Feed Your Mood: The Link between Diet and Mental Health

What foods are associated with increased psychiatric symptoms? What should you eat if you want to boost your mood? Learn what researchers have found when it comes to diet and mental well-being.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

You may have heard of the “food-mood connection.” Research indicates that our food choices greatly impact not only physical health, but mental well-being. Some foods seem to boost mood and reduce psychiatric symptoms while others are linked to depression and anxiety.

Mood Thugs

Sugar negatively impacts mood and slows memory and learning. High-sugar diets are associated with smaller brain volume. Furthermore, sugar will make you less alert and more tired. A recent study found that the idea of a “sugar rush” is myth.

Sugar is not the only villain; fat can be just as harmful. One study found that a high-fat diet may lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, trans fat may lead to poor memory function.

If you have bipolar disorder, avoid processed meats such as jerky, hot dogs, etc. Researchers found that nitrates in processed meats are associated with mania.

Mood Champions

A diet high in fiber and vegetables (with limited fast food and added sugars) has been linked to improved mood and a reduction in depressive symptoms. Interestingly, women seem to benefit more than men, and the effect is even greater when exercise is added. A vegan or plant-based diet is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Fruits and vegetables are good for mood, but raw fruits and veggies are better. A raw diet is associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing and lower levels of psychiatric symptoms. According to a recent study, the top raw food associated with mental wellness are apples, bananas, berries, carrots, citrus fruits, cucumbers,  grapefruit, kiwi, lettuce, and dark, leafy greens.

So how many servings of fruit/veggies should you eat per day for optimal mental health? At least 8, according to one study that found happiness benefits were evident for each portion for up to 8 servings per day.

What nutrients should you include in your diet for improved mental health? Research indicates the following are important for mental wellbeing:  Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, flaxseed, walnuts), phospholipids (egg yolk, soybeans), niacin (liver, avocado, brown rice), folate (legumes, beets, broccoli), vitamin B6 (chickpeas, tuna), and vitamin B12 (sardines, fortified nutritional yeast).

In sum, skip the fast food and soda; head to the salad bar instead to feed your mood and your belly!


References

Bonnie Beezhold, Cynthia Radnitz, Amy Rinne & Julie DiMatteo (2015) Vegans report less stress and anxiety than omnivores, Nutritional Neuroscience, 18:7, 289-296, DOI: 10.1179/1476830514Y.0000000164

Boston University. (2017, April 20). Is soda bad for your brain? (And is diet soda worse?): Both sugary, diet drinks correlated with accelerated brain aging. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420162254.htm

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2018, July 18). Beef jerky and other processed meats associated with manic episodes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180718082225.htm

Knüppel, A., Shipley, M. J., Llewellyn, C. H., & Brunner, E. J. (2017). Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific reports7(1), 6287. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7

Lim SY, Kim EJ, Kim A, Lee HJ, Choi HJ, Yang SJ.   Nutritional Factors Affecting Mental Health.   Clin Nutr Res. 2016 Jul;5(3):143-152. https://doi.org/10.7762/cnr.2016.5.3.143

University of California, Los Angeles. (2012, May 15). This is your brain on sugar: Study shows high-fructose diet sabotages learning, memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120515150938.htm

University of California, San Diego Health Sciences. (2015, June 17). Dietary trans fat linked to worse memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150617144237.htm

University of Manchester. (2019, February 5). Healthy diet can ease symptoms of depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190205090511.htm

University of Otago. (2018, April 16). Raw fruit and vegetables provide better mental health outcomes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180416101403.htm

University of Warwick. (2016, July 10). Fruit and veggies give you the feel-good factor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160710094239.htm

University of Warwick. (2019, April 4). No such thing as ‘sugar rush’! Sugar worsens mood rather than improving it. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190404104345.htm

Wiley. (2015, October 19). High-fat diet may cause changes in brain that lead to anxiety, depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151019123204.htm

Sites with Helpful Resource Lists

A list with links to other sites’ resource pages

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

I have a knack for finding resources. To compile the lists for this blog, I spend countless hours searching the Internet.

My main resource list has grown tremendously since I started blogging. In my quest to compile the most comprehensive resource list ever, I came across a few lists that rival my own.

This post will link you to a variety of resource pages (in case you can’t find what you’re looking for on this site!) If a link isn’t working, try going to the site’s homepage or sitemap to look for the resource section.


Community Resources (ADAA)

From the Anxiety and Depression Association of America

DISCOVER AND RECOVER: Resources for Mental and Overall Wellness

A blog with tons of resources

Expert Resources from JED and Others

Resources for teens and young adults

Find Resources (CADCA)

An extensive searchable resource list from CADCA (for substance use disorder-related resources)

Free Mental Health Resources

A list compiled by blogger Blake Flannery (last updated 2015)

Links (Sidran Institute)

From the Sidran Institute… tons of sites I’d never heard of!

Links to Other Empowering Websites

From the National Empowerment Center

Mental Health and Psychology Resources Online

A list of online resources from PsycCentral

Mental Health Resources for Therapists and Clients

From the blog: Info Counselling – Evidence based therapy techniques. Compiled/last updated 2017.

Mental Health Resources List

A fairly comprehensive list similar to mine. Updated 2018.

Resources

Resources for child sexual abuse

Resources (Veto Violence)

A searchable resource database from Veto Violence (a CDC organization)

Self-Injury and Recovery Research and Resources

Resources for those who self-injure, their loved ones, students, and health professionals

Sites We Like

From S.A.F.E. Alternatives – Resources related to self-harm

Veteran Resources

A resource list from Lifeline for Vets (National Veterans Foundation)

Books and Resources for Therapists

A resource list for therapists and other mental health professionals, including book recommendations and sites that link to (free!) printable worksheets, handouts, and more.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

This is a list of books and websites for mental health professionals. Please check back as I update regularly. If you have a suggestion, use the contact form on this site to send me a message.


Armstrong, C. (2015). The Therapeutic “Aha!” Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck.

Belmont, J. (2015). The Therapist’s Ultimate Solution Book.

Finley, J., & Lenz, B. (2014). Addiction Treatment Homework Planner, 5th ed. Provides you with an array of ready-to-use, between-session assignments designed to fit virtually every therapeutic mode.


ACT Mindfully

A variety of free worksheets, handouts, book chapters, articles, and more. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique and creative model for both therapy and coaching; a type of cognitive behavioural therapy based on the innovative use of mindfulness and values.

Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

Info and clinical resources, including archived Webinars and podcasts

The Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction – Tools and Resources

The Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA) is an internationally recognized research centre based at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. CARMHA conducts innovative and interdisciplinary scientific research related to mental health and substance use, primarily in the areas of clinical or other intervention practice, health systems and population health and epidemiology. Access free downloadable workbooks for stress in the workplace, depression, coping with chronic pain, and other topics.

Centre for Clinical Interventions

Free downloadable workbooks on anxiety, self-esteem, eating disorders, panic, perfectionism, and more

Guided Self-Change

A great resource for SUD assessments, group materials, and handouts

Personality Lab

Articles, assessments, dissertations, etc. on personality intelligence

Positive Psychology Program

This site contains a wealth of free assessments, PDF printables, activities, handouts, worksheets, and more. Search by category or browse blog posts.

PsyberGuide

A nonprofit organization that discovers and reviews mental health apps, which are rated as unacceptable, questionable, or acceptable. You can also search target conditions and treatments. Use this site to make recommendations to your clients.

Evidence-Based Behavioral Practice

Information on evidence-based behavioral practices; includes tools, assessments, videos, and free online training modules

Marriage Intelligence: “Love Tools”

Free downloadable worksheets for surviving infidelity, forgiveness, communication, etc.

Get Self-Help – Free Resources

This website provides CBT self-help and therapy resources, including a large collection of worksheets and information sheets and self-help mp3s; a useful tools for therapists or individuals seeking to manage a mental health condition.

Kim’s Counseling Corner – Therapy and Self-Help Worksheets

Kim Peterson, LPC-S, specializes in child and teen issues, parenthood, play therapy and relationships. She provides links to online worksheets or PDF versions that she has collected over time as a therapist. Topics include abuse, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and more.

Mind Tools

Free management, leadership, and personal effectiveness worksheets and tools. (Join the Mind Tools Club for a fee to access additional tools and online courses.)

National Center for PTSD for Professionals

Free handouts, toolkits, online trainings, and more

Psychology Tools

Psychology Tools is a leading online resource for therapists. Download free worksheets, assessments, and guides.

Self-Care Starter Kit from University at Buffalo School of Social Work

Designed to prevent/treat burnout, this kit includes info on vicarious trauma, assessments, meditations, and helpful links to additional self-care resources

Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12)

A division of the American Psychological Association, this site provides an up-to-date list of evidence-based treatments, and includes links to free assessments, manuals, handouts, etc. for many of the treatments

Therapist Aid

An extensive collection of free evidence-based education and therapy tools. Download customizable worksheets or access articles and treatment guides. An invaluable resource for therapists.

TherapyAdvisor.org

A searchable database of empirically supported treatments for SUD and MH

Ultimate Solution Handouts

Free printable handouts for therapists (from Judith Belmont)

UW Medicine: Harborview Medical Center (Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress)

Handouts/worksheets for clients on coping with challenging thoughts, anxiety, anger, etc. The site also includes a list of assessments.

12-Step Recovery Groups

An extensive list of support groups for recovery

Compiled by Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

There are a variety of 12-step (and similar) support groups for recovery. 12-step meetings are not facilitated by a therapist; they’re self-run. Support groups are not a substitute for treatment, but can play a crucial role in recovery.

The following list, while not comprehensive, will link you to both well-known and less-familiar 12-step organizations. (Note: This post does not include online-only communities.)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Cocaine Anonymous (CA)

Marijuana Anonymous (MA)

Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA)

Nicotine Anonymous (NicA)

Al-Anon/Alateen (For Family and Friends of Alcoholics)

Nar-Anon (For Family and Friends of Addicts)

Families Anonymous (FA)

NAMI Family Support Group (For Adults with Loved Ones Who Have Experienced Mental Health Symptoms)

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)/Dysfunctional Families

Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Anonymous (ASCAA)

Survivors of Incest Anonymous

SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training)

Women for Sobriety

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

LifeRing Secular Recovery

Celebrate Recovery (A Christ-Centered 12-Step Program)

Co-dependents Anonymous (CoDa)

Emotions Anonymous

Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)

Sexaholics Anonymous

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)

S-Anon/S-Ateen (For Family and Friends of Sexaholics)

Dual Recovery Anonymous

Depressed Anonymous

Self Mutilators Anonymous

PTSD Anonymous

Overeaters Anonymous (OA)

Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA)

Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous

Recovery from Food Addiction

Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA)

Clutters Anonymous (CLA)

Debtors Anonymous (DA)

Underearners Anonymous (UA)

Workaholics Anonymous

Gamblers Anonymous

Online Gamers Anonymous (OLGA)


Do you know of a 12-step support group not listed here? Share in a comment!

5 Recent Research Findings on Health and Human Behavior

As a #researchNerd, I’m obsessed with new discoveries and scientific explanations, especially when it comes to human behavior. Here are five interesting studies that have been published this year (and it’s only April!)

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

I’m something of a #researchNerd. I fell in love with my research and stats class in college. My undergrad study (on tipping behavior) was even published in a peer-reviewed international journal!

It was in grad school that I strayed from the research path to pursue a more clinical route (counseling).

Today, to satisfy my appetite for science, I subscribe to ScienceDaily, an amazing site that posts short summaries of the latest findings in health, technology, and society.

Here are some of the more interesting findings from ScienceDaily in 2019 (and it’s only April!):

Recipe for Distress

February 21, 2019

We already know there’s a link between junk food and certain medical conditions (i.e. obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes), but more and more researchers are finding a strong correlation between diet and mental well-being.

In this study, researchers found that people who ate more junk food (sugar-sweetened snacks/drinks, fried foods, etc.) had higher levels of psychological stress.

Original Study: Mental health status and dietary intake among California adults: A population-based survey

Why Is It So Difficult to Move on after a Breakup? Because Science

March 11, 2019

It turns out, there’s a reason it’s hard to forget about all the good times with your ex or get that cringe-worthy mishap at work out of your head; it takes more brain power to forget than to remember. According to a recent study, it takes a “moderate amount” of brain power to intentionally forget something. (#worthIt)

Original Study: More is less: Increased processing of unwanted memories facilitates forgetting

“Killer” Style: Men and Women Serial Killers Have Distinct Methods

March 20, 2019

Are you being “hunted”? Or “gathered”? It turns out, male and female serial killers have distinct approaches when it comes to killing. Evolutionary science may explain why men tend to stalk their victims while women’s victims tend to be people they know.

Original Study: Sex differences in serial killers

All about that Bass (Or Not…)

April 3, 2019

…obese persons were considered “less human.”

This unsettling study revealed that individuals with obesity are not only stigmatized, but dehumanized. Researchers found that obese persons were considered “less human.” This type of attitude can lead to ridicule or discrimination.

#fightStigma

Original Study: Blatant dehumanization of people with obesity

A Million Reasons to Read to Your Young Child!

April 4, 2019

Researchers found a “million word gap” for children who weren’t read to at home. In fact, kids who grow up with books hear about 1.4 million more words than their counterparts by kindergarten.

Original Study: When children are not read to at home


Hungry for more? Keep discovering!

Boundaries: Thoughts on Building and Maintaining “Good Fences”

Why is it important to set and adhere to healthy boundaries? How can you tell if yours are weak?

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

“Good fences make good neighbors.”

Robert Frost

When I picture a boundary, I imagine drawing a circle with a stick in the dirt… with me in the middle. I stay in; everyone else stays out. Boundaries are protective; they keep us safe. Without boundaries, you have no limits, no sense of direction. Without boundaries, you open yourself up… anyone can come in, with good or bad intentions.

If you have poor boundaries in a dating relationship, you could end up doing things you’re not comfortable with. Or, another example might be with your boss; if you don’t set firm limits, you could end up taking one extra tasks.

I once worked with a client who regularly violated his partner’s boundaries by yelling, “Phone check!” whenever he wanted to check his girlfriend’s cell. She’d hand it over and he’d review her calls/read her texts. It was a boundary violation for sure. Everyone has a right to privacy. (That being said, your partner never has the right to go through your phone, read your journal, request your social media passwords, etc. Those are all boundary violations; they could also indicate that the relationship is in trouble.)

Another way to conceptualize a boundary is to picture mosquito netting. It keeps the mosquitoes out, but it’s flexible and lightweight. It lets in air, sunlight, a cool breeze… A mosquito net is a healthy boundary. If you were to instead build a brick structure, you’d be doing a lot of unnecessary work and you’d probably still get bit.  

It’s best to be up front and honest about the boundaries you set (which requires assertiveness). With your boss, the first time he asks if you can stay late on a Friday, you might end up saying yes. (It’s probably just a onetime thing, right?) Seeing that you don’t say no the first time, he may continue to ask you to stay late or take on extra work. The alternative (boundary-setting) option would be to say (when he first asks), “I’m sorry, although I’d love to be able to, I have a policy against being away from home on Fridays. It’s family night at my house.” It’s unlikely he’ll ask you again because you very firmly (and politely) set a boundary.

On the other hand, if you’re passionate about your career, you could be flexible and stay late (especially if you’re hoping for a promotion or a raise) without feeling as though your boundaries have been violated. The important thing is to know where you stand (i.e. what your boundary is).

Equally important to setting boundaries is adhering to them once they’re established. There are people out there who love to test boundaries. A boundary is useless without follow through. Your boundary becomes meaningless if you say you’re not going to do something and then you do it anyway. If you tell your child “no candy before dinner,” but then finally give in after several bouts of dramatic tears, you’re sending a message. The message is “When I say no, I don’t mean it.” It’s important to be consistent with boundaries.

Signs of Weak Boundaries

  • A lack of assertiveness
  • Altering your personal values for someone (especially in a romantic relationship)
  • Having a sexual relationship with someone when you’re not ready
  • Not being able to say “no”
  • Trusting others quickly (when it’s not warranted)
  • Falling in love quickly or believing an acquaintance is your best friend when you only met the day before

Rigid boundaries, on the other hand, are at the opposite end of the spectrum. A person with rigid boundaries doesn’t trust easily or let others in. It would be difficult to be in an intimate relationship with a person with rigid boundaries.

How to Develop Healthy Boundaries

Firstly, know that it will take time. Be patient with yourself and don’t criticize yourself if you fall back into old habits.

Recognize (and accept) your right to establish and adhere to personal boundaries. Read one of Dr. Cloud’s books on boundaries or Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More. Personally, I like Co-dependents Anonymous’ recovery literature. It’s an easy read (four pages) and you can access it for free.

If you haven’t already, take time to clarify your values. You can do a values sort – there are plenty of free resources online. It’s something I frequently do with my clients. What’s most important to you? Family? Integrity? Kindness? Have unhealthy boundaries affected this value in the past? (If kindness is most important to you, and you identify as a “people pleaser,” consider all the times you’ve been unkind to yourself. Explore ideas for practicing kindness to both others and self.)

Also, deliberate on the behaviors you find unacceptable (in terms of how you’re treated). Looking back on past relationships, I dated men who cheated on me, called me names, were mean to my friends, and yes, even checked my phone. Completely unacceptable. At this point in my life, I have a zero tolerance policy.

When you establish boundaries, especially with those who don’t expect it (i.e. your mother-in-law or the neighbor who regularly lets his dog romp through your garden), anticipate some push back. It probably won’t feel good in the moment.

Practice assertiveness. Don’t back down. If someone is particularly resistant, don’t engage in an argument.  You don’t owe an explanation. You don’t even have to respond. Remain calm; walk away if needed. If it helps, pre-plan your exact wording. (“I’m sorry, but I’m no longer able to stay till 9 on Fridays. Unexpected circumstances at home won’t allow it.”) Be concise. Don’t be overly apologetic.

If the person you’re setting boundaries with is a significant other or family member, I’d recommend transparency. Let them know that you’re going to make some changes. Share how unhealthy boundaries have negatively impacted you. (Give specific examples if you can.) Don’t place blame. Talk about how healthy boundaries will positively impact not just you,but the relationship. It may still be difficult. There may be some tension; the relationship might feel strained. (And it’s okay.)

If you set boundaries and find them repeatedly violated; firstly, take a step back and reevaluate the situation. Have you been clear and consistent? If so, you may want to consider spending less time with this person or even ending the relationships. Unfortunately, while you can set boundaries, you can’t force someone to respect them.


In sum, boundaries are imperative. Skin is a boundary that keeps other organs in place; it shields our body systems from toxins, viruses, and bacteria that would otherwise be deadly. It keeps the bad stuff out (and the good stuff in). Healthy boundaries are our emotional skin. If you need a boundaries tune up, it could take some effort, but is well worth it. You’ll experience increased satisfaction in your relationships and will feel more confidence.Your overall well-being will improve; boundaries are freeing – by communicating your needs, it’s less likely you’ll feel angry or resentful. And lastly, you’ll find that others have a greater level of respect for you. “Good fences,” it would seem, are not limited to neighbors!

Worksheets, Activities, & Guides for Individual or Group Therapy

A list of free PDF printable worksheets and activities to use with clients in individual or group sessions

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Updated April 16, 2019

This is a list of worksheets, activities, and discussion guides I created to use with clients my clients. Feel free to print/reproduce/share. Please check back frequently as I will update regularly!


A list of ideas for group facilitation. Perfect for substance use treatment.

A list of check-in prompts to use with each group member at the beginning of a group

Each group writes a mini-autobiography that can be read in 3-5 minutes. Group members take turns presenting. A good icebreaker activity.

Icebreaker activity – good for newly formed groups. Each group member writes down other clients’ names. The facilitator then reads each “impression” and group members have the opportunity to share their answers. Group facilitator can link this activity to how addiction and mental illness are “invisible” (optional).

Another group icebreaker activity! Print/cut the cards, fold, and place in a bag or box. Group members take turns drawing the cards and answering the questions.

More icebreaker questions

Give group members 15-20 minutes to find signatures. The first person to collect 20 signatures sits down. (I usually give prizes.) The group facilitator then reviews the questions. (If short on time, use the short version.)

Cut up the cards and place in some sort of container to pass around. This activity is more appropriate for group members who feel comfortable around each other.

Print/cut these cards, fold, and place in a bag or box. In group, have clients take turns drawing cards and answering the questions.

A recovery worksheet for clients to explore what makes their drug/alcohol use possible and how to eliminate those things from their life

A recovery worksheet for clients to explore how they will find pleasure and fulfillment in recovery from addiction

A goal-development worksheet

A worksheet for developing goals for different life areas, such as emotional, spiritual, intellectual, etc.

A relapse prevention writing assignment

A tool for developing a relapse prevention plan

A writing assignment for an individual who is in treatment and has relapsed on drugs or alcohol

A worksheet for developing self-esteem

A guide for clients to explore their true selves