Mood Foods & A Bowl of Concrete!

Mood Food “Food is the most abused anxiety drug. Exercise is the most under-utilised antidepressant.”

The other day I added a big bowl of concrete to my diet – yep not actual concrete but the ‘harden up’ attitude needed to get me to give up comfort food and get back into serious exercise again.

You see I had been in a bit of a slump – over tired from ‘sleeping like a baby’ for a few weeks (my 9 month old’s sleep /wake cycle was affecting us all!) and had got into some really bad habits around managing my fatigue by comfort eating…

Anyway during one of my late night wake ups I was surfing the net and found this really cool meme in the image from which said Food is the most abused anxiety drug. Exercise is the most underutilised antidepressant.” and it sparked me into action. The next day as soon as the morning routine was under control, off I went to my old 10km circuit to ‘eat my bowl of concrete’ and harden up! Talk about some hard, yet cheap therapy! After listening to myself whinge almost the whole way I got home and within minutes the endorphins kicked in and I was able to ‘turn that frown upside down’ feeling uplifted and positive again!

Later in the day I was working on a book manuscript and was fact checking on diet and exercise and began looking at the latest research on the healthy food pyramid – a basic concept on eating healthily that I regular use as part of my wellbeing talks. I was surprised to see how it has changed – yet the changes made complete sense in light of my own experiences.

The Old Healthy Food Pyramid

In the old days the healthy food pyramid looked like this:


When I grew up we ate tonnes of grains, moderate fruit, vegetables and meat and lower amounts of fats and sugars. Exercise was seen as an entirely separate issue. I remember eating large amounts of white breads, pasta, biscuits and breakfast cereals to fuel my hungry body.

I thought making this my number one food group was the right way to go – consistent with conventional wisdom at the time. What I didn’t know was how much of a negative impact eating these types of processed foods, grains and gluten was having on my body leaving me feeling tired and bloated.

I was very focused on exercise in my younger years and would have chocolate and sweets to give me a ‘pick me up’ in response to lethargy caused by my diet prior to going for a run or working out followed by more chocolates and sweets for energy during long distance training or as a reward afterwards. This pattern of eating and exercising was not frowned upon back then yet in hindsight was a long way from optimal. This also set me up for some long-term bad habits around the use of processed foods, sweets and chocolates as unhelpful ways to manage my mood and fatigue.

The New Healthy Food Pyramid

Now, with the increasing awareness of mood foods – both good and bad and the impact of gluten, sugars and artificial agents on both physical and psychological health, there is increasing acceptance of the role that food plays on our mood as well as the integral role of exercise.  The healthy food pyramid below from Harvard School of Public Health links the role of exercise with diet as well as providing more detailed do’s and don’ts in the food groups.


As you can see from the Harvard Healthy Food Pyramid the foundation of healthy eating begins with portion control relative to the amount of exercise you do. The next level is about high intake of vegetables and grains – but recognising the importance of whole foods and the harmful effects of many processed foods and synthetic oils.

The next layer is about protein with a high emphasis on nuts, seeds, fish, chicken and eggs. Red meat has been moved to the “eat least” category much to my dismay as a steak lover – but for a good reason! Dairy and calcium is a layer above and at the top of the pyramid – foods to “Eat least” are the red meats, butters, processed foods, sugary drinks, sweets and salt.

Mood Foods, A Bowl Of Concrete & You

So having updated my knowledge of mood foods and the importance of exercise I can see how my past experiences and conventional wisdom when I was growing up no longer apply and indeed may have been somewhat harmful to my mood and energy levels in hindsight. I can also see how important it is to continue to learn and change my eating habits as well as recognise the high value and therapeutic importance of regular intense exercise!

Do your eating patterns and exercise habits help or hinder your ability to feel energetic and happy in life? By being more aware of mood foods and avoiding the traps of comfort eating and in turn, making sure you include a “bowl of concrete” – a solid exercise session each day… you can optimise your wellbeing so you can successfully ride the challenging Waves of Life!

Ride the Waves of Life!

Dr Pete

The Stress Surfer

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