Nutrition and food to balance emotions

By Lisa Brant | 17th February 2016
A photograph of nutritious pulses and lentils

What you eat and drink affects not just how you look, but also what you feel. Feeling, having emotions, is a natural part of living. We might experience emotional distress in response to particular situations, or feel stressed or anxious when we are faced with one (or more) life changes.

Emotions themselves are not good or bad. What is challenging is when we get stuck in a particular emotional state for a long period of time, for example depression or anger. Life can then get into a spiral – we feel unhappy or angry, so we turn to foods (or some activities) to help us to feel better, but often the things that we turn to can make us feel worse! People experiencing chronic stress (very common in western societies) may feel anxious all of the time, or have difficulty sleeping.

Changing your diet can bring about changes in the chemicals in our brains, which has an impact on our moods and emotions that we experience.

Here we look at some of the emotions people regularly experience (and stay stuck in) and suggest simple changes that you can make to your diet to help you return back to your centre, to be balanced emotionally. Rather than reach immediately for specific herbs, supplements or drugs (medicinal or otherwise!), we discuss here things that most people have already in their kitchen.

  • Mood swings

Foods that are good sources of soluble fibre are great for helping to smooth out mood swings. Include more brown rice, oats, apples, carrots and beans into your diet. These items in particular help to slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood, meaning that you will experience fewer highs and lows. Consider whether you have an adequate supply of vitamin D; this comes from exposure to the sun, as well as from eggs, cheese and fish – if you are looking for a vegan source then look to fortified soy milk or yoghurts, or consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Mood swings can also be linked to hormonal imbalance – click to read our earlier blog on foods for hormonal balance.

  • Depression

If you sometimes experience depression, sadness or similar emotions, you might want to check how much omega 3 fatty acids you include in your diet. Good vegan source of omega 3 fatty acids include: flaxseed (remember to grind the seeds, as they are eliminated from the body without the good stuff being absorbed if they are consumed whole), walnuts, avocados and wholegrains. You might also want to look at the balance of omega 3 and omega 6 in your diet – if you consume lots of peanut butter, processed vegetable oils (like walnut, soybean, sesame, sunflower, safflower oils) or margarine, but few food products rich in omega 3 then you might want to reduce your intake of the foods high in omega 6 and certainly increase the amount of foods high in omega 3. The body needs both for proper healthy functioning.

Some studies have also found a link between depression and low intake of folate. Good sources include nuts, fruit, veggies (in particular the dark leafy greens) and legumes.

Eastern medicine links depression to liver problems, so it is important that you reduce or exclude products that challenge the liver – like alcohol, caffeine. You might consider a liver cleanse (seek support from a nutritional therapist, natural doctor or maybe a doctor of Chinese medicine). Certainly increase your intake of lemon water (room temperature water with a slice and squeeze of lemon – particularly good first thing on a morning).

  • Grief

The loss of a loved one can be very difficult and grief is a normal emotion to feel. Make sure you look after yourself, allow yourself to feel the emotions. Find someone to talk to, who will give you support. For your diet, choose to feed yourself comfort foods of the healthy variety – like our lentil shepherds pie.  Hearty warming soups are also great – try out carrot and coriander soup.

  • Anxiety

If you regularly feel anxious, then check how much iron and B-vitamins you consume. Plant-based sources of iron include dark green leafy veggies (kale, spinach, chard), dried beans, chickpeas and lentils, tofu, quinoa and peas. Make sure you also include food sources high in vitamin C at the same time (iron is better absorbed by the body when you eat foods containing vitamin C – think of including peppers, broccoli and most fruit).

For your B-vitamins, look to eat regularly things like: wholegrains, nuts, green leafy veggies and broccoli. Vitamin B12 is one vitamin that is difficult to obtain from a vegan plant-based diet, so you might want to consider taking a small vitamin supplement, particularly if you are a long term vegetarian or vegan.

  • Stress

Stress related disorders include difficulty sleeping, headaches, tummy problems (difficulty digesting food or going to the toilet regularly), as well as heart disease.
Remove the stress from the body – cut out or reduce caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, salt, dairy, meats (especially processed meats like ham, bacon etc) and highly processed foods.

At same time increase the amount of iron in your diet (see paragraph on anxiety). If you think you eat plenty of iron-rich food sources then check that you are also consuming sufficient fruits and veggies and sources of vitamin C as our bodies need one to be able to absorb the other. B-vitamins are also important in supporting your body.

  • Anger

Anger can be a motivating emotion, as it can prompt you to act, to change a situation. However, you need to channel the feeling and use it appropriately – screaming at your children, partner or parents might be a short-lived way of release and is usually followed by guilt or sadness! Seek to work out why you feel angry when the emotion arises, it is usually a message from your authentic self that something needs to change. If you need to, move your body – go for a walk or run, dance, sing loudly, jump on a rebounder, whilst becoming aware of what is it that angers you. Then consider if it is possible to take action to make a change to the situation; if not, move away or learn to accept it. Foods to support you in balancing anger include wholegrains, veggies like fennel, celery and cabbage, plus also beans, nuts, flaxseeds and sunflower seeds.

Holding onto anger can turn into resentment, so remember to find a healthy outlet for your anger.

  • Lethargy or tiredness

Check when this happens – is it after certain foods? Also consider, are you getting sufficient good quality sleep? People following low carbohydrate diets might experience fatigue or lethargy more regularly, so you might need to increase the amount of carbs that you are eating. Consider what type of carbs you consume and choose the healthier one – like wholegrains, legumes, fruit and veggies. Make sure you eat breakfast every day, maybe a juice (add in flaxseeds or chia seeds) if you are short on time?

General nutrition tips

For all emotional balancing, it is best to reduce (or exclude) your intake of salt, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, meat and dairy, and to cut out all processed foods. The closer you can eat to how nature produced a food, the better!

Warm food can feel more supportive to the body, so make yourself some homemade soups, stews and dishes that bring in wholegrains (like millet, brown rice or buckwheat).

Veggies which really help to balance our emotions (as they give our body great nutrition) include broccoli and leafy greens (spinach, kale and chard).

Make sure you drink sufficient water – room temperature water is better for your digestive system than ice cold water.

Other tips

Other things you can do to help to balance (and release) your emotions include:

  • Aromatherapy – peppermint (clears the mind), basil (relief from emotional fatigue and clears the head) and rosemary (clarity)
  • Spend time in nature
  • Meditation – read more about how you can practice mindfulness of emotions here 
  • Exercise – walks, rebounding, dance, aerobics. Anything that gets your body moving. If you feel anger consider a martial art!
  • Stretch – take up a regular yoga practice, 15 minutes a day can make a big difference to how you feel (read here yoga for emotional balance and release)
  • Get a nutritional consultation to check that your body is balanced for vitamins and nutrients, then make some tweaks to your diet to bring the balance back.
  • Deep breathing – spend a minimum of five minutes every day breathing deeply into your tummy

People experiencing chronic pain in their bodies might want to investigate whether specific food items are a cause of the pain – for more information read our article “Food to relieve pain” here.

For some people making a small change to their regular diet can make a big change in how they feel. For other people, they might need to make a change to their diet as well as making permanent lifestyle changes. Spending time at La Crisalida Retreats can help you to start making changes to your diet, and give you tips and inspiration for continuing it at home on a more permanent basis. Check out our food page by clicking here.

We hope you find your balance!

Headshot of Lisa Brant - Founder of La Crisalida Retreats
Lisa Brant

Lisa has been working in the field of health for over twenty years, first as an epidemiologist and now following a more alternative route! She is a therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa is a nutritionist so designs all our menus, as well as running the retreats. She is also qualified in NLP and hypnosis. Over the years Lisa has overcome her own health challenges with severe endometriosis and is happy to share her story.

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