Not many people take the time and think about the role our food plays in our mental health. Many people are simply too busy and overworked to worry about health. Not many people have the time or energy to cook full, healthy meals. As a result, people tend to rely on fast and junk food to give them at least some calories to get through the day.
Depending on some people, eating can be a very difficult thing to do. For those with an eating disorder, getting good nutrition is not easy to do and requires a specialized treatment program to recover from. Some common symptoms of other mental health conditions — such as depression and anxiety — are the lack of appetite. Medications for mental health disorders also tend to mess with one’s appetite negatively.
It’s incredibly important to eat regularly, as our brain needs these calories and nutrients to heal. Without them, it’s difficult to function and can greatly set back someone’s mental health.
Here are some ways to be sure that you are getting the energy your brain needs to stay healthy.
Speak to a Professional First for Both Your Physical and Mental Health
It can be tempting to jump into a new diet right away, but this can be dangerous. It’s important that before you do anything new, speak with your medical team first. Your doctor for your physical health will be able to help you pinpoint good foods to include in your diet and why. You may even be referred to a dietitian, which is a doctor who helps make diets for those with medical issues. They will be able to help you find the right diet to help improve the health of your brain.
On the mental health side, your therapist can help you healthily navigate a diet. This is to prevent the formation of unhealthy eating habits. Most people conflate diets with weight loss, which is not always the case. Some may feel encouraged to overeat comfort food instead of dealing with symptoms healthily. Many people are deeply traumatized by the idea of a diet. It is different for everyone, but to be safe, speak with your medical team first before trying something new.
Eat Foods Good for Mental Health and Brain
Several types of food exist that have been proven to help brain functions. These specific foods give the brain the nutrition it needs to not only function smoothly but also to heal. Memory, neuroplasticity, and speed of thought are all functions of the brain that rely on good nutrition to work well.
Luckily, many of these foods are easy to include in someone’s diet and are shelf stable. These foods include:
- Fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and sardines
- Antioxidant-rich berries, such as strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries
- Nuts and seeds, especially those rich in vitamin E, like sunflower seeds
- Whole grains, such as barley, which is considered especially good for the brain
- Green vegetables, such as broccoli, bok choy, and kale
- Dark chocolate, especially when mixed with berries and nuts
Many of these foods can be prepared in advance or bought ready-made. It’s easy to buy a can of tuna or pick up a bag of walnuts for a healthy snack. Many of these don’t even need to be cooked. For days when you can’t muster the energy to cook, these can give you what you need with the least amount of effort. A humble bag of dried berries can do more good for you than you think.
Remember that this is about substitution, not subtraction. Adding a handful of nuts to your cereal or choosing to eat salmon for dinner instead of a steak are examples of small changes for better health.
Set Alarms to Remind Yourself to Eat
It’s considered better to eat several small meals a day instead of a few large ones. For some, it’s easy to simply not feel hungry and completely forget to eat. Despite this, you must eat regularly, even if it’s frequent small meals. Set an alarm for multiple times of the day, and when they go off, you eat something. It doesn’t matter if it is a grand prepared meal or not. Simple whole-grain crackers and peanut butter are fine snacks that will boost your brain.
Reward yourself when you remember to eat by giving yourself something fun and positive to look forward to. Remembering to eat your meals might mean going to a movie or taking a nice bubble bath. Be proud of yourself for remembering to do something so important. It may take time to settle into a new routine, as it’s easy to ignore alarms sometimes, but you’ll be surprised by how fast your body beings to respond to regular food.
Set Realistic Goals for Yourself
With any new venture, it’s important to set some goals for yourself. Start by asking the following questions:
- What do you want to achieve by changing your diet?
- Do you want to improve your memory?
- What about just getting on a regular eating schedule?
Take some time to sit and think about what you want with these new changes.
Start small, and don’t overwhelm yourself. For example, you could make a goal to try a new whole-grain cereal and see if you like it. You might see if you can remind yourself to set meal alarms on your phone. Another exciting small goal is to cook a new recipe every week that takes less than 30 minutes to complete. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Your therapist can also help you come up with realistic goals if you are having trouble.
The important thing to remember is to eat food regularly. If you are having trouble with this due to a mental health disorder, speak to a mental health professional right away.
Nutrition is a big factor in someone’s health. It doesn’t only just affect someone’s body, but it can also play a large part in how someone’s mind functions. Some mental health disorders hinder people from eating at all, let alone choosing foods that are the most nutritious. At Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we treat the entire body, not just the mind. We understand a big connection between how someone feels and how their body works. The good news is that simple changes can be the most effective. If you or someone you love have questions about the role of nutrition and mental health, call (949) 647-4090 today to speak with one of our staff members.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.