Did you know that 20% of the calories you eat are devoted to creating thoughts, feelings and actions in your brain? Research on the link between the food you eat and your mood is finally gaining traction and the findings are fascinating. Studies have shown that people who eat a standard american diet are 60% more likely to develop depression and anxiety than those who consume a diet full of healthy fats, whole fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
As mothers, we are always trying to be the best version of ourselves for our kids. Being grouchy and short tempered with them always leads to tremendous guilt, which, in turn, brings our mood down even further. And to top it all off, we use a tasty treat to help us feel better, which may work in the short term, but in the long term, not so much. This cycle of grouchiness followed by guilt and self-medicating with food is what leads to a mom funk that is almost impossible to pull yourself out of.
This was my life not too long ago, when I moved out of state and away from my friends and family. I had a new baby and was suffering from postpartum depression (the ultimate mom-funk). I would justify buying and eating sugary treats by my belief that if I did not have them, I would be removing the one source of pleasure in my day that I could rely on. In truth, I was sabotaging my own happiness and depriving my kids of the mom they deserve.
I have since changed my ways. I still indulge occasionally, but not to the extent I was before. Since I implemented a few changes in my diet, I have felt so much better physically and mentally. I have included some of the things I have done to regulate my mood below so that you can try them and see if it works for you.
Eliminate Processed Foods
I know they are convenient, but most contain a slew of ingredients that are not good for you, including GMO’s, added sugars, and preservatives. They are mostly empty calories which will leave you with nutritional deficiencies that will affect your mood and energy level. Instead, stick with whole foods and make your own staples whenever you can.
Many of the pesticides used in conventional farming are neurotoxins and will negatively affect your mental health. Yes, you will spend more money buying organic food, and I certainly understand that not everyone can afford this change. If you are on a budget, then just do the best you can. There are many weeks when I buy all conventional food due to budget, and that’s okay. You may want to consider referencing the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists when prioritizing what to buy organic. Overall, the benefits of eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks, so don’t stress about it too much.
Eat More Fat
Most of us were taught that we should be sticking to a low fat diet, but eating healthy fats like DHA and EPA are very good for your brain and help balance your mood. Not only that, but eating healthy fat helps you stay full longer and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Buy full fat dairy products and choose butter or coconut oil over margarine. Other good sources of fat are avocados, nuts and olive oil.
Speaking of fat, this one is probably superior to all the rest in terms of your mental well being. Did you know women who suffer from postpartum depression tend to be deficient in omega-3? Omega-3 fats are essential to keep your brain functioning at its best and to build healthy brain cells. Omega-3s are most prevalent in wild, cold water, oily fish like salmon, but you can also find it in pasture raised eggs, free range chicken and grass fed beef.
Studies have shown that when people take probiotics, their anxiety levels, stress levels, and mood improve, compared with people who did not take probiotics. You can find natural probiotics in fermented foods like whole fat yogurt, sauerkraut and pickles. You can also take a probiotic supplement.
Vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant and our brains are made of fat. It is very important for eliminating free radicals and oxidative stress on the brain. Sources include almonds, spinach, sweet potato and avocado.
Magnesium is used in all energy producing chemical reactions in your brain. Inadequate magnesium reduces serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps mediate your mood. Magnesium is found in leafy green veggies, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Reduce Meat And Dairy Consumption
In addition to processed and refined foods, the Standard American Diet is also loaded with meat and dairy. Conventionally farmed animals are fed an unnatural diet which leads to poor health and as a result they need to be given antibiotics constantly. Instead, choose pasture raised/grass fed meat and dairy products, and eat them in moderation. Pasture raised animals are allowed to eat their natural, healthy diets which leads to the meat and dairy being more nutrient dense.
Do An Elimination Diet
For two weeks, eat a completely clean diet. Eliminate all processed foods, refined flours and sugars and any other foods you feel might be affecting you negatively. Add in some natural probiotics like pickles or sauerkraut. Notice how you feel. Then, start adding foods back slowly, one at a time. Pay attention to how you feel, not just immediately, but the next day as well. Doing this will help you identify some foods you may want to reduce or even completely remove from your diet.
Happiness starts with taking care of yourself and a healthy diet is an important part of that. I encourage you to take a good hard look at your diet and see if there is any room for improvement. Chances are, you can make a few changes that may have a dramatic impact on your mood. I encourage you to start small. Don’t make too many changes at once or you may become overwhelmed. Start implementing the above strategies and tracking how the foods you consume affect the way you feel. This will help you adopt eating habits that will support a happier life.