Mental Health and Food

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When we think about our mental health, we rarely think about food. We might consider that our emotional state affects our food choices. For example, when I am sad, all I want is a red velvet cupcake… buttery, cheesecake frosting, moist center and…okay okay okay, I digress. When I have a great accomplishment, I want ice-cream or a beverage of the adult variety shared amongst friends. When I am missing family, all I want is a pot of collard greens and a side of sweet and buttery cornbread.
Rarely do I think about this the other way around, that food affects my feelings. Well, that is misleading. It’s a bit more complex than that.
When we think about food, we think of it as something to either a) satisfy our hunger or b) make our taste buds jump. Rarely do we take food for what it is designed to be, to nourish and replenish our bodies of what it needs to survive and, hopefully, thrive. I know we tend to feel emotions in our stomachs and in our hearts but any psychologist will tell you that it is all about the brain.
Our brains process pain, joy, and fear. It goes something like this…
Step 1. Have an experience.
Step 2. Brain processes that experience.
Step 3. We respond to that experience based on our brain’s interpretation.
Whether it is a break-up, a horrible day at work, an exciting journey, or a new opportunity, our brains are making sense of it all.
One challenge we often face is that we don’t.
give our brains what it needs to most effectively process these experiences. Instead, our brains are running like cars with either too little fuel or that gunky, dirty fuel that eventually wreaks havoc on our internal engine. Similar to a car with contaminated fuel, our brains may have misfires, won’t get the mileage it needs, and it hiccups when consistently poorly fed.
One of the best ways to jump-start positive mental health is to get good sleep, exercise, and eat nutritious food. This will not solve the problems in your relationship, make a lost loved one come back, make your paycheck bigger, rid a traumatic experience, or get your new business off the ground. But, what it can do is help you think clearer and faster, stay focused, give you energy, and help you cope with challenges with more ease.
Now, I would not even be a decent psychologist if I did not talk about barriers and limitations. I get it. Healthy foods can be expensive. Food deserts are real. Meal preparation takes time and energy that many of us don’t have. Even more, mental health challenges such as depression can significantly affect your ability to take care of yourself. Still, when given the opportunity to swap that morning bagel with an apple and two hard-boiled eggs, or given the chance to trade candied sweet potatoes for roasted sweet potatoes, I encourage you to give it a try. Taking care of your body will make your brain’s battle with depression, anxiety, stress, or simply life that much easier.
I promised myself that I would not get technical with which vitamins are good for brain function and heart health. Any search on Dr. [Insert name of search engine here] will help you do so. So, I will leave you with this. There are often things in life that you cannot change. You can only change your response. Therefore, I encourage you to give yourself a good foundation so that when the hurricanes of life come your way, you are that much more stable to tolerate its torment.


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