Most of us have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” And it’s weirdly true. In fact, one study found a significant relationship between eating spicy food and feeling aggressive. Findings also show that organic food makes us feel happier, and foods high in protein improve motivation and concentration.
It’s clear that food can influence our moods in both positive and negative ways. With this in mind, it’s important to evaluate your food choices and understand how they may affect your recovery. During your time in rehab, you were told to eat balanced meals, but it’s easy to get complacent and start returning to old habits.
Let’s take a closer look at how some of your favorite snacks could affect your mood and raise the risk for depression or anxiety. If you’re still struggling with unwanted symptoms, you may need to clean up your diet.
Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Depression and Anxiety
If you’re like many people, the idea of a tasty snack is probably something sweet or processed. It’s not unusual to crave these types of foods. For one thing, salt and sugar are highly addictive. Our brains are wired to enjoy the things that make us feel good, and sugar, in particular, releases brain chemicals that make us happy.
Over time, our tolerance for sugary and salty foods builds, and we need more of these foods to reward ourselves. And sadly, food manufacturers are aware of what food components are most addictive, and they’re sure to include them in the foods we eat.
Unfortunately, ultra-processed foods like cakes, crackers, potato chips and soda have no nutrients and lots of chemicals associated with adverse mental health symptoms. For example, processed foods often have emulsifiers that can cause inflammation and affect the gut. People who eat these foods report more days of anxiety and depression.
Improve Your Mental Health with Whole Foods
If you’re recovering from a mental health or substance use disorder, it’s especially important to pay attention to everything that goes into your body. Just as drugs and alcohol affect your whole self, so do the foods you eat. Snacking on chips may not sound like a big deal, but it could have an adverse effect on your health.
Below are some ideas for incorporating more whole foods into your diet. Remember, you don’t need to make huge changes all at once. Making small changes each week can be even more effective, as it’s easier to stick with them and see the results.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce is loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that your body needs to be healthy. Start by including more of them in your diet, such as a banana for breakfast and a salad for lunch.
- Limited processed foods. As mentioned above, processed foods have many added ingredients you don’t need, such as artificial colors, stabilizers and preservatives. Limit or avoid them altogether.
- Read labels. Get in the habit of reading labels. Choose foods with minimal ingredients – and ingredients that you know. Whole, unsalted and unsweetened foods are best.
- Make water your main beverage. Water does not contain any questionable ingredients, like artificial sweeteners or added sugars. It also has plenty of health benefits, including keeping you hydrated, maintaining your weight and managing cravings.
Fight Depression and Anxiety with Whole Foods
Recovery from a substance use disorder requires a whole body approach. It’s much harder to manage your emotions, motivation and energy levels if you’re not nourishing your body with the appropriate nutrients. Sometimes all it takes is an objective look at your diet and small improvements each week. But you may also benefit from talking to a nutritionist and sharing this in your therapy sessions and peer support groups.
Awakenings Treatment Center is a holistic healing center that treats mental health disorders, substance use disorders and eating disorders. We focus a lot of our attention on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including eating balanced meals with whole foods. To learn more about our holistic treatment services, contact our Agoura Hills treatment center today.