Women

Is cutting calories making you feel down? Here’s how to boost your happy hormones and still lose weight

Feeling deprived and depressed is common when you’re on a diet. When you restrict what you eat, the levels of ‘happy’ neurotransmitters in your brain fall. These include the hormones serotonin and dopamine, which are most easily produced when we eat foods containing fat and sugar. No wonder we commit diet sabotage when we see cake!

Serotonin is essential for feeling happy, content and calm. It also controls appetite. ‘Low serotonin affects sleep, makes us feel depressed and turns us into chocoholics,’ says Lowri T, author of The S Factor Diet (Duncan Baird, $16.5). Dopamine controls our willpower, and low levels leave us susceptible to overeating, she adds.

New research by the University of Montreal suggests that abstaining from fatty and sugary foods can have the same effect on the body as drug withdrawal. Feelings of low energy, anxiety and hunger or even the urge to burst into tears, are not uncommon when following faddy diets.

Feeling deprived and depressed is common when you’re on a diet.

Feeling deprived and depressed is common when you’re on a diet.

When you restrict your food intake, you also restrict the essential nutrients (such as protein and fiber) you’re putting into your body, which affects your mood, says Patrick Holford, nutrition expert and author of The Optimum Nutrition Bible (Piatkus; $22.5). ‘Depression can be caused by sub-optimum nutrition, resulting in poor mental and physical energy.’ So to stick to a diet, fill your shopping basket with healthy, mood-boosting food. Here’s what to pick.

Good-mood fats

While fat - saturated and trans fat in particular - is notoriously bad for your waistline, make sure your diet is still bursting with omega-3 fats. Found in foods such as oily fish, flaxseed and nuts, these fatty acids are needed for your body and brain to work properly. Serotonin can’t be found in food, but your body makes it when you eat foods rich in tryptophan, such as those containing omega-3. A study of women suffering post-natal depression, by the University of Montreal, found omega-3 fatty acids helped increase serotonin levels in the brain.

While fat - saturated and trans fat in particular - is notoriously bad for your waistline, make sure your diet is still bursting with omega-3 fats.

While fat - saturated and trans fat in particular - is notoriously bad for your waistline, make sure your diet is still bursting with omega-3 fats.

Carry on with carbs

Tryptophan is also found in high-protein foods such as eggs, chicken and beans. However, this doesn’t mean that people following high-protein diets are the happiest summers. Once tryptophan is converted to serotonin, it has to be absorbed by the bra n to give you an emotional boost, says Turner.

Insulin, released when you eat carbs, helps the brain absorb serotonin, but while bread. cakes and pasta made with white flour are on the naughty list if you want to lose pounds, eating wholegrain and slow releasing carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and brown rice are diet-friendly options. These will fill you up and keep you smiling for longer.

Motivation equation

High-sugar and high-fat foods, along with caffeine and alcohol are best at stimulating dopamine production, says Turner.

High-sugar and high-fat foods, along with caffeine and alcohol are best at stimulating dopamine production, says Turner.

High-sugar and high-fat foods, along with caffeine and alcohol are best at stimulating dopamine production, says Turner. But when we eat these, our dopamine receptors are overstimulated and it’s harder to control cravings. When you’re trying to lose weight, eating healthy food high in tyrosine the precursor to dopamine is the best way to keep your willpower intact and dopamine stable. Tyrosine-rich foods include almonds bananas, fish and soy. Plus, exercise regularly and have lots of sex to keep your dopamine receptors stimulated, the healthy way. High-sugar and high-fat foods, along with caffeine and alcohol, are best at stimulating dopamine production, says Turner. But when we eat these, our dopamine receptors are overstimulated and it’s harder to control cravings. When you’re trying to lose weight, eating healthy food high in tyrosine the precursor to dopamine is the best way to keep your willpower intact and dopamine stable. Tyrosine-rich foods include almonds, bananas, fish and soy. Plus, exercise regularly and have lots of sex to keep your dopamine receptors stimulated, the healthy way.

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