Mood Food

Mood swings. Depression. Anxiety. As women, we get used to a fair amount of hormonal fluctuations and the occasional down day. But add babies, money worries, sleeplessness and mum hormones to the balance, and the occasional teary day can become less occasional. Whilst depression is a medical condition, requiring medical attention, there is lots you can do to help your brain chemistry by paying more attention to what you eat.

I recently interviewed Naturopath Emma Mihill of Higher Nature ( for a feature on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Many of her suggestions are directly applicable for depression too.

Mihill says depression is caused by problems with the body’s chemical pathways that lead to the production of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is your happy hormone (think chocolate and sex) and melatonin is your sleepy, curl up in a ball hormone. If these hormones get out of whack, you can get those anxious, tearful, the-world-is-closing-in-on-me days.

But whilst we are hard pushed trying to squeeze in mum tasks, stressing about babies, work and relationships, the last thing we think about is eating right.  It becomes cyclical: you feel down, you eat rubbish, you feel worse.

Then of course there’s the push to get thin. Some popular diets promote low calorie, low fat diets but healthy fats from foods like avocado and fish are VITAL (intentional shouty capitals) for your mood, your body and for fat loss (more on this another time).  And if you’re breast feeding, for your babies immune system, intelligence and gut health.

Mihill recommends eating oily fish at least four times a week or taking a good quality fish oil supplement. “Oily fish are rich in Omega 3s which are important for brain function,” she says.

It’s also worth knowing that serotonin comes from your gut.  So if your happy hormones have been created from what you ate at the weekend, how happy are you today?

According to Mihill, in order for your body to make the hormones serotonin and melatonin from protein, it needs zinc, B vitamins and magnesium. She recommends eating protein with every meal. “Reach for complete proteins like meat, eggs, hemp and tofu.” This won’t just help brain chemistry but will also help to keep blood sugar levels stable, keeping those carbohydrate cravings at bay.

I found this example of a celebrity mum’s daily diet in a national newspaper today:

Breakfast: Alpen or bran flakes with skimmed milk or a slice of wholemeal toast with honey.

Snack: Ryvita with peanut butter.

Lunch: Sandwich with tuna or a baked potato with tuna and salad with light mayonnaise and sweetcorn

Snack: Fruit like pineapple and blueberries.

Dinner: Grilled fish and vegetables or stir-fry.

Here’s how I’d tweak it to keep you fuller and up the protein levels (she’s only taking in about 25g of protein, I’d recommend 50g minimum).

Breakfast: Boiled egg/smoked salmon/avocado and slice of wholemeal toast with nut butter.

Snack: Strawberries and a handful of nuts.

Lunch: Sandwich with tuna or a baked sweet potato with tuna and salad with olive oil.

Snack: Apple with a couple of oat cakes and a little piece of cheese.

Dinner: Grilled fish and vegetables or stir-fry/chilli with rice/chicken and sweet potato wedges

  • Always have protein at breakfast and at every meal
  • Always have some kind of protein with fruit snacks (it will keep you fuller longer)
  • Plan your meals, even if only 3 days at a time
  • Eat with your children during the day, it’s more preparation time but will make sure you eat
  • If you feel hungry, have a protein/carb combination snack

Why Women Get Fat (from my sexy new guest blogger)

Here’s one for you all from my hubby, who has managed to succinctly sum up some of the adipose challenges we lady folk face daily.  Over to you Chris (please excuse wanton exploitation of my husband’s assets in my choice of image):

“Happy Father’s day to all those who were able to celebrate this great day where I was allowed to take a nap on the couch. Best gift my wife has ever given me.

So the next section is why do women get fat. The simple answer is because they are meant to. Body fat is connected to your metabolism. When you lose it, your body knows about it and tries to control fat levels. We all have a genetic set point. A point at which your body will do anything to maintain your fat level. That is why unless you have expert guidance, you will put it back on. Women need more body fat than men because it is linked to fertility. If women have low body fat levels (15%) then this can impact fertility. One trainer who I measured actually had these issue. She was 10% and already had irregular periods.

If you were to analyse the fat cells from the legs of men and women, they would have a similar number of fat cells. However, what makes them fill up is a receptor called alpha-2. Alpha-2 receptors mobolise fat in the body and women have been found to have around nine times these receptors in their hips and thighs. It also has a poorer blood supply. One reason is to pack calories away and leave them there for emergency fuel during pregnancy. So women need to expect to have some curvature of their hips and thighs. However, what accelerates this process is the following:

  • Croissants, pastries with coffee.
  • No resistance training.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Steady state cardio.
  • Low fat diets.
  • Chatting with your mates at the school gates.

So hopefully you understand that fat is essential and with this knowledge, you can have a carefully scripted response for when your partner or female friend asks you if you think they are fat. This will hopefully explain why it is much harder for women to lose fat from these areas. So does that mean that it is impossible? Absolutely not. There are lots of things women can do to lose fat from these areas. Here are a few:

  • Eat more good fat especially Omega 3 found in oily fish or flaxseed.
  • Stop eating sugar.
  • Stop eating processed foods.
  • Perform interval training.
  • Start lifting weights that create a sweat.
  • Eat good sources of protein.
  • Eat 2 different dark green vegetables with every meal (or a green drink).
  • Get better sleep.
  • Stop chatting with your mates at the school gates.

Dark green veg has a chemical called Indole 3 carbinol. This actually binds to fat and helps to transport it out of the body. You can find this in most dark green vegetables. Broccoli, cabbage, kale and watercress are really good sources. Some of you may have heard my talking about alkalising your meals. This is a similar concept. The body fat range for healthy women is 15-30%. Most women who I measure think they are at least 5% lower than what they actually are. One lady stopped training with me because she didn’t believe that over half her body weight was fat. Denial is a wonderful thing.

I would seriously suggest that you know roughly what your body fat levels are. They correlate to health and can show you early signs of hormonal issues or common preventable diseases. I will have told you your body fat level at some point. However, it is useful to know how to discuss this if someone you know brings this up.

This is a brief summary on a very big topic. If you want to know more let me know before I see you next and I’ll go over it further.”

Tuna Balls Rock!

Nutrition and good food is a fascination of mine.  I love to cook it, eat it and above all share it. And given I married a typically atopic husband (asthma, hayfever, pet allergies) we’ve always been pretty cautious with Isaac’s diet and I’m really keen to find new foods for him to try which aren’t full of sugars and additives.  So I was delighted when, at a press event yesterday, I was given a copy of nutritionist Christine Bailey’s book, Top 100 Finger Foods for Babies and Toddlers, which is full of nutrition packed treats and meal ideas for little hands and sensitive tummies.

I’ve already got busy and today’s adaptation (I’m not one for following a recipe to the letter) was tuna balls.  Well actually mine were flat since it was easier to dollop the mixture into a pan with a teaspoon than to carefully shape the mixture into balls.  It’s a great recipe for pescatarians and I added ground flaxseed to mine which is an excellent source of Omega 3, great for growing brains and essential for a healthy gut.

Mum friendly? I managed to make and cook them in around ten minutes with a hungry Isaac hovering around my ankles and screaming at the food processor.

Tuna Balls, adapted from Chrisine Bailey’s Italian Tuna Balls recipe.

(this quantity is half of the original recipe and makes enough for 3 standard or 2 hearty toddler meals – the mixture keeps in the fridge for a couple of days)

Half a can of tuna steaks in olive/sunflower oil (drained);

50g wholemeal breadcrumbs (or bread)

1tbsp ground flaxseed (optional)

1 egg (Christine Bailey uses ricotta and egg but I’ve adapted it to be dairy free)

1 tbsp basil leaves

Grated zest of half a lemon


Put the bread in a food processor and whizz until it’s crumbs.

Add the basil and lemon zest and whizz a bit more!

Add the egg and the tuna and whizz a little until the mixture comes together.

Heat a tbsp of oil in a pan and drop flat patties of the mixture into the hot oil with a teaspoon.  Cook for a few minutes on either side.

Et voila!

Ready for birth? Connecting with your rose.

There is, quite rightly, a lot of talk about strengthening, squeezing and lifting of your pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy and (hopefully) beyond into your grandparenting years.  But what of those – arduous for many – few hours spent pushing a baby’s head out of your rose garden?  As important as it is to close and lift your pelvic floor muscles, it’s also helpful to encourage relaxation towards the end of your pregnancy in order to ease a baby out with maximal efficiency yet minimal damage!

Opening the rose is an exercise specifically designed for the last part of your pregnancy and really goes hand in hand with the delights of perineal massage.  It’s about relaxing your bits and connecting with the right tubes and holes in readiness for your precious bundle to come, slowly (to avoid tears), yet steadily into the world.

How to do it:

At home, find yourself a comfortable position reclined on your sofa, a bean bag, or bed (propped up with cushions).

Allow your legs to open wide to the sides and relax.

In this position your focus is on completely relaxing your pelvic floor muscles.

Imagine the gentle hum of your pelvic floor, then let them relax, almost outwards (but don’t push)!

Imagine the path your baby will take from uterus, through the cervix and out into the world.  Focus on the pelvic floor muscles of your vagina now relaxing and opening out like a rose.

Take time over this in quiet to connect with this area in preparation for birth.

Avocados make you fat and other diet myths. BUSTED

You may or may not have noticed that I rarely stray into the world of diets or calorie counting.  I make no secret of the fact that I detest Weight Watchers. I think the diet industry is just that, an industry.  Its advertising preys on our insecurities and makes us feel worse about ourselves (and therefore eat more crap).

I also hate diet products. If you take out a perfectly wholesome-in-moderation constituent ingredient like butter and replace it with an ingredients list that you no longer understand without a PhD in Biochemistry, it stands to reason it will clog up your system with toxins and just make you feel rubbish. If I’m going to tox up my system with anything, I’d rather it was a large glass of red wine.

Gym advertising also bugs me with all its drop-a-dress-size, shape-up-for-summer, only-this-gym-will-make-you-thin nonsense.

And then there was this, kindly shared on Facebook today by a fellow fitness friend of mine. It’s from an American fitness magazine:

Seriously Ms Anderson.  You may have high profile celebrity clients but try picking up a tantrumming toddler when you’ve only ever trained with 1.5kg weights and what working mum has the time to spend 90 minutes exercising six times a week?

Have you spotted the theme yet?

Yes it’s all lies.  But what jars most of all with me is that none of the above examples is positive, or empowering.  None encourages health and most importantly none encourages happiness.

Yes, joining a gym, signing up to Weight Watchers and believing avocados are devil’s food, or trying out Tracey Anderson’s method might make you feel like you’re doing something positive but it’s all temporary.  And worse than that, it’s signing up to someone elses’s ideal of what you should be.

I believe the main reason we over eat is because we are unhappy and choose food to make ourselves feel a little better.  Don’t believe me?  What bride ever over ate on her wedding day?  Listen to what your little inner voice is telling you the next time you open the biscuit jar lid or pour yourself another glass of wine.

Now I could tell you that noone ever got obese from an avocado obsession, that sugar is by far the bigger enemy to your system than butter ever could be, that if you truly understood the damage artificial sweeteners did to your health you would gag at the sight of diet soda, that the quickest route to a fat bum is buttered toast for breakfast or that the best thing you could do for your body is find some form of exercise you enjoy, surround yourself with people who make you happy and build a healthy relationship with vegetables and your local fishmonger and butcher … but then you already know that.

So if you’re ready to turn your back on points counting, to quit the long distance cardio and switch to weight training for great results, to form a lasting, healthy relationship with good food and above all to take personal responsibility for your health and wellbeing then maybe we can have a chat.