How to Boost Good Feelings

While occasional overindulgence can be a way to cope with stress or other emotions, over time overeating can hold you back from reaching your health and wellness goals and negatively impact your emotional well-being.

Certain hormones produced in the body are known to help promote positive feelings and regulate mood. These “happy hormones” include serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. By stimulating the release of these hormones, you can cope with stress and avoid overeating.

Serotonin

Much of this hormone is made in our gut and helps us to feel happy, calm, and content. Aerobic exercise, bright light (10-15 minutes sunshine or light therapy), massage, and engaging in positive thoughts or memories can boost your serotonin production. So can tryptophan or serotonin-rich foods.

Tryptophan and serotonin-rich foods:

  • Whole wheat bread with turkey or cheese
  • Oatmeal with a handful of nuts
  • Salmon with brown rice
  • Plums or pineapple with crackers
  • Pretzels sticks with peanut butter and a glass of milk
  • Supplements: SAMe, pure tryptophan, 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort (Note: Do not take with medications that increase serotonin. Take under the guidance of a health care provider)
  • Probiotics (yogurt, fermented foods, kimchi, sauerkraut)

Dopamine

This hormone is associated with pleasurable sensations and is an important part of your brain’s reward system. Ways to increase dopamine include quality sleep, listening to music, doing something creative, finishing up a project, meditation, sunlight, and consuming certain foods.

Dopamine foods:

  • High protein (poultry, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, legumes)
  • Tyrosine (almonds, bananas, avocados, eggs, beans, fish, chicken)
  • Less saturated fat
  • Probiotics
  • Supplements (if the body is deficient): vitamin D, magnesium, curcumin, oregano extract, green tea, iron, niacin, folate, vitamin B6

Oxytocin

Often called the “love” hormone, oxytocin promotes trust, empathy, and bonding. Many activities that are moderately stressful and done with other people (e.g. riding a roller coaster) raises oxytocin, as does petting a favorite animal, giving and receiving gifts, soaking in a hot bath, listening to someone with your complete attention, and fostering social connections.

Other ways you can increase oxytocin include:

  • Share a meal. Eating moderately with others is calming and promotes bonding. Including an occasional glass of wine may also be helpful.
  • Hug. You reap major oxytocin release if you make it last 30 seconds. Physical touch (kissing, cuddling, and sex) not only raises oxytocin but also reduces cardiovascular stress and can improve your immune system.
  • Use the “L” word. Tell those around you that you love them.

Endorphins

This group of hormones helps reduce pain and boost happiness. Endorphins are released during exercise (especially when you sprint or really feel the burn), acts of kindness (volunteering, donating, helping others, giving encouragement), yoga and meditation, laughing, dancing, smelling certain aromas (vanilla, lavender). Certain foods can also help produce endorphins.

Endorphin boosting foods:

  • Spicy foods
  • Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
  • Ginseng

Written by Shelly Guzman Johnson, MS. RD, CSSD., PRO Registered Dietitian at PRO Medical.

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