How to Eat for Emotional Health

Three Methods:Feeding your EmotionsChanging Your Relationship to FoodMaintaining a Healthy Diet

Eating habits and emotional health are more related than most people think. It is not uncommon for you to overeat when you are stressed, nervous, or emotional. Eating at a rapid pace, in a short time, or eating certain foods for comfort can lead to various health problems. Health problems usually cause stress creating a cycle of eating habits and emotions. You can change how your relationship with food can affect your emotional health, how you maintain a healthy diet during emotional times, and choose foods known to make you feel better.

Method 1
Feeding your Emotions

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    Eat for energy. Simple carbohydrates, or foods we usually turn to for comfort can give you a spike in energy which may seem to elevate your mood, if only momentarily, but are usually followed by a low peak and then a crash.[1] This will not only likely make you feel worse, but create a cycle of overeating the wrong foods to sustain high energy. Eating for the energy level you need is especially important if you have difficulties with depression, which can make you feel fatigued. [2]
    • Instead turn to foods, such as complex carbohydrates, that will give you a more natural and slower burning energy and mood increase.
      • Whole-grain flour
      • Hearty vegetables (kale, collard greens, or mustard greens)
      • Proteins (lean fish, beans, or nuts)
      • Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, or pumpkin)
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    Moderate your caffeine intake. High caffeine drinks are the same as high sugar foods - they pick you up quick. In addition to the spike and drop, caffeine can also cause various emotional problems and difficulties. [3] Watch your caffeine intake and try and keep it as regular and minimal as possible regardless of how you are feeling emotionally.
    • If you are struggling with depression or low mood, a pick-me-up may sound great, but there is usually a crash which follows.
    • Additionally in times of stress or anxiety, too much caffeine can cause you to be jittery, or going completely without can cause withdrawal symptoms.
    • Caffeine can also affect your sleep cycle, which can increase certain emotional problems like worsening depression or problems with interpersonal relationships due to irritability and anxiety.
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    Add spice to your life. Spicy foods such as ginger, chillies, tumeric, cinnamon and garlic can be good alternatives to the typical comfort foods when you want a warming pick-me-up. In addition to the benefit in flavor, spicy foods provide you with an emotional boost of intensity and adventure, as well as an increase in imagination and activity. [4]
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    Avoid excess additives and preservatives. While salt is a natural preservative, some highly processed foods can affect your mood and your physical health in various ways. [5] Processed foods also contain a lot of trans and saturated fats which are considered “bad fats.” [6] A decline in your physical health can in turn affect your emotional health.
    • Avoid foods with “hydrogenated” in the ingredient list, and try to cut back on the use of salt.
    • Try hydrating with water or sports drinks, or eating crackers to supplement.
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    Focus on eating citric foods and berries. Berries, lemons, oranges, and grapefruit can help with your emotional functioning in various ways. In general, increased consumption of fruits has been linked to a more positive mood and calmer feelings. [7]
    • Blueberries contain a phytonutrient called anthocyanin, which aids in brain health, and can help if you are struggling with frustration from memory issues or cognitive functioning. [8]
    • Grapefruit can curb depression, and just the sent of oranges can be useful in the reduction of stress and anxiety. [9]
    • Vitamin D rich foods, such as fortified orange juice (and non-fruits like fish, milk, and tofu), are excellent sources of Vitamin D known to have benefits to those suffering from depression and other mental health issues as well as chronic physical illnesses. [10]
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    Listen to the cravings. Your body will usually tell you what it wants. Feeling sad? Chocolate and ice cream may seem like great ideas. Anxious? Fried foods like french fries might just fit the bill. Listen to your body and then feed the cravings the right way. [11]
    • High carb and high fat foods are not ideal when you are feeling anxious as they can increase nausea. Likewise, they are not good for depression because these foods make you feel slower and heavy.
    • If you want a chocolate fix, make hot chocolate drinks from cocoa, fat reduced milk (or water) and honey which has less fat. Add vanilla or spices like cinnamon, or nutmeg for more flavor.
    • If you are craving salty foods, try nuts or kale chips.
    • If you are just hungry for, go for high protein filling foods like peanut butter.
    • Consider that your cravings could be filled by activities instead of food items. If you are craving sweets, engage in an activity you enjoy for 30 minutes instead.

Method 2
Changing Your Relationship to Food

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    Pick your need. In times of emotional distress it is common to turn to food for comfort. [12] Food seems a readily available and momentarily satisfying way to fill emotional needs. Using food in this way usually just provides a distraction to avoid what you are feeling. Try not to turn to food to fill your needs, rather ask yourself some questions about what would really benefit you before heading to the pantry or refrigerator.
    • What do I really need? Am I physically hungry or emotionally hungry?
    • Is this really the solution to my problem?
    • What do I need more, a short term fix, or a long term fix?
    • Will this really help me?
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    Find a balance. In addition to turning to food for comfort, overeating is another problem area to focus on. When you try and eat to change your emotions overeating and eating rapidly are easy traps to fall into. You may unconsciously be trying to fill a need that cannot be filled with food. [13] It's important to find a balance and to practice portion control. [14]
    • During times of emotional distress, pay attention to what and how much you are eating by keeping a food journal. In your food journal note days, times, events, your emotions, what you ate, and how much.
    • Review your journal entries to see if there are any patterns in what you eat and how you are feeling at the time. This may help you figure out what emotions trigger what habits.
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    Cook your own meals. When you are in a “down” mood or emotionally distressed, cooking may be the last thing you want to do. However, while fast foods, eating out, or pre-made meals are more convenient, they are almost always less healthy. Additionally, eating poorly can leave you feeling a sense of regret which will only further a negative mood state. Benefits to cooking your own meals can include:
    • You can get more connection to what you are putting in your body and a potentially improved mood. [15]
    • In general, cooking your own meals helps you make healthier decisions. [16]
    • Positive emotions such as a sense of self-gratification and accomplishment.
    • Encourages creativity and flexibility.
    • Cooking promotes happiness, and can be something that you can engage in with friends, family, or loved ones and “nurture others” while nurturing yourself.
    • Can be beneficial for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD, and addiction.[17]
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    Temper alcohol use. Under times of stress or poor emotional health, another common default is to turn to alcohol, especially for depression, anxiety, or trauma sufferers. [18] Much like the choice of foods, alcohol will not improve your mood but will only act as a temporary band-aid and can be incredibly damaging in the long term. If you enjoy the taste, you can use alcohol in the cooking process allowing you to taste the flavor triggering a satisfaction response in your body.
    • Use beer in chili or stews.
    • Adding wine to sauteing vegetables (especially red wines) preserves the taste and adds flavor to vegetables.
    • Adding alcohol into gravies or sauces.
    • Using spirits such as brandy or rum into custards, cakes, or icings.

Method 3
Maintaining a Healthy Diet

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    Eat by serving sizes and portions. You will find you can usually eat healthier foods in larger quantities, such as salads. A salad won't necessarily fill the craving for a Twinkie, but a salad won't make you feel guilty for eating junk food later on. If you do choose to eat junk food or foods that are less than healthy, serving sizes will help you eat a more practical amount. [19]
    • For example, instead of getting a gallon of ice-cream, get a small tub of frozen yogurt, gelato, or sorbet.
    • Pay attention to the serving size as well as the fats and sugar content to both fill the craving while maintaining a health diet.[20]
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    Take the time to chew. Chewing your food will help you digest better and will help prevent you from overeating. You can accomplish this by a technique called “mindful eating.” [21] Mindfully eating will help you focus on what you are doing in the moment instead of just sitting in front of the T.V.
    • Mindfully eat by focusing and using all your senses while you are eating. Focus on the texture of the food (is it crunchy or soft?), the temperature (is it hot or cold?), or the smell (is it spicy or sweet?).
    • Pay attention to your physical hunger and satiety to know when to start eating and when to stop.
    • Eliminate distractions while you are eating to focus and avoid eating rapidly or overeating.
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    Give yourself time to digest. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes after eating for the feeling of “being full” to reach your brain. [22] As a result, it may be a good idea after eating the correct amount and eating slowly to give yourself time to digest before looking for more food. Some more tips to help you digest include:
    • Pay attention to your meal schedule. Having a heavy meal before having to rush out may make you feel anxious and nauseous, which can affect your emotional well-being.
    • In order to try and slow your eating down, try giving yourself 5 to 10 minutes between courses or putting your utensils down between bites. [23]
    • Go for a walk after a meal instead of sitting or laying down. Movement will help with your digestion and with your emotional well-being.
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    Exercise more. Exercise is known to improve not only your digestion and health, but your mood as well. Your body releases the “feel-good” chemicals, known as endorphins, when you exercise, giving you a natural boost to your mood without food. [24]
    • Before eating, take a short walk. See how you are feeling afterward and if you are still physically hungry or if it was more of an emotional hunger.
    • Whether you were physically or emotionally hungry, walking or exercise will help with a wide range of emotional or mental health issues including depression, anxiety, emotional regulation, and trauma.[25]

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Categories: Emotional Health