When it comes to stress, anxiety, depression and overall mood one of the often overlooked impacts is the food we eat (or don’t eat for that matter).
Food and various nutrients are vital for the body and mind to feel happy, clam and clear. At the same time, there are also foods that can causes stress by spiking cortisol, leave us irritable from a sugar crash or a difficiency in an amino acid or vitamin inhibiting our bodies ability to produce feel good hormones like serotonin and dopamine.
Everyone wants to wake up feeling positive and ready to take on the day regardless of their circumstances or be able to stay calm in a less than ideal situation. Getting up in the morning and feeling sad without a “good reason” to feel sad is not the most empowering way to start your day.
I do believe that everyone is different and their circumstances are not the same nor is their unique biochemistry. However, I firmly believe that you can add, remove or adjust the foods you are eating to increase the amount of positive vibes that radiate from within you. i’ve experienced it myself. In essence, the foods you eat can impact your personality and outlook on life so to speak.
Science has recently discovered that we are only 10% human cells and the rest is microbiota or tiny bacteria. Much of which reside in our gut where most of our serotonin is produced. As Dr. Grundy puts it from his interview on The School Of Greatness podcast, these “bacteria send text messages to our brain” effecting our actions, decision making and homornes that can impact cravings and mood. In addition to eating a diet that is nutritionally sound providing proper vitamins and minerals, “our bacteria control our behavior” so that means that the food we feed those little guys really matters as well.
Over the last 7 or so years, but specifically the last two I’ve made adjustments to the foods I’ve eaten and have experienced a change in my mood and below are some of the things I’ve learned and experienced that have left me feeling positive and with a sense of endles possibility for my life.
*NOTE: Keep in mind that this is my personal experience and I am not a doctor so be sure to talk with your doctor before trying anything out for yourself.
About Dealing With Depression and Anxiety
I think that I naturally lean towards being an anxious person and have had periods in my life where I have had no reason to be sad yet feel depressed. Without doubt, my diet and lifestyle compounded it and made it worse until I realized it could heal it.
Chemical imbalance, victim pity party attitude, poor dietary choices, not consistently working out, living in the past and not my present, giving too many f*cks—- all reasons why mood and thoughts got the best of me. But I have noticed how much my diet has effected my outlook on life as I have made changes over the last couple of years. Honestly its crazy.
When I was in my early teens and twenties I took anxiety medication and anti-depressants neither of which I am on now as a result of these changes. It never occured to me that the foods that I was eating or not eating could have been effecting my happiness, sense of self, mood and outlook on life.
Looking back I wish that my doctor and I knew more about nutrition or thought that it played a role instead of giving me drugs the effected my gut bacteria and bodies ability to heal itself on its own. I felt powerless in controling my anxiety and depression for many years.
So many people go through life feeling crappy and think that its just how it is. At some point we become so used to not feeling great that it becomes our normal.
I didnt realize how good I could feel because I was so used to feeling like sh*t all the time. Sh*tty was just how it was. You know what I mean?
What I learned was that food really effected how I felt mentally and emotionally. I started to feel more positive just by changing the way I was eating.
Eventually I stopped taking medication and never want to take it again.
By sharing this I hope to help others get present to how powerful we are and how we can really change our lives through the food we eat. The food we put in our body effects every output it has including our mood, thoughts and how we deal with stress.
Food is the foundation upon which the rest of our life can flourish.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes That Support My Happy Self
After researching I learned that I was consuming too much sugar and caffiene, processed and fast foods and was not eating a well rounded enough vegan diet to get the vitamins and nutrients I needed to support my overal sense of HAPPY.
I am not saying that you can’t be healthy and happy on a vegan diet, I am simply sharing what I discovered worked for my body and the nutrients I was missing that were contributing to my negative outlook. I included links to studies and articles as well if you want to read more.
Managing Caffiene Intake
This one is huge (at least for me) and I can not stress enough its impact on mood. Everyone is different so each person can handle different amounts of it in their body but cutting back on caffiene by eliminating soda and keeping my morning cup of joe or matcha to a single dose has decreased my anxiety exponentially.
I can’t believe I used to have anywhere from 2-6 caffinated beverages a day. Still not sure how I didn’t die from being so #lit all the time.
If I have too big a cup of coffee or indulge in a second cup because its Sunday morning and I feel like it, I pay the price by an increase in heart rate, jitters and more stress. I physically feel stressed not just mentally and I really hate the feeling in my chest.
As you may know coffee/caffiene can stimulate our “flight or fight” response producing cortisol production, our stress hormone. Although cortisol is necessary in the body, too much of it makes me real anxious. Decreasing my morning cup to one (which is the only caffiene I drink now) has done wonders for my anxiety.
Encorporating Foods High in Amino Acid Tryptophan
There is research to support that trypotophan can have a positive effect on stress and mood because it helps the brain produce serotonin, a feel good neurotransmitter. It is essentially the precursor to its production and if you are defficiant in it your serotonin production could dwindle. Although studies have varing results, personally I have experienced a positive difference.
This makes me unpopular with my vegan friends but my mood is one of the reasons I added eggs back into my diet. Not only was I was constantly craving them but I believe that was my body telling me that it needed nutrients in them. The yolks are high in tryptophan. Although tofu is also a good source, there is so much controversy over the phytoestrogen in soy that I limit my quantity and I feel good about eating pasture rasied organic eggs.
Nuts are a great source as well so I get down with almond butter regularly too which I used to avoid because I was afraid of the fat and calories. Additionally I make creamy sauces out of cashews all the time to get in a dose of the amino acid.
Upping the Probiotic Foods
As mentioned earlier our gut bacteric has been found to greatly impact our mood so eating protiotic foods that promote the growth of healthy microbes is necessary. Research has shown that probiotic foods like saurekruat, kombucha and other fermented foods can help prevent or cure anxiety by supporting the growth of healthy bacteria.
I have been eating at least two tablespoons of sauerkruat everyday for the last year and I know its having a postive effect. Not only have I noticed a difference in my skin but generally more calm and happy. If you follow me on instagram then you know I add it to my bowls on the reg!
Remove Refined Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
Refined Sugar: oh dear sugar, how we love you so. Believe it or not stress is greatly impacted by your blood sugar level. When your levels are too high or are constantly shifting from over consumption then a crash, your body produces cortisol, a stress hormone. When the change happens too rapidly the adrenal glands release cortisol to bring it back up to a stable level*. Unstable blood sugar can make you feel the same way you might feel when angry, scared or stressed out.
Controlling our blood sugar through diet will help us be more resilient in the face of everyday life situations. Eliminating almost all processed and added sugars in my diet has been game changing.
I no longer crave sugar or feel sluggish around 2/3pm in the afternoon so I make better food choices which also has me feeling positive since I have been known to stress eat or binge eat in the past which lead to negative selftalk and guilt- not good for anxiety and depression.
By not eating sugar, I crave it less and less and the bacteria in my gut has change such that now it wants other foods more, like vegetables.
Artificial Sweeteners: Diet and sugar free products and sweetener packets with artificial ingredients have been linked to an increase in depression, in addition to weight gain, disruption of sleep patterns, headaches and cancer*.
Aspartame is associated with everything from migraines, confusion, memory loss, depression, irritability and menstrual problems- all things that can greatly impact our mood. Because these substances are not found in nature our body treats them like toxins and we react poorly. After removing artifical sweeteners from my diet I noticed more energy, less crashing which meant less irratability and essentially more happiness.
I can not believe that I used to drink diet soda and use artificial sweeteners everyday in my iced tea as a teenager. Ditch this crap guys, please!
Increasing Omega-3 Fatty Acids
About a year ago I read an article about omega-3s and how they can suppress anxiety. I did a little more reaseach and learned some interesting things. It might surprise you to learn that the average American eats a ratio of 20:1 grams of omega 6 to omega 3 according to some sources. That means we are consuming 20 times the amount of Omega 6 to Omega 3 and ideally we are to consume a 1:1 balance but most people are severely deficient in Omega-3’s. According to several studies patients with depression ranging from major to mild saw a up to 50% decrease in symptoms and mood swings when given omega-3 fatty acids compared a placebo group*.
Although science isn’t exactly sure why it happens, we do know that it helps protect the bodies serotonin and dopamine levels making it an important tool in helping with depression and anxiety. Great sources include fish oil, hemp seeds, flax seed oil, walnuts and dark leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach. I started to add hemp seeds to everything I ate, including salads, toast, smoothies, soups as a garnish, you name it. Obviously I eat kale and spinach on the reg but I make it a daily thing now and have a handful of walnuts a couple times a week. I’ve thought about picking up some cold pressed flax seed oil as well but haven’t done so yet.
Healty fat is essential guys! Low -fat is so 1990’s.
Get in the B’s
This group of vitamins supports nervous system functioning. Not only does stress decrease levels of these nutrients but deficiency also causes more anxiety, fatigue and mood problems. B6 specifically is needed for L-tryptophan to be able to convert into serotonin, an important antidepressant neurotransmitter that we talked about earlier (it’s all connected!!). A wide variety of B vitamins can be found in nutritional yeast, fermented foods, animal products like beef, turkey or eggs, whole grains, potatoes with the skin and bananas. After adding eggs back into my diet I felt significantly better, both mentally and physically and I believe it is because my body wanted more B12, iron and Vitamin D.
This nutrient is a powerhouse playing a role in some 300+ biochemical reactions in the body including the regulation of stress hormones. Studies show that low levels of magnesium are correlated with depression and anxiety. Magnesium may also act as a neuroprotection that is able to modulate the regulation of the blood-brain barrier permeability which is the regulatory cells between your brain and the rest of the blood in your body. It also can help you sleep and everyone is crabby when they had a poor nights sleep. Great sources included spinach, whole grains, water melon, parsley, paprika and cayenne.
If I am really stressed out I love to supplement with CALM. When anxious about something, I will add some of this to my water and it really makes a difference.
Move Your Body aka Exercise
Exercise is often used as a tool to lose weight and although it plays a role I believe that it is no where near as effective for weight loss as it is for creating happiness, decreasing depression and anxiety, ignighting creativity and resulting in piece of mind.
When we are nervous, have an increased heart rate, negative thoughts and emotions moving our body can be the best antidote. There is overwhelming evidence that exercise improves mood because it helps release feel good hormones like endorphines, nerutransmitters and endocannabinoids.
Whenever I am nervous or anxious I do whatever I can to get in a workout where as in the past I would pop a pill. NO MORE.
Sometimes I am anxious becuase I am working on a project and I care deeply about making my client happy, or I am in a fight or disagreement with a loved one, or I am worried about the future or money. My number 1 go to to deal with it is exercise.
Moving my body clears my head and allows me to see things from a new perspective. I love hiking, yoga, spinning, bike riding, HIIT workouts and running.
If you are dealing with anxiety depression or mood disorders I hope this helped. I am not a doctor so please talk to yours first. By changing my diet and sourcing foods high in these nutrients has really made an impact for me, so do your reasearch and see what will work for you.
What are some of your favorite ways to manage stress, anxiety, depression and mood swings? Id love to know!
Other Reference and Sources:
- Kumari, M. Shipley, M. Stafford, and M. Kivimaki, “Association of diurnal patterns in salivary cortisol with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: findings from the Whitehall II study,” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, vol. 96, no. 5, pp. 1478-1485, 2011.