“Food is fuel!”
You’ve likely heard it at least a few times before, probably from someone passionate about fitness and nutrition. You don’t have to count calories or be a gym rat to notice the connection between diet and mood, though. The foods you eat have an incredible influence not only on your physical health but your mental health, too.
Comparing food to fuel isn’t a bad comparison, either. Your brain is operating around the clock and relies on the foods you eat to fuel it. Now think of your brain like a car. You’re more likely to damage your car when you fill it with low-quality fuel and oil. Using premium gasoline and motor oil is better for your engine and you’ll get more life from your vehicle.
Much like your car, your brain functions better when you consume “premium” foods. Eating a diet that’s full of processed foods, refined sugars, or chemical additives leads to low performance. Your body responds better when you stick to whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean meats.
Researchers are actively learning more about the connections between diet and mental health. Growing numbers of studies show the incredible impact that food has on your brain. How are your diet and mood related to each other? What causes the things you eat to affect your mental health?
Nutritional Psychiatry: The Relationship Between Diet and Mood
Nutritional psychiatry is a newer field of study that looks at the relationship between diet and mood. A few studies looked at the impact of specific nutrients on mood disorders before 2010. Most of the research conducted on overall diet quality and its influence on mental health only happened during the past decade, though.
Research shows that about 90-95% of your serotonin receptors are in your stomach. The vagus nerve connects your stomach with your brain, creating a communication path between the two. Studying this connection helps researchers understand the association between your food and your mood.
Your brain relies on vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to perform its best. Processed foods, refined sugars, and chemical additives lack the nutrients your body needs. These only come from eating a variety of whole foods. This means you need to consume a well-balanced diet to provide your brain with all the nutrients it needs.
Leaving necessary vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants out of your diet can cause impaired brain function. The growing field of nutritional psychiatry also reveals that a lack of these vital nutrients may either cause a mood disorder or make symptoms of an existing disorder worse.
Depression is one of the most common disorders associated with a poor diet. Anxiety is another condition that’s made worse by a lack of proper nutrition. As researchers release the results of more studies, clinicians will have a clearer picture of the connection between diet and mood.
Tips to Dial In Your Diet
Since your diet and mood are so closely connected, eating a balanced diet is crucial. It’s an easy way to make a choice that contributes to good mental health. This doesn’t mean you need to eat salads every day, though! A balanced diet means a few different things. If you’re trying to figure out how to dial in your diet, here are a few tips.
Make a Plan
Making a change in your life often seems overwhelming in the beginning. Diet changes are especially difficult to make. It’s easy to convince yourself you failed after a slip or two and then give up. Set yourself up for success, though! Create a plan ahead of time that you can follow for the first few weeks. Coming up with a plan will make you more likely to stick with it.
Keep Your Meals Consistent
Setting and keeping your meal timing is another important part of improving gut health. Your body can’t settle into a routine when you’re eating at different times every day. When you’re creating your plan, decide the general structure for your daily meals. The easiest way to start is with three main meals and two snacks. Start with this schedule then adjust as needed.
Try New Things
Another common misconception about changing your diet is the idea you need to eat the same thing every day. Maybe you’re tempted to switch to eating only chicken and rice or salads every day. Just because your diet is connected to your mood, though, doesn’t mean it needs to be boring. You’re less likely to stick to the shift when you impose drastic and rigid changes. Try new things on different days while you’re making the switch!
Use the 80/20 Rule
Not only are drastic shifts harder to stick with, but they also aren’t what life’s all about! You can’t switch to salads every single day for the rest of your life. There are still plenty of opportunities to try some fun foods or leave some room for one of your favorite treats. The 80/20 Rule is a great rule of thumb to go by when making the switch. It means that you eat nutritious, whole foods 80% of the time and you can give yourself some room to breathe the other 20%. Providing yourself with some leeway will make it easier to stick with your switch.
Other Ways to Influence Your Mood
There’s no denying the connection between diet and mood. Again, food is fuel and the things you eat are what your body relies on to function. Eating a diet that consists largely of whole foods is vital, especially if you already battle depression, anxiety, or another disorder. Keeping your diet dialed in will make your symptoms more manageable.
You can use other tools to influence your mental wellbeing too! Diet and mood aren’t the only things connected in your body. Mindfulness plays an important role in your mental health, too. Research also shows that developing a regular practice of daily meditation has some powerful benefits.
Bringing in outside guidance can also offer a great source of support. Hiring a life coach is a great way to receive some structure and input from a neutral third-party. Your life coach can help you establish goals, such as adjusting your diet, and then hold you accountable to them.
If you’re curious whether a life coach is for you, schedule a free consultation call now. I’d love to talk with you and find out more about what you’re currently struggling with. I’m here to help in whatever way you need. Let’s get on a call so I can hear more about what’s going on and uncover how I might be able to support you!