We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” And you can probably tell when the food you eat physically impacts your body. Maybe you feel that rush of energy after you eat a candy bar, or you feel sluggish and ready for a nap after Thanksgiving dinner.
Food can play a big part in your physical health, and can be critical to managing symptoms of diagnoses like diabetes or heart disease. But the food you eat doesn’t just impact and help you manage your physical health – nutrition plays a big role in your mental health, too. And, vice versa – mental health can play a role in your nutritional choices. Perhaps you’ve found that when you’re down or have had a bad day, you want nothing more than to order everything from the fast food drive-thru. But, when you’re happy, choosing a salad doesn’t seem so bad.
A 2010 study found that the unhealthy (but tasty) “Western” diet that’s been widely adopted in our country (consisting of processed and fried foods, refined grains, sugar, and beer) has a correlation with higher odds of depression and anxiety, and that a more “traditional” diet (heavy on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein) is associated with lower odds of depression and anxiety.
So what does this mean for you? What can you do to manage the relationship between food and mood?
- Try keeping a food journal. If you’ve ever noticed that your mood impacts your food choices (or vice versa), try keeping a food journal to track those feelings. Then, next time you reach for that candy bar, you’ll know that while it might satisfy an immediate craving, you’ll crash and feel down in the dumps pretty quickly.
- Know your cravings. There’s usually a scientific reason for what you’re craving. If you’re stressed while studying for that big exam and you find yourself noshing on popcorn and crackers, chances are, your brain is craving carbohydrates, which it needs to produce serotonin, which in turn helps calm you. Sometimes it’s okay to feed those cravings – your brain knows what it’s doing!
- Maintain a balanced diet. Ultimately, your body and your brain need a balanced diet for everything to run smoothly. Try to adopt that “traditional” diet heavy in fruits and veggies that we mentioned above for a few weeks, and see how your mind and body feel different.
Have you found that food impacts your mood, whether positively or negatively? Tell us about it in the comments.