We are quickly learning that what we eat has a significant impact on our mood. This is demonstrated by compelling evidence suggesting a close link between some foods and specific mental health disorders. Despite the fact we know this, it’s fair to say nutrition is very often overlooked when it comes to managing mental health.
We are always being told to eat healthier in order to improve and/or minimise physical health risks. Of course that’s important but it’s definitely time we start to eat well for our emotional wellbeing as well.
It’s no secret, I’m all about the self-love. Eating well and looking after your body is an ideal way to show you value and care for yourself. When you decide that you love yourself, you want to look after your mind and body. Why? Because we want to look after the ones we love.
Diet was one of the later pieces of the puzzle when it came to my own happiness journey. My diet wasn’t bad; it’s just not something that had my attention. There’s no doubt though, when I did start making subtle changes, I had more energy, felt better about myself and overall…happier. This is not a blog to tell you to change everything and never eat a doughnut again. Trust me, I love chips and wine too much for that.
Half the reason nutrition has been in the back seat is because there is a LOT of information out there advising us what to eat and what not to eat. It’s confusing. One day you are told to avoid grains and the next day they are great. (I still don’t know?!)
I can’t tell you how many people tell me their goal is to eat healthier. For various reasons this is a difficult change to make. Some don’t know where to start, some enjoy the junk, some are stuck in old habits, and of course there is the fear that eating well is expensive.
I have been researching, practicing and recently attending talks with professionals in the nutrition world, sharing their knowledge on the importance of healthy eating and the role it plays towards our mental health.
Everything I’ve learned has confirmed, to live a happier life, we need to look at what we are putting in our bodies.
Much of the information can become complicated, making it tempting to switch off and give up. I have tried to keep it simple for myself, I’ve not made any drastic changes, making the change easier to maintain.
Here are 9 simple tips that I have incorporated into my own routine:
Try to cut out some of the rubbish, you know the ones I mean. Junk food is said to interfere with the production of serotonin which is the chemical that makes us feel good. Sugar is everywhere in our diets, it’s a bigger problem than we are aware of and it affects our mood. You get the peak in high sugar levels which in turn is followed by a crash, resulting in less energy and a drop in our mood.
This is the best way to get those nutrients and vitamins needed for a healthy mind. It doesn’t have to be hard, just add it in wherever you can. For even better results, try to get a variety of colour on your plate. Eat the rainbow.
This one comes from Nutritional Therapist, Alice Mackintosh and is one of my favourite tips. Adding more herbs and spices to your recipes is a great way to mix up your flavours (which apparently triggers the release of dopamine – hello!). There is little research, but from what there is, it’s said that turmeric and saffron can help with low mood and anxiety.
When your blood sugar levels drop and when you get hungry, you start to get irritable, low, tired and the physical symptoms can resemble that of anxiety. This dip can influence unhealthy decisions and procrastination. It’s also the time you are likely to binge – all making you feel worse and hit the vicious cycle.
I don’t want t o scare you, I now this is many people’s lifeline in the morning. I have a caffeinated drink most days, but I pick my timing. I won’t have one if I’m too busy, I genuinely end up thinking I’m more stressed than I am because the buzz from the coffee is the same symptoms. Caffeine also messes around with the chemicals in our brain. Most people have a coffee for a ‘pickmeup’ but just remember, what goes up must come down. Try not to have it too late, you know it can interfere with sleep, lack of sleep leads to more problems including depression and anxiety.
The mental health charity ‘MIND’ tells us “protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings”. That’s pretty important so be sure to get protein in your diet. Fish is especially good because it has Omega 3 which is the good stuff your brain likes.
This is definitely the one I have to remind myself about the most. It is a daily struggle but it’s better than previous times. Staying hydrated in crucial, otherwise you can become drowsy and your concentration lacks, noone feels happy in that state.
I’m not going to touch on this too much because I simply don’t know enough yet, but essentially what you put in your gut, impacts your brain. There’s a lot of intense information out there. Putting it REALLY simply, a troubled gut can contribute to stress, anxiety and depression. It’s important to know this information because it can really help you to make informed decisions and make putting some of the above into action. Just knowing this gives me the motivation I need to say no to that biscuit. I highly recommend you doing some further research into this.
Seriously, I can’t have you leave here thinking I stick to these habits 24/7 and restrict myself. I like the idea of the 80:20 rule, be good 80% of the time and let go 20% of the time. I try to be good Mon-Fri (disclaimer: often I still meet a friend for a drink or dinner) and my weekends tend to be over indulgent. I drink alcohol and I have fast food, maybe that will change, but for now, those indulgences are staying. If you stick to a strict regime and don’t allow yourself any treats (whatever that may be for you), that’s going to make you pretty miserable.
So there you have it, 9 tips that have helped me feel better on the inside.
I’m certainly not saying a good diet is the cure for mental health disorders, but it plays an important role in prevention and recovery. There’s no denying, when we eat well, we feel less tired, energetic and more positive about ourselves and the world. So if you ask me, healthier eating is a no brainer.
No one can make you change, but it’s important you know food and nutrition is a fundamental driver for your mood and wellbeing, so that you can make decisions accordingly.
Don’t let this overwhelm you. You don’t have to make huge shifts at once, just start with one small change from the list above. Then once you have done that, introduce another (if you want). One small change is better than no change at all. So go ahead, set a goal and let me know what it is in the comments below.
Carly Ann xx