The Mind, Food, and Mood Connection

It is common knowledge that what we eat affects our body and appearance. If we eat too much of the wrong foods, we tend to gain weight. If we eat more nourishing foods, we tend to lose weight. But what has been more interesting to me is how the food I have been eating lately has been impacting my MENTAL health, not just physical health.

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**Now, as a disclaimer, mental health has a WIDE spectrum, and I am not assuming that food can cure any mental health disorders. I am just sharing my experience and how changing what I’ve been eating has been helping my mood and my mental state. But PLEASE seek medical advice and attention if you are struggling with mental health, it is real and it NEEDS to be taken care of.

This post is going to be raw and real, because I’m all about sharing my real life with you guys and not hiding anything. I've learned that vulnerability is a part of healing, and also helps inspire others to make changes and grow as well. It’s been no secret that going back to work after Emma was born was rough on me. I only work three days a week, but those days were filled with panic attacks in the bathroom, crying on my way to work, crying when I picked Emma up from daycare, and LOTS of oreo purchases to “get me through the day.” I thought that I could only make it through the emotional ups and downs of the work day by numbing myself with food. But in reality, it just made it worse.

The anxiety and sadness got out of hand. I would burst into tears during work meetings and have to excuse myself. If I wasn’t eating, I was crying. Food was DEFINITELY my coping mechanism, but it also just seemed to numb the pain for a little while, and then it would return with a vengeance and my moods would spiral down again. The days that I was home with Emma were filled with tears as well because I knew that I would have to leave her the next day. I wasn’t being able to actually ENJOY my baby and the time I had with her. I knew this cycle had to stop.

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Being the dietitian and holistic-health proponent that I am, I began doing research on different foods and how they can impact our mind-body connection. One of these foods is gluten. Gluten and I have had a tumultuous relationship over the years. I have a gluten sensitivity and have been told by my doctor over and over again that I need to be on a gluten-free diet. But, I have always told myself that I loveeeeee gluten too much. Such as excuse, you guys. Ready for a science lesson? I hope so!

The thing about gluten is that it stimulates the release of a protein that can actually cause permeability in our gut. Our gastrointestinal (or GI) tract, is considered to be OUTSIDE of our body. It is lined very carefully to protect the INSIDE of our body (anything other than our gut) from receiving undigested food particles, germs, or anything else we ingest. But gluten causes the secretion of a protein called zonulin, which can cause permeability in our gut, allowing particles to pass through and enter our body, where they don’t belong. Food should go straight to our small intestines to get “digested” properly so our body can use the fuel safely. But, with zonulin, the permeability can cause undigested food particles to enter our bloodstream, cause inflammation since these particles are not digested yet, and can also cause symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, and even depression. This is all new and up and coming research, but it fascinated me and makes sense from what I’ve learned in my seven years of schooling to become a dietitian and get my masters in nutrition. Our gut is considered our “second brain” and impacts how we think and feel SO much, so this finding is super interesting to me and motivated me to cut out gluten  with a  new motive: not only to alleviate my stomach issues and bloating, but also to alleviate the mental ups and downs I had been experiencing.

I have also read the book “Grain Brain” in the past, which I highly suggest for anyone wanting to know more on this topic! The author discusses how not only gluten, but also grains, can impact our mental health and lead to issues such as depression, alzheimer's, and other mental health concerns. Of course, following a certain diet is not going to magically cure these issues, btu they can alleviate symptoms, which is what I experienced.

I started back on my gluten free diet on October 29th, and since then, I’ve been happier and more energetic. Yes I've lost some weight and bloat, and my jeans fit again (YAY!), but I am more amazed by my mental shift. I am just HAPPIER. I have been getting creative in the kitchen and am not missing any of my favorite treats thanks to Danielle Walker and her amazing paleo recipes (check her out here!) My husband has been enjoying our meals and my happy moods more, and we’ve spent LESS on groceries and eating out because we always have food ready and are buying less junk! I have SO much energy for my workouts, for my patients and clients, and for my family, and feel like I am finally living each day to its full potential.

Another change I’ve made is increasing my healthy fat intake. I have always been a fan of eating more fat, but I’ve been incorporating these fats into practically every snack and meal. I'll have grain free baked goods made with coconut flour, almond flour, grass fed butter, and coconut oil, I'll add avocado to my salads and lettuce wrapped burgers, and I am not afraid to eat yolks scrambled in ghee. I've been getting a variety of healthy fats in my diet, which boosts brain function because our brains thrive on healthy fats! 

The BEST  cookies  I've ever had! I've made countless batches already because my husband and now, our extended family, can't get enough!

The BEST cookies I've ever had! I've made countless batches already because my husband and now, our extended family, can't get enough!

 

Overall, I am enjoying this journey and am embracing this life of mine, being a working mom and a stay at home mom in the same week, which I am learning is SUCH a blessing! I feel so much better and didn’t cry at all at work this week! (WIN!) Of course I still miss my baby girl like crazy, but I focusing on taking care of ME because this way, I can be a better mom for Emma. I am working out daily, drinking my superfoods (which are full of adaptogens, which also impact your brain chemistry! But I'll save that scientific post for another day!), and am eating foods that I know will nourish my body, my soul, AND my mind.

If you want to get involved with eating for your BRAIN health too, I would love to go through the Grain Brain book together in a virtual book club format! Warning, this book is definitely for nerds, so come ready to learn and grow! Contact me above if you want to be part of the book club! We'll start the first week of December!

ALSO, I am planning on doing more cooking demos and recipe videos in my free facebook community that I run, so if you want to join, contact me! I can add you and you can get access to the meals I’ve been planning, as well as get meal prep and planning tips and tricks from yours truly! Meal prep has been my saving grace for sticking to my gluten free diet, so I am passionate about making it a regular part of my life, as well as yours!

Thank you for reading and for supporting me through the ups and downs of this journey. At times, I don't want to share what I am going through, because I feel that my journey has been such a crazy ride. But, I am a real person, and real life is a roller coaster! What may work in one season of life (ie. my vegetarian diet last year), may not work in another season of life, like this one! My goal with this blog and platform is to share my nutrition knowledge based on research but also my own personal experiences too. Because we are all scientific experiments and each body is so unique and different. So keep figuring yourself out, get curious and find what works for you! And if you need some guidance along the way, I am always here to lend an ear! Feel free to contact me with any questions!