Four steps to tailor your eating habits to help you feel better for longer.
1. Eat smaller meals more often
There is much debate over how many times a day you should be eating, but there is little debate that eating gives us a necessary pick-me-up when we are feeling low. Based on that alone, it makes sense that eating more frequently throughout the day would make us feel better, but only if we do it right. (1)
Benefits of eating more than three times a day:
- Snacking on protein and fibre-packed foods means you won’t feel as hungry between meals, which could prevent overeating
- You can fit more nutritious choices into your day! It can feel taxing to eat enough fruit, veg, protein and whole grains if you’re only eating three meals per day, whereas adding more “snack”-type meals to your day gives you the chance to broaden your food spectrum.
- Snacking on foods that are high in sugar, saturated fats or simple carbohydrates won’t fill you up, and that could lead to overeating throughout the day
- Without a set schedule for when you’re eating, you can be tempted by the availability of food, rather than simply eating when you’re hungry, which can lead to overeating.
2. Don’t skip meals
We have all been chastised at one time or another for running out the door without breakfast in the morning because we slept in late, or we think eating less will help us lose weight, or maybe you just don’t feel hungry in the morning. The reality is that skipping a meal can actually lead to mood swings, weight gain and cravings that will make you crash hard afterward. Here’s why:
- Blood sugar decreases: your brain runs on glucose, and when you don’t eat, it doesn’t have enough fuel to run properly. You won’t be able to think straight, and you will feel irritable, confused, fatigued, and stressed, as the body tries to compensate by producing cortisol.
- Metabolism slows: when you don’t feed your body enough to perform optimally, it starts burning what it has more slowly, to try to make that energy last longer. This can lead to weight gain, as your next meal will be expended by your body much more slowly.
- Causes cravings: skipping meals causes your body to go into survival mode, making your cells crave food — usually junk food full of refined carbohydrates, and a lot of it.
Skipping a meal makes you more hungry, and when you’re that hungry, you are likely to reach for whatever is nearest to satisfy you. To help avoid the inevitable crash that comes after a skipped meal, try adding these tips to your routine:
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day
- Always have a snack that is high in fibre and protein
- Plan your meals in advance, or prep them the night before
- Make lunch impossible to skip — make a plan with a coworker, meet up with friends, or set and alarm reminding yourself to take a break
3. Know what you should avoid
Unfortunately, the biggest mood-killers are the things we tend to crave most when we are feeling low: refined carbohydrates. Candy, fast food, soda, anything for quick shock of instant gratification, even if we know it only leads to a crash.
Even foods that look filling on the outside can be a drag on our moods, like big sandwiches full of lunch meats — simple carbohydrates in white bread will give you a quick burst of energy with the blood sugar spike, but it won’t last and will leave you feeling even more drained. Even the lunch meat won’t save you, as the salt will leave you feeling bloated and unsatisfied.
Instead, trade white bread for 100% whole wheat, and lunch meats for tuna or salmon; the complex carbohydrates in the whole wheat will keep you feeling full for longer, and will give you a longer-lasting energy boost. The tuna or salmon is full of brain-essential omega-3 fatty acids, and is a source of lean protein that will keep you going longer. Vegetarians could opt for a plant-based protein.
Again, it is important to keep a nutritious snack on you to fight those junk food-urges. Trade your packet of crisps for whole wheat or ancient grains crackers with a spread of nut butter, and you’ll be more satisfied with your snacking.
4. How can I support my mood with my meals? (2)
It’s important to remember that, while junk foods might give you a quick burst of energy, adding these nutrient-rich foods to your daily meals and snacks will leave you feeling fuller for longer, more energised and in a more stable mood.
These foods can help stabilise your mood and reduce stress:
Protein — helps slow the absorption of carbohydrates, helping you to feel fuller for longer.
- undenatured whey protein
Vitamin D — involved with regulation neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin
- egg yolks
- soy milk
Vitamins folate, B12 — deficiencies have been linked to depression and mania; necessary for red blood cell function; been shown to boost energy levels; support heart health
- dark leafy vegetables
Fibre — slow the absorption of sugar and increase serotonin which decreases mood swings
- brussel sprouts
Selenium — can help stabilise mood, deficiency has been linked to depression and anxiety (3)
- fish (yellowfin tuna, sardines, clams…)
- brazil nuts
- undenatured whey protein
What’s the takeaway?
We have all heard the saying “you are what you eat,” and when it comes to how your food makes you feel, it could not be more true. Fuelling your body with nutritious, colourful and varied foods can help make sure you are getting the nutrients your mind needs to function at its best.