Eating to get motivation

Ilona Madden - RightFood4U - Nutrition Programmes - Bray Wicklow Dublin

Written by Ilona Madden

May 3, 2020

Most of us associate being motivated with a state of mind. And we think we need to be in that state of mind to do something that we don’t necessarily want to do, such as “being motivated to do exercise” or “being motivated to go on a diet”.

Have you actually ever thought about how this “motivation” is actually formed and developed in our brain?

In short: it is a chemical reaction in your brain. Neurotransmitters are responsible for creating our emotions. Emotions such as excitement and motivation or emotions such as anxiety and depression. Medication works on those neurotransmitters, and usually very effective and quick, but potentially with side effects in the long run.

Now, I am by no means saying that medication is not absolutely vital for some people. I just want to point out that it is a chemical reaction in our brain that makes us feel the way we feel.

We also know that certain foods can make us feel good in ourselves straight away. Sugar would probably be the best example. Sugar works on parts of our brain that releases the “Happy Hormone” Dopamine. And like many other drugs, the more sugar we eat over a longer period of time, the more we will need eventually in order to get that “Dopamine”-fix. Going off sugar for a few weeks only can be an ideal “reset” button. If you haven’t had any sugar for a while, everything tastes extremely sweet. But once you start eating it again, you are again building up a tolerance, and will need more and more. That’s why some people have a “sweet tooth”.

Eating in itself can be a very pleasant experience especially also in a social setting, such as the Christmas Dinner or a meal with friends.

We instinctively know that what we eat influences how we feel. Most people KNOW that when they are eating well that they feel better in themselves.

The difference though is that eating a healthy and nutritious meal will make you feel better in yourself for a much longer time and in a much more sustained way. Eating doughnuts and crisps or buttered toast will make you feel good for a short moment only, but in the long run, it won’t!

But why is it then so difficult to be motivated to a healthy diet?

And more importantly, why are we “waiting” to be motivated to eat well and lead a healthy lifestyle?

The way our brain functions, is that the emotional part is much stronger than the logical part of our brains. What tends to happen is that there is a “feeling” or “emotion” first, and based on this we take an action, which we later start rationalising.

Have you ever bought something on impulse? A beautiful dress that you didn’t really need? It was most likely driven by some emotion. But afterwards, you might come up with something like “it’s really good quality, I’ll get loads of years out of wearing this!”

When we eat this extra slice of cake – driven by our emotional brain -, we justify it afterwards with our logical brain with something like “A sure, you only live once! I can go on a diet again tomorrow”

When we don’t feel like getting off the couch for some exercise, we might try to convince ourselves that we need to take it easy and our body probably needs some rest today.

It’s only a little while later, when the emotions have passed, that our “logical brain” realises that our decision was probably not the wisest.

As you see, the emotions come first, and it’s absolutely vital to recognise this. You can start training yourself become better at recognising your emotions by journaling and meditation, but it will take a while.

Or else you can influence the chemical reaction in your brain by feeding your brain with the nutrients it needs and avoiding those that it doesn’t.

Both ways have a direct influence on your neurotransmitters. Your neurotransmitters are made up of minerals and vitamins, so if you are not giving your brain those, those neurons and nerves can’t fire properly.

Simply put: Don’t wait to find your motivation. Decide to eat better and your motivation will come.

I’d like to challenge you to try out the following for just two weeks and see how you feel.

  1. Increase the number of foods containing healthy fats from nuts and seeds, oily fish (salmon, mackerel), olives and olive oil, avocado.

    ketogenic diet

    Healthy fats

Our brains and our neurons are made up of fat and all our cells have a fat layer around them. We need essential fats and would die if we don’t have them. Forget about the extra calories they have, generally it is hard to overeat on healthy fats. What is absolutely crucial though is, to reduce your intake of sugar at the same time. The combination of high fat and high sugar is where the trouble starts!

Most people associate a “diet” with deprivation because they actually miss the fats. Fats make our food taste better.

A low-fat diet makes you lose your motivation quicker because your brain can’t function properly without healthy fats.


  1. Increase your intake of vegetables and foods containing B-Vitamins.

B-Vitamins are vital for energy production and if you don’t have the energy your brain can’t function properly. This chemical process involved in producing more “happy hormones” requires energy.

You can get your B-Vitamins from green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce leaves. You can get it through salmon, beef, eggs, organ meat, chicken, turkey, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), brewers yeast. If you feel you don’t get enough, you can supplement as it is a water-soluble vitamin, but I’d recommend supplements made from real food sources and to make sure that the B-Vitamins are in the methylated form, as your body will be able to absorb those better.

Products that rob vitamin B and therefore your energy levels are: certain medications (antibiotics, birth-control pill, acid blockers), alcohol, processed foods, baking powder, coffee, smoking.

If you are on any of the above medication, it might be worth looking at supplementation, but do consult your GP or Nutritional Therapist.

  1. Magnesium is a vital mineral that is used in every cell of your body, and is a natural relaxant. Being relaxed is vital for feeling motivated.

Good sources of Magnesium are: green leafy vegetables, almonds, cashew nuts, brazil nuts, cooked beans, green peas, buckwheat flour.

Robbers of Magnesium: large amounts of calcium in milk products or supplementation of calcium only. Large amounts of rhubarb and spinach. Phytate in oats, wheat, nuts (you can reduce the amount of phytates by soaking), and stress.

As our soils are often depleted of magnesium today, it is for many people a good idea to supplement with a good quality product. Powder is generally better absorbed. Also, an Epsom Salt bath is highly recommended.

If you only do those 4 things for 2 weeks:

  • Eat more of those foods mentioned

  • Eat more vegetables

  • Reduce your intake of sugar and fast-releasing carbohydrates

  • Avoid all processed food,

and your motivation and energy will come back.

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