Rachel Kelly on How to Improve Your Mood with Food

Writer and mental health campaigner Rachel Kelly is keen to show us how to improve your mood with her new book, The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food

Words: Rachel Kelly

Nearly a decade ago, I took our then ten-year-old son George to see a nutritionist about his persistent eczema at a clinic on Holland Park Avenue. I was thrilled when his scaly red skin healed within a few weeks of simply changing his diet.

But it wasn’t until several years later that I wondered if nutrition could help my own longstanding battle with anxiety and depression, which in the past had seen me hospitalised. While the maxim ‘Let food be thy medicine’ has long applied to physical illnesses, might it not also apply to maladies of the mind?

I began to experiment, noting which foods made me feel calm, which helped me sleep, and which cheered me up. Some ideas were thanks to my GP. At a routine check up to see how I was dealing with my anxiety, she told me there was compelling evidence about the links between mood and food. She wrote down a list of ‘happy foods’ which included green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate and oily fish.

I began to adopt a healthier diet and was struck by the difference food was making to my mood. I became more certain that it was time to wind back the harm of too much medicine and prescribe a little more food.

But I was confused. There was so much conflicting advice, and I felt it was time to further my knowledge.

Enter Alice Mackintosh, a nutritional therapist who at the time worked for a reputable nutritional clinic on London’s prestigious Harley Street with a degree in both Nutritional Therapy and Biomedical Science.

In The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food, I share what I have learnt about eating for happiness, and how to become more energised, less anxious, more balanced and a better sleeper

With Alice’s help, and advice from other doctors, dieticians and indeed psychiatrists, I began to completely overhaul my diet. Alice gave me practical tools in the form of meal planners, and we began to develop recipes for my symptoms.

Our conversations and experiments led to our book The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food. I share in detail what I have learnt about eating for happiness, and how to become more energised, cheerier, less anxious, clearer thinking, more balanced and a better sleeper by following a happy diet, and include the recipes which put the theory into practice.

Now what I eat is an important part of my holistic approach to overcoming anxiety and depression. I’ve also benefited from exercising more, using mindful breathing techniques, and the healing power of poetry: all key parts of the toolkit I now rely on to ensure good mental health.

Who wouldn’t try and rely on themselves if at all possible – though I’m the first to recognise for those suffering severe mental illness this isn’t an option.

Many doctors now agree with this approach. After years in which doctors looked to medication as the sole answer to mental illness, now there is a growing sense that drugs are only one small part of the solution.

Just as ‘lifestyle interventions’ are now seen as crucial to managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and some heart conditions, a similar approach is beginning to be applied to depression and anxiety.

For me – and our boy George who is now 19 – this has led to Happy Kitchen. I hope it will make your kitchen happy too.

The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food (Short Books) is out now priced £14.99. See rachel-kelly.net