Written by Michelle Bradley
Its not very often that we think of our body and mind as one thing. Often we consider our body to be a vehicle whereas the mind is like a floating cloud of consciousness hovering somewhere behind the eyes. That's why mental illness is something that people find very hard to understand. We can't see the pain, we can't touch it or bandage it up.
Its a vital step in recovering from mental illness to recognise that the mind and the body are one and the well being of one has a great impact on the well being of the other. Think of how miserable and depressed you get when you are hurt or ill. When it comes to fighting a mental illness, what you fuel your body with will have a massive impact on how you cope with the mental struggle.
I have never been the healthiest of eaters and despite having a reflux disorder most of my adult life, I never managed to say no to the naughty things and yes to the good things. I'm a total carb and sugar addict. I was constantly told by my GP that changing my diet would improve my mental health but nothing said misery to me more than a healthy diet and wasn't I miserable enough?
That said, as I became more in tune with my body and the things that were triggering my anxiety (such as tea and sugar), I began to think that maybe the doctor had a point.
I researched different ways of eating to improve mental health and came across the paleo diet. Basically it involves eating like a caveman by cutting out all refined sugar, processed food, dairy and grains. Sounds tough, but hey, cavemen didn't get depressed or anxious unless there was an actual tiger around right?
At first things were really difficult. As my body adapted to not having sugar any more and being overloaded with fresh meat and vegetables, I felt AWFUL! I lost 4lbs that first week alone, had terrible headaches and zero energy. After the first week though, things shifted. I had so much energy that I would get these urges to just go running down the street. My skin cleared up, my sleep improved, my mood improved and best of all NO ANXIETY! Nothing.
I lasted six weeks doing paleo before the massive grocery bill and constant meal planning got on top of me but from the experience I really did learn how food affects mood.
When your body is properly nourished and hydrated, it is better equipped to process serotonin and endorphins, the happy hormones! Reactions to stress are also less severe and overall you just feel...well!
Nowadays I'm not quite so strict with my diet. I do follow the Lean in 15 recipe book but more because the food is quick to make, really nutritious and all the family love the meals (even the kids!). I make sure I pack as much green veg into my diet as possible and have drastically cut down on the tea and sugar. In fact, one of the best things to come out of following the paleo diet was noticing which foods triggered me.
So think about how you are fuelling your body and how that might be affecting your state of mind. It is one more tool that you can use to take control of your illness and help you recover more quickly.