As I sat down with my coffee yesterday morning and opened up the Weekend section of The Times, I first read a running article on page 2 by Mo Farrah. He offered some solid and sensible advice to anyone thinking about starting to run. 10 points to Mo, he’s a top bloke.
A few pages later I was greeted by this:
Rachel Kelly is writing about how cleaning up her eating cured her depression and anxiety.
The general information that she shares is all good – eat fruit and veg, eggs, meat & nuts, take probiotics and get enough sleep. Yes, all of these things help your body and your brain feel better. However, after a brief mention that for severe mental illness medication might be needed, the article goes on to basically prove that depression is beatable by eating ‘right’.
I’m putting the word ‘right’ into quotation marks because there actually isn’t one right way to eat. Humans are all made differently and while some things are true – like don’t drink Coke or Diet Coke because it’s a chemical sh*tstorm in a can and don’t eat cake on a daily basis – other things are much more grey.
I learnt what to eat and when – a handful of pumpkin seeds if I’m low, green broth if anxious.
Nice for Rachel Kelly to have found a solution to her mental health issues that is that simple.
Four years ago when I ended my parenting blog and started this one, I was on the same road. I was going to cure my depression by eating right and exercising. I was convinced that it would be doable, after all it was (still is?) the age of all kinds of ‘Wellness Warriors’ who proclaim that ‘clean eating’ can cure anything from mental illness to autoimmune diseases to cancer.
What I found out in my little experiment is that while nutrition plays a huge part in me feeling well both physically and mentally – health and in my case mental health, is much, much more complicated than pumpkin seeds and green broth.
That doesn’t mean that you should not make changes in your diet or exercise regime if changes are needed. I myself exercise 6 times a week and 90% of the time I stay away from sugar, alcohol, gluten (not because of gluten per say but because gluten products often have sugar and other additives) and processed foods.
I notice how sugar especially affects my mood very quickly, but it also affects my digestion (hello bloating) and my blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemic episode while running – not nice).
However, however, however – sometimes as much as you do everything ‘right’, mental health is complicated and you need to be kind to yourself.
Eat well, sleep well, exercise well (enjoyably, not punishing yourself) but recognise that if you are struggling with low mood / anxiety / etc. there’s no shame in talking to somebody about it and/or taking medication for it. Food is medicine, I fully agree with that, but keep in mind that there is a spectrum to every illness.
Somebody who is borderline type II diabetic can reverse that by eating better, but somebody with type I diabetes can eat all the right things but not reverse the diabetes.
The same goes for mental health – there scale of depression and anxiety is large and while eating a handful of pumpkin seeds works for Rachel Kelly, it doesn’t work for me and it might not for you.
Be kind to yourself. You are unique. Learn what works for you. Email me if you need to talk or ask me questions.
And if you do want to get in touch with somebody who’s fighting anxiety without medication and with exercise and food right now, talk to Sabrina @ Anxiously Active.