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How To Deal With Mood Swings From Dieting

May 25, 2022
How To Deal With Mood Swings From Dieting

Cutting calories and exercising like a maniac can definitely put you in a bad mood, especially if you see your coworkers splurging on sweet treats in the break room while your stomach is growling.

Before deciding that a healthier diet is not for you because your outbursts alienate family and friends, know that it is not reducing calories or exercising that is the problem. What matters is how many calories and what kinds of foods you are cutting from your diet. Low-carb diets like keto are known for causing irritability and even depression.

Mood swings on a diet may be related to a hormone or nutrient imbalance, hunger, feeling deprived, excess inflammation, or lack of sleep. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising are essential for decreasing your risk of chronic disease. See if you can determine what’s causing your mood swings and return to a happier, healthier version of you.

Taper Calories Gradually

Weight loss involves reducing caloric intake and increasing caloric burn, but it is not as simple as eating fewer calories than you burn. This is because your body holds onto energy. In most cases, reducing your calorie intake by 3500 kcal does not mean that you will lose a pound. In fact, weight loss is typically less than expected.

Extreme calorie-restriction diets do not lead to long-term weight loss. Instead, they cause cortisol release, which your body interprets as stress. Stress and excess cortisol contribute to weight gain. Cortisol can also negatively impact mood, which is compounded by feelings of deprivation and hunger when you cut calories too low.

Taper your calories slowly. Pay attention to when you get hungry throughout the day. Instead of increasing calories, can you space your meals differently or eat more calories at one meal than another?

If you cannot control your cravings and hunger, there are medications your doctor can prescribe to support your weight loss efforts by reducing your brain’s response to high-carbohydrate, highly-palatable foods.

stress and mood swings

Embrace Complex Carbs

The glycemic index (GI) is a way to rank the carbohydrates in food based on how quickly they are digested, absorbed, metabolized, and affect blood sugar and insulin levels.

Foods with a high glycemic index cause dramatic blood glucose and mood shifts. When you eat something with a high glycemic index, you get a spike in blood sugar. Your pancreas releases insulin to shuttle glucose from your bloodstream into your cells. This causes your blood sugar to fall.

When your blood sugar falls too quickly or too much, your body releases cortisol, adrenaline, growth hormone, and glucagon to raise your blood sugar back to normal. Increases in these hormones cause anxiety, irritability, and hunger.

Carbohydrates may also increase the release of serotonin, a chemical messenger in the brain that is believed to stabilize mood. When you reduce your carbohydrate intake, serotonin drops which may cause mood swings.

Fill your diet with complex carbohydrates. They don’t cause the rapid spike in blood glucose associated with foods with a low glycemic index. Pairing carbohydrates with fat, protein, or fiber can slow digestion and reduce glucose spikes.

In addition to the glycemic index, consider the glycemic load, which is calculated by multiplying the glycemic index by the carbohydrates in grams. A high glycemic load can also cause blood sugar spikes.

Examples of low-glycemic foods include:

  • Vegetables: artichoke, carrots, celery, green beans, lettuces, onions, snow peas, sprouts, squash
  • Fruits: apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cucumbers, grapefruits, pears, plums, tomatoes.
  • Proteins: beef, eggs, fish, pork, turkey
  • Beans and legumes: black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans
  • Dairy: butter, cheese, milk, plain yogurt, sour cream
  • Nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, walnuts
  • Oils: avocado oil, extra-virgin coconut oil, olive oil

Get Your Fiber

Soluble fiber blocks cholesterol absorption, and insoluble fiber pulls water into the gut, preventing constipation and improving overall gut health. Fiber can also increase satiety and decrease hunger.

Foods that are high in fiber include:

FoodFiber per serving
Read-to-eat, high fiber cereal14grams fiber/ ½ cup
Popcorn5.8 grams fiber/ 3 cups
Artichokes9.6 grams fiber/1 cup
Black beans  7.5 grams fiber/ ½ cup
Navy beans9.6 grams fiber/½ cup
Pumpkin seeds5.2 grams of fiber/1 ounce
Raspberries8.0 grams fiber/ 1 cup
Chia seeds4.1 grams fiber/ 1 Tbsp

Fiber can help you feel full and reduce blood sugar spikes. Consume fiber-rich foods in every meal to help reduce mood swings.

low carb mood changes

Favor Healthy Fats

Each nerve cell in the brain and spinal cord is covered with a layer of myelin, composed of lipids (fats). These nerve coverings are especially high in omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). PUFAs reduce inflammation in the brain. Diets high in healthy fats are also associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline.

Fatty fish contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are the most bioavailable and easy-to-absorb fatty acids.

Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Salmon
  • Mackeral
  • Herring
  • Sardines

Other foods rich in alpha-linolenic (ALA) omega-3 fatty acids include: 

  • Flaxseed
  • Canola and soybean oils
  • Chia seeds
  • Black walnuts

Getting enough healthy fats supports overall brain function and mood.

Stay Hydrated

Up to 60% of your body weight is water. Water protects your organs, maintains your body temperature, lubricates joints, aids in metabolism, gets rid of waste, and much more. Mild dehydration can cause anger, fatigue, and mood swings. Not drinking enough water can also cause headaches and difficulty concentrating.

While it’s essential to drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated, avoid drinking high-calorie drinks full of sugar. They will sabotage your weight-loss efforts and cause glucose spikes, which can worsen your mood swings. Instead, try zero-calorie carbonated or flavored water if you like some zip to your drink. Flavored drinks may also keep you from reaching for high-calorie snacks out of boredom or as a stress reaction.

Balance Your Micronutrients

Healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, are associated with a decreased risk of depression and mood disorders. They also provide a wide selection of foods rich in micronutrients.

Mediterranean dietary patterns stress

  • Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes.
  • Moderate consumption of poultry, eggs, and dairy.
  • Occasional consumption of red meat.

A study conducted as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that nearly one-third of U.S. adults and children were deficient in at least one of the following micronutrients:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Folate

Deficiencies in these vitamins and nutrients can affect mood, brain function, and immune function. Vitamin D receptors are found on immune cells. Vitamin D modulates the adaptive and innate immune systems, making it a key vitamin for staying healthy.

Vitamin D is found in limited quantities in the diet. However, just 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight twice a week can help you fill a vitamin D deficit; as long as the sun is out, it’s not winter, and you aren’t wearing sunscreen.

 Vitamin B12 acts as a cofactor for many chemical reactions in the body. When chemical reactions are not at their maximum efficiency, your food is not converted to energy as completely, resulting in weight gain, hunger, and mood changes.

Dietary sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Beef liver
  • Tuna
  • Clams
  • Salmon
  • Beef
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Fortified breakfast cereal

Replenishing your vitamin B12 can increase energy, improve mood, and support weight loss.

Get Good Sleep

Lack of sleep is a major contributor to bad moods. Everyone is irritable and short-tempered when they can’t get a restful night’s sleep. Sleep is also important for weight loss. Lack of sleep is a risk factor for obesity. It causes an imbalance in leptin and ghrelin, key hormones that regulate appetite. Lack of sleep also decreases growth hormone and increases cortisol, which also contributes to weight gain. When people don’t get enough sleep, they tend to choose higher-calorie foods than they would otherwise.

Try to get around 8 hours of quality sleep each night.

Tips for better sleep:

  • Set a schedule and stick to it every day.
  • Establish a pre-bedtime routine.
  • Limit caffeinated beverages to the morning only.
  • Try to finish all meals and snacks at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Use your bed for sleep and sex only.
  • Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Consider sleep-supporting supplements.
  • Exercise earlier in the day, especially if it keeps you awake.
  • Keep your room at a comfortable temperature.

While you may experience mood swings while dieting, you can take steps to give your brain the nutrients it needs to stabilize your moods and hormone levels. Try some of these strategies and see if your mood stabilizes and you feel back in control of your weight-loss goals.

Start a weight management treatment plan today!

While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.

How To Deal With Mood Swings From Dieting

Leann Poston, M.D.

Dr. Leann Poston is a licensed physician in the state of Ohio who holds an M.B.A. and an M. Ed. She is a full-time medical communications writer and educator who writes and researches for Invigor Medical. Dr. Poston lives in the Midwest with her family. She enjoys traveling and hiking. She is an avid technology aficionado and loves trying new things.


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