If you struggle with a mental health disorder, you know that nothing can beat professional treatment. Regular therapy sessions and, often, medication are the first two lines of defense against mood disorders that can otherwise take a huge toll. However, you probably also know that self-care is a third powerhouse in your treatment plan. Keeping your body healthy helps keep the mind healthy as well.
Part of what creates a healthy body and mind is diet. Now, let’s pause here for a moment to make this point: too much focus on food and diet can also trigger mental health disorders, including eating disorders. Diet trends are typically about restriction. Don’t eat this, don’t eat that. Sugar, red meat, gluten,oil, dairy, processed foods, caffeine, fried foods–you name it. Unless it’s a fruit or a vegetable, any food is up for critique and demonization by a variety of “experts.” (And even fruits and vegetables aren’t immune from critique, depending on where you turn.)
So, in the interest of balance and of your overall well-being, this blog post will focus not on restriction but addition. What foods can you add to your diet that will support your mental health?
Not a Food But Still Important: Water
Many people are dehydrated without realizing it. Do you feel a little sluggish in the afternoon, perhaps a little light-headed? Is your urine dark? Do you feel thirsty? Feeling thirsty is a sign that you’re already slightly dehydrated.
Our bodies lose water content at different rates depending on the temperature, level of physical activity, and diet. It’s important to be self-aware throughout the day to know when you’re showing signs of dehydration and to remind yourself to drink water.
And yes, the solution is that easy: drink more water. Water is the best drink to address dehydration. We’re not saying to drink only water (although there’s nothing wrong with that), but make sure water is part of your day. That afternoon sluggishness? You might find that slowly drinking a glass of water or two throughout the afternoon helps perk you up.
Fruits & Vegetables
If you don’t normally eat a lot of produce, consider adding it to your diet. Fruits and vegetables are brimming with nutrients that support mental health: folate and omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to numerous vitamins and minerals. We understand that produce can feel overwhelming–you have to wash it, sometimes cook it, and it spoils faster than pre-made foods.
Here’s a suggestion if you’re produce-averse: Walk through the produce section of your grocery store (or through a local farmers’ market) and just look at everything. Look at the colors and the textures. Notice the smells. Are you drawn to anything? Maybe the beets look especially rich and delicious today. Or maybe the green curls of kale leaves appeal to you. But wait, you might say. I have no idea what to do with beets or kale! That’s why we suggest trying one new thing at a time. Find what looks appealing to you that day and then google ways to prepare it. Next week, try something different.
Here’s another suggestion: many fruits and vegetables can be eaten raw, so if cooking or prep overwhelms you, buy pre-washed and pre-cut veggies (if you’re on a budget, be aware that it’s much cheaper to buy whole veggies and cut them yourself), or buy fruit such as bananas or apples or blueberries that are easy to snack on.
And if you’re worried you won’t be able to eat all of the produce before it goes bad, buy frozen fruits and vegetables.
Healthy Fats and Proteins
Healthy fats contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that help your brain function optimally. Healthy fats can be found in avocados, eggs, nuts and seeds (preferably raw), oily fish (like sardines and mackerel), and more.
Proteins contain amino acids that help your brain produce the neurotransmitters that regulate emotions. Proteins are found in a variety of foods, from vegetables, beans, and nuts to meats, dairy, and soy products.
Some Final Thoughts About Food and Mental Health
When you’re experiencing a surge in mental health symptoms, food might be the last thing you want to spend energy thinking about. Go easy on yourself during these times and don’t let your food choices lead to guilt or anxiety.
Instead, when you’re feeling better again, do some planning. Mind.org offers helpful suggestions, which we’ve listed verbatim:
- Try making some extra meals to store. You could make enough to last for several days and freeze them in portions to heat up at times when you don’t feel like cooking.
- Write a list of easy, affordable meals to make when you’re not feeling well. This could include meals like beans on toast or jacket potatoes.
- Stock up on some staple ingredients, if you can. This could include cheaper things that are long-life or tinned. Or you could buy things that you can freeze to use later. These foods will last longer and could save you money.
- Get food shopping delivered to your home. This can save time, but can also be helpful if you don’t feel up to leaving the house or being in a supermarket.
Good Nutrition and Good Care at Raleigh Oaks
No matter how much self-care you do, a mental health disorder can still bring you down. If you or a loved one are suffering, help is available. Let our team at Raleigh Oaks help you get back on track. We offer inpatient and outpatient treatment for adults and seniors, teaching you the skills you need to take care of yourself after treatment ends. Contact our Garner, NC, facility today.