When anxiety or loneliness strike, do you find yourself reaching for a leftover Easter egg to cheer yourself up?
Many people turn to food to boost a low mood — particularly now that we are confined to our homes with treats on hand, calling from the fridge or cupboard to tempt us. There are good scientific reasons for this.
Eating chocolate, in particular, releases several brain chemicals that have a positive effect on our emotions.
These include serotonin (a general mood-lifter) and endorphins (known to decrease levels of pain and stress), says Ray Kaur, an expert nutritionist at WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers.
Many people turn to food to boost a low mood — particularly now that we are confined to our homes with treats on hand, calling from the fridge or cupboard to tempt us
On the other hand, there’s also growing evidence that an unhealthy diet can actually contribute to depression.
‘A lot of our members recognise that when you eat rubbish, you feel rubbish — and studies show that eating junk food regularly can lead to feelings of depression.
‘This is because these foods lack vital nutrients for brain development, including omega 3 fatty acids (found in oily fish) and vitamin B12 (found in leafy greens),’ says WW head of programme Julia Westgarth.
‘This is why it’s so important to fuel your body and mind with the right foods,’ she adds. But what you choose to eat is only part of the story.
‘It’s also important to see good food as something to be enjoyed and savoured — whatever the circumstances.
‘Take time to enjoy a leisurely weekend breakfast and set the table nicely for supper from time to time. It will all help to lift your spirits,’ advises Julia.
Today, as we continue our exclusive WW series to help you navigate the extraordinary challenges of lockdown and take care of your physical and mental wellbeing, we’re looking at tempting, healthier ways to make mealtimes an occasion to enjoy.
A bowl of fresh blueberries arranged on wood table
You could get the day off to a good start by sitting down to a tangy slice of avocado, lime and feta on toast or dipping into a lusciously creamy purple smoothie bowl.
Or how about a happy trip down memory lane that sees you whipping up healthier, WW versions of childhood favourites for supper, such as comforting chocolate bread and butter pudding?
Better still, not only will our WW recipes and snacks brighten your day, but they’ll also help you to lose unwanted extra pounds. Weight gain can be a depressing result of life in lockdown for those of us who’ve found the temptation of sweet foods and takeaways hard to resist.
‘Take a little time each day to nurture yourself with good food that will benefit your mind and body’ says Julia.
‘This will not only help your general health but also boost your morale to know you are actively making your own wellbeing a priority.’
Weight Watcher’s Avocado, lime and feta toast can be made in less than ten minutes
Avocado, lime and feta toast
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 3 minutes
80g avocado, peeled and stone removed
1 tbsp 0% fat natural Greek yoghurt
Juice of ½ lime
1 slice WW Soft Malted Danish Bread
20g light feta
1 tsp snipped fresh chives
In a small bowl, roughly mash the avocado with the yoghurt and lime juice, then season to taste. Toast the bread and spread over the mashed avocado. Crumble over the feta and scatter over the chives before serving.
WHAT TO EAT TO BEAT THE BLUES
There are key strategies that you can use to help keep your energy and mood levels on an even keel, says Ray Kaur, nutritionist at WW. These include:
Consume more protein, which contains essential amino acids such as tryptophan — found in nuts, eggs, meat, fish tofu and poultry — and is associated with healthy brain function. Tryptophan is key to producing the feel-good brain chemical serotonin and low levels have been associated with irritability and depression.
Oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, also contain omega 3 fatty acids, which have been linked by scientific studies to a reduced likelihood of anxiety and depression.
Eat your greens. Lack of folate, or vitamin B12, in the diet has been connected to a raised risk of developing depression, extreme tiredness, lethargy and memory problems. Good sources of folate include broccoli and dark leafy greens, including kale and cabbage.
Cut down on caffeine. It can be so easy to have more coffee breaks than usual in lockdown, but too much caffeine — also contained in tea — can leave you feel jittery and tired. Be mindful of how much coffee and tea you’re drinking and make an effort to switch to caffeine-free herbal teas.
Drink enough water — if you do not, you can easily be left feeling depleted, lacking in concentration and low spirits. Put a full water jug on your desk to remind you to drink. Aim to have 1.5 to 2 litres a day.
Move more. It’s well known that exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which can boost your mood as well as help you to sleep better at night.
This take on a chocolate bread and butter pudding is a treat for those wanting to lose weight
Chocolate bread and butter pudding
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 35 minutes
9 slices WW Soft Malted Danish bread, lightly toasted
25g low-fat spread
3 large eggs
3 tbsp light hot chocolate powder
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
200ml unsweetened almond milk
25g dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 160c/fan 140c/gas 3. Spread each slice of toast with a little of the spread and cut in half diagonally. Whisk together the eggs, hot chocolate powder, cocoa powder, agave syrup, vanilla and almond milk in a jug until smooth. Arrange the toast in a small baking dish then pour over the chocolate custard mixture and leave to soak for 5 minutes. Scatter over the chocolate chips then bake for 30-35 minutes until cooked through. Serve warm.