Just as the way you exercise affects your ability to reach your fitness goals, how you choose to fuel your body is equally important – if not more.
Why do you think I spend time writing about food on a fitness blog? Unlike all of the food posts you’ll find on social media, I care less about how pretty your plate looks.
Have you ever seen a sexy turkey sandwich? Me either, but I know that no-fuss meal will fuel my body with perfect macros, which is what I need most.
There’s a bigger issue to address here. Your food choices can affect your mood, for better or worse.
Mindset is everything when it comes to achieving your fitness goals. It can boost your highs and carry you through the lows along the way. And what you choose to eat has a severe impact on your mood.
Let’s call out the foods that are working against you and find what we can eat that enhances your mood so that you can eliminate another obstacle on your path to success.
Sacrificing More Than Just Your Fitness Goals
Most people associate a diet with eating healthy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When you understand what’s at stake, it becomes clear what you’ll choose to eat.
Research shows what we eat goes directly to our limbic system, which is the emotional center of our body. No doubt you’ve noticed this connection when you eat certain foods. The effect on our physical AND emotional health is apparent.
If you want to make better decisions beforehand and eliminate the regret afterward, think less about specific foods, but the broader group. Over time, you’ll start to quickly identify the foods that either align with your goals or set you back.
Here are some of the largest food culprits that negatively affect your mood.
This is always at the top of my “things to avoid” list. Here’s a list of the health benefits of refined sugar:
Get my point? Refined sugar has a tiny span of feel-good payoff that inevitably leads to a crash. It disrupts our mood and kills energy levels.
Carbs are tricky because most people fail to understand the difference between good carbs and bad carbs. I’ll save the deep dive for another day – just know that flour, added sugars, and refined starches should be avoided. They lack the proper nutrients needed for optimal brain function.
Most fried food is lovingly classified as comfort food. Sadly, there isn’t much comfort in clogged arteries and increased risk of heart disease. Anything cooked in hydrogenated oils contains trans fats, which cause a host of health issues.
The Connection Between Mental Health And Food
Now that we’ve identified what can negatively impact your mood, it’s important to understand what’s at stake. All three major culprits mentioned above have one common outcome: increased inflammation.
Also, consider the fact that a diet full of these non-healthy food choices usually means we’re not consuming enough nutrient-dense foods. This leads to deficiencies in necessary nutrients and fiber, which also increases inflammation.
Inflammation is detrimental to your body. It takes a toll physically and mentally. There are numerous studies (here and here) that link inflammation to depression.
Depression is a serious issue that isn’t talked about enough. How we feel affects our motivation, sleep habits, and often leads to reaching for foods that only contribute to the problem. A great place to start when combatting depression is to get back to the basics. This includes sleep, exercise, and what you eat.
Smart Food Choices To Supplement Your Mental Health
Think about what you eat when your mood is down. Does it fall in any of the categories above? If so, identify that as a mood killer and make a conscious decision to choose something different.
Here are the major categories of mood-boosting foods.
Fruits & Vegetables
Foods that are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients naturally reduce inflammation. Fruits and veggies are also nutrient-dense, which helps your brain function properly. Blueberries and strawberries can give you the sweet treat you need instead of refined sugar.
Complex carbs in whole grains release serotonin gradually into the brain. This reduces blood sugar spikes and can help reduce depression. Whole grains are also full of nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals that get stripped out of processed carbs.
Sticking to healthy fats found in lean meat can give you a boost in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential nutrients to improve brain function and combat symptoms of depression. They’re also high in protein and have fewer calories than their non-lean meat counterparts.
Self-Awareness Is The Key
Every body is different. We all respond to internal and external factors in our own way. The tips mentioned above are fairly universal – just be aware of how you react to the foods that are proven to hurt your physical and emotional health.
Stay in balance and recognize when you’re overdoing it on the sweets or had one too many doughnuts. Whatever you do, please please don’t let negative self-talk creep in and drive you further away from where you want to be. Tomorrow is always a fresh start.
Food choices are so important to me that I’ve built a library of over 200 healthy recipes for you. It’s all part of the McClure Fitness Online membership.