Food and Mood


Published Date: May 26, 2022

plate of healthy food with wooden fork and spoon



May is Mental Health Awareness month and having lived through the recent pandemic we all understand what a toll anxiety and fear of the unknown can take on our physical and mental health. As listed by the CDC, one in five children will either currently or at some point in their life suffer from a debilitating mental illness [1]. These astounding numbers continue to climb even as the COVID pandemic numbers start to decrease.

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric condition and only half of the patients benefit from standard pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy [2]. Recent research has highlighted the metabolic origins of several other psychiatric and neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s dementia. It is now clear that positive lifestyle changes can likely impact the trajectory and scope of these illnesses.

Diet and nutritional patterns have an important role to play in how we manage and modify our mood. A poor diet, lack of sleep and long-term stress will promote poor food choices and impact self-regulation. In addition, obesity and related medical illnesses can lead to unhealthy behavior and worsening mental health [3]. Similarly, the inter relationship of our gut health and brain via the nervous system and additional neurotransmitters can impact how we are able to manage anxiety and depression. The gut microbiome is linked with the brain in a bi-directional relation commonly called the gut microbiome brain axis [4]

Nutritional strategies that promote gut health include eating diets that are wholesome and ones with a variety of real foods in their least processed forms. Including adequate amounts of natural or supplemented Vit D, the non-inflammatory omega 3’s, prebiotic and fermented foods are essential. Incorporating a ketogenic lifestyle, lower carb diets and time restricted eating are all examples of how certain eating patterns can be more beneficial. In fact, we can all start by staying away from all the ultra-processed content of the Standard American Diet (SAD). Limiting our intake of the inflammatory omega 6’s (abundant in processed vegetable oils) and refined sugars are additional steps that we can take to keep our gut feeling healthy

Have the conversation with yourself regarding why, when, and what you are eating, making sure you are eating only for nutritional needs, and focusing on REAL foods which are nutrient dense and satiating. Curb your cravings by making protein a priority and including healthy fats, high fiber vegetables and fruits. Practice mindfulness and be intentional with each bite. Don’t let that hunger take you on an emotional roller coaster, understand when its real and have tools in place for when it’s not. And if nothing else works, go back to the basics-physical activity, sleep and stress management. Be generous with gratitude and do things that evoke joy and laughter.

Choose wisely and allow your gut and emotions to recalibrate. That gut feeling that you have heard about, it’s real, how you feel about something has a lot to do with the health of your gut. For a deeper dive on the topic, check out the “Food and Mood” recorded webinar in the Obesity Medicine Association Academy.

  • Citations  

Monu Khanna, MD, is a dually certified physician in Internal Medicine and Obesity Medicine.  She co-authored an article in the pilot edition of Obesity Pillars and serves on three different OMA committees.  Focusing on small changes for sustainable weight management is her motto.

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