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The link between food and depression is not one often discussed, but it is real. Now dieticians Amanda Smyth and Holly Hoskins have created Australia's first online program using nutrition to help improve gut and mental health after doing a deep dive into nutrition psychiatry. Here, Holly talks with Lifestyle News.

Q: Why did you start Mood Food Nutrition?

A: Amanda had her own experience with depression when her beautiful eight-year-old boy went from being a happy and engaged little learner to sobbing on the floor unable to get dressed for school, let alone think about learning.

Her family life became very tense, every day was a battle to get him out of the house and they were desperate to understand why their little boy had suddenly become depressed when nothing in his world had changed.

After months of counselling did nothing to improve his mood, they were offered medication which was not a path they wanted to go down with an eight year old, due to the serious side effects of medication.

It's often been said that a worried mother does more research than the FBI and Amanda can confirm this is true, and she hit the research to find out everything she could about depression.

This is when we discovered the emerging research in an area called nutrition psychiatry. Depression is now being described as a whole-body disorder, starting with a process of inflammation.

And we know from the research, diet is the leading cause of inflammation in the body. This was a big AHA moment for us, and a moment we knew we could make a difference.

When you think of the risk factors for mental health disorders, they are not easily modifiable. They include family history, genetics, early life trauma, life stress.

However, recent scientific research has now proven that diet is an independent risk factor for mental disorders, which of course is very modifiable.

We are also both dieticians for the Queensland Police Service. Being immersed in this culture, we have experienced first-hand the positive impact that improving your diet has on reducing the risk of depression and improving treatment outcomes.

So we decided to create Mood Food Nutrition, Australia's first online program using nutrition to help gut improve gut and mental health. developed and delivered by dieticians.

Educating users to support good mental health should be easily accessible to all, no matter where you live or who you work for. It needs to be household knowledge.

One hundred per cent of the population eats, and there are no negative side effects to improving your diet.

As dieticians, we love food and we understand the variety of things that influence people to eat and so we knew this was a space where we could really help people.

Our mission at Mood Food is to prevent, treat and beat depression through the love of food and we do that by explaining how food affects your mood, we show people how to eat in a Mood Food approved way, making small changes to the things they are already doing and showing them how easy and delicious food can be.

healthy salad

Q: Tell me more about Mood Food Nutrition.

A: Mood Food is exciting because it’s based on a new field of research called nutritional psychiatry which shows us that regularly eating highly processed sugary and fatty foods is consistently linked with increased risk of mental health disorders.

As dieticians, we know our diets are becoming more reliant on these highly processed foods and it’s now the norm to see kids and adults on their way to school and work drinking cans of soft drink, eating white bread sandwiches through the day and eating packets of chips or chocolate bars for afternoon tea any day of the week.

We want people to know that this isn’t just a problem for our physical health, it’s also affecting our brain and mental health.

Q: How does your program work?

A: Mood Food is a six-week online program that you can do anytime, anywhere. Each week you have access to a 5-7 minute video that’s short, sharp, engaging and full of practical ways to make your food delicious.

We provide over 100 recipes, meal plans and an individual diet consultation for the user and their family with a Mood Food dietitian.

We know if you don’t enjoy what you eat, you won’t keep eating it and so the program is full of our favourite foods. We love baking, quick mid-week family meals, cooking for friends and delicious weekend brekkies and over the six weeks you’ll learn how easy it is to eat amazing food all the time.

The real gold of the program is that you don’t have to follow our meal plans and recipes to the T. We teach you how to “Mood Food” approve the meals you are already making so that it’s not too overwhelming and much more sustainable.

All individuals complete short pre and post-program self-assessments so all the gut and mental health changes are captured!

Q: Is this a weight loss program as well?

A: Mood Food Nutrition is not advertised as a weight loss program. This was very important to us as we want it to be appropriate for everyone including families.

We really want to shift people's thinking when it comes it food. The number of calories listed on labels can be very inaccurate and counting calories for weight loss is outdated science.

Food is so much more than calories and our goal is to help people understand how to choose quality over calories when they are deciding what to eat. Having the skills to plan, prepare and cook, meals that are cost-effective, quick and family-friendly is what will help with achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

We have heard anecdotally that weight loss is a side effect, which is great if that’s what’s needed. We hope Mood Food gives people the life-long skills they need to help avoid yoyo weight loss diets.

mother and daughter

Q: Tell me a success story you are particularly proud of.

A: A standout for us would be a 45 year old mum who was suddenly starting to feel the effects of the last decade of raising two children and putting herself second to the family.

Low mood, low energy, gut symptoms, poor focus and lack of motivation were the symptoms she described.

After just 6 weeks of following the Mood Food program, she couldn’t believe how different she felt. She was so happy to feel energetic again, she thought she was just getting old.

The changes she made were not huge, she just made simple changes suggested in each week of the program, like swapping her white bread for brown, and after six weeks she had significantly improved the nutrition quality of what she ate each day and her mental health.

She wrote us the most beautiful letter describing how much more energy and motivation she had not only for herself, but her family too, and felt like she was a better mother and partner for it.

She is no longer bothered by daily gut symptoms and her partner and kids are now on board the Mood Food train too!

We are never taught what we should be eating, then we have babies and are expected to know what to feed them and continue working and trying to do it all.

She said Mood Food gave her clarity and confidence in how to plan, cook and prepare food and everything is better for it.

Q: Are people surprised about the link with food and depression?

A: People can be skeptical that something as simple as diet can be so life changing for something as serious as depression.

We see this in the media with its global response and coverage of the research results which see around a 30% remission rate of severe and moderate depression from diet intervention.

I think we all know that when we eat poorly, we don’t feel great. But a massive issue today is our environment has changed, which has had a huge influence on the way food is processed, prepared and advertised.

Consequently, many people are eating diets that are ultra processed, low in fibre and nutrition. On top of that, feeling perpetually low, no energy or unmotivated has become the norm for so many.

Comments like, "I guess I'm just not a morning person," or "i just don't have the energy." Without thinking it has anything to do with their diets.

Therefore, after people make these small changes to their diet like introducing a wider variety of grains, fruit and vegetables, they feel such a difference in their mood and energy, it is surprising, but also very exciting.

Because it's proof that you have got the reins to make yourself feel better and it’s on the plate in front of you.



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