The Vital Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health

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You know the saying, “You are what you eat?” A wide body of ongoing research reveals just how true this …

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You know the saying, “You are what you eat?”

A wide body of ongoing research reveals just how true this is. The food you consume has a direct impact on how you feel, both physically and mentally. A diet packed with processed foods and filled with alcohol leaves you feeling groggy, lethargic, and unfocused. But one centered around whole, nutritious foods makes a noticeable difference.

This is especially true if you struggle with a mental health disorder. Food choices play a primary role in your overall mental well-being. The importance of nutrition is undeniable when managing your mental health. Prioritizing your diet is a crucial way to manage your symptoms of mental illness.

Every mental health treatment program stresses the need for evidence-based treatment approaches. The highly-researched connection between mental health and nutrition proves that nutrition management should always be a core part of any treatment process. Taking advantage of this allows you to treat your mental health from an additional angle.

How does your nutrition affect mental health recovery? Why do the foods you eat have such an impact on the way you feel? And what types of adjustments can you make to benefit from the relationship between your diet and your mental health?

Your Diet and Your Mental Health

Your stomach contains trillions of bacteria and microbes that make up your gut biome. Simply put, this biome is responsible for digesting the food you eat and diverting nutrients as needed. The quality of your food directly affects the delicate balance of your stomach.

The vagus nerve connects your brain and stomach and sends signals between the two. Your gut biome contains different neurotransmitters that inform your brain. This connection, as well as the plethora of neurotransmitters, means your diet directly affects not only your physical health but your mental and emotional health as well.

Think of the last time you ate a great meal and the way it made you feel. Eating certain foods spikes different chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin. However, many highly-palatable foods, such as those high in sugar, cause a similar spike but with none of the nutritional benefits. These sugary foods can make a noticeable contribution to depressive symptoms.

Most people have a diet significantly lacking whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Instead, high processed foods are at the center of the majority of American diets. These foods are known to cause many unwelcome problems such as:

  • Inflammation
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances
  • Fatigue
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Suppressed mood
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Other mental illnesses

Additionally, many people have lost sight of the primary purpose of eating food. At its most basic biological function, consuming food is how your body intakes the nutrients necessary for energy production. However, the psychological effects of eating food have led people to use it to cope with overwhelming emotions like stress and sadness.

The combination of highly processed foods and eating to minimize emotions has created a problem for those struggling with their mental health. If you’re living with a mental health disorder, what can you do to use the brain-gut connection to your advantage?

Making Adjustments to Your Diet

There are many ways you can adjust your diet to accommodate your mental health. Research shows that making intentional choices about your foods to meet basic nutrient requirements can help you manage your mental health. However, many people hear the word “diet” and think that means adhering to a strict food regimen.

In reality, the term simply means the foods you habitually eat. Adjusting your diet does not mean severely restricting food or meticulously counting calories. You don’t have to download any apps or track your meals. But it does mean being honest with yourself about which foods you eat and why. And it also means considering where there’s room for improvement.

Start with small adjustments

Don’t set out to make massive changes all at once. Trying to adjust everything at the same time only sets you up to struggle. Instead, look at one or two things you can change and stick to them for a few weeks. Once they’re set in place, consider two more small changes to make.

Focus on whole foods

Try not to think of “healthy” vs. “unhealthy”. Instead, think about “whole foods” vs. “processed foods”. Base your diet around whole foods like rice, oats, beans, fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish. Supplement with other things such as milk, yogurt, peanut butter, and pasta.

Make 2 meals at home

It’s far easier to pick up food on the way home from work or order something from a delivery service than it is to cook your meals. But making meals at home gives you more control over your food. Try making 2 meals a week at home as you begin taking control of your diet.

Limit your sugar intake

Sugar can be a tasty treat at times but too much of it can wreak havoc on your mental health. You don’t have to cut them out entirely, but try to limit your sugar intake, especially highly processed sugars.

Use the 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 Rule is the best approach to making diet changes in the beginning. It means eating whole, nutritious foods 80% of the time and eating other enjoyable foods 20% of the time. If you try to stay “on track” 100% of the time, you’ll eventually burn out and give up. The 80/20 Rule provides some breathing room as you adjust to your new food choices.

Nutrition at Clearview Treatment Facilities

The nutritional and culinary team at Clearview is dedicated to not just preparing nutritious food, but also using it as an extension of the care we offer. For us, culinary excellence means nourishing the mind and body for a more effective and holistic approach to treatment.

This also includes education to help you make better nutritional choices after your time at Clearview. We help you learn to plan, shop for, and prepare well-balanced meals once you return home. We’re also dedicated to ensuring that meals are a time to build and maintain supportive relationships with others in your life.

The life skills, conversations, and opportunities both created and learned through your interactions with food at Clearview add another element to your recovery journey. Our unique approach to nutrition and wellness provided through our Care Through Culinary program is unmatched in the behavioral healthcare industry. We’re dedicated to making nutrition awareness and management an integral part of the treatment process.

Clearview Treatment Programs has a full-time chef on staff who is dedicated to our vision for nutrition in mental health recovery. Johanna Uy Lawrence developed a passion for building connections with real, whole foods in her parents’ restaurants when she was young. Recognizing the benefits that food can bring to those in recovery, Johanna loves helping clients realize the real potential and power of the foods they eat.

Clearview Treatment Programs is dedicated to providing caring, understanding support in every area of your life as you build your recovery foundation. To learn more about how we use food in the treatment process, or to find out about our treatment programs, give us a call. We’d love to help you find the program that’s right for you today!

Photo Credit: Delicious dishes created by Chef Johanna Lawrence

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