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When you’re feeling fed up how often do you treat yourself to a bar of chocolate or a piece of cake? Comfort eating does just that – it comforts you. The trouble is that this can make you pile on the pounds if you’re not careful. At this time of year with the gloomy days and long dark nights we can all do with a bit of cheering up. But for others this is a more serious problem and can cause depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), commonly known as the winter blues. Want to find out how to beat it? Then we’ve got the diet for you.
What is it?
The Beat the Blues Diet can help alter your mood. It’s based on a straightforward, easy to follow healthy eating plan of mood lifting foods to kick start your hormones. The plan also recommends daily exercise too, even if it’s just a gentle walk. It even encourages snacking!
How does it work?
By eating the right types of carbs, like the ones found in wholegrain bread and brown pasta that release energy slowly, protein, lots of healthy fruit and veg and cutting out junk foods with bad fats and bad carbs, like the ones in cakes, you can start to alter your moods.
*Wholefoods are fresh foods that are found naturally, such as
fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds. They’re full of nutrients that give
you a serotonin boost. Serotonin is a ‘feel good’ brain chemical, which
controls your sleep as well as your moods. Wholefoods are absorbed into
the body slowly, which gives your brain a steady supply of blood sugar –
keeping your mood stable and making you less prone to mood swings.
They’re also a good source of magnesium, which helps ward off anxiety
*Protein isn’t stored by the body so you need to eat a daily dose
of it. Protein stops your body’s blood sugar levels falling but it also
produces amino acids, which manage brain cells. In particular, Vitamin
B3 that helps combat depression. Meat, soya, peanuts and brown rice are
all sources of protein. Vegetarians and vegans can get protein from meat
substitutes such as Quorn, tofu, pulses, soya and dark-green leafy
*Sugary foods and meals with preservatives are a big no-no on
this diet as sugar boosts your serotonin levels initially, but it
doesn’t last very long and you soon start craving sugar again. This
creates a vicious cycle and can make you put on weight. By eating the
right carbs you can get enough sugar without your moods being all over
The Beat the Blues Diet would suit anyone who just wants to eat more
healthily. But it’s particularly beneficial for diabetics, as it can
help balance your blood sugar levels and also for people who suffer with
depression, including post-natal, bipolar disorder or seasonal
affective disorder (SAD), because it can alter hormonal swings.
What are the drawbacks?
As long as you don’t have any particular allergies or food intolerances,
this diet will suit most people. However, it’s fairly difficult for
vegetarians and vegans as it’s very protein based. This diet isn’t a
cure for the disorders mentioned, and it isn’t meant to replace any
course of medication prescribed by a doctor.
1. Always eat breakfast. This will give your mood its first lift of the day.
2. Snack regularly throughout the day. Rather than three large
meals, try eating six or more smaller meals or snack on pulses, like
chickpeas and lentils, pumpkin or sunflower seeds and dried fruit to
keep those sugar levels up.
3. Eat more wholefoods, like raw fruit and veg and fresh fish,
especially at dinner-time and combine them with at least one protein,
like meat, eggs or cheese, everyday. Start experimenting with different
wholefoods you like, that way you won’t want to give up so quickly.
4. Eat loads of fruit and vegetables. These will help you get brain
boosting B vitamins.
5. Drink more water. This will keep your concentration levels up
and help flush out your system too. It will help digest the extra fibre
you’re eating too.
6. Do more exercise or get outside more. This boosts your
circulation and produces endorphins, ‘feel good’ chemicals. Being in the
sunshine, or increasing the light you are in decreases the levels of
melatonin (‘the darkness hormone’ which makes you feel drowsy) and gives
you more energy.
Top tip: To make sure you drink at least 8 glasses of water a day
fill up a 1.5 litre bottle with water and drink it throughout the day.
We also get fluids from foods as well as tea and coffee. But keep teas
and coffees to a minimum as the caffeine will affect your mood, and cut
out alcohol and fizzy, sugary drinks altogether.
Plenty of fresh foods such as fruit, veg and fish as well as wholegrains
like brown pasta, bread and rice. Proteins such as beans, lentils and
tofu, lean meat, eggs, soya milk and nuts. But don’t add any salt!
Experiment with spices and herbs if you think food tastes bland without
salt in it.
Six of the best happy foods
These superfoods are all packed with vitamins and minerals to boost your serotonin levels 1. Tomatoes 2. Blueberries 3. Cabbage 4. Avocado 5. Kiwi fruit
Your typical day’s diet
Breakfast: Two Weetabix with semi-skimmed milk, one small chopped up banana (or any other fruit you like) and a handful of walnuts
Mid morning snack: A tin of tomato or pumpkin soup with wholegrain bread
Lunch: Wholegrain sandwich with three slices of lean chicken (or
leftover meat from dinner), lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber. Sliced raw
vegetables. A fresh fruit salad.
Afternoon snack: A bag of dried fruit or sunflower seeds and a natural yogurt
Dinner: Tuna and brown pasta bake with broccoli. Wholegrain bread rubbed with a garlic clove.
Pudding: Flapjacks with fresh fruit and natural yogurt Join our Diet Club
Try one of our feel good recipes:
Breakfast muffins Goat’s cheese on wholegrain bread with watercress salad Chicken casserole
Spicy beanburger with wholegrain bread
Tropical fruit pots
Theresa Cheung is a health journalist and author of The Depression Diet book, £7.99 Sheldon Press