“You are what you eat.” We hear the phrase thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean? It turns out that what you eat can affect your mood and the structure of your brain. Food is obviously no substitute for medicine when it comes to treating mental illness, but eating well and taking care of your body by exercising and sleeping enough are still incredibly beneficial for those with mental illnesses (and those without!).
In addition to causing problems with the body’s insulin response, consuming sugar and soft drinks was found by one study to have a correlation with higher prevalence of ADHD. Sugar-filled snacks also lead to ups and downs in energy levels.
On the other hand, complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potatoes can give you energy, and they are more filling and nutrient-filled than candy or soda. Furthermore, lean proteins, including chicken and fish, and fatty acids found in eggs and nuts are also part of a healthy mental diet.
All this talk of food affecting mood hits close to home for me. I have had on and off struggles with overeating for the last few years, and I can vouch firsthand that eating healthier foods can help with mood and energy. When I overeat, I tend to gravitate toward processed foods and sweets. Snacking gives me a brief feeling of relief and happiness when I am in the midst of anxiety and depression, but in the long run, I am left feeling foggy-brained and bloated.
However, when I eat in moderation and make sure to include lots of fruits and vegetables in my diet, I have more energy, my skin is better, and I have a better outlook on life. It’s difficult to stick to a healthy diet, but the benefits are undeniable. One thing that helps keep me from overindulging is remembering that the third (or fourth or fifth) cookie won’t taste any better than the first. Other ways I keep my diet in check revolve around making healthy choices the most convenient choice. Here are some of my favorite tips:
- Don’t keep junk food around! If unhealthy foods aren’t around you, you can’t eat them. Instead, I stock my place with fruits, vegetables, and other healthy snack like low-sugar yogurt, plain popcorn, and hard-boiled eggs.
- Be prepared. When I’m in a mood where I want to turn to food, I will eat whatever is there and convenient. In the past this would be candy from my pantry or cookies or chips. Now, I cut up fruits and vegetables in advance so they are there and ready to eat when I want them. I also roast a big tray of vegetables every weekend so I’m all stocked for the week. My favorites are carrots with a little salt or asparagus with garlic and lemon juice.
- Don’t drink your calories. This was a huge change for me, coming from an avid coffee drinker. I used to drink a lot of fruit juice, hot chocolate, soda, and coffee filled with cream and sugar. Now, I have one cup of black coffee in the morning, a glass of sugar-free almond milk with dinner, and other than that I drink water. There’s nothing like a glass of ice water to keep me hydrated and feeling fresh!
- Don’t let one bad choice spiral into more bad choices. I used to be very guilty of this. I would have some “bad” food and totally give up on healthy living. I would overindulge and count the whole day as a loss. I am still working on improving on this front, but this quote helps me: “You wouldn’t slash the other three tires if you got a flat.” I shouldn’t throw away my progress just because I had one slip up.
Overall, I would say the most important thing for a healthy diet is moderation. No one is saying you can never eat pizza or birthday cake again, just that you should eat healthy foods most of the time. And the good thing is, any little bit helps!
I still have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to healthy eating, but each day I try to be a little better than the last. I’m still a work in progress, but all that matters to me is that I keep moving forward.
Have you ever noticed your mood change depending on what you eat? What are some of your favorite foods that put you in a good mood?