Want to boost your mood? Start by taking a look at what you are eating.
Years ago, when my two girls were toddlers and I gave up my career to be a stay at home mom, my husband would waltz through the door around 7pm expecting a good meal and relaxing evening. When he saw the haggard look on my face, he’d say, “Just be happy.”
Yeah right, I thought, as if I could just flip a switch.
Truth is, I wasn’t happy. I felt alone and taken for granted. At the time I blamed my circumstances, when the truth is what I was eating was making me irritable, in pain and resentful.
Back then, before learning about mood boosting foods, sugar was my solution for stress. Sugar made me feel rewarded, taken care of and loved. When things felt out of control, I reached for something sweet to feel comforted and to escape. The rush of sugar running through my veins gave me the illusion that I was getting control back. I felt entitled to eat sweets and had no idea that sugar was at the root of many of my chronic health issues, including my unhappiness.
Sugar is the first thing our bodies crave when we are tired or stressed. It takes the edge off and gives us a temporary boost in energy. But sugar is merely empty calories that do nothing to fuel our body or brain. In fact, the effect of sugar places more stress on our body’s metabolic systems only exacerbates the feeling of overwhelm or stress.
Hormone shifts also make us crave sweets. These shifts, whether they are cyclical or menopausal, intensify feelings of stress. During the transition to menopause, typically, levels of estrogen drop, causing a wide range of changes throughout the body. Lower levels of estrogen associated with menopause have been linked to elevated anxiety, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness.
Sometimes though, we don’t know how badly we feel until we feel better. That was my experience. It has also been the experience with most, if not all of my clients. It takes making the break to realize what sugar is doing to our brain and body, including our hormones. That is why I run a 10 day sugar detox called Sweet Freedom, which starts May 21st.
How did I break up with my beloved sugar? It was my youngest daughter who taught me about the effects of sugar as well as the very crucial, yet rarely talked about, gut brain connection. In the spring of 2000, shortly after Kelly was diagnosed with autism, her tummy troubles started. The most impactful shift that helped alleviate her symptoms, both behaviorally and biologically, was healing her gut through a nutrient dense diet void of sugars, processed foods, grains and dairy.
Becoming her partner on this clean eating, gut-healing journey was one of the best decisions I ever made. Once I felt the empowering energy, clarity and focus that came from eating only pure natural foods, I realized she wasn’t the only one.
Food affects all of us. Significant evidence shows that processed foods and refined sugars are major players in both our gut health and our mental health.
“There can be a bit of a vicious cycle,” says David Ludwig, professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard University. “When we feel stressed we seek foods that are going to comfort us immediately, but often times those foods lead to surges and crashes in hormones and blood sugar that increase our susceptibility to new stresses.”
Of course, it’s not always easy to change our circumstances and sometimes we can’t control them at all, like with autism. But what I learned is that we can control how the stress impacts us and how we respond to it through the foods we eat.
While mood boosting foods may not be the first thing on your mind when you really want to dive into a bowl of ice-cream, M&M’s or buttered popcorn, here’s a list of delicious alternatives:
Avocado (go to suziecarpenter.com for a recipe for chocolate avocado pudding, it’s to die for!)
Wild salmon (need I say more?)
Hummus (the tahini made from sesame seeds is what works here)
Dark leafy greens (these are grounding and full of healthy nutrients)
Grass fed beef (high in iron, omega 3s and higher levels of linoleic acid which is called the “happy” fat because it combats stress hormones)
Coconut (contains medium chain fats that keep your brain happy)
Pumpkin seeds (one of the best sources of tryptophan, which helps boost serotonin in the brain – check out my recipe for spicy pumpkin seeds. Eden Foods also has delicious spicy pumpkin seed snack bags)
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