We are all very aware that grief wreaks havoc on our emotional and mental stability, affecting our minds and our hearts and often our ability to function well on a daily basis. While this may be obvious we often forget that something as simple as basic self-care: good sleep habits, consistent exercise and healthy eating can have a profound affect on our overall well-being amidst grief. In our Grief & Self-Care Series we have talked about how to find good rest when you are grieving, as well as tips for getting exercise amidst grief (and why it’s important). Today we will talk about specific foods that are helpful to our healing as well as what foods we should avoid as they can inhibit our healing. While our diet cannot cure our grief, it can certainly help ease some of it’s side effects.
FOODS TO EAT
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Leafy greens fight all kinds of inflammation in the body, including that of brain inflammation that can cause depression and anxiety symptoms. This article lists out the best leafy green vegetables along with recipe ideas for each!
- WHY? “Walnuts are one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and numerous studies have demonstrated how omega-3 fatty acids support brain function and reduce depression symptoms.” Everyday Health
- Avocados are a great source of healthy fat that our brains need in order to run well.
- Berries are the highest source of antioxidants and according to Harvard Health: “Anxiety is thought to be correlated with a lowered total antioxidant state. It stands to reason, therefore, that enhancing your diet with foods rich in antioxidants may help ease the symptoms of anxiety.”
- Mushrooms help to lower blood sugar which can help to stabilize one’s mood and also because it acts a probiotic in our gut. And according to Everyday Health: “The nerve cells in our gut manufacture 80 to 90 percent of our body’s serotonin — the critical neurotransmitter that keeps us sane — we can’t afford to not pay attention to our intestinal health.”
Not listed above but note-worthy, a study published in 2017 in the journal Annals of General Psychiatry linked probiotics with improving symptoms of depression (i.e. boosting mental stability and overall mood), possibly by either decreasing inflammation in the body or by increasing the availability of serotonin, the calming brain chemical. You can find good probiotic at your local nutrition store or online.
This article by Everyday Health gives a more in-depth look at each of the foods on the YES list above, and provides an additional 5 that are helpful for reducing brain inflammation that can cause stress, depression or depression-like tendencies and emotional instability.
FOODS TO AVOID
- “The simple act of eating sugar makes your brain work at a suboptimal level—and the more you do it, the greater your risk of depression.” Eat This, Not That!
- Alcohol can cause problems with our sleep, problems with our blood sugar and simple dehydration — all things that contribute to mental instability and mood swings.
- Fast Food, Fried Foods, Hydrogenated Oils & Trans Fats (commonly used in things like margarine, snack food, packaged baked goods, and oils used to fry fast food.)
- Fast food, fried food, and the use of hydrogenated oil and trans fats cause our brains to not function at an optimal level and “optimal brain function is what you want, if you’re trying to stave off the blues.” Eat This, Not That! Along those same lines, numerous studies have shown that a diet consistent in consuming these types of foods will most likely result in an increased chance of depression.
- Caffeine can disrupt healthy sleep patterns resulting in mental instability and mood swings. Caffeine can also cause dehydration as it is a diuretic, and even mild dehydration can cause depression symptoms.
- Gluten can cause anxiety and depression symptoms even in people who do not have a food sensitivity to gluten. “People with non-celiac gluten sensitivities experienced a significant increase in feelings of depression and anxiety after just three days on a “gluten challenge” that involved ingesting the equivalent of three slices of whole-wheat bread, one recent study found.” Eat This, Not That!
This article by Eat This, Not That! lists a total of 15 types of foods to avoid that seem to increase anxiety, sadness, & depression.
Personally, I have found that doing my best to eat more of the YES list and consume less of the NO list has dramatically increased my overall sense of mental well-being. I am prone to feelings of sadness and despair, often unprompted and yet with a few relatively simple diet changes over the past few years, I have seen that I am less prone to those mood swings. Again, a diet can never cure grief or be a solution for loss but it is helpful in being able to cope in a way that is helpful as you move toward healing.
This post is based solely on my experience and limited research. This post was not written by a doctor and should not take the place of professional counseling. Every grieving mother is full of emotions that range from deep sadness to raging anger. Every grieving mother can also experience worry, overwhelm, exhaustion and stress. However, if you are experiencing intense sadness that seems to continue on and on lessening, or symptoms that are continually becoming worse, affecting your ability to function on a daily basis, then it’s likely time to reach out for help.