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How to boost your energy and feel happier during the pandemic

More than just exercise, the right foods will help you lose weight, give energy, and manage stress and depression

Weight gain coupled with depression symptoms is far from what I had envisioned for this year when talking about my health.

The pandemic didn’t help at all. Quarantines gave me a new excuse to work out less and eat more – especially comfort foods. It wasn’t just me.

According to a poll on WebMD, nearly 50% of the women and 25% of the men said they’d gained weight due to Covid-19 restrictions. I tried exercising, it had worked before. Nothing like the joy of feeling my legs getting stronger or the muscles starting to show. And the best benefit of all – the good feeling that came after exercising, because of the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormone.

So I went back to the gym as soon as it reopened, tried online classes through zoom, and started collecting exercise gear to exercise at home. “Collecting” is a fitting word because that was exactly what it seemed –neatly displayed weights, several apparatus, never really used. I couldn’t do it! It was frustrating.

It wasn’t just lack of will or time, but motivation and energy. I was tired and asleep all the time. My moods were no better, which damped any intention of exercising at all.

Recent studies, however, have found that exercise alone provided only a “modest to moderate” antidepressant effect – no better than just talking to someone. And for adults taking antidepressant drugs, it didn’t have any significant benefit.

Gary L. Wenk, PhD and author of “Your Brain on Food” says that depression, the most common mental disorder, can be caused by poor diets.

“Excessive body fat can make you both depressed and stupid and also makes it less likely that you will respond to anti-depressant therapy,” he says. The answer seems obvious: a better diet is the key to be healthier and happier. I’m all for that.

I wanted something simple, to take me out of this bad cycle. So I talked to Liliane Blaskovi, a nutritionist and a weekly guest on a radio talk show in Brazil about health. She’s known to not only help people lose weight, the most popular request but to help the whole body to be healthy and well.

My goal was to find foods to boost my energy and make me happy during the pandemic. What groups of food should I eat every day and what specific food could I include in my diet? Here are Blaskovi’s recommendations:

Aliments rich in vitamin C – give an instant energy boost. Citric foods help with anxiety and depression.

Carbohydrates low on the glycemic index: Dehydrated fruits, per example. It will release energy gradually.

“If we have a drop in energy, we feel tired, depressed, and anxious,” said Blaskovi. “So we need a source of stable energy that will preserve the good mood and well-being.”

Sources of complex B: It reduces stress and it’s essential for the brain. Found in whole grains and cereal, nuts and seeds, beans, nutritional yeast, eggs, etc.

Water: Without water, none of those nutrients will be absorbed. Water is what takes all the nutrients through the body.

Top foods to include on your day

If we have to choose only one food to include in our diet, what would be the top choices?

Breakfast: Oranges. It’s great for anxiety and depression. Full of vitamin C, wakes you up and takes out the stress.

“The vitamin C will fight against the free radicals and facilitate the equilibrium of the stress hormone, secreted in higher quantity in the morning,” Blaskovi said. “It will help our ability to manage stress.”

Mid-morning snack: Banana. Perfect to give that boost for physical activity. It will release the feel-good hormone. It will give energy, focus, concentration.

Lunch: Eggs. Source of vitamins from complex B and protein, it has nutrients that will improve the functioning of the brain. It will give satiety and make the mood more stable. Afternoon snack: Avocado. Avocado has good fats, it will curb hunger, stabilizes the mood and appetite. It replenishes complex B vitamins and omega 3, which is essential for the functioning of the brain, preventing and treating depression and anxiety.

Dinner: Garbanzo beans. It has fibers, that will improve the gastrointestinal movement as a whole. It also gives satiety and stabilizes the mood. It’s the source of Tryptophan, which helps create Serotonin.

“It’s the happiness grain – it has everything you need,” Blaskovi said.

Sleep – the first food

As important good food is for our health, getting adequate sleep is essential to accomplishing any change, the first food in any diet. Sleep is an important food for the brain and the nervous system. It prevents problems such as anxiety and depression, according to Blaskovi.

“Sleep deprivation takes our power to make good choices,” she said. “If we want to eat better, we need to sleep. It releases hormones that will regulate the sleep circadian rhythm, which in turn stimulates us to have healthier habits. It’s more important than food.”

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