Eating Your Way to Better Mental Wellness

Published on: June 18, 2020

eating for mental health

We know what to eat to stay fit, but what about eating to stay sane? Laura Martin explains the gut and brain connection and guides us towards eating better so we can feel happier during times of stress.

By Laura Martin; Photos courtesy of the author

What if I told you that you can eat your way towards happiness?

Due to the uncertainty of current events, kids being home from school, parents now becoming homeschool teachers, working from home, routines being thrown off-balance, and the lack of physical community – feelings of anxiety and unease might be creeping in at an all-time high. Add a child that needs your full attention and things just get much more difficult. 

Wanting to make better choices for yourself and your family during this time is critical but with the raised levels of stress and anxiety, do you feel like you’re making quick choices rather than smart choices?

I’ll help break down how you can use your kitchen to stay sane for 15 minutes or less a day and get your kids involved in the process as well! 

Gut-brain connection 

You’ve probably heard that maintaining the health of your gut is quite important. But how important is it? 

Your gut is home to over 100 trillion different bacteria (called your microbiome) that control just about everything about you. These bacteria control your digestion, weight balance, cravings, skin, hormones, genetics, and even your moods. There’s a reason that they call your gut your “second brain”. 

Beyond bacteria, your gut is also home to 90 percent of your serotonin levels — your happy hormone — and 50 percent of your dopamine hormones. This helps to explain why during these times of high stress that you may be craving a bit more chocolate and pizza than usual as it helps to give you a boost in happiness. 

It’s our biology. Our brains are wired to turn to food to feel better. This can either be used to our benefit or can exacerbate negative feelings. 

For instance, people with depression often crave comfort-food such as sugar, processed carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats. These foods can contribute to increasing the symptoms that come along with depression due to the constant communication between the gut and the brain via the vagus nerve. 

Luckily, it’s not all bad news. In fact, there are foods that can help make you feel energized and happy. These foods flood your body with essential nutrients, allowing the brain to produce neurotransmitters that give you a natural high. This is why I focus on using nutrition to fight depression and anxiety naturally.

food for mental health

Food for energy and when you feel run down

The healthiest mood-boosting foods might not always be the first thing on your mind when you find yourself stress-eating your way through the kitchen. When stressed it’s more common to be found finishing off bowls of greasy chips or sneaking in some of your child’s chicken nuggets. These processed foods may taste amazing at the moment but often leave you feeling less-than-amazing afterward.

Eating a diet that doesn’t align with your nutritional needs can cause damaging effects to your mood, which can lead to a weakened immune system, stubborn weight gain, and stress-related headaches. 

This is due to your body responding to different foods in different ways. Have you ever noticed that after a night of pizza and fries it’s harder to wake up in the morning? Or those days when your diet is filled with wholesome fruits, veggies, proteins, and fats you can keep up with your kids? Some foods can give you bursting energy and mental clarity, while others, like those full of processed carbohydrates — like white bread and pasta and deep-fried treats — can leave one feeling bloated and run down.

Luckily, there are foods that can calm those anxious feelings and amplify those feel-good hormones. Due to the direct link between the gut and the brain, we can influence how we feel with our daily food choices. 

Get started with these tips 

Not only do our foods affect our moods, but our moods affect our digestion. When anxiety and depression are at a high so is inflammation in the body. This added inflammation takes the energy that is supposed to be used to digest food away from the gut and directs it towards the brain.  

Have you noticed that lately, you’re a bit more bloated than usual? That’s ok! You just need to find a diet that fits into your life, meaning one that is built for the busy parent and with children running around. 

My top tips for getting started are:

  1. Drink enough water 

We are all giant cucumbers dealing with emotions. Our bodies are made up of 60% water, so to ensure that your gut is healing and your body is thriving you need to stay hydrated. On top of your cells, your colon thrives on water. Make sure you do this before your morning coffee! 

  1. Eat a variety of fiber 

With all this attention on carbs, fats, and sugars we have completely forgotten about fiber. Our gut thrives on fiber. This is how you can ensure that your gut bacteria are well-fed and thus your brain is running at top speeds. In any gut healing protocol, you want to aim for 4 colors of vegetables on your plate at a time to boost your fiber intake.

  1. Chew your food 

 Consuming food is a comforting experience and it is often used as a coping mechanism in stressful times. How many times do you eat quickly when you’re stressed about work or after a fight? Or how often do you eat lunch standing up while chasing your kids around? Doing this doesn’t allow for the necessary digestive enzymes to be used to help the body break down your meal. 

  1. Eat a whole, real foods diet 

First, you’ll want to identify which foods are causing inflammation in your body. Then you’ll want to opt for a nutrition plan that is rich in whole, real foods to make sure that your brain is flooded with rich nutrients. These foods help to alleviate anxious feelings and boost happy hormones: fatty fish, dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocado, antioxidant-rich foods, herbal teas, quality sourced protein, turmeric, and bone broth. 

  1. Find a routine that works for you

Your routine is not going to be the same as my routine. Where I see many people going wrong is when they try to compare with or copy the top social media influencer. Why set yourself up for failure before you even begin? Be realistic. Set one small goal and work that in until it doesn’t feel like work anymore and then add in more. 

Get going with this recipe

Even as you get better, it is still hard to change your diet. There seem to be few enough pleasures in life when you are feeling low. Our emotional brains can associate eating sweet food with reward, reminding us of being comforted as a child. This is why I’m a fan of helping students in my programs to find tasty things cooked simply. 

Here’s one of my favorite recipes that you can do with the kids, perfect as the hot summer continues in Bangkok, plus it’s dairy-free!  

Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip Nice CreamChocolate Mint Chocolate Chip Nice Cream 

  • 4 frozen bananas cut into chunks
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 teaspoon mint extract
  • 1 tbsp cacao 
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons cacao nibs or chocolate chips
  1. Add all the ingredients to a food processor and process on high until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides as needed.
  2. For a harder texture, transfer the ice cream to a glass container and freeze overnight. If you enjoy “soft serve”, serve ice cream immediately.
  3. If freezing overnight, when you’re ready to serve simply remove banana ice cream from the freezer and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Scoop into bowls and top with desired toppings!

 For more recipes and to learn more about how you can gain back control over your emotions and build a healthy routine into your busy schedule, head over to www.healingtohappy.com.

About the Author

Laura Martin is a Bangkok-based Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant and founder of Healing to Happy – an online holistic, nutrition-focused program that helps women suffering from anxiety and depression. After battling through depression, disordered eating, and hormonal imbalances that left her with crippling digestive issues, Laura has simplified the process of building healthy habits and guides others through their own healing journey with online courses: Signature Gut Recharge Program and the G(u)t Happy Bundle. If you want more information, you can contact her at Laura@healingtohappy.com.


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