Have you ever wanted to lock yourself away from the world and just eat cookies? Soothed midmorning doldrums with a cinnamon roll? Reached for a bag of chips when you were feeling down in the dumps? If so, you are not alone. Elizabeth Somer, dietitian and author of the new book, Eat Your Way to Happiness, says most of us have turned to food for solace at one time or another. What you choose to eat could spiral you into depression and weight gain or could be just the answer for beating the blues and slimming your waistline.
The first step is to follow the 75% solution. Which means that three out of every four bites or 75% of your diet should be real foods. The more a food is processed, the lower its mood-boosting vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients and the higher its calories, fat, sugar, and/or salt. Real foods are alive with nutrients that our bodies require to run like well-oiled machines. Processed foods, in contrast, are as alien to our bodies as breathing in carbon monoxide. Thousands of studies spanning decades of research repeatedly report that the more real foods people eat, the lower their disease risk and the happier and skinnier they are. How do you do this?
A) Choose foods in as close to their original form as possible. Choose the broccoli, not the frozen broccoli in cheese sauce; the old fashioned oatmeal not the granola bar; the 100% whole grain cereal not the sugar-coated cereal with a dusting of whole grain; the fresh or frozen blueberries not the blueberry-flavored yogurt.
B) When purchasing a food that comes in a bag, box, pouch, or carton, choose only those items with 1 gram or less of a combined trans and saturated fat/100 calories. Avoid foods that have sugar in the first three ingredients on the label or that have multiple sugars throughout the ingredient list. (Hint: 4 grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar.) Elizabeth's book has a list of the top 100 packaged foods in your supermarket that are good for your mood.
3. You say to follow the 1,2,3 rule, what is that?
To wash away the blues, you must eat breakfast. People who eat breakfast have more energy, a more sustained good mood throughout the day, they perform better at school and at work, and they sleep better at night, which means they wake up the next day more energized and happy. They also are less prone to uncontrollable food cravings and have a much easier time losing weight, and more importantly, maintaining the weight loss. But, I’m not talking doughnuts and coffee. You must follow the 1,2,3 rule: the breakfast must have 1) a whole grain to provide needed high-quality carbs for the brain during the morning hours, 2) a little protein to keep you satiated and maintain even blood sugar levels throughout the morning, and 3) 1 and preferably 2 colorful fruits and vegetables.
I don’t want to hear any whining about how you don’t have time in the morning to eat. Happy, skinny people are just as busy as you are and they find time. It only takes 5 minutes to prepare and eat a healthy 1,2,3 breakfast. It’s as easy as a bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk, a small glass of OJ and a handful of berries on the cereal. Or, make a smoothie with fruit, soymilk, and wheat germ. I even supply a week’s worth of 1-minute breakfasts in the book!
4. You’ve mentioned whole grains. Why are carbs so important for boosting our mood?
No where is the link between food and mood more clear than with carbs. It is no coincidence that people turn to carbs, from pasta to cookies, when they are depressed. Carb-rich foods stimulate the release of a brain chemical called serotonin that regulates appetite, mood, and sleep. It makes perfect sense that we crave carbs when we are feeling blue, since these are the very foods that raise serotonin levels and lift our spirits.
Any carb will do the trick, but refined grains and sugary foods also wreak havoc with your blood sugar levels, raising them up, followed by a crash. Whole grains give you the mood-boosting serotonin lift without the blood sugar roller coaster. You only need 30 grams of carbs to get the serotonin boost, so don’t use this as an excuse to pig out on a platter of pasta! So, when you feel down in the dumps and find yourself craving a sweet treat, instead have a small snack of a half whole-grain bagel with a little honey drizzled over it or 2 whole grain fig newtons.
5. This is a style of eating as much as it is specific foods.You can’t live on greasy fast food, then have a blueberry smoothie and think you’ve been good to yourself. You must fill the plate with real food, eat the 1,2,3 breakfast, have a light lunch (heavy and fatty lunches cause fatigue and drop your mood), and a light evening meal, along with a small, all-carb bedtime snack to boost serotonin levels and help you sleep. That said, there are a few mood-elevating foods that can give you an added boost to this eating plan, such as antioxidant-rich berries, nuts, spinach, and salmon. The omega-3 fat in salmon is so important for lifting your spirits that even the American Psychiatric Association recommends the omega-3s for anyone battling depression.
6. The part of the book I liked the most is the chapter on mood-boosting vices.
There are three naughty-but-nice goodies that most happy, skinny people include in their diets: dark chocolate, red wine, and green tea. Make sure the chocolate is at least 70% cocoa powder to get the most brain-protecting antioxidants and use regular cocoa powder, not Dutch Processed since the latter destroys most of the antioxidants. The chocolate in ice cream, cream fillings in candy, and milk chocolate do not have the antioxidants, so are not on the list of good vices. Antioxidants and another compound called resveratrol also are brain protectors, as long as you use some discretion - wine goes from a health drink to a health problem if you consume too much. Green tea also has those brain-protecting compounds and the more you drink, the better.