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How to Maintain a Healthy Diet Year-Round While Improving your Mental Health

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A new year is just around the corner, which has us thinking about, yes, you guessed it, New Year’s Resolutions. Many of us make them. Sometimes we stick to them, sometimes we don’t. Often times they have something to do with diet, or losing weight. We want to feel confident about ourselves when we look in the mirror. But did you know that there are greater, more impactful benefits to a healthy diet, besides an improved outward appearance? And... these benefits are longer lasting than the short-term reward we experience from resolutions, which typically expire by the time February rolls around.

Choosing the right foods to put on your plate (year-round) can greatly improve your mood, and overall mental health function. How? Simply stated, good nutrition can improve your brain function, while poor nutrition can have the opposite effect, impacting your physical health and worsening conditions such as depression or anxiety.

According to Signature Health Wellness Nurse, Michele Radovanic, there is an actual science that explains the close relationship between our brain and gastrointestinal tract. “Our gastro tracts are filled with billions of bacteria that effect the production of neurotransmitters, substances that relay messages from the gut to the brain (Serotonin, the “feel good” hormone, is a common example). Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and protein enables the “good” bacteria to grow,” explained Michele. “On the other hand, eating an unhealthy diet consisting of refined sugars and other junk foods that lead to inflammation, causes the bacteria to become unbalanced. When this happens, your mood can become unbalanced too, and nobody wants that,” she added.

So, what CAN you do to maintain a healthy diet beyond the first couple months of the year? We’ve got a few ideas:

  1. Never skip meals. Though fasting is a popular fad, skipping meals can throw off your hormone production, and can even lead to binge eating.
  2. Choose whole foods. Fill your plate with fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein. Avoid packaged foods when you can, aiming to eliminate preservatives, additives, or other harsh chemicals from your diet.
  3. Limit refined carbs (think white flour, pastries, sugary treats, etc.). Refined carbs are directly correlated to obesity and obesity has been directly linked to higher rates of depression.
  4. Limit (or completely avoid) caffeine and alcohol, both of which can worsen anxiety and depression. Try substituting coffee with herbal teas or decaf and swap out alcoholic beverages for soda water.
  5. Exercise regularly (another great, natural mood booster!) and don’t overthink it. Your exercise routine can be as simple as taking your dog for a walk or playing with your kids. You don’t need a gym membership to stay active.
  6. Hold yourself to realistic expectations. Nobody is perfect, your diet doesn’t have to be either. Do the best you can with what you have.
  7. Eat the rainbow! Choosing whole foods with a variety of color is the best way to ensure you’re getting all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
  8. Avoid completely restricting certain foods and avoid fad diets that are all about restriction. A healthy diet that is sustainable is about balance. If you completely restrict the foods that bring you joy, it will be harder to stick with it in the long run.
  9. With guidance from your doctor, consider adding supplements into your regular health care routine. Sometimes, especially during the winter months, we need an extra boost of vitamins to stay healthy and improve our mood.

We hope you’ll find these tips helpful. As always, consult with your primary care doctor if you plan to begin a new health care regimen. Signature Health also offers diet and wellness services. If you are interested in learning more, let your doctor or nurse know.

To learn how to eat healthy on a budget, check out these tips: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/10-tips-eating-healthy-budget.