Mood Follows Food

white cup filled by coffee
Photo by Jonas Mohamadi on

My teacher, Dr. Leslie Korn, likes to say, “mood follows food, so eat breakfast!” I know many people skip breakfast, thinking somehow it’s better for their bodies to “wake up” before they eat, or they don’t like to eat before they work out, or they’re just too busy in the mornings to fix themselves breakfast. The more extended explanation of “mood follows food” is that mood follows blood sugar swings. If your blood sugar levels are not kept happily grounded and constant, you will experience mood swings. Without getting too technical, I’ll share what I’ve learned as I manage my own blood sugar.

Our bodies get the energy they need to function from the food we eat. After sleeping and not eating for 8-12 hours, your body needs energy to get you going for the day! Coffee alone won’t cut it – the body pulls energy from all three macro-nutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates. If you wake up and start your day without feeding your body, you may start to notice yourself feeling irritable, shaky or like you might faint, angry, unable to focus, and feeling restless, anxious, or fatigued. Your kids might throw tempter tantrums that seem inexplicable. You might also notice your mood drop and start feeling “low” or depressed. These symptoms are all common in mental health problems like anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD and depression. But they are also signs of functional hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

This is what happens when, after not eating breakfast, you get to the office and grab a bagel or donuts from the breakroom because you “just need something”. The immediately available refined, simple carbs from those pastries cause your blood sugar to rise quickly and then drop. You get a quick boost in energy and mood, but within an hour or two, your blood sugar levels drop just as suddenly, and you’re back to feeling tired and irritable.  This might look to you and others like “mood lability,” or seemingly unpredictable quick changes from high mood to low mood – mood swings. Believe it or not, with the pervasiveness of our Standard American Diet, our fast-paced society and tendency to always eat on-the-go, this phenomenon in a person’s life could very well be mistaken for rapid-cycling Bipolar Disorder or ADHD.

So how do you fix this? How do you offer your body steady, usable energy and stabilize your blood sugar to stop the blood sugar surges and drops?

  • Ditch the refined, simple carbohydrates and sugar (like breakfast cereal, donuts, bagels, etc). You can check out this post on sugar to understand more on that subject. Your body needs carbohydrates (which are turned in to glucose) to function properly, so don’t ditch them altogether! In fact, your brain uses half of the available sugar in your body. This is why if you don’t have enough sugar available, you will experience symptoms like difficulty concentrating, memory problems, or problems retaining information. Just choose your carbs wisely – no refined white breads and cereals. Complex carbs break down into glucose more slowly, allowing for your body to really use the carbohydrates for fuel.
  • Add protein. Protein acts like an anchor to your blood sugar. There is much to say about protein, but for now I’ll just leave it at this. By eating high-quality protein throughout your day, you’ll feel a more sustained energy as your body uses the food you give it. Whenever you eat, include protein. Everyone’s body is a little bit different, so use trial and error to figure out how much protein really makes you feel good. If you are heavy or work out often, or come from a heritage of people known to eat lots of protein, you may need more than others. (I personally shoot for about 10 grams of protein in a snack and about 20 grams in a meal).
  • Eat regularly. The easiest way to make sure your body constantly has the fuel it needs is to make sure you are committed to actually eating. Eat something within 30 minutes of waking up, even if it’s just a small pre-workout snack (with protein!). Then commit to eating every 4-6 hours to keep your blood sugar stable. If you’re hungry sooner than the 3 hour mark, eat! The key is to not let yourself get hungry, but not eat so often that you experience digestive problems.

Here’s an example: For breakfast this morning, I had my Easy Antidepressant Eggs with coffee. Since the eggs only have about 10 grams of protein together (maybe a little more since I added bacon this time), I also put some collagen in my coffee to bump up the total protein in my breakfast. Collagen is a great source of added protein that may also benefit your skin, hair, nails and joints! Try one of these for a tasteless, easily dissolved protein for your coffee: one, two and three.


Easy Antidepressant Eggs (THM-S)

Fry a handful of kale in butter (I prefer grass-fed butter or ghee). And more butter if necessary, and scramble two eggs over the kale. Maybe add some bacon. Season with turmeric, mineral salt and pepper. Easy Peasy! Turmeric is the star of this meal. It has anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory qualities. Don’t forget the black pepper, as that helps your body absorb the goodness from turmeric. Eggs are a wonderful source of protein and are high in choline, which is a building block for acetylcholine (an important neurotransmitter).

I hope implementing these simple dietary changes and modifying your eating habits results in wonderful improvements in your mood, memory and overall functioning! We are healing from the inside out!

Korn, L. E. (2016). Nutrition essentials for mental health: A complete guide to the food-mood connection. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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