The Link Between Mood and Food with Megan Baumler

Did you know there is a bilateral connection between food and mood? Special guest Megan Baumler joins JJ and Melissa to talk about how your food choices affect your mood, and your mood affects your food choices. Megan is Director of Nutrition and Dietetics for St. Catherine University, is a registered dietician, and holds a PhD in nutrition Sciences. Loaded with interesting facts, Megan offers some great practical tips on adjusting your relationships with food.

May 17, 2022
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JJ Parker: Well, Melissa, we have another super fun guest episode 

Melissa Albers: can't wait. This is a great one. 

JJ Parker: our guest is Megan. Welcome to.

Melissa Albers: Hi, Megan.

Megan Baumler: Hi, thank you for having me.

Melissa Albers: Well, that's quite an introduction, JJ. 

JJ Parker: we're going to let Megan introduce herself because there's like a lot of words around her name. And so she's going to [00:01:00] properly introduce herself. But, um, Nick and I were chatting, uh, the other week and I was talking about how I was like messing around with my diet. I think sometimes I talk about how I like mess around with my diet.

Right. And I'm like, Whatever go on. And he's like no sugar for a month things or whatever. And, uh, we were talking about it and I was like, the thing with my no sugar attempts is that it's not that like physically I feel different, but like mentally I feel different. I feel like happier. And so she goes JJ, like, it's a really interesting conversation, the link between food and mood.

And I was like, that's brilliant. Let's talk about that. 

Melissa Albers: Yes. So, with that off, 

JJ Parker: Well,

Megan Baumler: Thank you. Yeah, there's a lot to talk about here. So first I can introduce. My name is Megan . I'm a registered dietician. I have my doctorate in nutrition sciences, and I'm an assistant [00:02:00] professor at St. Catherine university, where I'm the director of the nutrition and dietetics. 

Melissa Albers: Wow. So when I was teasing you before we started recording, I'm glad I didn't know all that because now I feel slightly intimidated. 

Megan Baumler: Well, that explains why maybe my technology knowledge isn't, isn't the best. I have other areas of knowledge. 

Melissa Albers: Yeah, well, that's awesome. So, so when you guys started to talk about this, I would love to hear what came up for you, Megan. Like, is this something that you've commonly heard people say, or, you know, is this something that you have particularly studied? Like talk about that. 

Megan Baumler: Yeah. So let me talk about that a little bit. So there is a lot. There. And I think we can go at this from several different angles and I have some different ideas of angles we can go in. Um, I think, um, first though, what I'd like to say is that this topic has been coming up more and more [00:03:00] in the last couple of years with our increased awareness of mental health, um, and how many different things impact mental health.

And so I think. One of my first thoughts is how food and mood are bi-directional. So JJ and I started talking about how, what he was eating was really impacting how he was feeling mentally. And of course, then that translates to how you feel physically and you know, how productive you are and how well you can function and be your authentic self.


Melissa Albers: I ask a question? Is that what bi-directional means? I don't know what bi-directional means. 

Megan Baumler: And so let me explain what I mean by that, by direction by bi-directional. I mean, what we eat impacts our physical and mental health and our physical and mental health impacts what we eat. 

Melissa Albers: oh, perfectly said. 

Megan Baumler: Yeah. So for example, I can give an [00:04:00] example to kind of contrast JJ, as example I have noticed, and it's taking me entirely too long to figure this out.

I get really tired at night and when I'm tired, I seek sugar you know, I'm not hungry. I it's just my physical body seeking quick energy. And one of the interesting things about that is that if I then consume something that has sugar in it, I will quickly get that burst of there's sort of almost a dopamine rush where you feel really good and you get that little bit of. But in the long-term too much sugar can set you back. So there's this distinction between, um, seeking sugar and then delaying the sugar that, that you want to get for long-term better [00:05:00] long-term outcomes. So it's sort of delayed gratification. 

Melissa Albers: That's really interesting. And I know that that's absolutely true because I feel like my body is very sensitive to sugar. Like if I'm tired, I know. Or if I'm hungry and I haven't eaten and I need. I will instinctively get something with a high sugar content, because I know it will give me that quick burst that I need.

Like, it's almost like a subconscious decision. 

Megan Baumler: Yeah, it's it's, it's in our nature. It's in, it's inherently within us to seek sugar when we're tired.

Melissa Albers: Hmm huh. 

JJ Parker: Yeah. And this is like, to me, the fascinating thing when I read about this and learn about it is that, um, the environment we're in today is so much different than the environment, like a thousand or 5,000 years ago, where like survival, [00:06:00] maybe. Like seeking sugary foods and seeking some of these things that is really like programmed kind of like deep in our monkey brain.

Um, that was a survival thing does not really apply today. Right. So we have this struggle where we're like, kind of fighting against some of our own like nature, like you said, right.

Megan Baumler: Yeah, and yeah, we're in a different environment now. And if somebody is not aware of how their nutrition is impacting their wellbeing or of how their energy status is impacting their food choices, they can easily be bulldozed. And maybe that's too, too strong of a word bulldozed,

JJ Parker: themselves

Megan Baumler: bulldoze bulldozed by food options, bulldozed by big food companies.

You know, the commercials you see on TV, if you're not intentionally making your food choices or [00:07:00] thinking about. You know, before you get to that point of being really tired and seeking sugar and maybe planning an alternative snack instead of reaching for some candy or something that, you know, commercials and what you're seeing other people eat will have a bigger impact on you.

So you almost, you have to kind of number one, develop an awareness of how your nutrition status is impacting, how you're feeling. And then number two, Start setting an intention of how you want to eat. And the idea there is that you're making your own choices, not letting a commercial UC make your choices or your fatigue, making your choices.

If that makes sense.

Melissa Albers: oh, yeah. 

JJ Parker: that is so hard to 

Melissa Albers: Oh my gosh. Yeah, it, yeah. 

JJ Parker: what I, what I go on my like little nutrition kicks. It's like [00:08:00] so much work. Cause it's like meal prep and thinking and planning 

Melissa Albers: But JJ, you go all in, you tumbled down the hill in your, like, you go all 

JJ Parker: well, that might be, but it's still hard. Even like the small stuff's hard.

Melissa Albers: Yeah. well, right, right, right. 

Megan Baumler: Yeah. And I, I have a couple of things to say about that. One is that I think some people, and I don't want to, you know, group all people into one stereotype. Everybody is so individual and everybody everybody's relationship with food is extremely personal. So one thing that, you know, what works for JJ is not going to work for me.

Um, but the other thing I wanted to mention is that I think people may have. Want or expect good nutrition to come fairly easily. 

Melissa Albers: Yeah. 

Megan Baumler: people it's really hard and it's a constant work in [00:09:00] progress. And maybe you do really well for a couple of months and then something happens and there's. You know, an event in your life or a particularly stressful work situation, and you get off balance with your nutrition, strategies, and intention, and then maybe you return to it a little bit later.

So it's, it's a constant from what, for most people it's, it's gotta be a priority and it's a constant work in progress. I'm still, I still, it doesn't come easily to me. It's still something I work on every day and think about all the time. 

Melissa Albers: Yup. Yup. Yup. You know, just, this is like really interesting because you're talking about the difference between being in a reactive state about how you eat. And oh, look, there's a commercial about Kit-Kats cause that's such a good commercial and you just sprint into the kitchen to search for.

Kit-Kats like that's a reactive state, that's a passive reactive state that just you're allowing, you're allowing an external thing to [00:10:00] impact your immediate choice in a reactive way. So you're really referring to is the, the awareness to be more proactive. I mean, That's that's really, and that is really, really hard.

We talk about trying to be proactive in a lot of states of self-awareness and it's just so interesting to be talking about it. even, you know, as basic and as critical as what we eat every moment. 

Megan Baumler: Yeah. Yeah. And one of the other tricky things that I wanted to bring up, um, and this kind of relates to what, um, Dr. Karen doll was talking about the other week, the mental 

Melissa Albers: on our podcast. Yup. Yup. 

Megan Baumler: Yeah. She said something that I thought was really, really important. She said, it's a process to work on your mental health and how it connects with your productivity and your work-life balance.

And it's the same thing with nutrition. Um, it's a [00:11:00] process and the changes that you make may be extremely subtle. And the problem with that is that. You don't get that immediate great feedback that helps give you the motivation to continue with your changes. 

Melissa Albers: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Like a one pound bar of milk, chocolate lint, extra creamy. 

Megan Baumler: You'll get an immediate response from them and you'll get immediate rewards from eating that. But if you don't eat it, you know, it's going be a while before. Maybe you notice those awards of, of, of having a balanced dietary pattern.

Melissa Albers: JJ, that's what you were talking about even a couple of weeks ago. 

JJ Parker: Yeah, it took, it took me like a good two weeks before I noticed like a change in my mood from eating really cleanly.

Megan Baumler: Right. And so fortunately, you've got the stamina to, you know, you were able to stick with it for two weeks. A lot of people, [00:12:00] maybe after a day or two, they're just are tired or worn out. The CA the Eminem's are right there. It is just so easy to go right back to that, to that sugar.

JJ Parker: Like I had a mild headache for two weeks and I was like, this is terrible. But like I knew from before, like the other side of it was good. So like you're right. I had the ability to get through it, but not, not ever getting there before I would have probably gotten.

Melissa Albers: Hm. 

Megan Baumler: Yeah. And another interesting thing is, so say you're on a, uh, um, on a goal, like for example, JJ and JJ, I would categorize what you did as, as fairly. you know, you didn't, we, from the dietician perspective, we recommend more small changes, small, sustainable changes over time. Um, JJ, you kind of 

Melissa Albers: an example? Oh, sorry. 

Megan Baumler: um, yeah, so, um, [00:13:00] 

Melissa Albers: Like a small sustainable change. Like what would be an example of that 

Megan Baumler: yeah, and. 

Melissa Albers: the nature of JJ is try. 

Megan Baumler: Okay. And I like keeping things really practical with, you know, um, practical bits of advice. So that's, that's a good idea to provide an example. Um, I had a client yesterday and he, um, goes to McDonald's every morning for two egg McMuffins and he was asking me, is that okay? Is that okay? And I, I didn't want to tell him. Because 

Melissa Albers: right. 

Megan Baumler: that would have probably alienated him, pushed him away. Um, told him he was 

Melissa Albers: Made him feel 

Megan Baumler: kilter. Right. So what I suggested is he cut down to two to three times per week to start with, and what else could he have? You know, those mornings, that's something easy to prepare. So that's making small changes and then, you know, [00:14:00] ideally the goal is.

You know, maybe to, not to only go to McDonald's once in a while. Um, so I think it's important for people to know that they don't have to make dramatic changes and dramatic changes, work for some people, for a lot of people. Um, after a period of dramatic changes, they often revert to where they were before.

Melissa Albers: Right, right, right, right, right. Which would be where I would fall in that camp a hundred percent. 

JJ Parker: Yeah. Amber always says, like, I can't believe you can like, just like switch and have like the willpower to like, like switch your diet for that. Like that abruptly

Megan Baumler: Yeah. And some people can do that and I'm not able to do that. So I have to have, I I'm a sweets person and I do have a daily indulgence, but I don't go overboard with it. You know, I have, you know, maybe one desert a day or. 

Melissa Albers: Yup. 

Megan Baumler: It's a sweet after [00:15:00] lunch and assault, small sweet after dinner. So I know for me, that's, what's going to work to keep me on track for the longterm to make, to make some space for some small indulgences.

Um, the, the other point I was going to make that's really, I think interesting is that while I think the first most important thing is for people to have. That, what they eat, does impact how they feel and their mental health and their productivity. That's clearly shown in many, many, many research studies.

So that's not, that's not a debatable point here. Food does impact how we feel in our mental health. Um, and we have established that those changes can be subtle and it might take a while to, to realize what's happening, but say like for example, uh, I liked him. I think of this as an analogy of when you have young kids, really young kids and you're sleep deprived.

You don't know how bad you feel and tell [00:16:00] you, you, you start sleeping through the night again, or when your kids start sleeping through the night and you get a good stretch of like five to eight hours and you start to realize, oh, I was feeling terrible and now I feel good. I didn't know how terrible I felt.

Melissa Albers: Yes. Yup. 

Megan Baumler: I, I think it's that subtle, that applies to nutrition for a lot of people. Once they start cutting out excess sugar, excess processed foods, over time, they will start to feel better and they'll realize, oh, I was feeling low energy, sluggish, brain fog. And I didn't know it. And you don't necessarily have to make such dramatic changes to see that, but the changes can take a while to. To see. 

Melissa Albers: So I have a question. So yesterday I was in a coaching conversation with a client and he was describing how. Um, his physical body just was not feeling good at all. [00:17:00] And he's a workaholic he's super successful. He's super, always working. He's just, and he prides himself in that. And he was saying, but you know what?

I just can't sleep now. And I never used to be like that. And I just don't feel good. And now I've put on extra pounds and I don't feel good about that. So I, I, and so he's like, well, what should I do? Do you have somebody I should talk to, like, what can I do? So I actually did this exercise with him and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this exercise.

I said, let's just list out all the things that you possibly could do. And let's not do all of them. Let's just pick one. So, you know, he listed, um, tracking his food. He listed getting a nutritionist, he listed going on a diet starting to go to the gym, like, so he listed out a whole bunch of. Great ideas.

They were all really, really strong ideas. And then I said a question that I'm often, um, I love asking from the book called, um, the one thing, and it is, what's the one thing you should be doing, [00:18:00] such that by doing it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary. And so using that kind of defining question, he chose just tracking his food first, so that, So that he could really understand exactly.

What his day looks like, um, day in and day out. Um, given, given that example, um, from your perspective, would you have offered something different as a single thing to proactively try?

Megan Baumler: So there's a couple of things there. Number one, I think it's really important that you let him. 

Melissa Albers: Totally. Oh yeah. Yup. 

Megan Baumler: that's really important from a, you know, what we learned for, with counseling and nutrition, um, client, you have to involve the client or the patient and setting the goals. You know, we don't set the goals for them.


Melissa Albers: Right. 

Megan Baumler: So I think that has a lot of meeting. Um, and I [00:19:00] think just. You know, if he's someone who hadn't really wasn't even thinking about what he was eating at all. I think tracking what he's eating is a really good place to start. Um, and I mean, really what you're eating is so impacts your life so globally, that is a good place to start. But when you brought up sleep that, um, brings up something I wanted to mention too. And that. Our sleep hygiene or our sleep health really impacts, um, our food choices. So I am concerned talking about this particular client of yours, Melissa. Um, I think it's important. It would be important for him to solve his sleep issues and, and maybe it's related to his food intake and maybe he'll solve it coming from, you know, the food perspective.

Melissa Albers: Yeah. 

Megan Baumler: [00:20:00] But say he tracks what he's eating and he identifies some areas where he would like to make some small changes. Um, perhaps that will start allowing him to sleep better at night. Maybe something he's eating is interfering with his sleep, or it may be that once he's starting to sleep better, he'll eat more healthfully. 

Melissa Albers: Hmm. 

Megan Baumler: If that makes 

Melissa Albers: I would have never made that connection at all. But now that you say that it. is so completely obvious, I would have not made that 

Megan Baumler: And again, it's the energy seeking energy connection. If we're not sleeping well, um, people generally eat more poorly or make more poor food choices, so sleep. And this is one big point I wanted to make. Um, our health is impacted by so many things and food intake is one of those things. So nutrition and how.

Those two things don't exist in a vacuum. So we want to think about nutrition and [00:21:00] how we feel and our mental health in the context of our overall life. You know, um, it's really hard to say, well, if I reduce my caffeine intake, is my anxiety going to be more manageable. Um, you have to think about the other things that are happening in your life as well. I always like to make sure we consider the context, not just food and how you feel in a vacuum. So you look at the bigger context of.

JJ Parker: The, the thing I think about most as you're talking about your, your, um, executive coaching clients, and for me, I was thinking about like, like how could I be like the best leader, like for my organization, right? Like how can I be at like top like mental performance? Cause like so many of us have. I just meant, you know, like intellectual worker jobs, right?

Melissa Albers: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. 

JJ Parker: I don't need to [00:22:00] be physically fit to like lift heavy stuff for my job. I need to have like a really sharp mind. Cause that's what my job is. And so I think about like, you know, there's so much like talk about physical fitness, right. But like really, when you think about it, nutrition impacts.

People way more than to me like their, their particular physical fitness. So it's like to be better at my job. I should be doing the things that make my mind sharper. And to me that has a lot to do with nutrition.

Megan Baumler: Yes, absolutely. So most of the studies, um, most of the research that's out there is related to, um, the Mediterranean diet and reduced, reduced risk for depression. So there is definitely, you know, an established link between what we eat and, [00:23:00] you know, your, your. Your mental health. Um, but I also wanted to point out, so there is that direct relationship.

So if we bore fruits, vegetables, whole grains, um, good fats, we'll have more antioxidants in our body. Our gut bacteria will be healthier and our gut bacteria communicate with neurons in our brain. And so there's a, you know, direct line of communication between our gut and our brain.

JJ Parker: we need, we need to do an episode on, on, on gut.

Megan Baumler: Oh, yes. 

Melissa Albers: Oh my gosh. Totally. Megan, will you come back so we can do 

Megan Baumler: Yeah. I'd love to, that's a big, yeah, that's a big topic, but there's also an indirect effect in that what you eat can be distracted. Um, or how you feel because of what you eat. So there can be a lot of guilt surrounding what you've eaten, or if somebody is restricting themselves from eating, that can be distracting because you're thinking about sugar, but [00:24:00] you don't want to have sugar.

And so you're focusing on that rather than thinking about a task that you want to be completing at work, or, you know, a person you're trying to have a conversation with. Um, so there's, you know, direct impact of nutrition on, on your brain health and how your brain is working. And then the indirect, you know, if you're kind of like consumed by thinking about what you're eating, that you're not as productive with your other tasks that don't have to do with what you're eating. 

Melissa Albers: Oh my gosh. That's So 

Megan Baumler: So you want to feel good about your choices. Yeah. And not have them be so distracting, so you can be headed and, and perform the way you want to person. 

Melissa Albers: Hmm, 

Megan Baumler: Yeah. 

Melissa Albers: amazing. That's really, really good feedback. So is there any, um, for people that are listening and they're really interested in this topic, what are the, do you have like one or two suggestions that people [00:25:00] can. Do or look at or 

Megan Baumler: Yeah. That's a good question. I should probably should have thought of that ahead of time. I probably have maybe 10, so let's see if I can come up with, to narrow it down. Um, 

Melissa Albers: yeah. 

Megan Baumler: one would be, um, it'd be great if people, you know, if this is something they're interested in thinking about really consider how you pay attention to how you feel after you eat. And can you start making associations about what you're eating and how you're feeling, you know, over a week long, two week long, three week long period can be a little diary, a journal, you jot down a sentence, you know, ate beaten burrito, um, felt brain fog after, you know, for two hours or, you know, something like that.

And then because we're looking for patterns [00:26:00] over time. Um, and then, so just that awareness and looking for, um, paying attention to how you feel. Um, that's probably my biggest one. And then also, um, being kind to yourself and know that one meal, one snack, one food item is nothing because you've got your whole life three meals a day, multiple snacks through the day one meal, one snack is not going to make or break anything.

It's more what's happening over a period of time. So you want to 

Melissa Albers: good advice. Yep. That's fantastic. It gives you grace, right? It just gives people grace. And we're a big fan of that. It's like, love yourself up. Give yourself 

Megan Baumler: Be patient with yourself. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you both. This has been

JJ Parker: Also, this is a super fun conversation. I know we kind of like have to scoop, but we're going to have to come back on because there's a lot more 

Melissa Albers: Oh, my 

JJ Parker: dive into it. This 

Melissa Albers: Yeah. I just in the first, yeah, the first five minutes that you. were talking, it was like, oh, here's three more topics we should really be talking about. So [00:27:00] Thank you so much, Megan. It was fantastic. 

Megan Baumler: having me.


Discussed in this episode

Let's get real

Meet your guides

JJ Parker

JJ Parker is a serial entrepreneur passionate about building creative strategy, efficient operations, and unique marketing perspectives. Parker got his start as a student at The Minneapolis Institute of Art, and soon after launched his first company Tightrope Media Systems (TRMS) with a high school buddy in 1997.

Melissa Albers

Melissa is passionate about developing people’s self-awareness and ability to positively interact with others. She focuses on the importance of building influence, and highlights the most important relationship we have is with self first. Ms. Albers speaks on leadership and self-awareness, and has shared the stage with John Maxwell (Leadership Author and Speaker), Lee Cockerell (Exec VP of Disney) and Les Brown (Motivational Speaker) to name a few.

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