Our brain and body is connected. As research evolves, we are learning more and more about the importance of the food that we eat on our mental health. Science is showing that what we eat effects our brain. In fact, we are learning now that 90% of Serotonin is made in your gut. Serotonin helps us to manage our mood. And what effects our brain effects our mood and mental health. Knowing this we can be mindful of what we eat and how it effects our mental health. Unresolved stress and trauma in our life effects are mood. What we eat can help us to feel better or make us feel worse.
Where there is mental illness there is digestive dis-ease. As a mental health therapist, I have been fascinated by the effects of food, nutrition and digestion on mental health. I think the pendulum is starting to swing from using pharmaceuticals as the first-line approach to treating mental health issues to using food as medicine and other holistic and lifestyle changes for whole health and wellness. Here are nine important things to think about when using nutrition to support your mental health.
1. Use a “Food Mood” diary– One way of being mindful of what you’re eating and how it makes you feel is by keeping a food mood diary. Explore what you are eating, when you eat and why you eat. Make connections to what you eat and your mood. Also, look at how you feel after eating certain foods. Do you feel better or worse?
2. Practice nutritional self-care– We can use nutritional self-care to be mindful of what we eat and how it effects our mood. Nutritional self-care is often forgotten when we think of self-care. We can expand our idea of caring for ourselves beyond just caring for our bodies through exercise or our caring about our minds through breath work or mindfulness. We need to be thoughtful of what we feed our brain and body so that we can feel our best.
3. Think of “Food as Pharmacy”- We can use certain foods to help with mood. Some examples of foods that support positive mental health include: dark chocolate, coconut oil, sweet potatoes, eggs and dark cherries.
4. Gut Brain connection– Avoid processed foods, eliminate sugar and eat fermented foods. Reducing inflammation in our gut and body helps us to be mentally and physically healthy and resilient to life stressors.
5. Reduce stress to improve your mood– Our bodies are designed for short term stress and knows how to work with it but chronic stress can cause problems for our brain and body. Use mindfulness exercises thorough out the day to reduce stress and calm your nervous system. Also, don’t forget to practice mindful eating!
6. How you eat can affect your mood– Sitting down to eat, taking your time, chewing your food completely and reducing your stress while you eat helps your body to digest and process your food. It is important to slow down and reduce our cortisol before we eat. This will help us to digest food and reduce inflammation in our gut and body.
7. Eat with others– Get socially connected during eating. Eating with others engages our ventral vagal system and helps to regulate our mood. Digestion occurs in a parasympathetic state. Being social and not eating alone helps to calm our nervous system and allows us to digest food better.
8. The gut remembers your childhood trauma – Because of the inner wiring between the brain and your gut. Your gut microbiome remembers trauma and it stores it in your body. Release chronic trauma and childhood pain with EMDR therapy and Neurofeedback.
9. Do an “Emotional Detox”– If you struggle with bloating and discomfort, IBS, GERD and other digestion issues etc. then try an Emotional Detox to see if not only your emotional health can improve but also your physical health. Take a break from screen time, allow yourself to move, go outside and connect with nature, use positive affirmations, self-compassion and work with negative thoughts and feelings about yourself or others. After doing this see how you feel and notice how your digestion responds.