I Tried a Mood-Lifting Food Diet

Leandra Medine | March 31, 2017

By day 7, I was a unicorn

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I was sitting in an infrared sauna earlier this month, minding my own business while sweat dripped from my elbows, when I noticed a little card outside the sauna suggesting I “get high naturally” with a small piece of 100% dark chocolate packed with serotonin-boosting ingredients and purchasable for $2. I am a sucker for effectively anything that promises it will make me happier, particularly now because I am such a nightmare to be around, so I bought one.

Then I ate it.

And then I felt pretty good. Granted, I had just emerged from a sauna chosen for very similar reasons — to boost my serotonin levels and thus make me happier. (I think it works, and even if it doesn’t, the placebo has not worn off, so I’m sticking with it.) But if a simple piece of chocolate could impact my mood at a given moment in time, what else could? What would happen if I committed to eating only mood-lifting foods for the course of a week? Would I ultimately become a unicorn capable of flying and simultaneously farting glitter on command?

The short, practical answer is no, but when has anyone ever been satisfied by the practical answer? So I began to research.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 11.48.03 AM First, I asked Google about foods that are considered mood-lifting. What emerged was a results number in the rankings of 670,000, followed by a list of food.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 11.48.16 AM Not listed are cottage cheese, yogurt and brown rice — three foods I can get behind (but only when I add cumin to the cheese).

And popularly asked questions.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 11.48.22 AM I could commit to the listed foods. I eat salmon and eggs like three times a week anyway, there is practically a kale farm under my office and coconuts are delicious. But I’m an investigative journalist, as you know, so committing to consumption wasn’t enough. I had to understand what role every single food was going to play. Why salmon, why now? (Omega-3 fatty acids.) And thus, research continued. My findings led me to a couple more foods — namely goji berries, raw cacao and brazil nuts (lots of selenium!) and many cryptic answers expressing the benefits of each, which didn’t register as satisfying at all. (Essentially, eating them staves off the mood-crushing crashes that most other, less good-for-you foods invite).

This is perhaps why blue-raspberry licorice didn’t make the list?

I gave the diet a try anyway, going in with an open mind knowing that these only work if you give yourself a gut check. I committed to end each day by asking: How does my body feel? How does my mind feel? The short answer is…

Just kidding. You know I’m not about a short answer.

I’d list the total food diary but that’s boring, so here are some highlights:

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On day 1, I had a veggie platter for lunch that included kale (check!) and sweet potatoes (apparently so good for you they can legit reverse cell damage). I added a piece of cooked, wild salmon to the top which cost $5. I’m mentioning this because the photo might not indicate scale accurately, and the salmon piece was the size of my big toe. Highway robbery.

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On day 3, I had a “superfood” acai bowl for breakfast with coconut shavings on top.

Though I don’t have a picture, on day 4, I decided to stop drinking coffee/alcohol because I am a gullible masochist and read that alcohol depletes your body of magnesium (an important vitamin to maintain good spirits) and that caffeine wreaks havoc on your adrenals (always knew this, didn’t care). I supplemented with a raw cacao powder (part of the diet) + cayenne pepper concoction mixed with almond milk (nuts are fair game, too). The first two days sucked.

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But by day 7, I was a unicorn! Minding my own business like I was in a sauna, drinking matcha and hot water with lemon, eating oatmeal and enjoying walnuts and goji berries as toppings and reflecting on the obscene number of bananas I had consumed during the previous week. I noticed about halfway through the experiment that I was eating a lot of foods that I already consume pretty regularly, which made me wonder two things:

1. Would I be a fire-breathing dragon if I didn’t already have a proclivity for brown rice bowls?

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2. How much do these foods actually impact your mood vs. actually restore your body’s natural order?

The second question tripped me up because by doing this diet, I was expecting an effect similar to caffeine in that you take it and you feel something instantly. In reality, I was just depriving my body of all the other stuff I usually eat (see: everything fried, potato chips), and that’s what was making me feel good.

I have considered myself a victim of mood swings who is prone towards anxiety/heart palpitations for the longest time, but maybe those reactions have been symptomatic of the non-mood booster staples in my diet. There is no legitimate scientific evidence to back this assertion, but I feel great. Not farting-glitter-in-the-body-of-a-unicorn-elevated-over-Manhattan great, but good enough to stick two chopsticks up my nose and call it a day. So I’m going with it.

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Photos by Edith Young; iPhone photos via Leandra.

  • Adrianna

    The past week I’ve been eating kale/dark green salads in lieu of bread and pasta, and I feel ready to conquer the world.

  • Kelsey Moody

    I fully grasp the purpose of this diet (healthy super foods changing how you feel from the inside out, not just a splurge, I love it!), but nothing makes me happier than a quiet night alone with a nice glass of Josh, Otis Redding/Sam Cooke radio and a beautifully expensive filet to myself. Steak au poivre is my happy food and the reverence I have for this dish could move mountains.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Here for Otis Redding/Sam Cooke radio and wine

    • Lauren Holt

      Josh is SO GOOD .. just had it on the porch with my neighbor a couple days ago.. I’m hooked.. also claps to Otis Redding/Sam Cooke

  • Mellisa Scarlett

    I just came to steal some healthy deets. Mission accomplished! I’m a firm believer that food intake can totally change your attitude and somehow I cant put the bread and wine down for longer than a pay period. Nevertheless…
    Ps- I’ve longed admired your eating habits.

  • I had Salmon today, I think my day got better. However, it maybe because my class watched a little bit of Harry Potter after lunch…

    Laila from Townhouse Palette

  • granny franny

    i luv it when i read a book or a blog and it makes me laugh, not continually cause that would me i have brain disorder. But when ppl come up with little anecdote that jerks at my funny bone, its great. “fart glitter” heheh you kill me!

  • Natalie

    Leandra, I highly recommend The Chemistry of Joy by Henry Emmons, which I’m currently working through with my therapist. Lots of wonderful diet, exercise, Ayurvedic, and mindfulness advice based on your specific kind of depression. I can’t say it’s cured me, but I do feel better, and it has helped me understand myself better.

    • Leandra Medine

      Ooooooh, thanks! Going to check out.

  • This is really funny, I have been addicted to my morning shake, a banana, dates and cacao, almond milk concoction a recipe that I stole from my favorite SF brunch place. I hate when I don’t drink it, and lately I’ve been making it every morning and mildly wondering if I’m addicted to cacao or something. Now your article is making me think I just feel good when I drink it, so I always crave it! Here’s to bananas and raw cacao turning us into unicorns! 🙂

    http://www.shessobright.com

    • amie

      cacao has caffeine in it too, that could be why!

  • A friend recently told me she went to some sort of meditation/find-your-inner-whatever class where the instructor served 100% black chocolate with a pinch of cayenne pepper and told the participants it would make them get high naturally during the meditation. My friend told me it made her kind of horny, and one participant started orgasming. I guess anything works if you believe in it. I for one am definitely going to try that class (for journalism, of course)

    • Leandra Medine

      And then you’ll write about it for us, right!

  • Fiona

    Leandra, if you don’t already, try taking a vitamin D supplement in addition to magnesium for at least 6 weeks. I had issues with severe Anxiety and low body temperature (as you described in another post, anything below 97.8 F is a problem), and after 6 weeks of taking those supplements, my issues definitely subsided. I’m just mentioning it because it sounds like you have the same symptoms I did and you live above 37 degrees latitude; I’ve also heard this affects fertility.

  • G De Siena

    Maybe you don’t need to give up diary altogether, apparently “Protein is responsible for helping stimulate the production of dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) to help fight against anxiety,”, or they say so on Bustle, at least https://www.bustle.com/p/11-little-diet-changes-that-can-help-reduce-anxiety-47567?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=owned&utm_campaign=bustle

    Looks like mind-boosting diets is all I will be reading today, but not before I have my quinoa and cavolo nero lunch seasoned with a cheeky Gossip Girl rewatch 😉

  • Maria Vidrasco

    Nice post 🙂
    M&MFASHIONBITES : http://mmfashionbites.blogspot.gr/search/label/MariaV.

    Maria V.

  • Lacey Bergevin

    Have you gone back to coffee yet? I always think I should have like 2 cups instead of like 6….I’m sure it would make a difference

  • Eleanor

    help! where is the actual diet you followed?!