January is calm month here at Hyggebox. Feeling more calm is a better way to live & helps us deal with stressful times when they arise. Our box featured products & activities to help us feel more calm. One of these was a blueberry bar. This was to start people thinking about the connection between food & mood.
What we eat has a massive impact on our health, emotions & overall wellbeing. We all know this yet we often find it difficult to make good food choices & eat the things we know our bodies need. If you suffer from anxiety, low mood, stress or struggle to relax there are things you can eat (& stop eating) that will help you to feel more calm.
Our bodies are kind of like chemical factories & food provides the raw ingredients to make the things we need. If we dont eat everything our bodies need then they start to change, often in negative ways. For example, serotonin is a chemical in the brain which helps us feel good. If we don’t eat well our levels of serotonin will drop & that can cause us to fell anxious, lethargic, even depressed. Many anti-depressants work on this system in the brain as it is the most studied aspect of mood. Eating foods which contain the ingredients for serotonin means your body can make more of it. There are countless examples of this. The body is a complicated thing & there are no quick fixes but small changes in diet can add up to a significant positive effect.
If you suffer from low mood, SAD or depression changing what you eat can be a catalyst for long term health. I suffered with depression for a number of years in my twenties & diet was the thing which helped me start to make positive changes. I had studied psychology at university & knew about mood research & I believed that food could help. I started to eat more of what I should eat & less of what I knew would impact my mood negatively (mainly sugar). I cannot say that it was an overnight change for me. I wasn’t suddenly brimming with optimism or energy but I did start to feel a bit better. One of the things about depression is that it saps your energy, it’s hard to do anything. When I started eating to improve my mood I started to have a bit of energy & with that energy I began to get outside, enjoy nature & occasionally go swimming. It was the start of a recovery.
These days I don’t suffer with depression but I do sometimes feel low mood & I notice it is often when I haven’t been eating well. I am a sugar addict & I find it better to not eat it than try to eat it in moderation — I can’t. As soon as I eat something sweet I want more. I fall off the sugar wagon every few months & I notice it affects my mood. I find it harder to get up in the mornings, my concentration is poor & I have negative thought patterns. Much as I love sugar, it’s not worth it for me.
One thing I have noticed over years of looking at diet & lifestyle is that the human body varies greatly. Some people have an unending capacity for sugar, they eat it all the time, don’t put on weight & are happy & productive. Others, like me, are the opposite & there is everything in-between. What I am saying here is that my story may not be the same as yours in detail but food matters to all of us. If you are unwell, I urge you to look at your diet & make changes. Keep a food diary & look at how what you eat affects you. There is an unbelievable amount of contradictory information out there when it comes to eating so the best way is to experiment on yourself. Nobody else has your genes & constitution.
Food is not just energy it is the building blocks of our entire body & brain so if yours is not working as you want it to you have to change what you put into it. I have tried a number of things over the years & have settled on a high fat diet. I eat tons of butter & coconut oil & virtually no sugar. It is the exact opposite of what my doctor recommends but even she has to admit that since I started it I am a lot healthier. I have low cholesterol, my body weight has been slowly lowering & my productivity & happiness levels are high. This might not work for you but something will, you have to be willing to try new things.
One of the greatest enemies of a calm mind is blood sugar levels. If they go up & down all the time you will stress your adrenals & drive your brain crazy. Eating simple carbs & high sugar meals or snacks causes your blood sugar to rise. Your body has a system to lower it asap because high sugar levels are dangerous so insulin is released to bring it back into normal levels. All this activity tires your brain & causes low mood. If you eat enough sugar your adrenals kick into action making your heart rate increase, quicken your breathing & make you feel anxious. Preventing sugar rushes is the start to a calmer mind. Avoid fruit juices, fizzy drinks, processed foods as they are packed with hidden sugars, cereals for breakfast & massive bowls of pasta (this is not an exhaustive list). All these things cause sugar level spikes which excite the body & brain.
This is not to say that food should not be eaten for pleasure. I still eat cake & chocolate I just do it in a different way so that my body can tolerate it & I stay feeling good. The key is to learn what makes you feel good & what makes you feel bad. With that in mind here’s a list of a few food which can help your body chemistry & make you feel calmer. It could be a great way to start. I have only included foods which are easy to find & cook & are affordable. There are lots of other foods which help improve mood.
- Green leafy vegetables. They are packed with tons of micronutrients such as magnesium which helps you sleep. There’s no down-side to green veg they are just great for you, no nasty stuff in there.
- Walnuts. They are high in fats which help brain function. Most nuts provide essential fats (avoid peanuts & cashews) & a good dose of minerals. They help lower inflammation which is your bodies stress response. They are cheap & easy to carry around for a quick snack if you’re feeling really hungry.
- Turkey. Changing chicken for turkey provides a lot more mood boosting chemicals for your brain. It has higher levels of both tryptophan & phenylalanine.
- Berries. Blueberries are especially recommended for their calming properties. We included a blueberry bar in our box this month to get people to start thinking about the connection between food & mood. Blueberries are packed with nutrients & have several which have a sedative effect.
- Eggs. These are such an easy thing to incorporate into your diet. I think eggs are the best fast food. When I need a quick meal I often eat eggs. Egg yolks are the basis of a life so they have almost everything the body needs. They have high levels of choline which is essential for good nervous system function, it keeps nerves running smoothly. They are also alkaline & great for calming an acidic stomach.
6. Dark chocolate. Only proper chocolate counts here. Cadbury Cream Eggs will not do! Cacao, the basis of chocolate bars is nutritionally dense & has high levels of magnesium. If you crave chocolate it is often not a sugar craving but your body demanding magnesium. These days magnesium levels in many foods have decreased so it can be hard to get enough of it. Many people diagnosed with depression have been helped with magnesium supplements. A few squares of (at least 70%) dark chocolate can boost your mood & satisfy sugar cravings.
Everyone deserves to eat well. Unfortunately our society often makes this hard — I can never find anything to eat at lunch time as I don’t eat bread. We are surrounded by processed, sugary unhealthy foods so don’t be down on yourself for eating things you know you shouldn’t eat. It is hard to make good choices but it is worth it of you feel your mental of physical health would be better. In the end eating green veg may be more boring than a takeaway but being ill is the most boring thing ever. Take some time to learn about what food make you feel good. You wont regret that.
Check out our website for details of our self-care subscription box. Treat yourself