Food, lifestyle and mental health - 6 lessons I learnt the hard way

Oct 10, 2022

Today is Mental Health Day and the theme for this year is 'Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority".

Mental health is a subject that is very close to my heart as mine has definitely suffered its ups & downs. 

My early twenties were a very turbulent time in my life when I was struggling with disordered eating, depression and very low self esteem as a result of being abused as a young teenager. I thought I was ugly, unlovable and a nuisance to everyone around me. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life and I felt like a burden on my parents.

I had no reason to feel this way because they were nothing but supportive of me! But it was as though I had a tape playing in my head saying bad things to me all day and I didn't know how to make it stop. 

I was feeling so anxious that I had trouble sleeping and the only way I knew how to calm my nerves was by exercising myself to exhaustion. It was a very dark time in my life and the day I remember as rock bottom was the day my father found me passed out in my bedroom after taking too many sleeping pills. It's around this time that I started going to therapy.

I was recommended anti-depressants but it didn't feel like something I wanted to take given my recent experience with pills! Even though I was in a very dark place, I didn't want to numb the pain. I wanted to work through it and move on feeling empowered.

Which is what I did. 

And I'm grateful I did because it was what got me started on my journey to learn about self-development, mindfulness and understanding the effect that my food & lifestyle choices have on my mental health.

I never thought that what I was dealing with mentally had anything to do with my diet or lifestyle. I was exercising every day and being careful with food. I kept telling myself that the reason I was feeling bad was because I didn't look a certain way and that I would be happier when I would be leaner and get rid of my bloating.

I thought I was eating healthy but in reality, I was not.

Over the past 15 years I've learnt quite a bit about what it takes to get your mental health back on track with diet & lifestyle, and it's become a central piece in my work with clients.

As part of International Mental Health Day I wanted to share the 6 most valuable things I have learnt and that I continue to remind myself of daily.

  • Just like your body needs training, your mind needs training too

It's easy to think that we are the victims of our own thoughts and that we can't control our mind. But the reality is, we can. But it takes training. Just like your muscles need training to control your body, your mind needs training to control your thoughts. This doesn't come from fighting your thoughts, but from implementing daily practices that will create a more positive inner environment where happier thoughts will progressively outweigh the negative ones. This takes time and practice but just like you can end up in a negative downward spiral mentally, you can create an uplifting positive one too.

  • What you eat has a more powerful effect on your mental health than you might think

95% of your serotonin is created in your gut. If you eat crap, you will feel like crap, whether you realise it or not. Most people don't feel like their mental health is an issue until they realise how much better they feel as a result of adopting a healthier diet & lifestyle. It's not because you don't suffer from depression or anxiety that your mental health is in a good place. Brain fog, difficulties making decisions and a lack of motivation to focus on the things that are important to you are all examples of things that may seem "normal" but that will subside as your mental health improves.

  • Your issues are in your tissues

Talk therapy is fantastic & necessary but every single traumatic event you experience in life is registered in a deeper place than in your mind. It's registered in the cells of your body. This is why it's sometimes hard to break free from events from the past even if we can accept & process them on a mental level.

This is a field that I've taken a really keen interest in over the past few years exploring new modalities to heal from emotional and mental trauma on a cellular level. Breathwork has by far been the most useful tool for me in this realm and one I introduce to participants who come on my retreats too.

  • Nature is a powerful healer

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes nature as “our greatest source of health and wellbeing”. In some parts of Canada, doctors are prescribing "time in nature" to help people with depression.

Although the mental health benefits of getting out into the great outdoors have long been recognized, so-called "green prescriptions" are now being widely used to treat physical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and lung disease as well.

Researchers say that venturing out into nature has been shown to improve sleep, reduce stress and boost happiness, as well as increase attention, memory and creativity.

  • Meditate

I resisted this practice for many years because I found it really hard. I thought it was a waste of time and that perhaps I wasn't "wired" for it. The reality is, unless you've been introduced to this practice from a very young age, it's not part of your "wiring" and it will not always make sense. But you need to keep going anyway.

Meditation is the single most powerful practice that has helped my mental health combined with food. Practicing meditation helps us create distance between ourselves and our thoughts, and it's what eventually helps us realise that we have the power to choose the thoughts we wish to cultivate.

Right now I'm offering a really powerful Metta Meditation as part of my program. The feedback I have been getting on it has been truly beautiful, including people calling it "life changing". If you wish to give it a try, sign up to the FREE 7 day trial of Fit Body Fresh Mind for immediate access.

  • There is a clear link between sugar consumption & depression

Sugar is terribly detrimental to our mental health and its consumption is linked to depression and impaired cognitive functioning, even in the absence of weight gain.

2017 study found that men who consumed a high amount of sugar (67 grams or more each day) were 23% more likely to receive a diagnosis of clinical depression within 5 years.

Even though the study just involved men, the link between sugar and depression is also found in women.

Knowing this, it's no coincidence that it was in the times when I was the most addicted to sugar that my mental health was the worse. 

Later this week I will be hosting a workshop on how to get rid of sugar cravings, what sugar combinations are the worse for your mental health, and how to limit the damage if you want to continue indulging in it from time to time.

If you're not a Fit Body Fresh Mind member but want to take part, you'll be sent a link to join when you sign up to the FREE 7 day trial.

I hope reading this is helpful and perhaps inspires you to commit to something today that will benefit your mental health. If you're interested in getting more tools & support through coaching, you can schedule a free call here.

We can't always control what happens to us in life. But we can make it a little easier to navigate the ups & downs by giving ourselves the right tools & support to do so.


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