Food & Mood

You are what you eat. Good nutrition provides essential high quality fuel for the mind-body and is important for all aspects of your health. You’re doubtless well aware that eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains (while avoiding saturated fats) can reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers. What you may not know is that these very same foods will also give you sustained energy and a general sense of well-being. What’s more, eating the right kinds of foods can actually influence the workings of your genes and make you less susceptible to depression and other related illnesses.

You are what you eat. Good nutrition provides essential high quality fuel for the mind-body and is important for all aspects of your health. You’re doubtless well aware that eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains (while avoiding saturated fats) can reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers. What you may not know is that these very same foods will also give you sustained energy and a general sense of well-being. What’s more, eating the right kinds of foods can actually influence the workings of your genes and make you less susceptible to depression and other related illnesses.

Clearly then, food can be as powerful as the most addictive drug. If you’re experiencing carbohydrate cravings as part of your depression, you’re probably well aware of the addictive nature of certain foods. Addictive foods are almost always processed foods. (I have never known anyone addicted to Lima beans). And you probably know that feeding your cravings only makes you crave the food even more. In fact, some studies suggest that food cravings may be triggered by low levels of the neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine, serotonin and endorphins), a phenomenon that may also occur in people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs. Other research by Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that women suffering from PMS-related mood swings felt calmer after eating carbohydrates; carbohydrates help the body to absorb tryptophan, which can then be made into mood-improving serotonin.

Most of my patients who have depressed moods, share very similar eating patterns. Here is a rundown of what they typically eat: For breakfast (many skip this meal entirely), they have juice, coffee and a bowl of cereal or a bagel. Two hours later, they feel hungry again, so they have another cup of coffee and a piece of fruit or some starchy snack like pretzels. Lunch usually consists of a salad and sandwich with chips, washed down with a soft drink. About two hours later, they experience a mid-afternoon slump and eat a sugary snack and a cup of coffee to get some energy. For dinner, they pile their plates high with pasta, rice, mashed potatoes or some other carbohydrate and may eat only a small amount of meat, chicken or fish—if they have any protein at all. An hour or two after dinner, they feel hungry again and begin to graze on cookies, ice cream, and chips.

Most of my patients are dismayed to learn that the very foods they eat for energy such as coffee and sugar–are actually leaving them even more depleted of energy. I tell them that they’re listening to what their addiction and even their medications are demanding rather than their bodies. Antidepressants can trick your mind into thinking it needs sugar—when you really need a well balanced diet filled with protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. And chances are you’re not getting enough of these “medicinal” foods because you’re filling up on “toxic” sweets. As a result, you may be deficient in protein as well as many key vitamins and minerals. And this sets you up for a double whammy: Nutritional deficiencies can worsen the symptoms of depression and prevent a full recovery. They can also increase your vulnerability to the side effects of antidepressants, not to mention your increased risk of a host of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, immune and hormonal problems.

Diet Help

When it comes to diet there are 4 things you can do to improve your health:

1. Write down what you eat each day. Tracking your food intake increases your awareness and control of what you’re eating. There are many easy to use apps for phones to help you shift to healthy eating.

2. Write down cravings. The more you crave a food, the more likely it is that it is toxic to your system. Cravings are different than food preferences, which are often very good indicators of what your body needs.

3. Get bad stuff out, and getting the good stuff in. Getting the good stuff in means organic when possible, colorful vegetables and fruits, and lots wild low mercury fish (these are generally smaller fish like, herring and sardines). Getting the bad stuff out, means foods you crave, and foods that are processed. The more a food is processed the worse it is for you. As an example, whole grain rice is good for you, while white rice (the hull is removed) is not very good. A banana is good for you, where as banana pudding is bad. Cookies, cakes, muffins, bagels, crackers, bread are all highly processed as are candies and most juices, and they are chock full of sugar; Sugar is your enemy.

4. Balance the diet. Balancing your diet means making sure that each meal and snack is 1/3 protein and 2/3 complex carbohydrates. If you feel you are hypoglycemic you will tend to do better with frequent balanced meals.

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