Mood Food And Dietary Tips

Mary Walker is a psychologist at RWA Psychology in the Sydney suburb of Beecroft. Mary specialises in working with people experiencing eating disorders.

Physical well-being and self care are fundamental to mental health. Unfortunately, these are often overlooked when we’re experiencing depression, anxiety, stress or other major changes in life and our motivation is low. This can be especially true for food intake, which is why we’ve put together this list of tips and ideas to help you stay focused and motivated around your health in difficult times.

Remember this Acronym: H.H.H.A.L.T.

Hydration
Often we turn to food when we are actually thirsty. Try having a glass of water before reaching into the biscuit tin. Consider what you drink as well. We all know the dangers of soft drinks but flavoured milk or 100% fruit juice, which are often seen as healthy, are full of sugar. It’s really easy to drink a lot of these beverages and before you know it you’ve consumed a heap of sugar and unhealthy fats. This is especially a problem for children who then aren’t hungry for the real food needed for healthy growth.

It is easy to drink a glass of juice, but most kids would not sit down and eat 3 or 4 oranges. Think about what you drink as well as what you eat.

Habit
If you find that you always go straight to the fridge and get out the cheese and dip as soon as you get home, maybe try changing the habit. Do something else. Plan to water the garden or have a shower instead.

The same goes for emotional habits. If you go to the fridge after an argument or when you’re worried, you should try to break the cycle by changing your routine. A big part of what and when we eat is influenced by habit. It takes about three weeks to change an established habit.

Be aware of triggers and habits, then try to do something differently.

Hunger
How hungry you are is obviously a factor in your eating habits. One tip: don’t allow yourself to get too hungry. For example, going for long periods in the day time without eating can lead to binging at the end of the day.

Extended periods without food decrease the metabolic rate (this is the opposite to what most dieters want to do). Within 24-48 hours of calorie restriction metabolic rate decreases by 15-30% Eat regular meals in the day time.

Anger
All sorts of emotions can be triggers for appetite. This is where emotional regulation strategies such as anger management, mindfulness, etc. can be useful skills. If loneliness is your problem, consider getting out of the house or doing something fun like a hobby to avoid a bad cycle.

Be aware of these triggers, and if they arise, plan an alternative activity, such as time out, relaxation, gardening, or other relaxing things.

Tiredness
There is strong evidence that tired people eat more. Physical conditions such as sleep apnoea can be a problem. It’s as if the body tries to combat the fatigue with food when sleep will not come.

Try and get enough sleep or use relaxation techniques. Check out any physical issues with the help of your doctor.

What, When, and How to Eat: The Six Ps

Protein
Our bodies need for protein for constant muscle renewal and basic bodily functions. There is some evidence that we will feel hungry until a sufficient amount of protein is consumed, no matter how many calories we get. Having protein rich food on hand – such as a hard boiled egg – can satisfy that “I’ve been eating all day but still feel like something” feeling.

Place
Think about where you eat. These habits can be powerful. Try to break your habits of eating while standing at the door of the open fridge or while on the computer.

Try and sit down in a relaxing place to eat without other distractions. Practice mindful eating.

Preparation
Plan ahead. Plan for triggers. Plan for special events. Check out the menu for events and restaurants online if you’re anxious. Don’t eat everything on the plate if you know there are multiple courses.

Plan meals so you don’t fall into the trap of getting take-away: home cooking is much healthier and more economical. Have some safe snacks – carrot sticks and hummus for example – in the fridge.

Pace yourself
Don’t eat too quickly. Give your body time to register being full. It can take about half an hour for blood sugar to register in the brain. Eat slowly and don’t immediately go for second helpings.

Portion size
Have you noticed dinner plates have become bigger? It used to be that a dinner plate was the size of what is now an entree plate. Think about serving sizes and measure if you’re not sure. Read labels and see what they call a serving (don’t look at the picture on the label).

Let yourself have something that you feel like – just not too much. A scoop of ice-cream, not the whole tub.

Post-pone
Do something else first if you have a craving. Play the piano, go for a walk, water the garden, do a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes we eat when we’re bored.

Final thoughts

Don’t make changes that you don’t think you can keep up. Plan for lapses. Get back to the meal plan after an eating mistake. Examine what went wrong; we learn more from mistakes than anything else. Here is an important concept:

Set point weight theory
This the weight each of us, as a result of our genetics, is meant to be. This weight is not dictated by fashion; it is more like shoe size. The weight of adopted children resembles that of the natural parents. Identical twins raised apart have almost identical Body Mass Indexes.

The set point acts as a sort of thermostat to maintain a weight within 5-10 kgs. This set point system is overridden by diets, which our body interprets as a famine. With these periods of scarcity, our bodies become more adept at layering fat when we do have extra calories. This is a wonderful adaptation for survival, but for someone trying to lose weight it makes life difficult.

Many yo-yo dieters can attest to this. They have dieted themselves up to a higher weight than they were genetically predisposed to be in first place. Any regime that recommends extreme dietary restriction can cause this. Beware of fad diets and get professional advice if unsure.

By Mary Walker, MAPS

Mary Walker is a psychologist with a special interest in depression, anxiety, OCD, trauma and disabilities. Call RWA psychology for an appointment with Mary or one of our other psychologists.

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