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Mind Renewed: Mental Health Tips for Effective Weight Loss

Updated: Jun 2


“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 NKJV) Being more aware of our thoughts and mindsets can determine how we approach our health goals and help us transform our bodies and health. But let’s also be real, how we feel in our body can affect our mindset in SO many ways. I know when I experienced uncontrolled weight gain while navigating through PCOS I was constantly comparing my old photos to new ones. The puffiness in my face, the growing midsection; it wasn’t my proudest moment. I can still say I struggle with my PCOS body (and my 30+-year-old body), but not as much as I used to.  Learning how to navigate through mindset, lifestyle change, and proper nutrition is not always easy. There have been AND will continue to be hurdles I will have to overcome and YOU will too. It’s part of life. And having willpower isn’t always going to be the answer. Willpower has its ebbs and flows and sometimes committing to lifestyle change and better nutrition takes more than willpower; it also takes SKILLPOWER. 


And there is no disputing that good nutrition, as an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, helps you to achieve the best physical health. New research shows just how important nutrition can be regarding mental health too. And building healthier strategies is often built around our mindset about them.


Nutrition and mental health are clearly interconnected. For example, you may have experienced the impact that stress and other mental health challenges can have on appetite, food choices, cravings, [weight,] etc. There are ways to take back control and strategically use nutrition and mindfulness as one of many tools to improve mental health.


[Medical disclaimer: [If you’re in crisis: Call 911 for a medical emergency or 988 to reach the suicide hotline.] There is growing evidence that certain foods, supplements, and lifestyle habits can influence the risk and symptoms of depression and anxiety. They may play an important role if symptoms are mild, and can also help to support other treatments. Please see your healthcare professional or book an appointment with me below to discuss your personal needs and goals regarding nutrition for mental health.







Mental Health Awareness Month


Replacing Thought Distortions and Gain Stronger Mental Prowess


Our thoughts can make or break our health goals. Especially when we place such high expectations on ourselves. It’s first important to remember that we are all flawed humans-don’t let social media, celebrities, entertainment news, etc.. fool you. We are not robots and not machines. It is also important to learn how to identify a thought distortion and to practice replacing those negative thoughts with new thoughts! Now, there’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself to be better, it’s just sometimes that energy to push ourselves is often misplaced. Finding that balance of pushing ourselves towards better or to grit and bear it when there’s a lot going against you, can change our momentum towards success. It’s going to take flexibility, not rigidity.  


We are all faced with millions of pieces of information minute to minute, day after day. To

make sense of this information, we develop a large variety of 'thinking habits'. Some of

these habits affect our relationship with food and how we use food. The problem is that not

all of these habits are helpful and a lot of our thoughts can be false versus accurate. It is completely normal to perceive ourselves, other people, and our world through lenses that are a bit distorted.


The first step is to learn what thought distortions and what are the most common ones are. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the definition of a thought distortion or cognitive distortion is, “faulty or inaccurate thinking, perception, or belief.” Check out the pic below of examples of the most common distorted thinking habits. Do any of them sound familiar to you?



Common thought distortions

After that, ask yourself some of the questions below and reflect on a moment that you experienced either of the distorted thoughts above: 


  • Is there a less harsh or less black-and-white way to think about it? Is there a 'grey zone' in here?

  • What would I say to my best friend or to a child, who was thinking this way?

  • What will happen if I continue to think this way?

  • Am I confusing a thought with a fact?

  • Could I try a different way of thinking about it, just to see what I learn?

  • Is thinking this way working for me, or against me?


Doing this helps us to be more aware of our thoughts and to have them work FOR US rather than against us.




Food and nutrient strategies for better moods

There are a lot of nutrition strategies that can help to reduce stress and optimize moods in general, whether it’s for depressed moods or anxiety.



According to the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia, “There have been many studies that have demonstrated that a good quality diet is important to the risk of or prevention of mental disorders.” This means that by eating a nutritious, balanced diet, you can lower your chances of experiencing mental health concerns in the future.


But, what if you’re already experiencing symptoms?


The good news is that recent clinical trials have found that improving food choices can help reduce symptoms and improve moods. Choosing better foods, drinks, and supplements can make a big difference. 


This article shares some of the latest research that links improved nutrition to improved moods and gives you some practical strategies to optimize your nutrition for better mental health.


Before we look at depression and anxiety separately, let’s go over some of the food and nutrient strategies for better mental health in general.




Eat a variety of balanced, healthful foods


Ensuring you get a variety of foods helps you meet your nutrition needs for optimal health (physical and mental) every day. This includes loading up on fruits and vegetables and getting enough protein, fiber, and healthy fats. A recent clinical study showed reduced symptoms of depression when participants improved the quality of the foods they ate for three months. The improved diet focused on getting whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, olive oil, and nuts every day; plus legumes, lean red meat, fish, poultry, and eggs a few times per week. 


Ensure you’re eating meals as a matter of routine


Sometimes our moods and life in general disrupt our eating patterns. We may forget to eat meals in the first place, or double-up when we forget that we’ve already eaten a meal. Regularly eating nutritious meals can help balance moods. Now, keep in mind, regularly, does not mean, constantly. I can’t promise there are days when you may only eat two meals. On those days, opting for a shelf-stable to keep with you on the go may benefit you and keep you from going without eating for too long. And if it will help, consider setting yourself reminders or scheduling mealtimes to ensure that you nourish your body and mind on the regular. For me, I like to keep my lunch time at noon most days. Or perhaps a meal plan that has all of your meals laid out for you is what you need.


You can check out my limited-time free sample meal plan from my program called,  “Eating for Happiness” by clicking on the picture below. 



Meal prep for mental health


Enjoy your meals mindfully


Let me tell you firsthand: Eating requires thinking. Period. I wish it was as simple to say, I’ll eat this every day and I’ll lose weight. That’s not the case, however. Eating mindfully is when you pay attention to your food when you eat. This means making thoughtful food choices, eating slowly, chewing well, and savoring the flavors and textures. Not only does mindful eating help keep you focused on enjoying the food in front of you in the present moment it also helps improve digestion and can positively influence mental health. Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’ve been in situations when my days are hectic and you feel you have to cut your lunch break short because of the amount of work you need to do so you make the hasty decision to scarf down your food only to feel really uncomfortable and bloated afterward. You’re not alone. TRUST I’ve been there too. In those moments it’s important to be present in the moment. Your lunch break is YOUR time. Turn the emails off and set your phone to Do Not Disturb if you need to. When I was working for WIC it would get so crazy that I would mindless eat my food fast not aware that I do have an hour to myself. I started to use the Forest app and set a timer to allow myself to eat for thirty minutes. And I TAKE MY TIME. With the remaining thirty minutes I either choose to go for a walk in the parking lot, or read a book, anything that does not involve my work. Then I was ready to face the rest of the day. It can be helpful to take this approach in other areas that involve your health as well.


Do something for yourself


During hectic days, you have to remember, that there are only 24 hours in a day so let’s not pretend that there will not be sacrifices in your life and routine along the way. BUT if I can’t get all of my 6-8 hours of sleep or fit in exercise or all of my fiber every day, I DO make the conscious healthy choice to do SOMETHING FOR MYSELF before the day ends. It gives me the endorphin feeling I need and the confidence to say, “I did something for myself today”. Mind you, sometimes that can look different EVERY SINGLE DAY! For example, I may have wanted to get in thirty minutes of physical activity in, but I could only fit in ten minutes one day out of the week. Or maybe the next day I wanted to get at least six hours of sleep but my nephew decided to keep me up or I was too busy working with my headphones and I lost track of time. (The latter has happened more than the first.😅 Fortunately, I'm doing a lot better.) The point is, while we may have a plan in place and we may feel we have thought about every possible hurdle we’d need to jump over, sometimes, life makes it harder on us anyway. Being aware and knowing when it’s something we can control and what we can’t is key. Take some time to think about what your routine has looked like. Are there any opportunities where it can change for your benefit? 


Consider probiotics


Several recent studies have found that probiotic supplements may help with depression and anxiety. Probiotics are friendly, live microbes that can improve gut health and are often found as dietary supplements. 


The ability of probiotics in the gut to influence moods is because of the gut-brain connection. The gut and brain communicate with each other through the nervous system, as well as via molecules called neurotransmitters. This is the same connection that can cause stomach upset during stressful times, and why some gut conditions can trigger depression or anxiety. It’s an emerging area of research now that is shedding light on how we can leverage gut health for better mental health. My two favorite probiotics are in the links below. They both can help you to better manage your anxiety and depression symptoms






Extra nutrition tips for depression


Enjoying a nutrient-rich dietary pattern can help to nourish your body and brain so that you can have energy and feel good throughout the day. A couple of nutrition strategies that can help with depression include curbing the intake of refined sugars and enjoying coffee in moderation.


Curb intake of refined sugars


There’s a link between depression and consuming a lot of refined sugar (like the kind found in sweets, desserts, and sodas). One of the reasons is that the brain depends on a steady supply of blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is the brain’s primary source of energy. When we eat or drink refined sugars, they’re absorbed very quickly and spike blood sugar levels like a rollercoaster. Alternatively, not having enough quality carbohydrates can also lead to decreased energy and mood. This effect can then impact the brain and influence moods. Many people find that when they’re feeling down, they crave sweets to help boost their moods. So while sweets may seem to feel good temporarily, over the long term they can lead to worsening mood swings. To be honest, it’s really easy to fall into the instant gratification of something that’s only temporary. Are brains are trained that way. Simply living in America makes it more challenging. Practicing pausing on instant gratification can help us to build better eating habits.


A nutrition strategy that can help reduce the intake of refined sugars is to have healthier foods readily available—especially when it comes to snacks and desserts. Instead of reaching for sweets and sugary drinks, consider fruits, nuts, and unsweetened beverages like fruit-infused water and teas, and unsweetened dairy/non-dairy milk].


Enjoy coffee in moderation


Coffee contains antioxidants that can help reduce the harmful effects of oxidative stress and inflammation. Coffee also contains caffeine. Low-to-moderate amounts of caffeine can help to increase energy, alertness, and concentration which are often a much appreciated boost for those who need it. 


Some studies show that there may be a “sweet spot” of 2-6 cups of coffee per day to help lower the risk for depression. Caffeine intake may affect different people in different ways (depending on metabolism, etc.), so proceed with caution to find your personal sweet spot. Adding too much-sweetened milk or creamers can also jeopardize our weight loss goals so be sure to be more conscious about that. Check out the next tip to learn more about coffee sweeteners and how to better manage it.


Extra nutrition tip for anxiety

One strategy to reduce feelings of anxiety or serious stress is to ensure you don’t get too much caffeine (from all sources). 


Don’t overdo the caffeine


While some coffee may help with symptoms of depression, too much caffeine can increase symptoms of anxiety—especially in those who are more sensitive to it. Some of the side effects of having too much caffeine are jitteriness, increased heart rate, sleep difficulties, and anxiety. Moderating your overall caffeine intake (from all sources including coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, caffeine supplements, some medications, etc.) can help. 


For some people, having no more than 400 mg of caffeine (about the amount in four cups of coffee) can help reduce some of these effects. If you start feeling these symptoms and you still want to enjoy your coffee, check out my handout on how to Build a Better Coffee by clicking on the pic below. There are tips to help you fix your coffee yourself or you're buying it from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Doughnuts. 




coffee lined up on table to boost mental health



Other self-care meaningful strategies that can help with depression and anxiety 

While nutrition is essential for good mental and physical health, there are other lifestyle factors and mindset strategies that can also play a role.


Physical activity


Exercise can lower symptoms of depression and anxiety—especially when done regularly (e.g., during most days). Physical activity helps us to reduce stress hormones, lower our blood pressure, and release “feel good” compounds called endorphins. 


Just 30 minutes of walking per day can help improve your mood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you don’t need those 30 minutes to be done in one session. Breaking it down into three 10-minute sessions during the day can add up to the same health benefits. 


Enough sleep


Getting enough quality sleep is great for your body and mind. Sleeping 7-9 hours/night can help you get into deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep which allows the body to repair tissues and supports a healthy immune system.


The most impactful strategy to get better sleep is to make it a priority and stick to a schedule. You can also try to stop screen time and bright lights before bed as they can trick your brain into thinking that the sun is still out and you should stay awake. 


Stress management


Other activities that can help to manage some of the stressors that lead up to or worsen depression and anxiety include mindfulness, meditation, relaxation exercises, deep breathing, and taking time each day to pay attention to the positive. These activities can help to reduce muscle tension, lower the heart rate, and calm the mind.


Examples include practicing gratitude or journaling about good things that happen, noting why you appreciate them, and focusing on the positive by challenging negative thoughts. Perhaps you can take some breaks each day to listen to your favorite music, play a game, read, or enjoy a hobby.


Stay connected


Being social with people whom you care about and who care about you is an often forgotten step toward optimal mental health. Reaching out and keeping in touch with friends and family regularly—especially when you need support—can make a world of difference. You can also meet new people by joining a group or volunteering to support an issue that means a lot to you.


Bottom line

Increasing awareness of thought distortions, helps us to navigate between what is true and what is false. Often times when we make goals for ourselves that seem very far out of reach or unrealistic, we complain and bring ourselves down when we really need to reassess our plan AND our thoughts. We often get in our way, whether that be the thoughts we say to ourselves (I’m hopeless, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve this, This is never going to work, etc.) Or we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves that would make even the most trained athlete want to give up. Remember you’re human and there’s a lot around us that makes it challenging. Being flexible with goals is key! 


Nutrition can play a big role in reducing the risk of getting depression and anxiety in the first place, and help manage the symptoms once they occur. The vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats we eat are used to help fuel and function our physical and mental health. This means that our food choices can help to optimize more balanced moods.


For your mental health, enjoy a nutrient-rich variety of foods that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and proteins. Cut back on foods that have refined sugars, and finding your personal optimal amount of coffee to enjoy every day can help.


[Once again, if you’re in crisis: Call 911 for a medical emergency or 988 to reach the suicide hotline.]


Need help planning and making nutrition part of your mental health plan? As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’d love to help.


Want to further uncover your thought distortions and build better strategies to tame them? Wondering how to add mood-boosting foods to your current dietary lifestyle? Want some delicious healthier alternatives to sugar-packed sodas and desserts? Need recommended high-quality supplements or probiotics? Book an appointment with me today to see if my programs and services can help you.




References

BetterHelp. (2023, April 5). 15 symptoms of depression and anxiety. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/depression/15-symptoms-of-depression-and-anxiety/

Center for Disease Control. (2022, July 21). Care for Yourself. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/care-for-yourself/index.html

El Dib, R., Periyasamy, A. G., de Barros, J. L., França, C. G., Senefonte, F. L., Vesentini, G., Alves, M. G. O., Rodrigues, J. V. D. S., Gomaa, H., Gomes Júnior, J. R., Costa, L. F., Von Ancken, T. S., Toneli, C., Suzumura, E. A., Kawakami, C. P., Faustino, E. G., Jorge, E. C., Almeida, J. D., & Kapoor, A. (2021). Probiotics for the treatment of depression and anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clinical nutrition ESPEN, 45, 75–90. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnesp.2021.07.027https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34620373/

APA Dictionary of Pshychology- Cognitive Distortion 

Food and Mood Centre. (n.d.). The SMILEs trial. Retrieved from https://foodandmoodcentre.com.au/smiles-trial/


Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, January 29). Diet and depression. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/diet-and-depression-2018022213309


Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, July). Caffeine. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/caffeine/

Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, July). Coffee. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/coffee/

Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, January 21). The no-drug approach to mild depression. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/the-no-drug-approach-to-mild-depression

Harvard Health Publishing. (2023, March 22). Probiotics may help boost mood and cognitive function. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/probiotics-may-help-boost-mood-and-cognitive-function

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2020, September). Mindful eating. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/mindful-eating/

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2021, October). Stress and health. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/stress-and-health/

Kamat, D., Al-Ajlouni, Y. A., & Hall, R. C. W. (2023). The Therapeutic Impact of Plant-Based and Nutritional Supplements on Anxiety, Depressive Symptoms and Sleep Quality among Adults and Elderly: A Systematic Review of the Literature. International journal of environmental research and public health, 20(6), 5171. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20065171https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10049309/

National Institute of Mental Health. (2022, December). Caring for Your Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/caring-for-your-mental-health

National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Depression. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression

National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Eating Disorders: About More Than Food. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders

National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Generalized Anxiety Disorder: When Worry Gets Out of Control. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad

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