Eating with Mental Health in Mind at the Holidays

Counseling Lancaster, PA

’Tis the season for eating. The holidays are in full swing and with them comes the parties, gift baskets, special treats, and creative drinks. We are often told to be careful to not overdo it on the sweets, the alcohol, and the fatty foods but the reason for that usually revolves around our waistlines. The food we put into our bodies can also have a big impact on our mental health—especially for depression and anxiety sufferers. 

This holiday season, and everyday really, we should be mindful of what we are putting in our bodies and what it is doing for our mood and our overall feelings. There are some foods that are mood boosters, brain foods that support mind and memory, and then there are the ones that drag us down and increase symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

We, at Move Forward Counseling, have compiled a short list of some of the do’s and dont’s when it comes to what you eat and the psychological effects. But before we get into those, the key with all of this is moderation. Obviously if there is something you love you should allow yourself to indulge a bit. And, hey after you become mindful of how these things impact you then maybe you won’t love them as much anymore— or the opposite. 

The Dont’s:

  • Sugar — Yes, we all love it. It’s delicious. It comes in many forms. Its addicting and something we crave. It makes us feel good for a little while and then it makes us crash. It creates big highs and big lows, sending your system on a rollercoaster ride. Rollercoasters can be fun, don’t get me wrong, but the sugar crash can bring you down —worsening depression and anxiety symptoms. Making you feel exhausted. 
  • Caffeine — It’s in teas, coffee, and chocolate. It makes you feel fantastic when you wake up and you have probably come to depend on it like much of the human race. But caffeine has downfalls too. It can leave you feeling jittery and out of sorts. It can make your heart race, making you feel anxious and overwhelmed. The crash can leave you feeling sluggish, sleepy, unmotivated, and sad. Don’t get me wrong a little caffeine can be amazing, but moderation is key. Try not to overdo it. 
  • Alcohol —Many of us love a glass of wine at night, a cocktail with friends, a beer to watch the ball game. It is all in good fun, most of the time. But, too much — which is a common occurrence this time of the year — can make the whole next day, or even two, a struggle. It also can enhance your emotions and make it hard to think rationally about a situation. It can cause you to lose memory and leave you feeling embarrassed or depressed. And, it does not help you get a very good night’s sleep which is also key to keeping your body functioning well. 
  • Processed foods and meats — A lot of this stuff is loaded with sodium and artificial ingredients, and while much of it is delicious it can cause you to feel icky. The high sodium contributes to bloat and puffiness, lowering energy levels and and making you want to stay in bed all day.

The Do’s:

  • Whole grains and legumes —Rather than getting your starch fix from white carbohydrates like white rice, white bread, white potatoes, try whole grain breads, brown rice, and legumes. Your body is able to process them more efficiently thus adding to your energy instead of taking away from it. 
  • Omega-3 fats — Things like fish and olive oil are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These are great for keeping things functioning at top-level in the body, especially your brain. They can help keep your mood stabilized—avoiding those awful highs and lows— and improve memory and mental clarity. 
  • Fruits and veggies —Ok, ok this one is expected but really it is important. When we have that smorgasbord of cheesy casseroles, roles, and pies staring us down it is easy to forget our greens and healthy vitamins. Fruits and veggies will not only help your immune system stay strong during these chilly winter months, but they also keep things balanced. Notice a trend here? Balance. We want to keep our bodies functioning at a stable level to keep our moods on track, to keep our energy levels high, and to allow us to think clearly. 

This post is not designed to make you feel like you have to give up everything you love. We understand that act might leave you feeling deprived and sad. Instead it is about being aware of what you are putting in your body and how it is impacting you. Everything in moderation. 

Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC

Alison is the owner of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice in Salunga (East Hempfield), PA. She loves helping clients find practical solutions to improve their lives and her therapy is cooking. She can be reached at: alison@moveforwardlancaster.com.