You’re anxious or depressed. Or maybe you’re both (that happens!). There is plenty you can do to find relief from immediate symptoms, but did you ever notice the connection between food and mood? What you eat can profoundly affect your emotional state.
“People are fed by the Food Industry which pays no attention to health and are treated by the Health Industry which pays no attention to food.” -Wendell Berr
There is a significant disconnect in our understanding of nutrition and wellness. We’ve come to believe that as long as we eat low-fat, the proper amount of calories, move a bit and have normal lab numbers then we’re healthy. But the truth is, we have unprecedented levels of mental illness, despite counting calories and watching fat intake, and including the most recent fad nutrient (omega 3s, for instance), particularly anxiety and depression. Children, even before they enter preschool, are being diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, ODD, and anxiety disorders. Many desperate parents, looking for help, opt for medication for their children.
And the disconnect doesn’t stop there. While many times anxiety and depression have to do with very real and very big emotions and life situations, food often plays a significant roll in how we feel throughout the day. And we can change how we eat.
Food and Mood
Let’s consider Serotonin. Just one neurotransmitter that our body uses to regulate mood.
One factor in the food/mood connection.
Commonly understood as tightly correlated with depression.
Lower levels of Serotonin = more depression.
Would it surprise you to know that 75-90% of serotonin is made in the gut? That’s right! Serotonin, most commonly understood as a feel-good hormone, is primarily intended to be used in your gut.
In fact, Serotonin is key to the functioning of the gut muscles.
And really, it’s a 2-way street.
The gut, also known as the second brain, has a profound effect on serotonin levels throughout. When we eat processed foods full of ingredients formulated in a lab and we can’t pronounce, the lining in our intestines can become irritated and even damaged. Sustaining prolonged abuse, our digestion begins to suffer. Our digestion also suffers when we consume foods that we have an allergy, intolerance, or auto-immune response to.
As our digestive system begins to suffer, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea aren’t the only symptoms we may experience. Serotonin levels suffer and we experience depression. Anxiety. General moodiness. Insomnia.
We must provide our bodies with the building blocks for Serotonin, and its precursor L-Tryotophan, and we can do that through food.
Foods rich in Serotonin
Foods rich in Tryptophan
- milk (preferably raw and grass-fed)
- yogurt (from grass-fed, raw milk)
By focusing on these foods, and healing your digestion, you can naturally affect the levels of L-tryptophan and serotonin in your body, which will improve not only your mood but your energy levels and immune function. We know this because we know that depression and anxiety lead to lower energy levels and suppressed immune function.
While it’s become commonplace to medicate in order to alleviate suffering medication we are capable of restoring health to our body.
Hippocrates, long understood as the father of medicine, said long ago:
“Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be the food.”
Healing strategies for mood
1. Breathe. Guilt is the enemy. Whatever food choices you’re making, make them mindfully and enjoy them to the fullest. Guilt over food choices, even if they’re not the best foods for us, leads to shame, and shame leads to worse food choices down the road.
2. Get to know you. What do you need? How are you wired? What does food do for you? Emotionally? Physically? Socially? Spiritually? Culturally? Food is so foundational to all of our lives that unless we sit with (and potentially change) how we relate to food in all facets of life, making food changes becomes about mind-over-matter; an overuse of willpower that was really only meant to get us through challenging moments.
3. Focus on eating whole foods! Ask yourself, “Would I find this growing/alive?” If the answer is yes, AWESOME. The best place to get your food is your garden or a farmer/farmers market. Followed by a farm-oriented store. Followed by a typical grocery store. Should you go to a typical grocery store, stick to the outer perimeter of the store. All the whole food goodness, including breads, meats, cheese, fruits, veggies will all be along the perimeter of the store. BEWARE the aisles. Rarely will you find living food in a box or bag.
4. Seek out Support from your friends and family, and, as necessary, naturopaths or holistic food coaches. Life changes are most successful when in community. Your friends and family can make changes with you, and a naturopath or holistic food coach can help give you direction about your specific food-mood needs and how to begin.
5. Track the foods you eat and your moods for at least 30 days. Something we eat could still be affecting our mental/emotional state 3-5 days later. Meaning, if we eat a bagel on Monday and feel really down in the dumps Thursday, your Monday meal may be the culprit.
The Yoga of Eating— Charles Eisenstein (available on Amazon)
Gut and Psychology Syndrome —Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (available on Amazon)
What’s Eating My Child? (available on Amazon)
Apps: Calm, Optimism
If you are looking for more help in overcoming mood issues like depression and anxiety, please check out The Depression Sessions.