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Gemma Atkinson: How Food Can Affect Your Mood

Times are tough for so many people right now. 

Many of the things that give us meaning, joy and connection in life are on hold, and this can have an impact on our mood and sense of wellbeing.  

But there are still things within our control that can help support our mood and mental health through even the most challenging times – the food we eat is a big one. 

This was a theme that Ultimate Performance personal trainer Elliott Upton picked up with Gemma Atkinson during a live Instagram Q&A session. 

Here Gemma and Elliott talk about why focussing on the right nutrition can lay the foundations for good mental health, as well as physical health.   

We also offer four other easy ways you can improve your mood and mental wellbeing below. 

GEMMA: I used to be more of an emotional eater whereby if I did well at something, I’d be like, “oh I’m going to celebrate with junk food and wine!” 

And then if I went through a break-up, I’d be like, “oh I’m going to wallow in self-pity, with junk food and wine.” 

Whereas now I’m like, “oh, I’m going to go for a walk with the dogs, I want to take Mia down to the park.” It’s changed more for me.  

Someone sent me a DM saying that they’re struggling at the minute with a bit of depression and, you know, they wanted to know was there certain foods that can help boost your mood and help you feel physically and mentally better. 

ELLIOTT: It’s not necessarily foods that are better to eat in order to fix that, it’s what you need to avoid.  

Because, when you take in some foods that disagree with you, when you take in some foods you have some sensitivities to or even anything with chemicals and it’s something that is processed, there are elements of that that are going to feel like an attack on your system.  

Your body senses it.  It says “hang on a minute, this shouldn’t be here. We need an immune response.”  

This is when, potentially, your cortisol levels are going to elevate. This is where you get anxious, your heartbeat will start to increase, your blood pressure will start to increase, you feel like, kind of uneasy. You can’t put your finger on it, but you’re uneasy. It could well have been the thing that you ate. 

So, if you suffer from anxiety or depression, it’s not so much finding foods that are great for you to eat, it’s understanding the effect of the bad foods and they can be the reason that you are feeling bad. 


1. Lift weights  

Resistance training has been shown to help boost mood effectively. 

A 2018 study in JAMA Psychiatry of the results of 33 randomised clinical trials found that people with mild to moderate depression who did two or more weights sessions a week saw significant reductions in their symptoms.  

It’s not just people with depression – the authors noted that the mood boosting effects of resistance training occurred regardless of health status, how frequently they trained or whether their strength improved from the workouts our not.  

One style of resistance training workout we find particularly effective at Ultimate Performance with hundreds of our female clients is German Body Composition (GBC) training.  

It is a full-body workout based on using ‘supersets’ or ‘paired sets’ that is high intensity, gets the blood pumping and is also great for rapid fat loss and body composition change. 

2. Go for a walk 

Walking is a low impact, low stress activity that almost anyone can do anywhere, no matter their current fitness levels.  

It can also be a great excuse to get outdoors with friends or family to do something active and social together.  

Studies show there is a strong link between exercise and improved mood, and research also shows that exercise has a positive effect on symptoms of anxiety and depression – in particular aerobic exercises, like running and cycling, but also activities like walking. 

In fact, a 2007 randomized controlled trial study concluded that exercise was generally comparable to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorder. 

Getting out for a walk before noon and getting 60-90 minutes of natural light exposure is also vital for healthy circadian rhythm and sleep patterns too.  

We always recommend to clients at Ultimate Performance to aim for a minimum of 10,000 steps per day. 

3. Focus on sleep quality 

Sleep is the cornerstone of good physical and mental health. 

Sleep deprivation not only compromises immune health, increases our drive to eat, and heightens the risk of all-cause mortality, it also significantly impairs our mood. 

These effects kick in with sleep of 7 hours or less.  

One research study showed that participants demonstrated continued impairment in the form of impaired cognition, reduced mood, severe fatigue and reduced subjective wellbeing) once 6 hour per night or less was reached. 

So focussing on sleep quality is so important. Expose yourself to natural light early in the day to normalise your circadian rhythm, reduce or avoid your exposure to screens and blue light several hours before bed, improve your sleep environment so it is cool, quiet and completely dark, and aim for 7-9 hours of good quality sleep per night. 

4. Supplements 

One principle we live by at Ultimate Performance is that we always want our clients and customers to prioritise real food over supplements. 

Good quality nutrition really is a cornerstone of health and wellbeing. Supplements are simply the icing on the cake. 

However, alongside a balanced diet and good lifestyle habits, there are a few research-backed supplements that can help anyone struggling with low mood. 

While there is no single ‘cure all’, we often recommend a targeted combination of supplements to support full neurotransmitter production and use in the body which can help anybody with issues such as mood swings, depression and low mood, lack of motivation, disturbed sleep, agitation or unexplained anger. 

These include:

  • Drive – Contains tyrosine, a precursor to dopamine. 
  • Serotonin Support – contains 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin, that can improve sleep and mood after waking.  
  • Zinc NT Support – supports neurotransmitter production, elevates mood and reduces tiredness.  
  • Ultra Mag – helps reduce excitability and anxiety before sleep and can improve sleep quality.  

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