Serotonin is a chemical that is released in the brain and when serotonin is released it makes a person feel happy and controls their mood. You may have heard of serotonin when people talk about depression or a chemical imbalance. Serotonin can also affect a person’s behaviour, appetite and thinking and low levels may lead to depression, migraines/headaches, sleeping problems and memory problems. Low serotonin levels can also cause cravings for sweet or starchy foods which may then lead to binge eating.
Serotonin is made out of protein and so if you aren’t eating enough protein you could have low serotonin levels. This is why protein is vital in anyone’s diet but especially in those who already struggle with their mental health.
It isn’t just protein that is important for serotonin, in order for serotonin to be taken up into the brain it requires insulin which is released when we eat starchy foods as well as zinc and vitamin C.
To keep a person’s mood steady and stable throughout the day the person requires regular and balanced meals that include starchy food at least every 5-6 hours.
I think that the serotonin story can help eating disorder sufferers understand why restrictive eating leads to low mood and related problems but also I personally find that seeing food has a purpose helps me to eat it and feel okay about eating it.
For example, if I ate 2 slices of peanut butter on toast with some orange juice that would be perfect for my serotonin, the toast provides the insulin, the peanut butter provides the protein and the orange juice provides the vitamins. Why should I feel guilty about helping my mental health? With a lifted mood it will be so much easier to get through the day.
It is important to remember that food isn’t just calories, fat and weight gain like your eating disorder will tell you. Food helps your mind, nails, skin, hair, organs….the list is endless. Food has a purpose.
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