This morning I was reading a very interesting article on the link between good diet and good mental health. It is sometimes hard for us to know how to get clarity about how what we eat might impact on how we feel, so why is that? Well it strikes me that its a question which can easily fall between areas of expertise so that visiting one professional might help you find part of the picture but you’ll need to visit another one to get the whole thing clear. For example, you might visit your GP if you’re feeling depressed but the likelihood that the doctor will refer you for some sort of counselling is far from certain, although it is quite likely that you’ll end up with a pill. If you visit a counsellor you’ll have plenty of opportunity to concentrate on how you’re feeling but it isn’t likely that there will be any conversation about what you are eating. If you see a nutritionist you’ll talk about the impact that your diet is having on your health but there is unlikely to be any professional knowledge of cognitive issues and dysfunctional thinking. So all in all its hard to find a way to join the dots.
One thing that you can do which puts you in total control is to keep a Food Mood diary. The idea is that each day you note down a little about how you are feeling along with details of what you have eaten and drunk. There are so many potential contributors to poor mental health in the things that we eat and you might well find that laying it down on paper enables you to see some patterns which might then be meaningfully adjusted. Consider some examples.
If you are sleeping poorly it might be that you are taking caffeine on board too late in the evening (it has a half life of around 6 hours)
If you are struggling to stay awake during the day it might be because you aren’t drinking enough water (caffeine rich fizzy drinks are no substitute)
If you feel a bit wobbly and possibly even nauseous during the morning it could be that you need to stop skipping breakfast or eat a bit more of it.
There is a plethora of information available on the connection between cognitive problems and poor diet. Our unshakable addiction to sugar and trans fats and our tendency to “comfort eat” when under stress are ticking time bombs in terms of our general health. The connection between mind and body is irrefutable.
I love food and I don’t even pretend that I never eat anything which is “bad” for me. The challenge is not to deprive but to survive. If we can see what a poor diet does to us physically and we still carry on what hope is there for the damage it does to our mental health when it is so easily ignored and deemed invisible.
In the middle of last summer I was away on a training course in London. Each lunchtime I was drawn to the local Planet Organic to eat a huge bowl of some sort of salad. Chick peas, pea shoots, rice, sweet baby beetroots, mint, lemon and olive oil drizzled over baby spinach and juicy tomatoes, wonderful mushroom soups and hunks of wholemeal bread. This was not food for rabbits it was food for people who love their food but also love their bodies. Each afternoon when I would usually find myself struggling with a post lunch lull in energy levels I found I was completely transformed. If anything I felt more full of zing and vigour than I had in the morning. I know without doubt it was to do with my diet and the best thing was that I had no feeling of it being a chore, that I was missing out or selling myself short. The sensation of feeling full of energy and knowing that I was taking care of myself at the same time was heady and intoxicating. Noticing how what I put into my body has a dramatic impact on the way my body and brain behaves is always a joy because it is only with clarity that change can be made.
If you are struggling with low mood or low energy it might be that external issues are having an impact but look too at what you are eating because its just possible that making changes there could have a much bigger impact than you had imagined.