by Tony Gjokaj July 14, 2020 6 min read

Throughout every single fat loss diet I have attempted, my biggest challenge was always the mental aspect of it. While physical fatigue wasn't really a challenge for me, the mental fatigue always kicked my ass.

The hunger cravings, the extra stress, the depression... and a lot of it had to do with my neglect in proper nutrition.

You don't know how important nutrition is for your life until you find out how it impacts your mental health.

In this post, I am going to go over a set of dieting strategies you can utilize to improve your fitness and mental health in 2020. I will include studies and personal experiences within it as well.

Let's dive in!

Diet Strategies For Mental Health

I. Eat More Protein

Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps rebuild cells and reduce fatigue. This macronutrient allows us to build new muscle, hair, nails, skin, and brain neurotransmitters.

Protein has a massive importance on mental health because of its neurotransmitter production. As most of these neurotransmitters are amino acids, protein helps produce things like dopamine. In this example, low amounts of dopamine in the body will lead to depression. Low protein typically leads to low physical and mental fatigue as well.

While these are only a few examples, we need to understand that protein shouldn't be avoided.

Personal Experience With Protein

Whenever I would have a low protein intake for a day, my performance at work and the suffered. As I tend to be active, my body requires more protein for it to repair muscle and manage fatigue.

Recommendations For Protein Intake

Here are our recommendations when it comes to protein:

  • We recommend having around 0.8-1g per pound of body weight. This is around 20-30% of your total calories coming from protein.
  • For someone who weighs 160lb, their protein intake will be around 128g of protein.
  • Protein should be eaten with every meal.
  • One 4 oz of Chicken, Fish, or meat typically has around 20-25g of protein in it. This would mean you should utilize protein in every meal to reach your daily protein intake.

II. Eat Low-Calorie Nutritious Foods

Nutrient-Dense foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, rice, and beans essential to every day. This allows you to cover many nutrient deficiencies one may have, especially if they're attempting to lose weight or be more active.

There is a strong correlation between poor diets and mental health. For example, not having enough Iron in your body makes you more prone to depression and anxiety. This applies to Zinc as well.

Recommendations For Nutritious Foods

There are plenty of vitamins and minerals to cover, which can get very overwhelming trying to get them in your daily diet.

Here are our recommendations when it comes to getting these nutrients in your body:

  • Eat 2-5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • Leafy Greens like Spinach: 1 cup = 1 serving
  • "Beefier Greens" like Broccoli/Asparagus: 1/2 cup = 1 serving
  • Fruit: 1/2 cup = 1 serving
  • If you can't achieve these goals, consider supplementing with greens/reds supplements or a multivitamin to cover any missed gaps.
  • If you're dieting to lose weight, consider supplementing with greens/reds or a multivitamin with the fruit and vegetable servings. Dieting depletes nutrients from your body.

III. Eat More Fiber

Fiber typically comes as a result of eating plant-based foods, but we would like to dive further into the mental health aspect of fiber.

You've probably heard a saying recently that has been going around: your gut is your second brain. According to one analysis, dietary fiber can potentially help with depression risk through the gut microbiome.

Recommendations For Dietary Fiber

When it comes to getting dietary fiber in, here are our recommendations:

  • Consider eating foods like potatoes, quinoa, peas, and lentils.
  • Legumes and beans are the best options for fiber. 
  • On average, most Americans eat about 15g of fiber per day. This is not enough - shoot for around 25-30g per day.

IV. Eat Processed Food Sparingly

It should make sense that too much processed or calorie-dense foods can impact you mentally. Most calorie-dense foods typically have little to zero micronutrients like vitamins and minerals in them.

As mentioned before, this can have a serious impact on mood, fatigue, energy, and more. In fact, a study from Loma Linda found a connection in poor mental health and diet quality. 

Personal Experience With Fast Food

If you personally know me, you may have heard my story of dieting on In-N-Out for about 3 months in college. Science has proven that low-calorie diets (despite what you eat) contribute to fat loss.

I wanted to test this out by eating In-N-Out burgers, working out, and having a low-calorie intake (around 2200 calories). I would eat a full double-double or a protein styled one with extra lettuce. Typically, I would eat this 2-3x per day depending on how the calories went. Sometimes, I would eat fries. 

Here's what happened:

  • My diet was high fat and low carb, with very low nutrition in it.
  • Mentally, I felt terrible. I had zero energy.
  • Physically, my exercises and training did suffer.
  • I successfully dropped 20lbs and got ripped.

It's possible to eat junk food while losing weight, but that doesn't mean you're healthy, or that you'll feel good while doing it.

Today, I significantly minimize processed foods and prioritize nutritious foods for not just physical performance, but mental performance as well.

Recommendations For Minimizing Processed Foods

What we recommend is the following:

  • Follow a 90/10 rule on dieting - 90% nutrient-dense foods, 10% calorie-dense foods. The 10% should be utilized for your sanity while dieting.
  • Remove junk food from your house, and only get a single unit of it when you're rewarding yourself. If you can't eat a single cookie without eating the entire bag, buy ONLY ONE - SNACK-SIZED!
  • Indulge in a free meal once a week. This DOES NOT mean a cheat day - one single meal that's untracked should be something you reward yourself with. 

V. Consider Serotonin-Producing Foods

Serotonin is known as the "feel-good" hormone as it promotes happiness and wellbeing. Having low serotonin can result in high anxiety levels, elevated depression, and low self-esteem.

Serotonin is typically produced as a result of getting a proper intake of Vitamin D, along with eating nutritious foods like nuts, seeds, fish, and fruit.

Personal Experience With Carbohydrates

When I diet, I personally have difficulty with serotonin as dieting is harder on me mentally than physically. In my experience, I tend to perform better when consuming more carbohydrates and having a moderate-fat intake. According to science, there is a correlation that nutritious carbohydrates contribute to wellbeing.

This is only a hypothesis at this time, but it would make sense as to why I do better with 20-25% of my total calories coming from fat and over 40% of my total calories in carbohydrates.

Recommendations For Serotonin

In the meantime, what we recommend is the following:

  • Make sure you get an adequate amount of Vitamin D. If you don't go out into sunlight often, consider supplementing with Vitamin D or eating foods fortified with it.
  • Consider eating foods like Salmon, Eggs, Tofu, and other nuts and seeds. These foods produce tryptophan, which helps with serotonin.
  • Pineapple. Pineapple is one of my favorite serotonin producers. I love it so much.

For more on Vitamin D, read about our Vitamin D guide here.

Optimize Your Nutrition

There are so many diets that come around neglecting food groups or other nutritious foods from all sides of the spectrum. 

We don't believe in eliminating macronutrients, fruits, vegetables, or food groups. At Reforged, we follow a moderation approach.

When it comes to dieting for weight loss, we simply believe that the goal is eating as much as we can so that we lose weight. We refuse to drop our calories so low that our physical and mental health gets severely impacted.

I hope this helped you understand that focusing on eating good amounts of protein, diverse nutritious foods, and plenty of fruits & vegetables will help you reach your greatest potential.

Any questions, comments, or feedback?

Feel free to comment below, direct message me on social (@ibtonyg), or email me at tony@reforgedperformance.com. I will get to you as soon as I can!

Until next time, Reforged Legion!

Tony Gjokaj
Tony Gjokaj

Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He has been in the fitness space for over a decade, previously coaching individuals in body recomposition and strength training. His goal is to connect others with the knowledge they need to reach their greatest potential.


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