Eating for Mental Health
You’ve probably heard of the mind-body connection. You know there’s a connection between how you treat your body, and how that impacts your mind, and vice versa. It’s not just what you do with your body that can impact your mental health, but what you put in it that matters.
The Gut Microbiome
One area of health and wellness that has gotten a lot of attention in recent years is the microbiome. The gut microbiome is a living organism within you composed of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and microbes. These microbes are essential for all different aspects of your health including your immune system, cardiovascular health, and of course – your mental health. Factors like stress and your diet can affect these microbes and cause imbalances. This can look like too many non-beneficial microbes or not enough essential ones. A balanced microbiome is the first step in having a healthy brain-gut connection and balanced mental health.
Another outcome of diet that can impact your health is nutritional deficiencies. A nutritional deficiency is when you have low levels of essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Some of the most common deficiencies that can impact mental health is:
- Iron: Low iron levels can cause fatigue, making it hard to live your life.
- B Vitamins: Are essential for cognitive function and memory. Low levels of B vitamins can contribute to symptoms of depression.
- Magnesium: This essential mineral has been found to help treat symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, traumatic brain injury, postpartum depression, and addiction.
- Omega 3s: These fatty acids are now well known for their ability to treat symptoms of depression and schizophrenia.
These are just a few of the nutrients that are essential for your mental health. Other ones to keep on your radar are antioxidants, potassium, selenium, Vitamin A, and zinc. To get a gauge on any deficiencies you might have, you can get your blood tested through your healthcare provider.
How to Eat For Mental Health
You don’t have to have a diagnosed mental health disorder to benefit from a diet that supports your mental health. Here are some important steps you can take to eat a more balanced diet:
- Reduce Inflammation: Chronic inflammation can cause all sorts of mental health and emotional issues. Some ways you can reduce inflammation is by cutting back on processed sugar and other processed foods, finding out if you have any food allergies or sensitivities, and eating foods like berries, dark leafy greens, salmon, and avocados.
- Keep it Whole: When in doubt, try to eat foods that have fewer ingredients, and are considered “whole”. This basically means that they come from the Earth and that they aren’t overly processed. Whole ingredients include fruits and vegetables, sustainably sourced animal products, and herbs and spices.
- Healthy Oils: Some oils are better than others. For the most part, you want to opt for coconut oil, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, and sesame seed oil. Oils that tend to be more processed and can be inflammatory include soybean oil, palm oil, and canola oil.
- Animal Products: When it comes to deciding whether or not to eat animal products – that’s a personal choice. Some people believe that a vegan or vegetarian diet is essential to their mental health, while others say the opposite. Most people lie somewhere in the middle.
Eating a balanced diet can also help you maintain balanced blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar is off, you may feel spacey, anxious, and tired. The only way to know what works for you is to try different approaches and see what happens.
Trust Your Intuition
Learning to eat intuitively is an important part of supporting your mental health and moving through your body’s different needs and fluctuations. Intuitive eating is a way of tapping into your body’s needs at the moment and eating in a way that honours that. Aka listening to your body.
Easier said than done sometimes right? Intuitive eating can take time to get a handle on, and even then, we’re human, and we’re allowed to make mistakes. That being said, there are no “mistakes” when it comes to eating intuitively, it’s all a practice and learning process.
Your Body, Your Rules
There are so many diets and fads out there that it can be hard to figure out what is right for you. Here’s the deal – it’s your body, and your rules. You get to decide if eating organic is important for your lifestyle if you want to eat animal products, and what eating schedule makes sense for you. You get the idea.
Be Easy on Yourself
It’s important to mention that eating disorders are a big aspect of many people’s mental health. One of the biggest gifts you can give to your body and your mind is being easy on yourself. Knowing when to fill yourself with veggies, and when to indulge. Sometimes ‘indulgence’ can be the best thing for your mental health, especially when it’s done without guilt.
Another aspect of being easy on yourself is letting your diet shift and change without feeling rigid around it. You might be craving plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for a period of time, and then you’ll be hit with consistent red meat and fish cravings.
It’s ok to move with these fluctuations. Honouring them means you’re listening to your body’s intuition. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but important things to keep in mind when learning how to eat in a way that supports your mental and emotional health. There are so many different aspects to nutrition, so take it slow, and try one bite at a time.
Natasha (she/her) is a full-spectrum doula and health+wellness copywriter. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, health, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more education and empowerment. You can connect with Natasha on IG @natasha.s.weiss.