Fueling Your Brain with Food

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food.” - Hippocrates

Hello, all! My name is Chrisanna Manders and I serve as the Associate Director at NAMI Wisconsin. In my professional role, I have the honor of providing support to our state affiliates and our Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) teams. 

However, another big passion of mine revolves around FOOD! In fact, I love it so much that I earned a Bachelors of Science in Nutrition. I wanted to take the time to get you thinking about the following question: Is your brain (thus, you) getting enough food to keep it properly fueled?

It’s kind of wild to think about the fact that our brain is always ‘on’. Even we when we are asleep, our brain is ensuring our body is 'up' and running. This means that our brains require a constant supply of fuel, which comes from the food we eat. The quality and quantity of that fuel directly affects your brain, and ultimately, your ability to think and your emotional state.

Going off this fuel theme, I am going to encourage you to think of your brain for a moment as if it’s a car, tractor, boat, etc - whichever fuel-powered machine is your favorite! As we continue to run with this machine analogy, pretend you have been instructed to only fill it up with premium fuel to keep it running at its best. And because you want your machine to last for as long as possible, and to operate at its full capacity- you never want to let its gas tank to go completely empty, nor do you want to fill it with a form of fuel that would hinder it operating at its best.

This is how we want to take care of our very own brain (self), for there is a connection between mood regulation and food.

In my years as a nutritionist, and even in my own personal life, it is common to find the art of eating healthy to be quite overwhelming. And if you can relate to that statement - welcome to the club! You are far from alone there! However, my intention today is to encourage you to approach your eating habits in *bite-sized* steps! Like any lifestyle change, it must come gradually, and realize it comes with time. Nobody eats perfectly all the time. Thus, be gentle on yourself as you bring more awareness to this part of your own self-care.

Now, to keep this blog post as short-and-simple as possible, I’m going to introduce you to a wonderful resource: www.choosemyplate.gov. Keep that website handy to refer back to as you dive deeper into this magical sea of delicious and nutritious healthy eating styles. So, in short, eating high-quality foods that are very dense with nutrients at regular intervals throughout the day set you up for success to function at your fullest capacity (think: foods that come straight from the earth, etc - lots of vitamins, minerals, and things of the like that nourish the brain - spaced out throughout your day).

Here’s a good rule of thumb: a high-quality meal (full of healthy fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, etc) should be able to keep you functioning at your finest for, let’s say, roughly 3-4 hours (i.e. your tank was nearing empty, and you filled it up with premium fuel). At the end of that window of time, you brain continues to get closer to empty on your fuel gage. Thus, it’s time to fill up again! Just like before, being sure to only use high-quality food/fuel.

In short: nobody functions at his/her finest when hungry, and your brain runs best with proper, regular dietary intake.

As stated before, the topic of food/nutrition can go VERY in-depth, but please know that even the simplest of steps (such as starting a food journal) can begin a revolution of a lifetime into your lifestyle. That good ole phrase “you are what you eat” has SO much truth in it, and it is my intention here to hopefully kickstart your engine into being more and more aware of the fuel you’re putting into it. Even with my degree in nutrition, it took me years to improve what I was eating, and there is always room for more growth within each of us. That is one of the most beautiful facts of life, in my humble opinion. We can forever evolve and learn to take better care of our physical, and thus mental, health!

Lastly, if you’d like to talk more about this topic, and/or know about other resources available to you, please feel free to email me at chrisanna@namiwisconsin.org! I am extremely enthusiastic about this topic, and would love to chat with you about it! Enjoy your journey, stay fueled, and continue to find your happy! After all, in my heart, I truly believe that food is love.

Written by Chrisanna Manders, Associate Director