Has this happened to you? Your partner frustrates you…. so you grab a tub of ice cream from the freezer. More bills than money….hit the donut drive thru. Have a bad day at work…stop for a margarita with chips & salsa on the way home. After all, it is called Happy Hour, isn’t it so why do you feel worse?
The irony of using food to cope with life’s challenges is that the very foods we turn to for ‘comfort’ actually have the ability to create more anxiety, sadness and even depression. A 2015 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is just one of many that finds processed foods, added sugars and refined grains were associated with an increased risk of new cases of depression, especially in postmenopausal women. In this study, James Gangwisch, PhD., along with his team, studied the dietary glycemic index and load with different carbohydrates and any correlation with depression in over 70,000 women.
The World Health Organization notes that depression is creating one of the biggest burdens on modern society.
We know carbs increase blood sugar levels. On the Glycemic Index scale of 0-100, the more highly processed foods have a higher score. Foods like donuts, soda, white bread, cookies and other refined foods spike your blood sugar level. Dr. Gangwisch found that your body often triggers a hormonal response to lower that blood sugar spike and this hormonal response can cause symptoms of depression. This hormonal response may also bring on fatigue and change in mood.
What can you do?
If you struggle from depression it is important that you see your doctor. Depression isn’t something that should be left untreated. If you are experiencing diet related mood changes and/or fatigue, reframing the way you think of ‘comfort food’ can really help.
We all have life challenges and, at times, it’s a part of life. Food may provide some comfort to those frustrations, especially foods with fond memories attached. Did your Gramma make the best mac & cheese? If you’re feeling sad, frustrated or worried you may be triggered to crave it, this trigger is your desire to feel comforted, not by the food, but by the feeling it brings up.
Check in with your body. Are you actually hungry? If not, you can create a feeling of safety and comfort through listening to music that also evokes these feelings or fond memories. You can look at photos of a happier time, perhaps even make a photo album on your phone that you can quickly access to remind you that everything is going to be alright. You are in this moment and it's actually a gift. Feelings of fear, stress and anxiety are highlighting where you are out of alignment with who you really are and what you steps you can take to be, do and have what is meant for you.
If you are hungry and feeling down, instead of reaching for the fast food or frozen mac & cheese or donut, try a healthier option. Make your own mac & cheese from scratch and use protein pasta. If you’re craving chocolates, choose chocolate covered nuts (without added sugar or preservatives) instead of a fancy box or candy bars. I recommend having your ‘go to’ comfort food favorites, in their healthier version, on hand so that it’s easy to grab when the urge to splurge hits you.
Simple swaps can help from making your blue mood worse or sabotaging your health & fitness goals. In addition, avoiding foods that have a greater glycemic impact can help keep a low mood from getting worse or lasting as long.
If you have questions about sugar spiking foods or other ways to manage your mood, please reach out. I’m happy to help!