Ways to Balance Your Food and Your Mood

Women are nearly twice as likely as men to develop depression. They have a 12-13% lifetime prevalence rate for depression, meaning more than 10 million women may suffer from it each year. Although depression can occur at any age, it’s most common in women between the ages of 40 and 59—and as many as 23% of women in their 40s and 50s currently take an anti-depressant. As we know from previous posts about depression, it has long been known to relate to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders; women in their perimenopausal years may be especially vulnerable to depression, body image dissatisfaction, and eating disorders.

What can you do about depression? Your first priority should be to taking care of yourself. If you suspect you may have a clinically diagnosable condition, please seek proper diagnosis and treatment from a professional.

If you are experiencing a depressed mood, it may be the result of many things, but it is often a sign that your needs are not being met, and that it’s time to turn inward for a while.

I have three recommendations:

1. Make self-care a priority. I’m not talking about an occasional massage or an annual vacation. “[Self-care is] choosing to make sure that you get what you need on all levels—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally—every day,” Christine Arylo says. That’s right: Self-care means taking care of yourself every single day. I now: You’re busy. Who isn’t? But you need to carve time out of your schedule for yourself each day.

2. Re-evaluate your food choices. Depression has long been linked to low-carbohydrate and low-calorie diets. Low-carb dieters tend to become depressed about two weeks into such a diet, about the time that their levels of serotonin (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter) have dropped due to decreased carbohydrate intake. Low-carb dieters also report that they feel chronically tired, angry, depressed, or tense. This is why nutritionists recommend that 55% to 65% of our daily calories should be carbs. So make sure you’re getting complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains. Complex carbohydrates, which are high in fiber, and whole grains increase our level of tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which elevates mood, suppresses appetite, and calms you down. However, too many carbohydrates can make you sleepy. (And no, cookies and cake don’t count; those are simple carbs.)

 3. Get enough sleep and exercise. Working out temporarily boosts the feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. You don’t need to run marathons to reap the benefits; just walking or doing yoga a few times a week can help. Exercise is more effective in treating depression than light therapy, and can be as effective as therapy or prescriptiondrugs. If you are vulnerable to depression or seasonal affective disorder, exercise should be one of your mainstays.

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