What you eat and your activity levels can have a profound effect on your mental health and wellbeing. Holistic Health Practitioner Christine Bickley explains.

If you’ve noticed that you’re not feeling quite as buoyant or positive as you used to, or you feel more stressed or agitated than you used to, then your diet or lifestyle could be partly responsible. Most people I know live life at full speed and grab whatever snacks they can as and when they can. If we do this over a long period of time then as we get pressed for time we may not be feeding ourselves optimally.

Fast foods and pre-prepared foods not only make you gain weight – they generally contain less nutrients than something that you make from basic foods. This doesn’t mean you need to slave over a hot stove for hours every day – it can be easy to create a highly nutritious meal such as a seasonal salad in around 15 minutes.

Look for quick recipes

Meals that take only a short amount of time to prepare, batch cook or pre-cook part of the meal such as potatoes which can then be used cold or fried.

Vary your diet

It’s easy to end up eating a repetitive, limited diet with only 30 or even less basic food in it, which means you could easily be missing vital micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

Keep track of your food

Keeping a diet diary for a week or two of everything you eat and looking at whether some foods crop up many times a week, or that you have a limited number of basic foods can be helpful. If you repeat the same basic foods regularly this is displacing your ability to consume a wide variety of foods. Breakfast cereals, bread, rice and pasta are regular culprits for being repeated!

Look after your gut

The chemical, serotonin is believed to help keep us happy and much of this is made in the gut. So, if the gut isn’t healthy and functioning well this could impact on serotonin production. It’s possible to get a vicious cycle going – feeling down so we don’t feed ourselves well, which makes us feel down…  Looking after your diet and gut can have a profound effect on mood! Try to cut back on sugar and processed foods as these can reduce the amount of good bacteria in your diet. If you suspect you have a food intolerance – i.e. difficulty digest certain foods – then see a nutritional therapist.

Avoid very low fat diets

Very low-fat diets can have a negative effect on our mood and overall health too. As natural fats that come in real foods have been demonised, people have switched to ‘un-natural fats’ – fats that have been manufactured from seeds and grains like corn, vegetables and other plant sources. If you have been following a very low fat diet, or a diet with lots of vegetable oils, switch to natural fats – grass-fed butter or ghee (clarified butter), a little coconut oil, eat the fat on your meat (grass fed meat is better than grain fed), a regular helping of wild caught salmon or other fish, include avocados and occasional raw nuts and seeds.

Try taking magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that is depleted from our soils, so it’s getting harder and harder to get enough from diet alone. Since magnesium is involved in many functions in the body it may be helpful to supplement. Magnesium helps to improve mood and energy by producing serotonin. I recommend magnesium baths – two cups of magnesium chloride flakes (I use Better You) or magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) dissolved in a warm bath and soak. To find out more about magnesium, I suggest reading The Magnesium Miracle by Dr Carolyn Dean. Foods that contain magnesium include spinach, seeds, almonds, tuna, avocados and bananas.

Exercise in the morning

Outdoor exercise, in the daylight in the first half of the day, can help with mood. Getting morning sunlight on your eyes (no sunnies or sunscreen as they block the natural rays of the sun!) and skin can help reset your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle) which is considered one of the foundation principals of health. This is also a good opportunity to get some vitamin D from the best source – the sun, or just daylight.  At the other end of the day try to limit the use of electronic screens and artificial light which stimulates the brain – try to switch to candlelight or dim the lights at least a couple of hours before bed, or wear blue-light blocking glasses.

Plan your food intake

Planning your meals is vital so you always have healthy food available, and no longer need to grab something unhealthy in a hurry. It may also take a change in priorities over some of your time to make these changes but if it’s something that you really want then it will be worth it. It’s never too late to improve your diet, to improve your exercise and activity regime, improve your sleep and to reap the benefits of feeling healthy and happy!

Change your diet

If you have been on a diet and struggling with losing weight then something needs to change. I suggest working on lifestyle aspects, particularly those I have mentioned – circadian rhythm and exercising or being active every day, in the morning if possible, rather than only looking at diet.

Eat nutrient-rich foods

Switch to focusing on nutrients – nutrient dense, natural foods – plenty of vegetables, a little fruit, meat, fish, eggs, occasional raw nuts and seeds and whole dairy if tolerated. Keep processed foods including grains in check – it’s easy to fill up on breakfast cereal or bread for a short-term fix. Look at weight loss as a long-term solution involving permanent changes to diet and lifestyle.  Drastic diets rarely work in the long-term. Many people feel less energised when trying to juggle calories and substituting healthy foods that may have a few more calories for calorie reduced, manufactured food with less nutrients. Diet, low fat or zero fat foods often contain artificial sweeteners which can affect mood negatively. Diet foods can often leave you feeling hungry, depressed and wanting more.