Healthy Habits: Cooking and Eating Your Way to Better Mental Health

Have you ever sat down to a nutritious, home-cooked meal and felt healthier, happier and inspired to continue eating right? What about being worn-out and hungry, indulging on fast food and feeling more irritable than you were before? As we explored in our last blogpost, a growing body of evidence is showing that the foods we eat can influence our mental health. Conversely, our mood and our emotions can affect our food choices and eating patterns – the sadder we are, the more likely we are to forgo wholesome choices for unhealthier “comfort” foods.

If you think about it, these emotions and dietary choices can lead to a perpetuating cycle; meaning it can be difficult to break out of a bad food habits when you’re already feeling low. Never mind that many of the salty or sugary foods that we eat can have addictive qualities that can make it harder to break out of an unhealthy rut. So, how can we escape the junk foods that are making us feel like junk and start eating for a happier future? In today’s blogpost, we’re going to explore some small steps that you can take to help to build better nutrition habits and achieve a healthier body and healthier mind:

Stay Hydrated
We all know that we really should drink more water but why don’t we? In 2013, 40% of Americans were drinking less than half of the recommend amount of water daily. Instead, they’re drinking sugary or artificially sweetened sodas, which in addition to being bad for your body, are bad for your mind as well. Research shows that heavy soda consumption can lead to a smaller hippocampus – an area of the brain important for learning and memory. Even mild dehydration can alter our mood and make us more irritable. The solution: drink water throughout the day to keep your brain working at its best.

Simply, Substitute
As the title says, this one is quite simple: instead of abandoning your favourite foods, find ways to improve them with healthier ingredients. Love dipping potato chips in sour cream? Try veggie sticks with Greek yogurt. Can’t start your day without some toast? Instead of white, try some whole grain out for size. With healthier ingredients, we can transform our guilty pleasures into hallowed habits without totally abandoning our favourite meals.

Follow a Meal Plan
As a collection of our habits, routines for better or worse are responsible for our mood patterns over a period of time. Healthy routines will help sustain motivation and wellbeing; unhealthy routines will keep you in a funk. To escape the bad groove, set up a new routine and follow it, like a meal plan. Planning healthy meals in advance and sticking to it can ensure you maintain your healthy habits and avoid falling off the wagon. You can also try cooking your meals in advance when you’re not busy to stay on track when you’re pressed for time. Take a look at Harvard’s 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating for some examples.

Stick to Regular Meal Times
Life comes at you fast. Admittedly, we’re not always going to be able to keep our schedules flowing down to the minute. But when you can, try to eat your meals around the same times everyday and you’ll be ticking towards better mental health. As we explored in our last blogpost, consistent meal times can also lead to a healthier heart. And when possible, try to share your mealtime with a family member, friend or colleague: eating together can help improve your wellbeing and your partner’s wellbeing, too.

Big changes can be daunting, but the first paces don’t have to be. Making small steps can ultimately lead to bigger and better strides into healthier habits and a happier life. For some more healthy eating habits, check out the Mayo Clinic’s 5 Key Habits of Healthy Eaters.

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