Consider the following story as it relates to this week’s topic.
For the longest time, I tried to lose weight but kept falling back to my old habits. I’d lose a few pounds here and there, but it was never a noticeable change. It left my already negative perception of myself in shambles. A friend suggested that I make some small changes to my eating habits before getting into exercising so I didn’t bite off more than I could chew in the too-many-changes-at-once department. It was tough at first, but I began eating healthier and cutting out sugars and trans fats. I’ve lost a bit of weight since then, but the biggest change I’ve noticed is with my mood! These days I feel much happier, more positive, and alert. Is my new way of eating really having that much of an impact?
The Proof is in the Pudding
The way food affects your mental state is a multi-faceted subject with plenty of research and studies (nutritional psychology) to back it up. For instance, research has shown that diets high in refined sugars can be harmful to the brain. They can even worsen the symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.
Or take serotonin, for instance, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep and appetite, mediates moods, and inhibits pain. When you consider the fact that 95% of serotonin is created in your gastrointestinal tract, you realize that your digestive tract does way more than simply digest food.
Just as fascinating is the role “good” bacteria plays in all of this. These bacteria directly influence the function of the neurons in your digestive tract and the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Good bacteria additionally protect your intestines against toxins and “bad” bacteria. In fact, research has shown that when you take a probiotic that contains good bacteria, your anxiety levels, stress, and mental outlook can improve.
Based on this information, we can conclude one thing: a “clean” diet is good for both the body and mind. This means cutting out processed foods and sugars, adding fermented foods like kimchi or pickles, and maybe even limiting or cutting out dairy. Once you determine how this change makes you feel, you can gradually add new things to your diet to determine how your mood changes.
Now, this is obviously a very important task for an adult, but it’s even more important for children to establish healthy diets. Some people may think that their child won’t be affected much by a poor diet because they’re young and their metabolism is through the roof, meaning that they’ll burn through calories and fat like nothing. However, a new area of research known as epigenetics shows that what a child experiences, or is influenced by, can actually affect the expression of their genes.
Look at it this way: a child gets his/her/their genes from both parents. They provide a guideline for how tall this child will be or the type of temperament they could potentially have. Yet, despite these guidelines, a child’s development can be affected by positive experiences like supportive relationships or negative ones, such as stress. This is why it’s so important for parents to help their children establish good eating habits.
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We’ve all heard how important a balanced diet is for our bodies, but it’s just as important to recognize how much of an impact it has on our minds. If you or someone you love is currently struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression, our licensed psychologists and therapists in Tampa are ready to help. To find out more about our services, or to schedule an appointment, contact us today!