Postpartum and Breastfeeding

“Food for Mood” with Cookbook Author and Perinatal Psychologist Dr. Alyssa Berlin

Dr. Alyssa Berlin

“Food for Mood” with Cookbook Author and Perinatal Psychologist Dr. Alyssa Berlin

Table of contents

  • Intro
  • Can Food Impact Your Mood?
  • Can Feeling Exhausted and Depleted Affect Your Mood?
  • Which Foods Can Positively Affect My Mood?

0 min read


The intersection of food, family, and well-being holds a special significance in my life. It’s a journey that began years ago, in a tiny kitchen in Atlanta, Georgia, where my husband and I first discovered the joy of cooking together amidst the chaos of graduate school. In those early days, our kitchen was more of a cozy nook than a spacious culinary haven. Yet, within its modest confines, we embarked on culinary adventures, experimenting with new recipes and savoring the simple pleasure of sharing a meal together. 

We took classes together like cake decorating and enjoyed combining our growing talents and hosting Shabbat dinners for friends. Amidst the stacks of textbooks and late night study sessions, those moments in the kitchen became a source of solace, a reminder that amidst the chaos of academia, there was always time to nourish our bodies and nurture our bond. I have to give a shout out to my husband Dr. Elliot Berlin and his famous chicken soup! Nourishing indeed, and it was a comforting meal cooked with love. When we ate it together, it felt really good, not only because we enjoyed it together but because it was healthy and delicious. Our minds and bodies were happy.

Flash forward to 2024 and it’s crazy to say that I have a cookbook! Plated was an idea born organically out of a love for food and a desire to share simple, nutritious meals that look beautiful on the plate and satisfy my entire family (even those with food restrictions and specific preferences). After a local publication wrote an article about me and Elliot and our kitchen adventures, I was inspired. Growing up kosher, there were limitations at the grocery store. It became a fun game to see what new products we could find, and by sharing our tiny kitchen together, we grew into throwing parties and turning unexpected ideas into culinary masterpieces (I use that term lightly!). The mind/body connection began fusing with my passion for food during this time period.

Since our days in grad school, our Los Angeles kitchen has become once again the heart of our home as we now have four kids eating with us (when they’re all in town!). As a busy mom juggling the demands of motherhood, work, and self-care, the role of food in my life has evolved yet remains just as vital.

Mealtime has become a cherished ritual, a time to reconnect with my family, nourish our bodies, and recharge after the whirlwind of daily life. Whether it’s whipping up a quick and easy breakfast before the day begins or savoring a leisurely dinner together as a family, these moments at the table serve as anchors amidst the ebb and flow of work life and parenthood. With all that I’ve learned over the years, I want to share with you a bit about what I’ve learned about food, mood, and fun in the kitchen.

Getting married, welcoming a new addition to the family, or raising a growing family brings us immense joy, but it also comes with its own set of challenges, especially for new, busy moms. Amidst the sleepless nights and endless to-do lists, it's easy to overlook the importance of self-care, particularly when it comes to nutrition and mental well-being. You’d be surprised how closely linked our brain and moods are to what we consume on a daily basis. I’d like to explore practical strategies and answer a few common questions for nourishing both body and mind in the midst of the beautiful chaos of motherhood.

Can food impact your mood?

Absolutely. As a new mom, you're not just feeding yourself—you're nourishing your little one too. The foods you consume can influence your mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. Choline is an essential nutrient that is a precursor for acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter that aids in regulation of mood among other things. Opting for nutrient-dense foods like lean proteins such as chicken and fish, cruciferous vegetables, and certain legumes and whole grains can provide essential choline to help power you through the week.

Reference: Institute of Medicine (US) Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes and its Panel on Folate, Other B Vitamins, and Choline. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1998. 12, Choline. Available from:

Can feeling exhausted and depleted affect your mood?

Without a doubt. Sleep deprivation is practically synonymous with new motherhood, and its effects extend far beyond mere fatigue. Chronic exhaustion can exacerbate mood swings, increase stress levels, and dampen your overall sense of well-being. While it's normal to feel tired as a new mom, prioritizing quality sleep whenever possible, whether it's through napping when the baby sleeps or enlisting the help of a supportive partner or loved one, can make a world of difference in managing mood and stress levels. It sounds simple enough, but I know firsthand how hard it is to make time for sleep. 

Which foods can positively affect my mood?

As a busy mom, convenience is key when it comes to mealtime. Make it easy for yourself! Stocking up on healthy, grab-and-go snacks like pre-cut fruits and vegetables, yogurt, nuts, and whole grain crackers can help ensure that you have nutritious options readily available, even on the busiest of days. Additionally, incorporating mood-boosting foods like dark chocolate, which contains antioxidants that promote feelings of well-being, can provide a satisfying treat amidst the chaos of motherhood. For an excellent chocolate selection and a host of ready-to-eat snacks and nutritious meals, I highly recommend Trader Joe’s, especially the chilled food section.

In a controlled trial named “SMILES”, results indicated that dietary improvement can be an effective treatment for some suffering from clinical depression. The “SMILES” study notes that “the dietary support group demonstrated significantly greater improvement in MADRS scores [a scoring scale for depression severity] between baseline and 12 weeks than the social support control group”. Here’s what the group of people ate who were testing how eating healthier affected their mood:

“The primary focus was on increasing diet quality by supporting the consumption of the following 12 key food groups (recommended servings in brackets): whole grains (5–8 servings per day); vegetables (6 per day); fruit (3 per day), legumes (3–4 per week); low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods (2–3 per day); raw and unsalted nuts (1 per day); fish (at least 2 per week); lean red meats (3–4 per week), chicken (2–3 per week); eggs (up to 6 per week); and olive oil (3 tablespoons per day), whilst reducing intake of ‘extras’ foods, such as sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks (no more than 3 per week).” 

Reference: Jacka, F.N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R. et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med 15, 23 (2017).

How important is eating with friends and family when it comes to mood?

Finding time to connect with friends and family may feel like a luxury no matter who you are. However, carving out moments to share meals with loved ones, even if it's just a quick snack or cup of tea, can provide much-needed social support and a sense of belonging during this transformative time. Whether it's swapping stories with fellow moms at a playdate or enjoying a home-cooked meal with family, prioritizing these connections can help alleviate feelings of isolation and boost your overall mental well-being. 

Journalist Mary Beth Albright, author of Eat & Flourish: How Food Supports Emotional Well-Being, said it best: “In psychology, the term “generous authority” means using your position of authority as a host to protect and serve the group (including yourself). This is one of the best benefits of having people over, and to me, it’s always the top goal. Generous authority is concerned with how people connect over a shared purpose, including sharing food (whether spaghetti or a five-course meal)”.

Reference: “Eat & Flourish: How Food Supports Emotional Well-Being,” by Mary Beth Albright (Countryman Press, 2022)

What are some quick tips for nourishing yourself during motherhood?

As a busy and exhausted mom, self-care may feel like an elusive concept. However, incorporating small, manageable strategies into your daily routine can make a big difference in nourishing both body and mind.

  1. Embrace quick, nourishing meals: Opt for simple, nutrient-rich meals that require minimal preparation, such as smoothies, salads, and stir-fries. Stock your pantry and  fridge with healthy staples to streamline mealtime.

  2. Prioritize self care after you eat: Carve out moments for self-care amidst the chaos of motherhood, whether it's taking a relaxing bath, practicing deep breathing exercises, or enjoying a cup of herbal tea before bed.

  3. Practice mindful eating: Take time to savor and enjoy your meals, even if they're eaten in haste. Mindful eating can help you tune into your body's hunger and fullness cues, promoting a healthier relationship with food and reducing stress.

  4. Celebrate the small victories: Remember to celebrate the small victories, whether it's successfully soothing a fussy baby or finding time to nourish (or treat!) yourself amidst the chaos. If you get food on the table for yourself and your family, no matter if you picked up pre-made food from the grocery store, celebrate that accomplishment. Each day is filled with little moments of resilience and strength - acknowledge and celebrate them.

The Bottom Line

I hope these little nuggets of information inspire you to take a little extra time for yourself and your family and carefully consider what you’re buying to eat as well as how and when you’ll consume it, hopefully in a relaxed setting with loved ones. Motherhood is no easy feat, but prioritizing self-care and nourishment can make it a little more manageable. By embracing nutrient-dense foods, prioritizing sleep, fostering social connection in the kitchen and at the dining table, and celebrating the small victories, you can nourish both body and mind, laying the foundation for a happier and healthier journey through motherhood.

Like the article? Share it!

Dr. Alyssa Berlin, PsyD

Dr. Alyssa Berlin is a clinical psychologist specializing in pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting. She offers private counseling for women individually and with their partners. She is the creator of The AfterBirth Plan™, a program that prepares couples for what to expect after a baby is born. The workshop teaches couples how to prepare for a healthy postpartum transition for the baby, for each partner, and for the evolving relationship.