by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
You are what you eat. Not to be interpreted as eat a bag of gumdrops and sweeten your personality. What you eat, and don’t eat, affects how you feel. Starve no more for a happy mood …
Weight-loss diets have been proven to affect mood. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed the effects of a dieter snacking on an apple versus a non-dieter eating chocolate. The dieter was more likely to be irritated by a suggestion to exercise. And, forget about relaxing with this grump. S/he is more likely to choose violent movies. It isn’t only hunger that sets the mood. It’s also the demand for ongoing self-control.
For the sake of sanity, and those you hold dear, should you succumb to being “round but jolly”? No need. It’s all in how you approach your healthy lifestyle.
Not Enough Calories
In addition to being responsible for mood, the brain chemical serotonin also regulates appetite and sleep patterns. A diet that keeps you hungry causes levels of serotonin to fluctuate and makes it difficult to control anger. Your irritability is legit based on a chemical response. It’s not just drama from dessert deprivation.
A study out of the University of California, San Francisco, followed women on a daily diet of 1,200 calories. Results indicated these participants had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and higher levels of perceived stress. The average woman requires about 1,500 calories per day, more when working out. This helps maintain appropriate blood sugar levels to keep energy and mood elevated.
Rather than shock your system with a combination of restricted calories and increased exercise, take the slow-and-steady approach (again). Experts suggest gradually cutting back in 50-calorie increments. Make one or two pounds your weekly weight loss goal. Along with a little patience, this allows the energy and mental attitude needed for success.
Sugar is powerful stuff. According to preliminary research, withdrawal from sugar may trigger symptoms similar to an addict suffering withdrawal from heroin. Limiting carbohydrates, which are made of sugar, affects the brain’s ability to create serotonin. Without that mood-booster, low-carb dieters had higher scores on anger-hostility, confusion-bewilderment, and depression-dejection scales than those who followed low-fat diets (without carb restriction), according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Perhaps allow yourself that multigrain roll, just skip the butter. Avoid love-you-and-leave-you carbs, like cookies, crackers, chips, and even certain granola bars. They quickly spike your blood sugar for a burst of energy (love it) but just as quickly leave you crashed without energy. Satisfy the body’s need with low-glycemic carbs like beans, whole grain crackers, and fruit.
Lack of Good Fats
A successful low-fat diet includes healthy fats that help spur weight loss and improve mood. Sixty percent of the brain consists of fat. Omega-3s help neuron function for better connections between brain cells. Animal and plant sources high in omega-3s can elevate mood and increase brainpower.
Animal sources trump plant sources. Go for salmon, sardines, and mackerel first. If seafood isn’t your favorite, opt for small portions of grass-fed meats or pasture-produced eggs. If you choose the dietary supplement, 1,000 milligrams of combined DHA and EPA daily are needed for effectiveness. Be patient. Improvement from a supplement can take up to three months.
Reducing calories often causes an increase in the need for self-control. Researchers determined the self-control factor contributes to the drop in blood glucose levels. The act of resistance leads to low blood sugar, which leads to hypoglycemia with its characteristic symptoms of irritability and aggressive behavior.
Everyone has that office mate or friend with the automatic hunger alarm, which often sounds in the form of impatient growls. Dieters are often in a state of self-control, and tend to make themselves unnecessarily hungry. It’s not a surprise when they practically “bite off” another’s head.
Keep away feelings of deprivation. As suggested in “When Cravings Get the Best of You,” (F&W News, May 2, 2012), offer yourself a healthy alternative. Rather than walk away with an empty plate, walk away with a different choice: your health, a slimmer waist line, lower cholesterol. Set time for splurges. A small treat in moderation can satiate your craving. A milkshake may not be a smart choice, but a fruit smoothie with yogurt can be a satisfying replacement.
Eating healthy should be a lifelong endeavor. Once an ideal weight is reached, maintaining it should be a natural, satisfying way of life. When working to shed pounds on your way there, more significant restrictions are necessary. During that time, fulfill your cravings with non-caloric nourishment.
The perfect complement to any diet is an invigorating fitness program. (It also allows more calories per day.) Beware of excessive workouts though. On a low-calorie diet, a vigorous sweat session can drop blood sugar levels. The ultimate mood-boosting activity can backfire, draining you of energy and motivation. (Who wants to work so hard, for such a long stint, on just rice cakes?)
Fitness experts recommend interval training for those who want a happy mood to be part of their weight loss program. Incorporate this by increasing intensity in 30-second intervals throughout your workout. These mini shifts to high-intensity exercise blast calories without the wearing effects of a lengthy vigorous workout. Another option: exercise more frequently but in shorter spurts.
Along with feel-good exercise hormones, discover a new way of eating. Get creative in the kitchen, which alone can be satisfying for the foodie on a diet. Focus on mood-supporting foods, including fish high in omega-3s, fruit, and veggies. Avoid ingredients that stress the body, like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.
A study of 200 people, performed in England, followed this diet by replacing mood-stressors with supporters. Eighty-eight percent of the participants reported improved mental health. This diet resulted in a reduction of mood swings, panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. Combined with an enjoyable workout, you’ve created a serving of endorphin rush.
Find new ways to enjoy old favorites. Ice cream is the comfort food of choice among individuals. In second place is chocolate for women and pizza for men. Allow an alteration of these during weight-loss attempts. Enjoy the modified treat on special occasions or when carrot sticks (again), well, are making you grouchy. Try frozen yogurt or low-fat ice cream. Ice cream novelties come in bars and bon-bon sizes to easier manage portion control. Replace your meat-lovers pizza with a veggie pie. Make your own and use low-fat cheese and multigrain pita crust.
Jazz up fruit and vegetables by experimenting with dips and spices. Yogurt makes a healthy base for dips. Fruit dipped in dark chocolate allows decadence along with nutrition. Incorporate wheat germ. Discover your inner chef along the weight loss journey.
Recipe for Happiness
When building any type of diet, remember the importance of snacks. Snacks should be small meals that fuel the body throughout the day. The goal is to maintain stable blood sugar. Your mood, coworkers, and skinny jeans will thank you.
Drink water throughout the day, complemented by solids with a high water content, such as melons, cucumbers, and broth-based soups. Avoid extremes. Diets severely low in fat or carbs are not beneficial for physical or mental health. Always eat a healthy breakfast.
For dessert, a heaping serving of exercise! At least twenty minutes every day helps maintain a positive mood. (Although medical experts have not yet determined the exact amount to prescribe to counteract depressed mood.) One hour daily helps shed pounds. Any minutes are always better than none.
Along with kitchen creativity, learn a new skill or develop a hobby that’s always appealed to you. Many people live to eat. Food is a wonderful part of our being. It provides nutrition for our mind and body, and an opportunity to socialize. Yet, there are unique ways to satisfy cravings with ingredients beyond food. Remember to nourish your soul. Slim down with a smile.
“Food to Balance Your Mood,” by Star Lawrence at www.webmd.com.
“Losing It,” by Alexa Joy Sherman, Fitness, March 2012.
Shoe-eating dog: http://www.flickr.com/photos/giumaiolini/572037246/
Table scene: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eggybird/91184760/
Bakery case: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisa-parker/4820933591/
Happy, energetic young woman: http://www.flickr.com/photos/free-stock/6882422150/