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  • Many people wonder, “Does eating healthy make you feel better?” In the case of the food and mood connection, the simple answer is yes. In fact, food is the fuel that drives all the body’s processes, so it makes sense that providing the body with the highest quality of fuel can make you feel your best, both physically and mentally. Read on to learn about the relationship between food and mood, as well as how to cultivate healthy eating habits one meal at a time.

    The Importance of Healthy Eating Habits

    Being mindful of food consumption can play a big role in overall well-being. This is because mindful nutrition can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health. Healthy eating habits can lower your risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia. Eating healthy foods can also increase your immunity and help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, both of which help maximize wellness.

    The Connection Between Healthy Eating and Mood

    The benefits of eating nutritious food transcend the effects on the physical body. Beyond helping you avoid chronic disease and excess body weight, eating healthy foods can also improve energy levels, focus, and mood. In fact, researchers have found that people who follow a healthy eating pattern have better mental health than those who adhere to less healthy diets. The converse is also true: Fueling the body with poor-quality food can negatively impact mental health.

    Researchers are uncertain why there is a food and mood connection, but it may be related to the small microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract (the “gut microbiome”) and their influence on mood and behavior. Healthy eating patterns can also reduce underlying inflammation within the body, which may improve mood disorders. Another proposed mechanism is that eating a healthy and consistent diet can minimize wild swings in blood sugar levels, which may be a factor in conditions of low mood.

    Tips for How to Cultivate Healthy Eating Habits

    It’s one thing to know the importance of creating healthy eating habits. It’s quite another challenge to maintain those habits over the long term. Here are some helpful tips for how to cultivate healthy eating habits.

    Tip #1: Meal Plan in Advance

    Having an eating plan in place in advance can help you avoid a situation in which you are super hungry and tempted to give in to cravings for unhealthy food choices. Meal planning can be a helpful way to start cultivating healthy eating habits.

    Start by writing down what you typically eat in a given week, broken down by each meal. Then, evaluate where you can start making changes. This may be as small as making a big batch of oatmeal over the weekend and progressively eating it for breakfast during the week instead of relying on whatever's around at the office for grazing.

    Gradually, you can ramp up your meal planning so that you're being deliberate or mindful for the majority of meals each week. If you know in advance that you will have a particularly busy or hectic day, take that into consideration when food prepping so that you have a quick and easy meal planned or, even better, plenty of leftovers available from the day before.

    Tip #2: Make the Mood Food Connection Fun

    Parents across the board are used to using various strategies to make healthy eating more appealing to kids (i.e., “ants on a log” to get children to consume celery, peanut butter, and raisins). The same strategy can be applied to adults of all ages as well.

    Eating healthy foods does not have to be boring. Instead, look for a fun and easy cookbook or search for fun and easy recipes on Pinterest to help stay motivated. Experimenting with food shapes (star-shaped cucumbers, anyone?) and creative dips can trick the brain into being excited about eating foods that may feel less thrilling at first blush.

    Tip #3: Avoid Absolute Restriction

    Trying to cut certain “temptation” foods completely out of the diet is very difficult to do and maintain. You may have a string of healthy eating days and then go completely off the rails when you lose willpower or have a “cheat day.”

    Nothing can derail a balanced diet like bouncing back and forth between super-healthy meals and meals that are completely void of any nutrition at all. Instead, you should avoid absolute restriction and permit yourself to eat what you enjoy in moderation, while also eating healthy foods.

    Tip #4: Stay Well Hydrated

    Part of a healthy eating plan includes staying well hydrated. Sometimes you may feel hungry when you’re actually just thirsty, which is why it’s important to keep up with daily water intake requirements (3.7 liters for the average man and 2.7 liters for the average woman). Some studies have even shown that drinking water before a meal may reduce the amount that a person eats during the meal, so staying well hydrated may also help with portion control.

    Tip #5: Experiment With Spices

    Eating healthy means eating a rainbow of different-colored fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats. Adding a number of new fruits and vegetables into the diet may be enough to spice things up, but if you are struggling to stick to a healthy eating habit, adding more spices can help too. Healthy herbs and spices can keep new foods interesting and fun to experiment with, and many herbs and spices have wellness-boosting properties themselves.

    Tip #6: Don’t Get Too Ambitious

    When you have early success with mindful eating, you should pat yourself on the back and applaud your efforts. And it’s equally important to not get over-ambitious with trying a new recipe every night because this can lead to burnout. Instead, work on perfecting a few new easy recipes for the arsenal and incorporating these into your daily life. Gradually building in a new dish here and there can help mix things up without feeling too overwhelming and making you vulnerable to giving up altogether.

    Common Challenges of Healthy Eating Habits

    In today’s world, it’s not always easy to eat healthy, even when you know it's the best way to keep yourself firing on all cylinders. The following challenges are common, but some workarounds can help sustain healthy eating habits.

    Challenge #1: Eating Healthy Can Be Expensive

    Shopping exclusively at a farmer’s market or high-end grocery is a recipe for financial distress. People often find it challenging to change their eating habits because fresh, healthy produce tends to be more pricey than processed foods that are more shelf-stable. While this is a real challenge, it doesn’t have to get in the way of embracing the food and mood connection.

    To stay within budget, try to buy healthy foods in bulk, and shop during sales whenever possible. One way to do this is to eat the fresh produce that is in season at any given time of year. Buying frozen produce can also help save money while still maximizing nutritional benefits.

    Challenge #2: Eating Healthy Can Be Time-Consuming

    Another challenge when it comes to making healthy food choices is that it can initially take more time and effort to eat healthy than it does to make last-minute food decisions and pick up dinner from the drive-through on the way home.

    It takes real cognitive work to plan out meals, shop for ingredients, and then prepare those meals, compared to eating out or buying ready-made meals. However, once you get into a pattern of eating healthy, it's simple to find workarounds to reduce the amount of time required.

    Meal prepping in advance, so that you have easy, ready-to-go snacks, lunches, or dinners, can go a long way in cutting down on preparation time. Also, seek out recipes with just a few ingredients and meals that can be prepared on "auto pilot" — such as one pot meals, sheet pan meals, or slow cooker meals.

    Challenge #3: Eating Healthy Can Make It Hard to Socialize

    It may be intimidating to make changes to a nutrition plan if you're worried about the social implications. If eating out or frequent dinners are part of your work culture or social life, you may feel self-conscious about not ordering pizza with the group or eating a salad instead of digging into the burger and fries.

    However, healthy eating options are typically available everywhere, once you start to look. Taking a peek at the menu online ahead of time can help reduce decision-related stress in the moment and make it more likely that you will stick to the plan. Sometimes, just choosing the healthier option in a social setting, or the lesser evil, can go a long way in sticking to a balanced diet.

    Embracing the Food-Mood Connection

    The undeniable connection between food and mood highlights the importance of healthy eating habits for both physical and mental well-being. Nourishing our bodies with high-quality fuel can lead to increased energy, focus, and better mental health. Strategies like meal planning, creative food choices, moderation, hydration, and flavor experimentation aid in cultivating these habits. Despite challenges, embracing this relationship empowers us to enhance our overall wellness, meal by mindful meal.


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