About 8 months into the pandemic, I was invited for an interview with Mareya Ibrahim (a.k.a. The Fit Foodie) as part of TheFitExpo Live Experience. The focus of our conversation was about the role the food-mood connection plays into the struggles a lot of people are having right now.
She and I really understand how food choices affect our ability to be happy and healthy. Yet we also know that when people are under duress, let alone trying to manage their own lives and those of their family during this pandemic, healthy food habits are often the first to go.
Those of you who follow me know I am very disciplined with the food my family and I eat. But at the beginning of the pandemic when we were suddenly at home all the time, fearful about catching COVID-19, while trying to navigate the new normal of things like grocery shopping and remote work and school, I lowered my guard around food.
With so much stress going on, especially for the kids, I decided not to be too strict with food rules and let everyone have more simple carbs like pasta, rice, and potatoes—foods we normally don’t eat.
After a few weeks though, I noticed I wasn’t feeling my usual focused and energetic self. Even worse, my daughter and nieces were starting to have real issues with depression and anxiety. I realized my uncharacteristic leniency about food was inadvertently taking a toll on everyone’s mental health. I knew I needed to get right back to my “A” game and started to educate the kids about the food-mood connection.
As we chatted, Mareya described the vital role managing blood sugar has in managing moods. Eating healthy foods at regular intervals helps maintain your blood sugar and properly fuels your brain and body. Conversely, eating sugar and other simple carbs makes you crave and eat more of them, which causes your blood sugar to rise and plummet in a vicious cycle. This makes you feel worse and depletes your energy.
The good news is there are ways to stop defaulting to unhealthy comfort foods when you need to feel better—even during a pandemic! And different brain types need different strategies. For example, the front part of my brain is a little more on the ADD/sleepy side, so I feel my best with a diet based on:
This kind of diet boosts dopamine (which helps me with focus and energy) and maintains stable blood sugar.
Conversely, my daughter’s brain works differently. The front part of hers is more overactive, which makes her more likely to get stuck on unhelpful thoughts or actions. If she ate my exact diet, she’d be even more obsessive about things. She needs a diet that helps boost serotonin—one with more healthy carbs in it, such as:
You can discover your own brain type with this free brain type assessment.
While talking with Mareya, I learned I wasn’t the only one noticing behavioral changes at home. She pointed out that if you’re seeing things like low-grade depression, decreased energy or increased aggression that are not normal for your family, you can gently redirect them with better food choices.
One easy way to do this is to get snacks and treats ready and put them in the front section of your refrigerator or pantry shelves so family members can easily grab them.
Here are 5 healthy ideas for you:
You can also find more than 100 nutritious (and delicious!) recipes in The Brain Warrior’s Way Cookbook my husband, Dr. Daniel Amen and I wrote together.
Regardless of your age, it’s never too late to change unhealthy eating habits. The right foods really can change your life!
Check out more of my Relentless Courage interviews on my YouTube channel and order my new memoir, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child: How Persistence, Grit, and Faith Created a Reluctant Healer here.