Nutrition and mental health
Diet and growing up
Growing up in an Italian family, carbohydrates formed the fundamental basis of my nutritional intake. My protein intake was so low that I struggled to maintain my body weight. When it came to vegetables, I was quite particular, only enjoying them when prepared to my exact liking. My breakfast consisted of Nutella on toast, and my mid-afternoon snack was often the cheapest pan-fried chicken in my neighborhood. Water scarcely made an appearance in my daily routine as I primarily quenched my thirst with juice or fizzy drinks.
Learning you are what you eat
I was deeply entrenched in my simple, hunger-satiating eating habits, to the point where I experienced a growing sense of frustration when my boyfriend at the time attempted to persuade me to incorporate a more balanced mix of macronutrients into my meals. At that time, I failed to grasp the value of spending extra money when it seemed entirely possible to create equally delicious and filling meals without the added complexity.
Fortunately, having someone close to me who possessed some nutritional knowledge proved to be a fortunate circumstance. Over time, I began to experience numerous nutritional benefits associated with a well-balanced diet. Such as improvements in my digestion, energy levels, gut health, muscle growth, mental health, and well-being.
Observing these changes in my health and well-being made me interested in researching and finding out more about these links. I would watch documentaries, read books, and research studies which completely changed my relationship with food. I started to develop a deep self-awareness around how I would feel after eating, which led me to stop eating ultra-processed foods, and treasure family-cooked meals.
From a choice to a habit
My mindset when choosing foods at the store changed as my nutritional knowledge improved. Knowledge allowed me to understand cravings and make informed and rational decisions with longer-term benefits. For example, although at the moment ultra-processed, energy-dense foods such as sweets, crisps or chocolate would make me feel better because of the release of dopamine, learning about the negative effects of these foods on your gut health, indirect effects on mental health, made these foods unattractive. Instead, I started to prefer whole foods, which I knew would make me feel better in the long term.
Repeatedly choosing healthier options led to the development of habits, setting in motion a vicious cycle of positive mental well-being. For example, by consistently making healthier choices and adhering to a nutritious mainly whole foods diet, I experienced reduced cravings for high-calorie foods, which nurtured positive mental health and sustained a pattern of wise decision-making. Now, adopting a balanced diet made up of whole foods, a variety of macronutrients, and probiotics, I found my mental and physical health to be at an optimal level.
Cost / Benefits
I have tried and played around with different diets depending on my current goals and recent findings. I have to say it wasn’t always easy. For example, when I was trying to gain muscle and become more athletic, my diet would include a higher protein than carbohydrate intake, and although this improved my digestion and physical health, my mental health was suffering. I found myself weighing my food and limiting my caloric intake daily. Although it can help me lose weight and reach physical health goals, these did not outweigh the costs to my mental health, and thus it was not for me.
I’m a firm believer that what we eat holds the power to influence our mood, energy levels, and overall mental health and well-being. In the end, the costs and benefits are different for everyone, so it’s about raising self-awareness to discover the ideal balance that works for you, to maximize your mental health and well-being.
As you continue your journey toward a more harmonious relationship with food and improved well-being, here are some valuable recommendations to consider…
- Remember Dr Chris from Operation Ouch? He’s talking a lot about UPF (ultra processed foods) right now – check him out in YouTube and find out why he thinks that we need to change the language around obesity and real food.
- Explore the Mind-Body Connection: Understanding the intricate connections between your mind and body can be a game-changer in your quest for better health. I recommend delving into the book “The Mind-Gut Connection” by Emeran Mayer to gain deeper insights into this fascinating relationship.
- Learn more about your gut microbiome and all things nutrition based on the latest science on the Zoe podcast here
Worried about an eating disorder? Go here
Image references FeelGoodFoodie