Today is Therapy Thursday here on Angelorum and the post du jour is about using food for mood therapy…
Guest blog by Sue Ellis-Saller
Food affects mood. A simple concept, yet one that is profound – and one that is oftentimes overlooked when we are struggling with issues like depression, anxiety and mental illness.
As a Sensitive Soul, I’ve had to take a look at the way what I eat affects how I feel. I’ve suffered from food sensitivities that caused migraines, I’ve battled severe depression, and I’ve also struggled with suicidal thoughts. I can tell you – from my own experience – what I eat directly affects how I feel both physically AND emotionally. It’s the first thing I examine and alter when I am in the doldrums; it is the first thing I mention to clients who are feeling blue.
When we think about it, the relationship between food and how we feel is simple science. What we ingest is made up of chemicals – whether we pop pills to deal with anxiety and depression, or if we choose to alter our moods through consuming better qualities or different combinations of foods. Foods are made up of chemicals, just like pharmaceuticals are!
The foods that we eat interact with our bodies in different ways, and every one of us has to find a way of eating that addresses our individual needs. Unfortunately, there is a LOT of conflicting information out there regarding diet and its effect on the human psyche, so the important thing is to experiment with your own habits, needs, and reactions to create a plan that works well for you.
According some doctors, higher protein foods ‘provide … amino acids that compete with tryptophan for entry into the brain; the end result is less tryptophan passing into the brain and a decrease in the synthesis of serotonin.’ (McDougall’s Medical Center).
*Serotonin is the feel good chemical in your brain, and you definitely want loads of it coursing through your system!* Dr. McDougall and many other doctors and dieticians recommend eating a diet high in whole grain foods and quality fruits and vegetables to feel your best.
Other doctors, like Dr. Natasha Turner who wrote for Dr. Oz’s site, recommend a high protein, high fat diet to help stave off blood sugar dips and spikes and to keep the hormones in balance (hormonal and blood sugar balance are key to feeling good for many people). Hormonal imbalances, in many doctors’ opinions, cause a cycle of stress and anxiety creating additional stress and anxiety and can be controlled through limiting carbohydrates and increasing good fats in the diet (think nuts, avocados, and fish), along with getting enough sleep and learning to manage external and internal stressors.
Food allergies can be another trigger for anything from depression to brain fog to more severe disorders like panic disorders and schizophrenia. Many doctors and health specialists point to wheat and dairy allergies as key influencing factors for depression, anxiety, panic disorders, PTSD, and a variety of other mood related illnesses.
So what can you or I do to make sure that what we are eating in a way that promotes the best, most calm demeanor and helps us to avoid depression, anxiety, and other issues associated with mental health?
1) Eat whole, real foods. A diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods, like fruits, vegetables, unprocessed meats, etc. is THE number one best thing you can do for yourself and your mood! Avoid fast foods and foods that are processed. Consider any boxed, pre-packaged, ‘heat and serve’ kind of meals as verboten. Eat fruits and veggies that are in season and locally grown when you can get them and make sure to include a variety of different colored fruits and veggies (there is data that links food season with best nourishment and nutrition and also color and nutrition – but those topics require another blog post or two!).
2) Start a food diary. If you start feeling out of sorts, note what you are eating. Write down everything you consume (drinks, too) and your daily moods to see if 1) you are eating quality foods and drinks and 2) if there are any patterns associated with what you eat and how you feel either the next day or even a few days later.
3) Eat regularly. People who skip meals risk throwing their blood sugar levels off, resulting in chaotic emotions! If you’ve ever been hangry, you know how you are affected by dipping blood sugar levels.
4) Do an allergy/food sensitivity elimination diet. Allergy elimination diets can be very strict, but very eye-opening in terms of pinpointing foods that cause you issues. (This is a great outline from Whole Health Chicago)
*Please note: some foods, like dairy and caffeine, are highly addictive and can cause a wide variety of detox symptoms when a person abstains from consuming them. I was SHOCKED at how emotionally off-kilter I was when I ditched dairy – come to find out that it has a substance in it similar to morphine – so I was having some pretty hardcore DTs when I cut it from my diet!
If and when you do an allergy elimination diet, plan for the fact that you will likely be very moody and emotional the first few days. Try to either do this over vacation, or start on a Friday and have the second and third days of the detox fall on a weekend, or on days when you do not work. Slow down your schedule and hit the sauna (to help release the toxins) if you can.
5) Avoid overdoing the alcohol and caffeine. I am not saying to go without; I am saying that too much alcohol and/or caffeine can totally wreck your emotional stability and mood. Alcohol is a depressant, and many people have ‘morning after blues’ that are more associated with depleted levels of Vitamin B and hormonal imbalances linked to liver stress than anything else. Coffee and caffeinated beverages also create high-highs and low-lows if they are over consumed – not to mention that caffeine is a stimulant that can make a person nervous, jittery, and anxious.
Generally speaking, you will see a vast difference in your mood and overall feeling of wellbeing if you eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats at regular intervals throughout the day and if you avoid ‘junk’ and processed foods. The most important thing is that you note what works for YOU as an individual, and stick with that. Fine-tuning your diet and really noticing what you are eating can do wonders for handling depression and anxiety – I am proof of that. Since I started following the advice listed above, I’ve virtually kicked my depression!
**Please note that severe depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and other mental illnesses should ALWAYS be brought up with a skilled and licensed medical doctor and/or certified nutritionist or therapist. Diet is, in some cultures, considered to be a complimentary medical practice, and some people may need to have pharmaceutical intervention and medical oversight – coupled with dietary changes – in order to best deal with their issues.
Sue Ellis-Saller simply loves helping Sensitive Souls like herself find strength in their sensitivity! As she’s been sensitive her whole life, she has a TON of experience with the trials and issues faced by Sensitive Souls. Sue is a Certified Transformational Life Coach, a Reiki/Energy Practitioner, and a Tarot, Angel, and Oracle Card Reader. You can find more of her work here.