badly for several nights in a row, I cut out the cup of tea I was drinking at 6.30pm when I got home from work; it worked a charm.
Have you made improvements to your eating and drinking habits based on how your body feels? Or do you find it hard to trust your physical reactions? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.
Written by Ali, a writer and website creator (www.aliventures.com).
Image by The Half-Blood Prince