food and mood

Evidence suggests that as well as affecting our physical health, what we eat may also affect the way we feel.

Simple substances in our brain such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and sugars determine whether our brain cells fire or not, grow or not, form new connections or wilt and die. The same sodium, potassium, magnesium and sugars in our brain are the same nutrients in food. To put it simply, the human brain is made of food!

I have noticed that improving my diet by eating whole, fresh foods that contain these vital nutrients helps improve my mood, gives me more energy and helps me think more clearly. 

Changing our diet can be a difficult thing. Even the term “diet” has a negative connotation that includes an element of restricting oneself to bland food and makes us feel like we’re suffering. These diets are doomed to failure, as they might work in the short term but we will always, always fall off them. Trust me, I’ve tried many diets and and fallen off many.

As others have said before me, don’t go on a diet — go for a healthy lifestyle change instead. That means to make changes that you can sustain for the rest of your life! This post will provide adjustments you can make and keep in your diet.  

tips to transition 

substitute whole grains for refined carbs

Ditch white bread and eat whole grain bread (note that wheat bread and whole grain bread are different – the first uses enriched wheat flour, which is refined, and the second uses whole grain flour, which isn’t). Eat whole grain pasta instead of regular pasta. Eat brown rice instead of white. Whole grain bagels instead of regular. You get the idea. Whole grains are much healthier — more nutrients, slower to digest, more fiber. Refined carbs offer nearly no nutrition in exchange for lots of calories. And after a little while, you won’t want to go back — whole grains taste better and are more satisfying.

eat more fruits and veggies

Everyone will tell you this and  for me, this was perhaps the easiest change to make. I have berries for breakfast and snack on fruits at my desk in the office. I eat raw or steamed veggies with lunch and dinner. Fruits and veggies not only provide nutrients and fiber, but they fill you up without giving you too many calories and fat. They also digest quickly and therefore, not physically taxing for the body. 

eat leaner meats (or better yet, other forms of protein!)

I grew up eating meat every single day yet switching beef for lean chicken or turkey was an easy switch to make! My body simply felt better after eating protein from non-meat sources. We might love red meat, but it’s killing us and damaging the environment. There are very tasty dishes you can make using lean meat and non-meat options. We think life without meat is impossible but there are countless food options with soy protein, nuts and whole grains, beans and other such forms of protein. All the nutrients with none of the saturated fat! Admittedly, this has been difficult for me which is why I slowly limited my meat intake to once per week. 

cut back on sweets

I have to admit, as someone with a sweet tooth for pastries and cookies, this is my most difficult challenge. I have not been completely successful on this but I have made progress by cutting back on the pastries and candies and other sweet desserts — I usually just have a little now, and find healthier treats to enjoy instead.

final thoughts 

As with any other sustainable change, implement these changes one at a time, slowly and over a long period of time. Don’t start tomorrow by saying you’re going to drastically change your entire diet. You will have a difficult time, and suffer, and fail within a few weeks. When the change is very drastic and restrictive, it is too hard for most of us, and it’s just a matter of time before we fail.

A final tip: I have also found that when I decided to cut back on sweets, I gave myself one cheat day a week. This made it easier and gave me something to look forward to! 

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Sources:

Mind Over Mood, Second Edition: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky 

The Antianxiety Food Solution How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings Written by: Trudy Scott CN, James Lake MD