My ‘good mood food’ – and why you should eat it, too by Roxie Nafousi

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  • Bring on the goodies

    Words by Roxie Nafousi

    I’ve been quite open with my previous battles with depression. It affects everyone differently but this is just my experience of it (disclaimer!). When it comes, it hits me over the head unexpectedly and out of nowhere there is a deep sense of unexplained sadness, extreme lethargy and it is accompanied by a constant inner dialogue of self-loathing and criticism. It is really quite paralysing because when I’m in that phase I find I want to isolate myself and I feel in that moment that there is no way out.

    Of course, I know that isn’t true, as I’ve been there before and at some point it lifts both suddenly and completely and I resume as normal, feeling genuinely happily and positive and going about my day to day life. The thing about not just depression, but general low mood, anxiety and even just having Monday Blues is that they all feed themselves in a viscous cycle – they make you feel unenthusiastic, tired and lacking energy. This means you’re less likely to do those things that make you feel good such as socialising, exercising and eating healthily. Looking back over the last few years I’ve noticed over the last few years a really strong link between my ‘depressive spells’ and my diet and exercise regime.

    In March this year I went to my favourite retreat Juicy Oasis, where you consume only juice for a week, packing your body with all the vital nutrients and eliminating any toxic substances from your diet. Before I went I was definitely at one of my lowest points. For about a month I had been in quite a bad place and when I arrived on the retreat I remember crying for most of the first day. I didn’t know what was wrong with me and how to get out of it. Yet by day 4 of the retreat I felt the mental fog completely lift, was totally myself again and had this SURGE of energy. By day 6 I remember thinking ‘I couldn’t feel happier and more content than I do right now’.

    When I returned home I kept up a very healthy diet, limited my alcohol intake to once every 10 days maximum and exercised around 4-5 times a week. I felt amazing, I can honestly say that there was not one ‘bad’ day. When stressful things happened at work or at home I dealt with them in such a more measured and reasoned way and didn’t let it affect me the way it might have done before. My nasty inner critic had also been silenced – a revelation!

    I started to think a lot about this correlation, was that negative period of time before the retreat really just caused by a build up of toxins in my body, and are all these nutrients flooding my body, combined with exercise, what is making me feel so happy now?

    Is it possible that you might be able to eat yourself happy? How much does exercise and diet really effect how we feel?

    What is the good mood food movement?

    I started doing some research and found there was a lot of evidence to back this up and found there is a big movement called ‘GOOD MOOD FOOD’. I spoke to one of London’s top nutritionists, Lily Soutter, to see what she thought about this and I was astounded by what she told me; ‘90% of our serotonin is located within the gut, and only 10% is located within the brain. Scientists are now referring to our gut as our second brain, and the latest research has shown that our gut bacteria may influence how much serotonin we produce.’

    What are good mood foods?

    ‘While the research is still relatively new and not yet conclusive, many of us could do with a little more good gut bacteria especially due to widespread antibiotic use. Choose fermented foods (probiotics): natural with live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi . Choose prebiotics: Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, dandelion greens, asparagus, unripe banana, chicory root, apples, oats, flaxseeds.’

    I really could not believe that 90% of our serotonin (which is our happy hormone) is found in the gut! Lily also told me that there are some studies which suggest that supplementation of omega 3 oils may reduce symptoms in patients with depression and on antidepressant medication and advises her clients to eat 2 portions of oily fish per week (such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies).

    I also spoke to Sarah Lindsay, co-owner of personal training gym and celeb favourite ROAR fitness, and she told me: ‘Foods high in vitamin C like strawberries, red peppers, kale and oranges, can also help the production of endorphins. Similarly, endorphins are released when we exercise which is why we feel so good after a tough sweaty workout, even if we don’t enjoy the pain at the time! Endorphins can relieve stress and anxiety and is also a natural painkiller, which is why it can help with PMS symptoms. It doesn’t matter if you have a high flying stressful job or if you’re running rounds after your children, everyone interprets stress differently and even 5 minutes of physical activity can help.’

    So yes, exercise really can help the mind!

    What are anti-good mood foods?

    Sarah then explained to me one reason why alcohol can have negative effects on our mood: ‘Alcohol slows down the central nervous system and exacerbates feelings of depression. Alcohol will also cause a drop in blood sugar after the initial insulin spike as does eating sugar and refined foods so if you struggle with mood swings then you’re best to avoid fast food, sweets and booze. Sorry!’

    Nutrition Lily confirmed the negative effects of alcohol can have on us, telling me, ‘Thiamine is a common B vitamin deficiency seen in heavy drinkers, and this deficit can lead to low mood, irritability and anger.’

    I really do believe that what you eat and how much you move really does impact your mental state. I know that when I’m unhealthy, I am more susceptible to feeling low and feelings of self-loathing are intensified. But when I’m healthy, I am the best version of myself; happy, confident, content. I hope this might inspire some of you! I’m definitely ready to embark on a healthier journey after a long and indulgent summer!

    Lots of Love, Roxie xx

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