There’s no doubt our diet affects mental health. Ugh, the same dance it seems: two steps forward, one step back. Try this, don’t eat that! So many frustrations when it comes to diet and exercise often lead to feelings of shame and overwhelm.
I have a unique perspective on diet and exercise as a trauma therapist with training and certification in both integrative medicine and trauma informed sensorimotor psychotherapy. Our bodies and minds do not operate separately from one another. Do you feel like you are trying things to improve your health and energy levels, only to be left feeling defeated and distraught? It’s likely you haven’t targeted the core causes of your difficulties, therefore only allowing temporary gains and not promoting long-term success for health and wellness.
Let’s consider nutrition instead of diet moving forward. Evidence supports improving nutritional status and digestion will improve your mental health. This promotes an improved mental bandwidth and capacity for desire and ability to exercise. When we have digestive distress, we have emotional distress. When we have digestive restoration, we have emotional stability. Nutrition can be the connection to improving your mood and making room for progress with your nutrition and exercise.
I am sharing five facts on how to start considering how nutrition impacts your mental health. These wellness tips will increase your ability to care for your body physically and emotionally.
Five Facts About Nutrition:
- Wear your “food mood” glasses – start to pay attention to how food makes you feel. Using a simple mindfulness technique, after you eat something, pay attention to how your body feels and ask yourself this simple question: “Does this make me feel better or worse?” Become curious about how your mood changes with different foods. Things to consider would be, do I feel sluggish, energized, sad, excited, no change, etc.
- Give up the SAD diet – The Standard American Diet (SAD) makes us SAD. This commonly prescribed diet in our culture includes processed foods, sugary drinks, and refined foods. These processed foods are loaded with chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and food colorings all known to alter our mood. The SAD can lead to chronic inflammation and chronic pain.
- It’s not you, it’s the food! – Without reducing the intake of refined carbs like sugar, it’s extremely hard to maintain a balanced mood. Hypoglycemia can occur when blood glucose levels are low, often associated with poor adrenal function. People under stress are particularly vulnerable to this. Hypoglycemia can cause mood swings and inattention, both things that can cause it to be harder to maintain a consistent exercise routine.
- Give up refined sugars – Sugar can overwhelm the body and rob it of important nutrients. Aspartame is a known alternative; however, research shows it can make depression worse (and hello, depression causes low motivation!). A better alternative to sweeten your food and drinks would be honey, agave, or Stevia.
- Find healthier alternatives for your favorite cravings – We can experience trauma triggers subconsciously, spiking cortisol levels and increasing cravings for sugar. When this happens, try any of the following substitutes. Craving a muffin or donut? Try a smoothie sweetened with Stevia or a homemade baked good with sugar substitutes like apple sauce. Hankering for sugary cereal? Have a bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit or some granola
Try one or two tips at a time! Remember to be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to go slow. There are many ways to have healthy nutrition and wellness. Not all things work for everyone or everybody. Allow at least two weeks of consistency for these changes to help.
**These are suggestions and consultation with your physician or provider should always be sought before changing or starting any nutritional changes. Information gathered and sourced from “Change Your Mood With Food” Dr. Leslie Korn, 2017
Alycia Burant, MA, LPC, NCC is founder, owner and therapist at Healthy Minds Therapy in bustling Alexandria, VA. Her practice has three locations in Northern Virginia providing expert support and services for people in times of need. When she is not working, she enjoys relaxing with her family, wine tasting, cooking and traveling!