The Remarkable Link Between Diet & Mental Health

What foods are associated with increased psychiatric symptoms? What should you eat if you want to boost your mood? Learn what researchers have found when it comes to diet and mental well-being.

diet

You may have heard of the “food-mood connection.” Research indicates that our food choices greatly impact not only physical health, but mental well-being. Some foods seem to boost mood and reduce psychiatric symptoms while others are linked to depression and anxiety.


Mood Thugs

Sugar negatively impacts mood and slows memory and learning. High-sugar diets are associated with smaller brain volume. Furthermore, sugar will make you less alert and more tired. A recent study found that the idea of a “sugar rush” is myth.

Sugar is not the only villain; fat can be just as harmful. One study found that a high-fat diet may lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, trans fat may lead to poor memory function.

If you have bipolar disorder, avoid processed meats such as jerky, hot dogs, etc. Researchers found that nitrates in processed meats are associated with mania.

Mood Champions

A diet high in fiber and vegetables (with limited added sugar) has been linked to improved mood and a reduction in depressive symptoms. Interestingly, women seem to benefit more than men, and the effect is even greater when exercise is added. A vegan or plant-based diet is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Fruits and vegetables are good for mood, but raw fruits and veggies are better. A raw diet is associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing and lower levels of psychiatric symptoms. According to a recent study, the top raw foods associated with mental wellness are apples, bananas, berries, carrots, citrus fruits, cucumbers, grapefruit, kiwi, lettuce, and dark, leafy greens.

diet

So how many servings of fruit/veggies should you eat per day for optimal mental health? At least 8, according to one study that found happiness benefits were evident for each portion for up to 8 servings per day.

What nutrients should you include in your diet for improved mental health? Research indicates the following are important for mental wellbeing:  Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, flaxseed, walnuts), phospholipids (egg yolk, soybeans), niacin (liver, avocado, brown rice), folate (legumes, beets, broccoli), vitamin B6 (chickpeas, tuna), and vitamin B12 (sardines, fortified nutritional yeast).


In sum, skip the fast food and soda; head to the salad bar instead to feed your mood and your belly!

diet

11 Creative Ideas for Self-Care

(Updated 1/13/20) Self-care is a vital piece of the wellness puzzle. This post is intended for the well-informed “self-carer,” who already knows about (and maybe even practices) deep breathing, massage, aromatherapy, etc. and wants to expand their horizons. This is also for people (like me) who don’t get much from your typical self-care practices (i.e. lighting a scented candle).

Self-care is a vital piece of the wellness puzzle. As a mental health professional, I practice self-care to prevent burnout. (Once a counselor reaches burnout, he/she is no longer able to fully meet a client’s needs; if you’re not taking care of yourself, how are you going to help someone else?)

To illustrate the importance of self-care, consider a vehicle; it requires ongoing maintenance for optimal performance and safety. Similarly, we require self-care. It’s a concept that encompasses a variety of needs, including health, solitude, human connection, self-love, spiritualty, and more.

I’ve read many articles, posts, and books on self-care; there’s a wealth of information out there. Commonplace self-care tips, such as taking a bubble bath or meditating, make up the majority of posts on the topic; but unoriginal content has no place here. And to be honest, some (okay, a lot!) of the ideas make me want to roll my eyes. (Lighting a scented candle? Nope, not gonna do it for me.)

This post is intended for the well-informed “self-carer,” who already knows about (and maybe even practices) deep breathing, massage, aromatherapy, etc. and wants to expand their horizons. This is also for people (like me) who don’t get much from your typical self-care practices.

Here are 11 unique ideas:

1. Create an inspirational scrapbook or a “bliss book” 

Any time you happen upon something that makes you smile, inspires you, or motivates you, add it to your scrapbook (or journal or binder). Maybe it’s a photo, a happy thought you jot down, or a magazine article. Alternatively, you could create a “bliss board” on Pinterest.

Creating a bliss book (or board) has the potential to generate positivity and compassion. Whenever you need an emotional pick-me-up, flip through your scrapbook. Share it with others to generate a double dose of cheer!

2. Plan a trip 

If you can’t take a vacation, you can at least plan! Preparation is half the fun (for me, at least)! Look up places you’d like to travel and research things to do there. Create an itinerary. Set a tentative travel date (even if it’s years from now) so you have something to look forward to.

3. Poop in public bathrooms (without shame)! 

If you’re one of those people who avoid going number 2 in public bathrooms, stop. Holding in your poop is uncomfortable and may result in constipation. If you’re embarrassed about the smell, carry a travel-sized container of Poo-Pourri. If it’s the sound that makes you anxious, run the water or flush as you go. When your body tells you it’s time to go, listen! 

4. Treat yourself to a monthly subscription box 

I love getting mystery packages in the mail! It’s akin to receiving a care package when you’re a kid at summer camp. And when it comes to subscription boxes, there are many to choose from. Currently, I subscribe to four: Ispy (5 makeup samples in a cute makeup bag for $10), PLAY! by Sephora (5-6 makeup samples for $10), Trendsend (5-8 clothing items and no styling fee!), and StitchFix (a mix of 5 clothing items, shoes, and accessories with a $20 styling fee – fee is deducted from total).

Subscription boxes are fun and a great way for me to build a professional wardrobe and to try new makeup products. (Disclaimer: I receive a referral bonus if you sign up for a subscription service via one of my links.)

5. Sort through childhood toys or photos

Allow yourself time to reminisce. My sister and I recently went through a box of old dolls and stuffed animals; it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. It released a flood of happy memories and it felt great to laugh. (We chuckled over my Barbie dolls, which all had short, spiky hair; I was a very literal child, so when my sister declared “Barbie haircut day,” I took it to heart. My sister, on the other hand, only pretended to snip her Barbies’ hair. I cried rivers that day.)

I also enjoy looking at old family photos. See below for a pic from the year my mom went on a mission to create the perfect Christmas photo letter (the kind moms send out to impress relatives and old friends). “Fred the Christmas Goose” didn’t make the cut.

6. Create something

Practicing holistic self-care means stretching your mind; you benefit from the challenge. Avoid stagnation by stepping outside your comfort zone. Feed your creative side by building a chair, writing a song, painting a picture, knitting a scarf, or putting together a model.

Personally, I enjoy creating art; while not entirely lacking in talent, I’m no Picasso. Most of my projects are equivalent to the work one would accredit to a moderately talented 8-year old. Every once in awhile, I’m pleasantly surprised. (See below for a sketch I posted on Instagram.) Drawing or painting elicits a sense of accomplishment; it’s something I feel good about. Acknowledging your contributions builds self-esteem and confidence.

7. Engage with a stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, or a family member

Establishing meaningful human connection is essential for wellness. To make the most of this tip, try something you normally wouldn’t. (For example, chatting with a stranger is not my norm. To practice this tip, I’d strike up a conversation with my seatmate on a plane [providing, of course, that they’re open to friendly conversation.) Practicing self-care means building (or strengthening) connections. 

8. Go exploring 

As a child, nothing thrilled my soul quite like adventure; I explored by trampling through the woods behind my house, traversing streams and following hidden trails. My adventures often involved the discovery of “treasure,” an odd rock or ruins of some sort. Today, I’m just as adventurous; however, I spend less time crashing through woods and more time traveling the world.

Exploration promotes curiosity, which is essential for growth. If you’re not a fan of outdoor activities like hiking or backpacking, try exploring a city or neighborhood. Consider driving through unfamiliar developments. Explore restaurants or shops in your town. Whatever you decide, pursue it with the enthusiasm of the 6-year old adventurer you once were.

9. Redecorate your office or a room in your home to make it soothing, energizing, or inspiring

Every time you’re in the room, you’ll experience positive vibes. Paint the walls, add plants, declutter, hang a portrait, change the curtains, create a rock garden, etc. – whatever promotes positivity.

10. Change something about yourself

There’s a lot to be said for loving yourself, flaws and all. On the flip side, if there’s something you’re extremely unhappy with, consider changing it. If you’re overweight and have tried every sort of diet, but still can’t shed those pounds, talk to a doctor about weight loss surgery or schedule an appointment with a plastic surgeon. If you’re tired of feeling sluggish and lacking energy, adjust your sleep schedule, diet, and exercise routine (and make sure you see a doctor to rule out a medical issue). If you’re constantly broke, get a second job or find another way to bring in income; enroll in financial courses or schedule an appointment with a financial advisor.

Sometimes, self-care involves drastic change. If you’re deeply troubled over some aspect of your life, and it’s something you’re unable to accept, change it (while recognizing it will require work!) This is your life; take action.

Note: This tip is only for things you have control over; recognize what you can and cannot change. For example, I don’t like my flabby arms; if this bothered me enough, I could lift weights to develop muscle tone. I also dislike my neck; it’s not long enough. Unfortunately, short of brass neck coils (which border on self-harm), there’s nothing I can do. It’s not worth brooding over. (That being said, when contemplating any major change, especially ones involving surgery or substantial amounts of money, ask, “Is this change for me alone or am I seeking outside approval?” The essence of self-care is the self; it’s for you and you alone.)

11. Adopt a healthy habit (or quit a bad one) 

This idea embodies delayed-gratification self-care vs. instant-gratification self-care (i.e. sipping a mug of tea or gazing at the stars). And while both types of self-care are important, the rewards associated with a healthy habit are life-changing (vs. “mildly pleasant”).

According to research, there are five lifestyle habits associated with a low risk of illness and longer life expectancy. If you’re serious about self-care (and want more bang for your buck), adopt one (or all) of the following practices:

Eat a healthy diet

Exercise regularly

Maintain a healthy body weight

Drink alcohol in moderation (or not at all)

Don’t smoke

A healthy lifestyle is the foundation of self-care!

Share your favorite strategies for self-care in a comment!


 

self-care

Guest Post: You Don’t Have to Exercise

Exercise is a choice. Trevor Jewell, a certified personal trainer, explains that while you don’t have to exercise, you should definitely consider it.

Fitness Advice from a Personal Trainer

You will definitely get more gratification from grabbing a pint of ice cream and putting your feet up for a Netflix binge. Obviously, we don’t exercise because we have to. No one is holding a gun to your head while you sweat and gasp for air in a crowded gym as the seconds of your life tick away on a treadmill timer. We exercise because we want to! We want to feel good, look good, and live long and happy lives free of pain and injury, so exercise becomes worth it.

Many of my clients have told me during their consultations that they don’t like exercise. Cardio is boring, weights are intimidating, ab work hurts too much, the list goes on and on. But all of them, every single one, enjoys the feeling of having completed a tough and energizing workout. The important difference is, after discussing their goals, they have input on their workout plan in the form of choice.

Hate cardio? No problem! I’ll offer you routines with moderate intensity interval training that mimics the aerobic effect of jogging. Weightlifting too intimidating? We’ll try out different bodyweight routines that incorporate resistance training without ever touching anything but the floor. Ab work hurts? How about a few functional fitness games that utilize your core without shredding it like an 8 minute ab routine from Women’s Health magazine. For my advanced clients, I plan days where they get to use what they’ve learned and choose their own workouts while I simply help align their choices with their goals and provide coaching as needed.

Image by Sabine Mondestin from Pixabay

The point is, almost everyone performs better in an environment where they don’t feel trapped and locked into a routine. This is why hiring a personal trainer can be a truly liberating experience as people realize they never have to touch an elliptical again if they don’t want to, but can still lose weight! If you are dragging your feet on the way to the gym to half-heartedly complete yet another round of the same old routine, it’s time to incorporate more choice into your workout.

It should come as no surprise that freedom of choice can lead to better results outside of the gym as well. In a recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, scientists discovered a direct link between having choice in a workout and making healthier diet selections. Two test groups were given instructions to exercise and then allowed to eat at the same buffet. One group was forced to complete an exact routine, while the other was allowed to choose their type of exercise, starting time, and even background music. Upon reviewing their trips to the buffet, the authors discovered that those with more choice in their workouts consistently ate less calories (587 versus 399 kcal) and chose healthier foods than their counterparts!

Image by 272447 from Pixabay

If you’ve ever piled three extra slices of pizza on your plate as a reward for going to the gym that morning, you know exactly how the “forced” participants were feeling. Treating an exercise routine as something you have to “get out of the way” or “get over with” will cause you to feel trapped, and to disassociate your workouts with your life. Our goal as personal trainers is not to force people to get healthy, but to get them to associate an energizing workout in the gym with the overall goal of a healthy lifestyle. We don’t have to exercise, we choose a higher quality of life, and have fun doing it!


Guest Author: Trevor Jewell, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer

Trevor Jewell is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer with EnDevor Health: Connecting doctors, exercise physiologists, and personal trainers to truly implement Exercise is Medicine in patients’ lives, located in Columbus, OH