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For those suffering from antidepressant-related weight gain and emotional overeating, the opposite is true, according to research at M.I.T. conducted by our diet founders Dr. Judith Wurtman and Dr. Nina Frusztajer. In fact, eating carbohydrates at the right time and in the right amount can actually help improve your mood and reduce cravings, give you more mental energy and ultimately help you lose weight. Consider Serotonin the “I’ve had enough to eat” switch that keeps you from over-eating. When you remove carbs from your diet, serotonin in your brain will drop, negatively impacting your mood and your ability to control your appetite.
Yes! The diet includes vegetables, fruits and protein. In fact, the diet doesn’t restrict any specific foods. Instead, you eat the right foods at the right time to keep your cravings in check.
You can absolutely maintain the diet using gluten-free foods. This may include foods like gluten-free steel-cut or unprocessed oatmeal, beans (which can count as carb or protein since they are composed of both), winter squash, brown rice, grains like millet, quinoa, and amaranth, and sweet potatoes. There are a lot of baked goods available in the US made from alternative (non-wheat) flours. However, you could find oat, chick pea, quinoa, brown rice, and other gluten-free flours either in your local stores or online and bake your own snacks and / or flat breads. There are also some pasta alternatives made from various gluten-free flours.
You can definitely follow the plan as a vegetarian. In addition to vegetables, which are a large part of the diet, meat-free protein will be relatively easy to include, thanks to soy products, beans, eggs and low fat/fat free dairy (if you aren’t vegan), quinoa, nutritional yeast, and more. While beans also contain carbs, they are fine for the protein portion of the diet. Our bean recipes in the book pair it with corn, tortilla, bread or other starch so as not to have too much protein for dinner, which would limit the amount of serotonin production needed in the evening. What is most important is to have the carbs when you need it and experiment with how satisfying the bean products are at breakfast and lunch.
Seeing is believing. Once you allow yourself to eat the correct amount of carbs and then wait until the serotonin is made, you will feel more confident that the snacks will control your appetite and improve your mood. However, if you really do not trust yourself to start this process using real foods, you can try energy gels, which are designed to be digested faster than food. You’ll feel the effect of the increase in serotonin sooner. In our experience, no one ever binges on them.
Unless you are diabetic, the carbohydrate amounts in our snacks will not cause significant blood sugar swings. Insulin, in the absence of diabetes, is extremely effective at maintaining blood glucose levels within the normal range. If you are diabetic, you can absolutely follow our program and experience the same serotonin-boosting effects of carbs. Before you begin, check with your health care provider to make sure you know how to stay within your prescribed dietary recommendations. Then, choose low GI carbs such as whole wheat bread and pasta, whole grain cereals including those with bran, brown rice, sprouted grain products, steel-cut and rolled oats, grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, and bulgar, sweet potato and winter squash, and lower-sugar fruits such as berries and apples (rather than mango and pineapple, for example). For those who need very close control of their carb intake, we recommend starting in Phase II and continuing in Phase II for an additional 2 weeks. We also recommend following the Phase III snack portion size throughout the program no matter which phase you’re in.
You may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. As the days of fall and winter become darker, people feel their moods and appetite changing. Switch back to the Serotonin Balance phase until spring. This will allow you to control your cravings without risking weight gain. If you feel that two snacks a day are not enough during the darkest days of the year, add a third snack at night, as described for the Serotonin Surge phase.
Whole grain foods have slightly more fiber and nutrients than refined foods do. But today, foods that have been refined are enriched with the nutrients that were removed during processing. The USDA suggests that half of the carbohydrates you eat every day should come from whole grains (like whole wheat bread or brown rice). This means that the other half may come from the refined variety, like white rice or traditional pasta.
First of all, don’t be hard on yourself! Life happens and it’s not realistic to follow the program “perfectly” at all times (even for diet book authors!). The answer is: it’s up to you. You can simply pick up where you left off and choose to stay in that phase for as long as you want (as long as it’s working for you). Or you can start back in Phase I, which for some can feel like a welcome new beginning and one that feels comfortable since you know how to do it. In fact, you can go back to Phase I at any time during the program or, for example, if you’ve reached your goal weight but some pounds have crept back. You may also choose to restart your current phase which can feel like a grounding mini reset.
No. Anyone can benefit from this plan. Research has shown that women’s brains synthesize 50% less serotonin, so women feel the absence of carbs more acutely than men. However, while men can tolerate a high-protein, high-fat diet for longer periods of time, they will eventually feel the effects of serotonin depletion too.
Yes, definitely. We just recommend drinking alcohol with caution, as it can stimulate your appetite and cause you to throw your best-laid eating plans out the window. We recommend up to 2 times a week. If you want to enjoy a glass of wine, reduce the portion of your dinner carbs by one half and double the portion of your vegetables so you’ll have food to munch on while you drink and the vegetables will keep you feeling full.
While weight loss can vary from person to person, many individuals have reported losing an average of two pounds a week.
Yes! You will be consuming enough fat to maintain good health of your brain and the rest of your body. We support the current American guidelines to limit saturated fats to no more than 10% of your daily calorie intake. Fat is also a great addition to enhance the flavor and improve the texture of food and can make you feel full. Our diet incorporates fish, lean meats, low-fat dairy, eggs, and even grains and vegetables, all of which contain fat. Fat, in limited amounts, can also be added during food preparation (such as peanut oil for cooking and olive oil for salads or pastas), and limited healthy fats such as nuts and avocado can also be included.
No one really understands how antidepressants and mood stabilizers lead to increased appetite or fatigue. In fact, since these drugs act as an important treatment for mood disorders by prolonging the activity of serotonin, it’s hard to understand how they can interfere with another serotonin activity, regulating appetite. The good news is: The Serotonin Power Diet can help.
When you dine out, you have to be aware of portion sizes and the fat content of food. For example, potatoes in steak houses usually weight 12 to 16 ounces, which is fine for phase one but won’t work in phase two. The goal is to train your eye to recognize the amount of food you should eat, ask about portion sizes, request that minimal or no oil be used in preparing your meal and ask about preparation. Generally speaking, Italian and Asian restaurants offer foods most compatible with the diet, but you should be able to follow the diet just about anywhere you go. Our book offers specific recommendations for what to eat when dining out, depending on the location or cuisine.
Cereal, English muffins, granola bars, oyster crackers, popcorn, waffles and pretzels are among some of our more popular options, as long as they meet our nutritional requirements. However, you’ll need to be sure that you are eating the right amount at the right time of day.
You can drink soda, but when you drink sugar substitutes, your brain does not release serotonin like it would with actual sugar or other carbohydrates. So you may think you are managing your hunger when you reach for a diet soda, but will likely find that you still end up having uncontrollable cravings.
Yes! While some people like to diet completely on their own, others benefit from some additional guidance. We offer personalized coaching sessions.
Good question – they don’t teach this in medical school! Here’s something you can put into your own words:
“Based on research at M.I.T., I eat specific foods at specific times to boost my brain’s serotonin, which naturally helps to control my appetite, so I can eat less, lose weight, and feel great.”
“Eating carbs without protein sets off a series of metabolic reactions that lead to increased brain serotonin, which controls my appetite so I eat less and lose weight. It also can help control stress. Although the magic is in everyday carbs, I eat plenty of protein. I eat protein mostly in the first half of the day, and carbs and veggies in the second half of the day.”
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