The impact of our diet on our overall happiness is a fact we take for granted. When we eat our favorite meal, it feels like a good day; when we have to make a meal out of the random ingredients left in our cupboards, the day probably feels less great. Yet changing our diet to improve our mental health is an often overlooked stage of self care and treatment. The NHS recommends improving your lifestyle as the first stage of therapy, before medication or counseling.
Mind, a U.K.-based mental health charity, states that slow energy releasing foods are the most effective at maintaining a steady mood throughout the day. Carolyn C. Ross M.D., writing for Psychology Today, argues that a crucial physical centre of mental health is your gut. She goes on to suggest a range of dietary options like whole grains, live yoghurt and leafy grains. These, she states, are the most effective foods at achieving a healthier mind through your gut. Please note: she also emphasizes that “dietary changes won’t be sufficient for everyone and are not a substitute for other forms of treatment.”
Despite this kind of advice being freely available, it can be harder to follow than you think. Take anxiety or depression, for example. Both can rapidly decrease your appetite, causing fatigue and reducing your brain’s effectiveness at fighting mental illnesses. Reducing food can also be a side effect of a variety of mental issues; as a form of self-harm, or as a method of enacting discipline over a life that feels otherwise out of control. Your diet is part of your overall ongoing treatment plan and should be treated as such.
What you can do:
- Eat regularly: a regular diet helps maintain your blood sugar levels over the course of a day. If eating is difficult, try eating small portions over the course of the day.
- Stay hydrated: okay, we’ve all seen the jokes regarding our mental health issues clearing up after one glass of water – but liquids really do help. Without them, it becomes harder to think across the course of the day, leading to greater difficulty dealing with your own mind.
- Pack in the protein: wherever your protein comes from, amino acids are a core part of any protein packed food. They also make up the chemicals in your brain that help regulate your thoughts and emotions, so pretty important overall.
- See Mind‘s full list of suggestions, including dietary guidance for taking medication on their website.
Photo: Leo Hidalgo