While we appreciate an Instagram-worthy smoothie bowl or salad pretty much more than anyone, we also acknowledge that your total health encompasses more than simply chowing down fruits and veggies. In our fast-paced world, where we seem to wear busyness as a badge of honor, it’s safe to say that many of us are stressed to the max. And this ultimately can take a toll on our well-being.
Here are some ways you can nurture your mental health – both with food and otherwise.
- Eat real foods. Okay, it’s true that your health is more than simply eating produce, but the kicker is that the two – a healthful diet and your mental health – likely go hand-in-hand. Research has shown potential associations between eating a whole food diet, consisting of plenty of vegetables, fruits, seafood, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, and legumes, and reduced risk of depression. What’s more, an interesting study conducted in 2015 suggests that the part of the brain used for learning, memory, and mental health – the hippocampi – is smaller in people who eat more products like sweet drinks, salty snacks, and processed meats.
- Eat regularly. It’s no secret that our moods impact our appetite. Negative moods have been shown to increase our desire for foods that are higher in sugar and fat like ice cream. Let’s be real – no one got over a break-up by chomping down on carrot sticks. By regularly eating balanced meals and snacks throughout the day, you’ll be less likely to polish off the entire pint and more likely to fuel your body and brain with foods that support emotional well-being in the first place.
- Sweat. Physical activity packs an incredible punch when it comes to boosting your mood. And the best part is that you don’t need to be a gym rat or athlete to reap the benefits. Even a moderate amount of activity (meaning, your body warms up a bit, and you breathe a little heavier than usual) can make a difference towards helping to reduce stress, improve sleep, and boost your mood. For example, one study out of Harvard showed that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour may reduce the odds of becoming depressed by a whopping 26 percent.
- Have a social media detox. Social media has changed the way we communicate. Several studies over the past several years have linked prolonged usage to various mental health concerns such as lower self-esteem and loneliness. A recent study from University College London and Imperial College London suggests that the problem with social media lies not necessarily in what it does but what it takes us away from – such as sleeping or physical activity. If you have a tough time catching your Zzzz’s, check out our blog post on foods that may help to promote adequate sleep.
- Vow not to diet. When we allow all foods into our life, we can relieve ourselves of the associated feelings of deprivation, which often leads to subsequent overeating. How many times have you broken your ‘diet’ and thought, “I blew it anyway, so I might as well have more…”? This cycle of restriction followed by binging of “forbidden foods” can set yourself up for feelings of anxiety and isolation. By allowing all foods into your diet, there isn’t anything to rebel against. Enjoy the cupcake, bagel, or some of the ice cream when you really want it and do so purposefully and mindfully.
- Have a mindful moment. Mindfulness is having a moment, and it’s easy to understand why. Not only has it been shown to improve sleep, boost mood, and reduce stress by lowering cortisol, but it can also foster a healthy relationship with food. Mindful eating encourages you to focus on the present moment, savor your food, and keep your hunger and fullness in check. So, even if you can’t squeeze in a 5-minute meditation to your already busy day, you can practice this stress-reducing practice while you eat lunch.
Try your hand at mindful eating with these recipes below. Small but mighty, these energy bites are a great place to start since they offer a ton of flavor in each nibble. Limit distractions while you eat – close your computer and turn your phone on airplane mode. Take the time to savor the taste, texture, and overall enjoyment of these nutritious snacks while you’re eating them.
- Carrot Cake Bites: A classic dessert transformed into a nutritious bite-sized snack.
- Sesame Bites: We’ve deemed these our energy bites for foodies, thanks to the elevated flavor from the cardamom and sesame seeds.
- Pumpkin Spice Bites: These pumpkin bites are a fall favorite, but we really love them any time of year.
McKenzie is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, nutrition writer and communicator, who truly loves meeting and connecting with people. Grounded in science with an integrative and holistic approach, she aims to make the world a healthier, happier place by helping people feel their best from the inside out and encouraging others to restore a judgment-free relationship with food. McKenzie has been a contributing editor for the award-winning publicationEnvironmental Nutrition and her numerous articles, nutrition tips, and recipes can be found in publications such as The Chicago Tribune, Today’s Dietitian, Food and Nutrition Magazine, and more.
McKenzie graduated magna cum laude from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Nutrition and completed her dietetic internship at Bastyr University in Seattle. She is a member of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a member of the dietetic practice group, Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine. When she’s not dishing out nutrition tidbits, you can find McKenzie cooking in her sunny kitchen, hiking along with her favorite Southern California trails, or packing her bags and heading out for her next adventure.