Want to boost your mood? Start by taking a look at what you are eating. You might be surprised at how much it affects how you’re feeling each day and how much better you’ll feel if you start eating more mood-boosting foods.
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 7 pm expecting a good meal and a 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.
The truth is, I wasn’t happy. I felt alone and taken for granted. At the time, I blamed my circumstances, when the truth is that what I was eating was making me irritable, in pain, and resentful.
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 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, and 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 and 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, our estrogen levels typically begin to drop, causing a wide range of changes throughout the body. The 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, and it has also been the experience with most, if not all, of my clients. It takes making a break to realize what sugar does to our brain and body, including our hormones. That is why a 10-day sugar detox can be so beneficial for so many people.
How did I break up with my beloved sugar? It was my youngest daughter, Kelly, 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.
My choice to become 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.
The Many Benefits of a Healthy Diet
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 oftentimes 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 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:
Here are some of the best food to help improve your gut health and make you feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically:
- Walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground flax seeds (all high in Omega 3s)
- Dark chocolate (choose naturally sweetened dark chocolate like Lily’s, Fine and Raw, or Pure 7 Chocolate)
- 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 this recipe for spicy pumpkin seeds. Eden Foods also has delicious spicy pumpkin seed snack bags.)