I love food. I love food that is high in fat and sugar and when you deep fry it like a deep fried mars bar, then I’m in heaven. In our family we have always celebrated or commiserated with food. If we were happy, we’d celebrate by going out to dinner or having cake. If we were sad, we’d eat comfort food like chocolate or Scott’s homemade creamed rice. When I was sick my mum would make me my favourite meal. Food is very important to me and I find a lot of comfort in eating. You could say that food has and continues to be a coping strategy for all of life’s ups and down.
When it comes to food and good mental health, we have learnt so much. Having a mental illness means that I must be consciously aware of two things; Eating nutritious food and avoiding diets or restrictive eating.
- Eating nutritious food – In the past decade there has been an explosion of research around the impacts of what we eat and our mental health. What the experts have found, is that when you have a good healthy eating plan (noticed I didn’t say diet), full of fresh and nutritious foods, you can have a direct positive influence on your mental health including recovery from depression. I’m not for one minute suggesting that if you eat a nutritious food your depression will miraculously disappear. I am saying that it’s one factor that can contribute to wellness and is something within our control. What I choose, and yes it’s a choice, is to focus my attention eating lots of fruit and vegetables and drinking lots of water. I say to myself when I gab the Cadbury 200g block of chocolate from the fridge “Is this nutritious”? I also make sure that there are healthy options in the house so that I don’t have an excuse like “Oh there was nothing in the house to eat”. Ultimately what we eat is entirely our choice. By making little choices every day, and at every meal, to eat and drink foods that benefits our mental and physical health, means we give ourselves every chance of success.
- Avoid dieting or “restrictive eating” – My very wise dietician said one day, whatever you do never ever go on a diet. She said that minute you restrict what you’re eating, you put your mental health in danger, which I’ve found really helpful. What I’ve found out is that dieting or restrictive eating has a huge biologically and psychological affect. On a restrictive diet your body increases the hormones that make you feel hungrier as well as decreases the hormones that make you feel full. Essentially your body is rejecting the diet and so do I. I don’t restrict my diet, Instead I focus on what can I add to my diet each day and each meal to make it more nutritious? It’s totally ok to eat chocolate. I love it and couldn’t live without it. That’s ok, but if I eat chocolate, I can also eat some grapes or watermelon or oranges. Once again, it’s all about balance. Instead of focusing on what not to eat, which actually makes you want it more, focus on how you’re eating. Pay attention when you’re eating to how full you feel. Be conscious of how you tummy feels during a meal. Learn to recognise when you’re eating because you’re bored, not because you’re hungry. Don’t restrict and limit yourself, just make nutritious choices. If you do have a rough day and finish off a packet of TimTams, always be kind to yourself. Food guilt is a very powerful negative state which can turn into something much greater.
It’s so important when you have a mental illness to do everything you can to stay well, and part of staying well is enjoying your food and nutrition. It’s important to celebrate and participate with food and not see it as an enemy. Instead of restricting and limiting your food intake, thereby putting pressure and guilt on yourself contributing to poor mental health, be positive and make a few small changes each day that will make you feel good.
Be conscious of what you eat, but not obsessed with it. Add fruit and vegetables rather than cutting out other foods. It’s small changes that will make the biggest impact to your mental health. After all, it’s the things we do every day that make the most difference to our mental health. Eating good nutritious food can be fun, enjoyable and healthy, one just has to alter their mindset a little.