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Oct 21, 2013

Nutrition for Mental Health

Mostly we think about how we eat as it relates to our weight or maybe even for fueling our workouts, but what we eat and how we eat it has a big impact on our mental health as well.  As I see it, this works in two ways:

1. If we eat shitty we feel shitty physically . . . and when we feel shitty physically we’re kinda crabby.  It’s hard to be our best self or to enjoy life to the fullest when we know we’re at half capacity.

2. What we eat and our ability to break the food down and use the nutrients directly impacts our ability to produce key neurotransmitters that regulate our mood.  

So, how do you take care of your mental health nutritionally?  Excellent question, I’m glad you asked!  Start simple--it would defeat the purpose if you tried to overhaul everything at once and wound up frazzled and striving for something unattainable.  I view nutrition as a ladder.  Acknowledge what rung you’re on now and move up one rung at a time.  For example, if you currently eat white bread toast for breakfast, switch to whole wheat bread.  If you currently eat whole wheat bread, switch to Ezekiel bread.  If you currently eat Ezekiel bread and want to go gluten-free (GF), switch to GF oatmeal.  If you’re looking to go grain-free, try a veggie omelet.  Keep in mind that each body is different and what works for someone else might not work for you.  Notice how you feel and what works for your body.  

A great place to start if you haven’t already is by cutting out processed foods and adding in more whole foods.  Whole foods are the fuels your body was meant to use and the ones it knows how to break down. For example, instead of having a Cliff bar as a snack, try an apple and almonds.  Or instead of a Lean Cuisine for lunch, try having leftovers from a home-cooked dinner.  If you’re like me and you don’t have much time for or interest in cooking, you could try a meal service like PaleoFit meals, Factor75 or CJK Foods.  The point is to start somewhere!
Heather Shannon is a counselor and health coach working in private practice in Chicago.  She works primarily with "Type A" clients and takes a holistic approach to counseling, incorporating nutrition and lifestyle education into her work with teens and adults. 

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