Category Archives: Wellness

Mental Health and Nutrition in Newport Beach

Mental Health and Nutrition

Have you ever heard of our gut being our ‘second brain?” We have what’s called the Gut-brain connection. It’s so powerful that just thinking about eating can change our stomach acid and release juices in preparation for food. The cons of this powerful connection is how poor mental health affects the gut. The sayings “my stomach is in knots” or “I have butterflies in my stomach” are ways we describe the physical effects of anxiety. Having anxiety actually increases our stomach acid and wreaks havoc on digestion. Mental health and nutrition go hand-in-hand.

Mental Health and Nutrition

Mental Health and Nutrition Connection

The brain and gastrointestinal tract are connected with the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is an essential part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our “rest and digest” state. Having food in our stomach will activate this state. However, when a person is in a stressed state, caused by either physical or emotional stress, their parasympathetic function shuts off and turns on the sympathetic function, known as “fight or flight”. When we eat food while our body is in the sympathetic function, digestion is virtually turned off. This leads to slow gastric emptying and storing energy rather than using it. A person with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health condition, may have the sympathetic function turned on, more often than not. The best thing to do before eating if you are in an anxious state, is a few mindful exercises, like the ones I have listed below. 


Serotonin is a hormone and chemical messenger that helps us feel calm, reduces anxiety, helps us sleep and also with GI mobility. 90% of serotonin is actually produced in the gut and we produce the precursors for serotonin and dopamine through amino acids (food!).


Tyrosine is the precursor for dopamine. High tyrosine foods include beef, pork, fish, chicken, tofu, milk, cheese, beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.


Tryptophan is the precursor for serotonin. High tryptophan foods include chicken, turkey, red meat, pork, tofu, fish, beans, milk, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, and eggs. Making sure you are getting a wide variety of foods in your diet will help with your serotonin and dopamine production.

Nutrition and Mental Health Together

Nutrition plays such a huge role in mental health because they feed off each other (pun intended!) If our anxiety and depression is low, our stomach acid is being regulated and we are able to enter the parasympathetic function when eating. Thus, having the ability to digest properly and utilize all of the consumed energy for our metabolic function.

If our anxiety and depression is high, not only will we not be digesting properly, but we will also be craving foods higher in carbohydrates for a quick serotonin release. This could lead into disordered eating behaviors such as eating when we are not hungry and not in tune with our hunger/fullness cues. 

Balanced nutrition is the goal for everyone. A simple way I like to help people get on track with balanced eating, is educating on macronutrients vs micronutrients. There are 3 macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

There are a ton of micronutrients so we will just call these our fruits and vegetables. At each meal, there should be a representative from each category of macronutrient and at least one fruit or vegetable. For example: in a burger, the bun is the carbohydrate, the patty is the protein, the spread or sauce is the fat, and the lettuce/onion/tomato is the micro nutrient. So yes, a burger is a balanced meal!

Mindfulness exercises before eating:

  1. Sit straight up in a chair with feet firmly planted on the ground
  2. Complete a few rounds of breathing techniques such as boxed breathing. Here’s a how.
  3. Check in with your hunger/fullness and anxiety
  4. Repeat some affirmations



Hanna McAlister, RDN

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Newport Beach Social Media Break

Summer Social Media Break

Stopping to smell the roses or admiring nature has always helped me focus on what is important. There is something about the air, trees, and liveliness of everything in nature, in my opinion. It helps to keep things simple in this over complicated world. The beginning of this summer is a bit different than last year where COVID rocked our existence and kept people inside and isolated. Instead of what we needed more of (e.g., nature, beach walks, family gatherings) we increased our use of social media and devices to get through the traumatic impact of the pandemic. It made sense to me, as I struggled and still struggle to put down my phone. It was all too much. It was time for a social media break.

Social Media Break

Slowing down this summer is not about saying “no” to family gatherings, vacation with loved ones, or getting out in nature, but slowing down the social media and device obsession. I know my online presence has increased in the last year, and I have gone back and forth with deleting and redownloading the Facebook app a few times. I have become somewhat of an anthropologist, recognizing that when I am feeling down, tired, or frustrated, I tend to reach for my phone to scroll and zone out, not having to think about my worries for a bit.

As a therapist, I know all too well I need to use healthier coping skills. I am currently working on that. I find that when I am zipping through social media, I can elicit emotions as I view. I can see things that bring on jealousy, joy, sadness, and anger as I flood my mind with endless feed. I begin to compare myself and life to others which robs me of experiencing contentment. It is as though I speed things up with the novelty of pages and messages on social media, even as I appear to have slowed things down lounging on the couch.

Slowing Down, Saying Yes

Slowing down this summer means saying “yes” to people, real people in person. Saying “yes” to the hike, walk, run, or beach walk is what we need more of today. Slowing down this summer means saying “no” to myself when I want to zone out and scroll and not connect with nature, people, and outside.

The way I connect in my life is walking outside. No need to put a lot of expectations on it, just put on the shoes, grab a loved one or not and start stepping into slowing down. Give yourself a break—a social media break.

Contact us now

Alyson Peña, LPCC
Clinical Director and Family Therapist

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Soul Healing in Newport Beach

Soul Healing

So often in our lives, we are looking for a quick fix to reduce our stress levels. We search for what is going to help us feel better fast. We turn to the internet, to google, to our friends and maybe even our therapists for answers. We want relief and we want it now. We are willing to try any coping skill or read any book that will bring us closer to feeling good. What if I told you that the answers to what would provide the most opportunity for joy and relief was already inside of you? Our own internal source of goodness. It’s what I like to call, your soul self. And you may be in need of soul healing.

What Is a Soul?

Each and every person has a soul. We are born with it. As children, it was easy for us to listen to our soul selves and what brought us joy. It is reinforced for children to pursue joy through imagination, play and adventure. As we get older, we are taught to value different things. Work, success, relationships, and accomplishments become the focus of our attention. We start to forget how to play.

It doesn’t seem as important as paying the bills, saving for a house or getting that next promotion. We become stressed. Our soul selves start to grow quieter, and we are less connected to the things that bring us true joy.

Take a minute and think about the last time you felt truly joyful and alive. What were some of the components that made up this day? Who did you experience this joy with? What was the scenery? What activities did you participate in? Try and imagine it again as vividly as you can. This is a soul moment. Soul moments give us so much information on what truly sparks joy for us.

Soul Healing With Soul Moments

When I picture a soul moment, I think of a recent visit to the beach with my mother. She was visiting from out of town. We sat in the warm sand of Corona Del Mar after brunch and watched the water. I felt so happy to be spending time with her, the weather was perfect and being connected to nature together was such a treat. Childlike wonder washed over us both as dolphins began to appear dancing in the waves. We giggled and shouted for joy. I cherish this memory. It gave me some deep soul healing.

Soul moments make our lives worth living. Soul moments replenish us when we are feeling drained. I find the more we are able to identify soul moments, the more we are able to feel life giving emotions such as joy and gratitude.

Permission to Play

As adults, we may need to give ourselves more permission to explore, play or rest. This permission could allow for further soul moments to unfold. If you are having trouble with where to start, consider what brought you joy as a child. Our inner child has so much to offer when it comes to pursuing soul moments. For example, when I was young, I loved taking walks in the woods, looking for animals and giant leaves. As an adult, this might translate to going for a hike or visiting a national park.

Keep a Soul Record

Try recording some of your soul healing moments in a journal to look back upon. We need these records when darker days come along; a reminder that life is good and joy is attainable. In April, Lido Wellness Center is  honoring stress awareness month. A soul moment could be just what you need to feel better and decrease your adult stress.

So, this month, consider consulting your soul or your inner child for guidance. Go from there. Find your own adventure and let your soul guide you to cultivating more joy. You might find the simple action of recalling yours brings you some relief. From my soul to yours – enjoy the journey!

Lido Wellness Center offers counseling, partial hospitalization (PHP for mental health), and intensive outpatient programs for mental health assistance. If you are struggling with mental illness or just need to figure some things out, call us today.

Contact us now

Amy VanBecelaere, LCPC, R-DMT

Primary Therapist

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