Considering Diet as Part of One's Mental Health Treatment
By now, many people are starting to talk about how diet may play a role in one’s overall mental health. Most realize that food has some impact on them, whether it is the fast food burger and fries that leaves your stomach hurting and energy level depleted or the bowl of ice-cream that gives you a jolt of energy and then leaves you craving more sugar (and most likely a stomach ache). As with everything, you have the extremists that will tell you that anything outside of living in a bubble is bad and you have others that are starting simply, making subtle changes in their daily routine, including smarter food choices. Now, I find myself somewhere in the middle, but certainly experienced both ends of the spectrum.
I started on my own path to wellness, especially where diet is concerned, during a very prolonged period of sickness. I was not getting better with traditional remedies, medications were not providing the relief I prayed for, and therefore I had to consider any and all complementary healing modalities that had a chance of helping me. One such approach focused on my diet. I was seeing (and still am) a wonderful integrative medicine psychiatrist that helped me learn more about food and how it affected my body. Unlike other psychiatrists I have encountered, she was very patient, understanding, listened, and realized that I was only capable of small changes or the overwhelm would be too much. I slowly tried eliminating foods that had gluten, dairy, and excessive processed sugar, and I felt better. I was less reactive to things, my stomach felt settled for the first time in my life, and I had energy all day.
As I think back to my start on this healing journey, I can still feel the strong anxiety and overwhelm as I am the type of person that thinks that if I don’t do something 100% it isn’t worth doing at all (sounds a bit like a perfectionist). Changing a lifetime of eating habits overnight is simply impossible, even for those that are not battling severe depression. Furthermore, I made the mistake of asking everyone in every health store their thoughts on the best supplements, diets, protein shakes, meal bars, etc. What I noticed is that no one answered my questions the same, thus EVERYONE had their own opinion. As time progressed, I learned to collect and process as much information as possible, but not beat myself up for having a burger or eating a bag of chips if I was starved and there was no other food available. I learned that eating food (something I rarely did when I was sick) is more important than eating the perfect diet.
So, for all those out there beginning your journey with nutrition, please, please, please, be gentle on yourself. Remember that while Rome wasn’t built in a day, habits can take a long time to break. Simply become more aware of what you put in your body and how you feel after. Who knows, you may find that food can act as your medicine, allowing you to take less medication, and empowering you to take more control of your life.