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Chapter 2: Food & Mood



Have you ever noticed how you feel sluggish and irritable after indulging in a fast food feast? Or how a colourful salad makes you feel revived and breezy? Well, these are not mere coincidences.


Your mind is a vehicle that takes you on different adventures. Just as a car engine requires high-quality oil to perform optimally, our minds and bodies thrive on nutritious, wholesome food. Filling our stomachs with anything and everything without being concerned about the quality can leave us with a gloomy aura and a weary body, as our mind and body express their discontent for not being cared for.


The Downside of Processed Foods

A bad day? Let's grab some ice cream! Sugar-laden, high-fat foods are often confused with comfort food. As pleasing as their initial effects may be, research suggests that unhealthy food choices can further worsen our levels of depression. Foods like sugary treats, fast food, and processed snacks may provide a temporary mood boost, but they often leave us feeling worse in the long run. It's like a rollercoaster ride for our emotions, with sharp highs and crashing lows.


Let's face it – processed foods have become a staple in many people's lives. They're convenient, tasty, and readily available. However, they're also notorious for their negative impact on our mood. The high levels of added sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives can wreak havoc on our brain chemistry, leading to mood swings and even depression.


The Power of a Balanced Diet

Ever felt a flutter in your stomach when you’re excited or nervous? Our stomach and brain are like two close buddies who are always chatting and looking out for each other. Whether one is joyful or sorrowful, the other senses it!


A balanced diet is crucial for fostering a healthy community of microbes in our gut. They are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters or happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine in your brain. “A growing number of researchers shows that the gut microbiome plays a crucial role in a variety of psychiatric disorders, including major depressive disorder,” a team of scientists presented in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry


The Role of Nutrients

Let's take a closer look at certain nutrients that have been seen to greatly influence our mood and how we handle our emotions in general.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fatty fish like salmon and trout, have been linked to expelling symptoms of depression and anxiety. These essential fats help support brain health and promote the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin.


B Vitamins

B vitamins, particularly type B6, B12, and folate, play a crucial role in mood regulation. They help in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and the formation of red blood cells, responsible for carrying oxygen to the brain. Good sources of B vitamins include liver and other organ meats, eggs, yoghurt, and trout.


Vitamin D

Known as the "sunshine vitamin," vitamin D is the chandler of the vitamin family. It helps regulate mood and wards off symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, it is also present in fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and supplements.


Mindful Eating for Better Mood

In our busy and dynamic world, it's easy to lose yourself in mindless eating. Scarfing down a meal while scrolling through social media or grabbing a quick bite on the go has become the norm. But this rushed eating habit can take a toll on our mood and digestion.


Practicing mindful eating can help us reconnect with our food and our emotions. By savoring the smell, flavor, temperature, and texture of our food without any distractions, we can enhance our enjoyment of meals, develop an appreciation and improve our mood. So, put away your devices, find a quiet spot, and savor every delicious mouthful.


Assessing Your Current Diet

Before we dive into challenges and guidance to improve your mood through better food choices, let's take a moment to assess your current diet. Answer the following questions to gain insight into your eating habits:

  1. How often do you eat meals prepared at home?

  2. How often do you eat out or order takeout?

  3. Are you a mindful eater, or do you often eat in a rush?

  4. Do you eat when you're stressed or emotional?

  5. Are you aware of the nutritional content of the foods you commonly consume?

  6. Do you consume a variety of fruits and vegetables daily?

  7. Are there specific foods or food groups you tend to overconsume?

Take your time to reflect on these questions and be honest with yourself. This self-assessment will help you identify areas for improvement and guide you toward making positive changes in your diet.


Exercises for Better Mood

Now that you're aware of the impact of food on your mood and have assessed your current eating habits, it's time to put that knowledge into action. Here are some exercises to help you make better food choices and improve your mood:

  1. Meal Planning: Plan your whole week’s diet on the weekend. Include colorful, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, lean proteins, cereals and grains, and healthy fats and snacks. This will ensure you have a well-balanced diet that supports good mental health.

  2. Cooking at Home: Aim to cook more meals at home using fresh ingredients. This way, you have control over what goes into your food, and you can experiment with flavors and recipes. Get creative in the kitchen and make mealtime an enjoyable experience.

  3. Mindful Eating: Take a chill pill! Eating food should not feel like a marathon. Take your time by slowing down and savoring and chewing each bite. Turn off distractions, chew your food thoroughly, and pay attention to the flavors and textures. This will not only improve digestion but also enhance your overall eating experience.

  4. Food Journaling: Keep a food journal to track your eating habits and emotions. Write down what you eat, when you eat it, and how you feel before and after each meal. This will help you identify any patterns or triggers that may be affecting your mood.

  5. Experiment with Mood-Boosting Foods: Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin D in your meal plan. Try adding fatty fish, leafy greens, whole grains, and fortified dairy products to your meals. Notice how these foods make you feel and adjust your diet accordingly.

Remember, improving your mood through better food choices is a journey. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way. With each positive change you make, you're nourishing both your body and your mind.


Takeaway

The correlation between food and mood is undeniably strong. Our dietary choices can impact our mental well-being in profound ways. By making conscious choices and incorporating mood-boosting foods into our daily meals, we can enhance our overall mood, increase our emotional resilience, and improve our mental health.


Throughout this chapter, we have explored the science behind food and mood, discussed practical tips for a mood-boosting diet, and engaged in exercises to help us make informed choices. Remember, it's not about achieving perfection or adhering to strict rules but rather about finding a balance that works for you and supports your mental well-being.


So, on your next meal, take a moment to appreciate the nourishment it provides not just to your body but also to your mind. Bon appétit, and here's to a happier, healthier you!


Nourishing Connections: Interactive Exercises to Explore the Food-Mood Link

Ready for a tasty challenge? Dive into these exercises and discover the food-mood connection!


Exercise 1: The Food-Mood Map

Draw a chart with two columns – "Foods" on one side and "Mood After Eating" on the other. For a couple of days, jot down specific foods you eat and the mood you observe an hour after eating.


Exercise 2: Three-Day Rainbow Challenge

Over three days, aim to eat fruits and vegetables from each color of the rainbow. This not only ensures varied nutrient intake but can be visually fun and appealing.


Exercise 3: Mindful Bite

During your next meal, chew each bite 20-30 times, focusing entirely on the flavors bursting in your mouth. This slow eating promotes digestion and a deeper connection with your food.


Exercise 4: Junk Food Journal

For a week, note down any processed foods you consume. At the end of the week, research one healthier alternative for each and try them the following week.


Exercise 5: Nutrient Spotlight

Choose one essential nutrient (like Vitamin C, Magnesium, or Iron). Throughout the week, aim to consume foods rich in that nutrient. Document any changes in mood or energy.


Exercise 6: Breakfast Boost

For one week, focus solely on making your breakfast as balanced and nutritious as possible. Observe how starting the day right impacts your mood and energy levels.


Exercise 7: Hydration Station

Monitor your water intake for a week. Aim for 8 glasses a day and monitor any changes in mood, energy, or skin health.


Exercise 8: Recipe Rendezvous

Find a recipe that focuses on mood-boosting ingredients. Cook it, and then reflect on the process of cooking and how the meal made you feel.


Exercise 9: Emotional Eating Log

Whenever you reach for food outside of meal times, jot down your emotions. This will help identify if you're eating out of hunger or emotion.


Exercise 10: Social Dining

Once a week, share a meal with someone - a family member, friend, or colleague. Discuss the foods you're consuming and how they make you both feel.


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