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How to feed your body for anxiety and depression

We’ve all heard about how mental health and physical health go hand in hand. But does what we eat really impact our minds? The general consensus is: yes. Serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that’s connected to mood, pain, appetite and sleep has a big influence on how you feel — and researchers find that about 95% of it is produced in your gastrointestinal tract. Studies like this demonstrate that what we choose to put in our bodies can have a huge impact on mental health, including anxiety and depression. The brain is always ‘on’, and it’s constantly working to get you through every interaction, challenge, sensory experience, and so much more. So we want to give the brain great food that can keep us going throughout the day. Let’s talk about how to properly feed your body for anxiety and depression, to maintain a healthy mind. 

What to limit

First, let’s talk about what we want to limit, or avoid altogether, in order to feed your body for anxiety and depression, and maintain positive mental health. Remember, it’s all about balance. Breaking old habits to create new ones can be challenging — so show compassion for yourself as we go through this list. If you’re looking for guidance on feeding your body for anxiety and depression, Wellin5’s team of experienced counsellors can support you in your mental health journey. And as every body is different, we always recommend consulting with a nutritionist before making dietary changes. 

1. Caffeine

Caffeine is everywhere. We turn the corner and there’s a hip new coffee shop to try. Coffee and tea is easily available at offices in every industry. Many of us mention how caffeine is the saving grace of our days — the only reason we were able to run to work on-time, or make it through that 3pm meeting. Let’s be clear: it’s perfectly okay to enjoy a cup of coffee, tea, or a small energy drink! It’s the extremes that we want to avoid. High caffeine consumption can lead to increased levels of anxiety, and can even mimic the effects of an anxiety attack: increased heart rate, restlessness, changes in mood, agitation, shaking, and problems sleeping. That’s why it’s so important to monitor how much caffeine you’re putting in your body on any given day.

2. Alcohol 

Just like caffeine, alcohol is everywhere in our society. It’s often at the centre of social gatherings — something we turn to when celebrating the good times, and dealing with the bad. However normalized alcohol is, we must remember that it’s still a substance that affects our body and our mental health. Alcohol and mental health have a tricky two way relationship: we may turn to alcohol to deal with unpleasant feelings, or we may have unpleasant feelings because we’re drinking alcohol. Again, we want to focus on balance. Enjoying a drink every once in a while is one thing, but it can become concerning when alcohol is used as a coping mechanism. That’s when it’s important to seek support from loved ones, and talk to a health professional about a treatment plan that’s right for you.

3. High-sugar foods

While they’re a yummy treat, sugary foods aren’t doing your body any service. The body burns through them quickly, resulting in what we know as a ‘sugar high’ and the crash that comes with it. One of the easiest ways to cut sugar is by starting with the liquid kind. If you’re craving fruit juice, try eating real fruits instead, to get that all-important fiber that fills you up and keeps your body and brain going. And if you’re thirsty, opt for water over soda to avoid a blood-sugar spike. It’s okay to treat yourself and give into cravings every once in a while, but try to enjoy sugary foods in moderation.

4. Processed foods 

Consuming a ton of processed foods like meat, fried food, refined wheat like cereal and white bread, candy, and pastries can lead to a less stable mood. Swapping these for whole foods that’ll keep you full longer, and stabilize energy levels can make a big difference to general mental health, and to anxiety and depression. 

Feed your body for anxiety and depression

We’ve covered what to avoid. Let’s go through what kinds of foods are linked to positive mental health. Researchers have found that the risk of depression is 25-35% lower in those who eat traditional diets (like Japanese and Mediterranean) in comparison to Western diets. The Mediterranean diet is packed with B-Vitamins, which are great for regulating mood. Traditional diets focus on a balance of unprocessed, fresh foods that make for excellent fuel to move your body, and keep your mind in top shape.

Focus on whole foods like fruits, dark green vegetables, whole grains, fish, healthy oils like olive oil, antioxidants, and protein. Remember, every body is different, so we recommend you always consult with a nutritionist before shifting your diet. 

Physical and mental health go hand in hand

There’s a ton of research to support that physical health and mental health are linked — a fact that’s sometimes forgotten as we go through our busy lives. In our society, physical health gets a ton of attention, but mental health is just as important. Both our mental and physical health is composed of many complex factors — and the two are indeed connected. Research has found that Canadians with symptoms of depression also report experiencing three times as many chronic physical conditions. The mind-body connection is ultra-powerful. Physical health and mental health matter equally. So let’s start giving them equal importance, and equal attention. 

Much like healthcare workers can help us maintain good physical health, counsellors can help us with our mental health. Wellin5 matches you with a counsellor that meets your unique needs.