Food & Mood: Holiday Edition

Have you ever felt dreary during the holidays, even among all the cheer and holiday spirit? The holidays aren’t always a time of celebration for all, plus its the busiest time of the year for many. But did you know that the food you are eating can be impacting your mood? Normally around the holidays, our eating lifestyle shifts to more refined foods high in sugar and saturated fat. Research shows that these foods can increase the likelihood of anxiety and depression.1 If you are struggling with depression, it is common to experience cravings for high calorie, nutrient-sparse treats during that time 2. Even though cravings are normal (yep, cravings are totally normal) it is important to have a plan with treats, especially if you are prone to the holiday blues.

One tactic I love to share with my clients is creating a treat budget. A treat budget builds awareness around the foods you are consuming and empowers you to make a decision about what treats are worth it to you. This tactic is particularly helpful around the holidays where treats are plentiful and if there is no awareness, eating treats can become mindless activity and can easily cause a domino effect. Because these highly refined foods increase the likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression, and, it is normal to crave these foods when experiencing these symptoms, you may mindlessly reach for treats to soothe your mood.

If eating treats mindlessly and often becomes the norm for an extended period of time (a couple weeks to a month), your body can start to adapt to this new way of eating. This means that once January hits and you return back to a healthier cycle (or even worse you swear off treats completely with a New Years Resolution); it becomes even harder to break this cycle because your body has become used to this type of fuel. Furthermore, changing the composition of your diet drastically can alter your gut microbiome (which communicates directly with the brain through the vagus nerve) and can cause further anxiety and depression 1.

But not to worry, there is a way to break this pattern. Just as nutrient-poor foods can impact your mental health in a negative way, nutritious foods can give you a mental boost. In one study, the happiness that came from eating eight portions of fruits and vegetables a day was equal to the joy experienced by an unemployed person finding a job 3. One technique I like to use with clients to keep awareness around getting fruits and vegetables is to set a goal aiming for the portion plate (1/2 plate fruits or vegetables, ¼ plate lean protein, ¼ plate whole grains and starches) a few times per week.

Want to reduce your risk of letting food negatively influence your mood this holiday season? Create a plan. Set boundaries with treats by creating a treat budget, and even more importantly, track your treat consumption to keep your commitment to your treat boundary. Keep a portion plate goal somewhere where you are everyday. This time of year, to boost your mood and help you navigate the stress of the holiday season- keep your goals and commitments to you close… and fruit and veggies even closer. Happy Holidays!


1Singh M. Mood, food, and obesity. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;5:925. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00925.

2Yau YHC, Potenza MN. Stress and Eating Behaviors. Minerva endocrinologica. 2013;38(3):255-267.

3Mujcic R, J Oswald A. Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increases in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. Am J Public Health. 2016 Aug;106(8):1504-10.

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