Recently, on Social Media I have been open with my battle of anxiety and depression and how living a healthier lifestyle has helped me. I reached out to a long time friend Dr.Angela Clack to get her expert opinion on the effects of food and nutrition on mental health. I am honored that Dr. Clack would share with me and my readers. Some great info here so take notes:
It all starts with your mindset
Five years ago I lost 50lbs with fitness, nutrition, and accountability (a great nutritionist, professional accountability to hold my feet to the fire if I messed up) and I loved the results. However, because I made my goal a number on the scale and a clothing size instead of a commitment to a lifestyle change- the weight slowly crept back. Well, I know where I went wrong and I’m sharing my story as well as sharing insights from the therapist’s corner to inspire and educate others about the mind-body connection. As well as the impact food has on our mood-both scientifically (through research) and from my experience in working with hundreds of people who have struggled with both emotional health difficulties (depression and anxiety) and weight and body image issues.
Mental Health Disorder defined
To understand the complex nature of mental health disorders the reader will need a clear definition of what clinical symptoms are typical for someone experiencing mental health/mental illness. The problem is that not all people experience the same symptoms. Men and women often differ in how their mental health problems manifest as well as across cultures. Women are twice as often as men to experience major depression. One forth to one sixth of child bearing age women are on an anti-depressant. For consistency and for purposes of this article , I will provide a broad definition.
First, my definition of a mental health disorder-is a dis-connection between your emotional, physical, social and spiritual self. In other words, you are dis-connected from your thoughts, your sense of self and self-care (i.e. physical health), dis-connected from an adequate social support system (or you are connected to toxic one) and you are dis-connected from your power source-our faith and belief system in Christ. Wow, that’s a lot of disconnection-no wonder one would be depressed and anxious.
Clinically, depression is (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. Millions of individuals suffer from both of these disorders annually and throughout their lifetime. Typical treatments for these disorders are medication and psychotherapy (counseling). But as a practicing psychotherapist who has witnessed and observed the benefits of exercise and nutrition in helping to heal mild to moderate forms of mental health disorders, I have changed my philosophy of treatment to a holistic approach: mind, body, and spirit.
There is a new field in science named nutritional psychiatry. This is the intersection in research between science and cognitive functioning. It examines the relationship between diet, brain function and the risk of mental disorders. Additionally, it examines the potential socioeconomic and environmental challenges detracting from the traditional dietary patterns that might otherwise support positive mental health.
In the March/April Ed. 2016 of the Scientific American Mind the researchers noted the following scientific outcomes:
- Research on anxiety,
- and exercise shows
that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can also help reduce anxiety and improve mood (Mayo Clinic). Besides lifting your mood, regular exercise offers other health benefits, such as:
- lowering blood pressure,
- protecting against heart disease and cancer,
- and boosting self-esteem.
Nutritional Imbalances trigger depression
There are a number of nutritional imbalances that can make one prone to depression:
- essential fats,
- blood sugar balance,
- food intolerances,
- low level Vitamin D,
- high sugar intake,
Health researchers have found a link between inflammation and depression. Inflammation is caused by obesity, high sugar diets, high quantities of trans fats, unhealthy diets in general and STRESS!!!!
When we are depressed we are more likely to eat carbs and junk food which over time causes weight gain and inflammation.
Honor your body like it deserves
Imagine the following at age 16 years old. You get a new car. You are told that this car must last you your lifetime. Remember, you only get this one car for your lifetime! How would you treat it? Would you schedule maintenance services on time and consistently? Would you check tires and replace as needed? Would you put damaged or used parts into a new car? If you have a luxury car (foreign model) would you take it to the local shop on the corner? Or would you run it into the ground hoping it will hold out. Not likely would we risk any of these scenarios. We would be mindful and careful to take of that car. Think of that car as your body. Because at birth we only get one and it’s designed to last a lifetime if we take care of it. What is your relationship with your body? What is your relationship with food?
According to the Dictionary, the definition of food- “is any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth,”. If we savored food like this definition we would enjoy our food so much more and would make healthier food choices. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is saturated with marketing of high fat foods and high sugar diets. We must be better informed.
Food Effect on our Mind and Bodies
Can I share research about what our foods are doing to our minds and bodies? This may not be favorable to many, but it’s the truth. Check the numbers of obese children and adults in the world. Check the numbers of individuals living on disability due to emotional and physical health conditions. We also know that about 50% of women who try psychiatric medications never get benefit and after a year of being on them 60% show no improvement in their symptoms one year later.
Processed food linked to depression and anxiety
Here we go. Evidence links stereotypical Western diets, which are heavy in processed and fatty foods, to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Unhealthy diets most likely contribute to a range of neuropsychiatric disorders by increasing inflammation. Research indicates that traditional diets from the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and Japan help to preserve our psychological and cognitive well-being. Those diets all include fish ( a great source of omega-3 fatty acids). The Mediterranean diet consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, lean meats and olive oil. The main feature in this diet is that it is low in sugar and processed foods.
But there is hope! Let me offer some food for thought (no pun intended). If you keep the mindset that “knowing that what I eat can affect how I feel” will help you to see food as fuel and not necessarily as a restrictive diet. We are finding that there is compelling evidence that nutrition is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology,and gastroenterology. (March/April Ed. 2016 of the Scientific American Mind).
Of course in addition to food choices, the elimination and reduction of toxic stress in your life, which often leads to emotional eating, needs to be kept in check. That’s where a support group, psychotherapy, or a nutritionist or health coach would be integral to your success in the battle of the mind.
Want to feel better? Want to live longer and with less stress on your mind and body? Want your skin to glow and look refreshed daily? Want to sleep better? Do you want overall better cognitive functioning without depression or anxiety? Think “brain-healthy “foods. Visualize the image at the top of the article when making food choices and see where food will make an impact on your brain and health.
Overall, research continues to support and show that the main ingredients for a healthy brain diet will consist of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish, lean meats and healthy fats such as olive oil (March/April Ed. 2016 of the Scientific American Mind).
Eat well. Live well. Live long. Be mindful, you only have one brain and one body.
This post was written by Dr.Angela Clack:
Dr. Angela Roman Clack is a psychologist and licensed psychotherapist at Clack Associates, LLC a private practice outpatient counseling agency in Southern New Jersey. She has been working in the mental health field for more 25 years. Dr. Clack earned her doctorate in 2002 with a degree in Clinical Psychology from Argosy University, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Clack is known for her ability to teach, supervise, coach, and provide training in various areas pertaining to children, youth, and their families. Because of her training and teaching abilities, Dr. Clack has made a massive impact in her community by reducing the stigma of people of color who seek mental health treatment.
Dr. Clack is passionate about discussing mental health and wellness. She has a broad range of public speaking experiences including community events, radio and internet shows, women’s empowerment groups and panel discussions, church and school settings, and collaborations with mental health advocacy organizations and non-profit community organizations. With her highly diverse clinical experiences and training in adult, child, adolescent and forensic settings, she is able to discuss a broad range of topics.