Food Cravings and Mental Health

food cravings and mood

These are stressful times we live in right now, that is for sure.  A very common coping mechanism to soothe our stress, anxiety or depression is with food.  This is when we crave those comfort foods the most to help us feel better.  But does this actually work?  Can certain food cravings for mental health actually help us to cope in tough times?  The answer is both a yes and no.  Let us explain.

Feel Good Foods

When we feel down and crave sugary foods to comfort our mood, we do get a temporary boost from the production of serotonin.  Seratonin is our feel good hormone which is produced when we eat certain foods like carbohydrates.  However, this good feeling is often short lived because high carbohydrates or sugary foods can often have a negative effect on our body, especially if we already have inflammation present.  Not to mention, carbohydrates feed the microbiome in our gut – the microorganisms that live in our gut and help out with many functions in the body.  While carbohydrates can feed the “good guys” in our gut, they can also feed any opportunistic microorganisms, which can lead to a variety of digestive symptoms. 

In fact, the health of our gut is so fundamental to the state of our mental health that research is starting to show how our microbiome can actually impact our mood.  A balanced and healthy gut will influence a balanced and healthy mood, whereas a gut that has inflammation and an overgrowth of these opportunistic microorganisms is going to have a negative impact on our mood.  And so we enter the vicious cycle – we eat sugary treats to feel better, thus increasing more inflammation, and making our mood feel worse.

So how do you curb food cravings to support mental health?  The answer is to choose some healthy alternatives.  For example, rather than having a cookie to satisfy a sugar craving, try having a banana, or other piece of fruit instead.   Another option is to balance treats with healthy eating.  We understand these are stressful times, and that the one highlight to your day may be having that special treat.  So what we suggest is the 80/20 rule – eat healthy 80 percent of the time, and reserve that special treat for 20 percent of the time. 

What is important to recognize is that these two tips won’t address the root cause if you have inflammation in your gut. However, they are two small steps you can start right now to help support your body (and mood) nutritionally during stressful times.  An overall plan to help you address the root cause for your mood, anxiety, or depression is something our Toronto naturopaths can help with.   By taking a thorough history of the whole person, they can give you a plan to help support your mental health for the long term.

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