Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is associated with one’s happiness and well being. One very effective way to increase it is by eating carbs (**study). Serotonin has a particularly soothing effect which comes as no surprise since emotional eaters primarily seek out “comfort food“.
The cost is of course weight gain and all of the other health problems that come with increased weight and food intake. So it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to find ways of increasing your serotonin levels without resorting to food.
Natural Ways of Increasing Serotonin Levels
The ultraviolet light that comes from sunlight increases serotonin activity in people. It was once thought that the mechanism came from the sunlight hitting exposed skin, which is how UV light helps us make vitamin D. But the most recent research says that it has to hit our eyes, and so we need to spend some time outside on bright sunny days to get the effect we want, but which most of us don’t do because of where we work – indoors.
It makes sense since many of us feel good on nice, sunny days, especially if you live in a winter climate where you will gladly pay thousands of dollars each year to go down south and spend a mere week of the entire winter taking in some sun.
If it’s not possible for you to get enough sunlight on a regular basis you can always buy a UV light and get it that way. If you decide to go that route then it is important to see your doctor first and have them guide you through your self administered, light therapy. You can make things a lot worse for yourself if it’s not done properly.
Contact with other people can have a dramatic effect on your serotonin level. Prolonged hugs, cuddling and massage all have been used as stimuli in lab experiments to measure their effect on serotonin. In all cases the scientists found that serotonin levels increased by a whopping 30%, which is more than some pharmacological methods are able to raise it. The length of contact has to be sufficiently long enough with a minimum of 5 minutes needed at least. A handshake just won’t cut it.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that often. One study showed that if you massage babies whose mothers have mental health issues (and therefore are less attentive to their babies), for 15 minutes and only twice per week, that after a couple of weeks their serotonin levels jump by 30% as well.
Ever hear of the runner’s high? Well, serotonin has a part to play in the neurochemical cocktail that is responsible for it. Dopamine and norepinephrine are 2 other major players, along with a few lesser known bio ingredients.
The best type of exercise for that is aerobic exercise like running and swimming for at least 30 minutes. You really have to enjoy it too so it can’t be too hard (nor too easy) and you have to like what you are doing. Listening to your favorite workout music while you’re doing it helps get you into that zone to enable you to feel the “high”.
Eating the Right Foods
There’s nothing wrong with having a little junk food here and there, a cheat day perhaps where you can eat cake like the woman above and experience the pleasurable after effects. Yes junk food does increase serotonin levels but comes with more negative and lasting consequences down the road.
Eating healthy foods though, like meat, fish and vegetables also help elevate your serotonin levels. Your body needs the protein (especially the tryptophan that is used to make serotonin in the brain), vitamins like B6 and micro nutrients to ensure you make the optimal amount possible, that can be influenced by a healthy diet.
Some of the more popular foods that are said to be serotonin boosters are cottage cheese, oatmeal, nuts, peanut butter, popcorn and turkey. So it might be a good idea to try to fit some of these foods into your weekly dietary regime.
There are enough benefits to being social already but some have hinted that increased serotonin levels are a natural byproduct of interacting with other people in a meaningful way. We already know what happens when people feel lonely or isolated and so it’s not a surprise to hear about serotonin being involved when talking about what makes us happy.
We are born social creatures and so our body has learned to give us rewards when we do something that is of benefit to our survival like eating, seeking resources, hunting and socializing.
There is speculation that both meditation and yoga help boost people’s serotonin levels but if it does, it’s likely due to the decrease in stress levels the activities promote. Because of that these positive effects are temporary and so once the activity is over with, the body returns to it’s previous state. The solution then is to find a way to alter your baseline stress levels on a more permanent basis.
Therapy & Emotional Growth
The hardest yet best overall solution to increase serotonin levels in your body so that you can live a calmer and better quality life. Therapy takes a long time but is worth it because the gradual increases in growth are usually permanent and so one gets the sense that they are moving in the right direction and that in itself creates feelings and states of positive emotion, or happiness if you prefer.
A lot of that has to do with the elimination of negative emotions that constantly release stress hormones like cortisol, which can lower serotonin and dopamine levels (**study). So you can say that therapy and inner work help to take away the obstacles that block serotonin from remaining at healthy levels, and so increase serotonin in this roundabout way.
The truth is that carbs do the job so well, so easily and without much cost so it’s hard to try to put them aside for something that requires more time and effort.
But, these alternatives are available and can and should be used to help emotional eaters better manage their condition.
THE EATING LOVE GUIDE (FREE)
The Eating Love Guide has helped many people regain control of their eating patterns, resulting not only in weight loss but also better health and improved self-esteem. To read it online, click here.