Foods and moods: Pittsburgh-based writer Smith coming to Altoona for NAMI event

Courtesy photo / Lindsey Smith, who calls herself the “Food Mood Girl,” has written “Junk Foods & Junk Moods,” “Food Guilt No More” and, most recently, “Eat Your Feelings."

Several years ago, Lindsey Smith craved a grilled cheese sandwich and was headed to the store for Wonder Bread, imitation cheese and butter. But the Pittsburgh-based writer and speaker on healthy eating paused and wondered why she had a hankering for the not-so-healthy combo.

Then she realized it was a rainy, Saturday afternoon, and it brought back childhood memories of her father making grilled-cheese sandwiches and the two watching “Unsolved Mysteries” on weekend afternoons when the weather was bad.

“What I really wanted was my dad, to be able to talk to him again,” said Smith, who calls herself the “Food Mood Girl” and has written “Junk Foods & Junk Moods,” “Food Guilt No More” and, most recently, “Eat Your Feelings.”

Smith is the guest speaker at an upcoming mental health and wellness recovery conference of the Blair County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on April 19. Only a handful of the $10 tickets remain for the event, scheduled from 2:30 to 8 p.m., that also will include a health and wellness expo and a dinner, said Sara McConnell, executive director.

“One of the things I’m trying to do with my new book is reclaim the way we look at emotional eating,” Smith said in a telephone interview with the Mirror. “People think, ‘I’m eating my feelings; I shouldn’t be having that.’

“I come from the point of view that we were born as emotional eaters. Look at babies … Instead of looking at it as a bad thing, look at it as positive and then figure out what you can learn from it. If you’re sad and craving a certain food, ask yourself why.”

That Saturday afternoon in 2015, she came to realize she was missing her father, who had died three years earlier.

“In that situation, I could have made the grilled cheese, ate it and honored my dad’s memory,” she said. “Or I could have made a more healthy grilled cheese using some ingredients I’ve written about.”

What I ended up doing was seeing if I could just watch ‘Unsolved Mysteries.’ … I found it … and watched the show and was able to satisfy that craving in such a unique and different way. I learned what my body needed.

“Sometimes it is the food, but sometimes you just need to embrace the emotion.”

Smith, who grew up 30 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Leechburg, struggled with severe anxiety as a child to the extent that she was hospitalized for panic attacks.

“It was a silent battle, and a lot of people didn’t know I was dealing with it,” she said. “I was intuititve enough as a kid to know this wasn’t normal, and I didn’t want to continue to feel that way.”

Her parents got her into therapy, and when Smith saw her older sister visiting a wellness center, she started going there.

“I started to focus on what I was eating, how I was exercising, how I felt about myself internally, where my anxieties were coming from, using a mind-body-spirit approach,” she said. “I went from the girl with anxiety who had to strategically plan how to get to school — my parents had to take me 30 minutes early — to the ninth grade when I was teaching stress-management workshops to my peers.”

Smith, 29, said she had to revisit her strategies while in college and ended up deciding to dedicate her life to the cause. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Duquesne University and a health coach certificate from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, an online, New York-based nutrition school. She also took classes with the Rouxbe Online Culinary School.

NAMI is bringing Smith to Altoona as part of its efforts of advocating on behalf of the millions of Americans affected by mental illness through education, support and public awareness, said McConnell. She said she appreciates Smith making and sharing the connection between her eating habits and how she felt about herself and the world around her.

“Mental health does not occur within a vacuum,” McConnell said. “There are so many variables that can adversely or favorably affect an individual’s mental health. Eating is something that we all engage in, multiple times per day. Every human being can relate to this message. Most people have considered the physical health effects of diet and eating habits, but might not have considered the same with regard to our emotions, thought patterns, or behaviors.

“Self-acceptance and self-care are an integral part of supporting a positive level of mental health, and Lindsey’s message shines a spotlight on this very important concept.”

She has appeared on national television, and her books are widely available. “Eat Your Feelings: The Food Mood Girl’s Guide to Transforming Your Emotional Eating” was just released in January and is at Barnes & Noble in Altoona, as well as at usual online sources. It features recipes, including one for Almond Chia Bread (below) that Smith shared with the Mirror.

In addition to serving it with jam, she said you can take a slice of the bread, top with a little olive oil, sprinkle cheese and broil or toast to make grilled cheese croutons for her tomato soup, the recipe for which is also in her new book.

Almond Chia Bread

2 cups almond flour

1/4 cup chia seeds

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup coconut oil

5 eggs

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a bowl or food processor, combine the almond flour, chia seeds, baking powder and sea salt.

Add the coconut oil, eggs and maple syrup, and mix or blend until smooth.

Add the sunflower seeds to the mixture.

Transfer the mixture into a parchment-lined or coconut-oil greased loaf pan. If you have extra sunflower seeds, sprinkle them on top for extra crunch.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Let cool for 10 minutes. Serve it sweet with some raspberry jam or savory with avocado and sea salt.

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.

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If you go

What: National Alliance on Mental Illness PA Blair County Conference

When: 2:30 to 8 p.m., April 19

Where: The Casino at Lakemont Park

Admission: $10

Tickets/More info: (814) 940-7440, office.BlairNami@gmail.com

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