Food and Mental Health
It should be a ‘no-brainer’
Healthy food plays an enormous role in regulating our body and brain chemistry. Food IS chemistry, and the synergy of nutrients in our natural foods are designed to supply us with what the various systems in our body need in order to run optimally. Without the right fuel, how can we expect ANY of our internal systems, including our brains, to work right? Looking back, it is amazing to me that neither the psychologist nor the psychiatrist I went to see when I was in my early 20’s ever even mentioned food to me. They never inquired about my diet, never made any dietary recommendations, and never recommended a nutritionist. The psychologist offered talk therapy, and the psychiatrist offered drug therapy. The gastroenterologist I saw later even said that food was not an important component in my digestive ailments. I was prescribed drugs for depression, drugs for insomnia, drugs for migraine headaches, drugs for pain, and drugs for an irritated and inflamed digestive tract. And no one talked about the food.
Fortunately, I still had access to some of my natural instincts, and the unpleasant side effects from the medications very quickly caused me to reject that path. In particular, I felt a red flag with the antidepressant – I didn’t like the side effects, such as dry-mouth, fatigue and foggy-brain, and I had a gut feeling that my unhappiness could not simply be permanently fixed with a drug.
I want to be as accurate as I can now, looking back, and give credit where credit is due. The talk therapy was a helpful intervention – it was good to have a place where I could safely unload thoughts that were troubling me, and have insights reflected back to me. It was helpful to have someone with experience help me begin to unpack some complex family dynamics (though it often felt like I was getting ever more lost in the weeds). Time, stress reduction, and more maturity (mental, emotional, and hormonal), helped at some level in my healing.
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I do place a high value on having someone in my arena who acts as a mentor, counselor, and/or spiritual advisor. I think we can all receive a health benefit from regularly sharing from our inner life with someone we trust who is outside of our most immediate family & friends circle. Someone who can stay objective and simply help us hear and know ourselves more clearly, help us to feel seen, and help us move forward when we feel a little stuck, confused, or disheartened. I love that I am able to step into that role for others, too. What I find to be especially effective, is to help people let go of the past (after learning what they can from it), and develop a more present-centered, future-inspired mindset and focus. I offer myself as a mentor and coach, not as a therapist.
Medications sometimes play a helpful role, too, but ideally only as short-term transition tools, or in a true emergency. The power of food to influence a person’s overall health status through its effect on our whole body chemistry cannot be underestimated, and this is nearly overlooked completely by the medical establishment, with tragic consequences. Even in the alternative health field, herbs, supplements and various modalities and therapies are often promoted much more than a daily diet comprised almost entirely of whole, unprocessed, natural foods fully compatible with our biological design. Yes, there is much more money to be made promoting drugs, tests, surgeries, supplements, superfoods, and therapies….but I believe there is also a lack of understanding or grasp by most health professionals of the true power of the right nature-made foods for creating overall physical and mental health.
Let’s talk about how foods can make or break your mental health. Sugar gets a bad rap, because so many of the processed foods most people indulge in contain unnatural sugars, which includes fructose once it has been removed from its whole fruit source, and chemically altered. A book called Sugar Blues addresses the prevalent mental health issues caused by unnatural and artificial sugars and sweeteners. Nature gives us all the natural sugars we need, and we do need them! The primary fuel our cells need is glucose, and it is plentifully and efficiently supplied in nature’s whole, fresh, ripe sweet fruits. To support optimal health, fresh, ripe, sweet fruit needs to play a central role in the diet, ideally providing 3/4’s or more of our total calories every day.
How many people do you know who eat that much fresh fruit? I believe this may be the #1 reason for our modern mental health crisis. When we don’t supply our primary caloric needs with fruit, we do provide them with something else…something that isn’t optimal, and that usually brings harm along with any good it may possibly provide. People are becoming increasingly chemically imbalanced from these sub-optimal and often very damaging foods and food-stuffs. Whole, unprocessed, uncooked plant foods (and especially fruit, which is the simplest for us to digest and utilize), are the only foods the human body is designed to ingest and process in the most optimal way. When we eat this way, we greatly increase our resilience to other toxins we can’t control in our external world.
Animal products are problematic and unbalancing for us in so many ways - both because of what they include in the way of fats, proteins and hormones at levels inappropriate for humans, and nowadays also antibiotics and drugs, and because of what they don’t include, in the way of fiber, water, vitamins and minerals. Grains, beans and legumes are plant foods, but are acid-forming in the diet, and most require a lot of chemistry-altering processing and cooking to render them edible.
Foods that cannot be digested fully, and that leave harmful residues in the body, or that cause the immune system to become hyper-reactive, cause a steady accumulation of disease in the body, and lower our resilience on all levels. While symptoms may eventually be overtly recognized in only certain parts of the body, the entire body is affected, much as your whole being knows when a pebble is in your shoe. Cooked, processed and ultra-processed foods have become deconstructed, denatured, and partially to mostly unrecognizable to our bodies, and this is a HUGE problem! Our bodies have become chronically irritated, and our minds foggy and dull, or artificially jacked up. We still tend to identify body and mind as separate entities, even though we now acknowledge a ‘mind-body’ connection. I read about other cultures that don’t have separate terms in their language for mind and body – they have never identified a separation. We are making some headway in moving back in that direction, but most of our health-care (or sickness-care) systems still encourage a perspective (and treatment) of separate parts, rather than of one unified whole.
Whether we are talking about mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, or other aspects of health and wellness, I believe the core of healing always points to the same place: remove the causes of harm, and provide the conditions of health. When we focus there, and understand and honor the basic natural laws, wholistic healing is inevitable because our miraculous, intelligent vessels come with a blueprint of perfect health. Though the food/fuel we feed ourselves with several times a day has an enormous impact and influence on our health and wellness status, the facts of the biologically determined human diet are still uncommon knowledge. The resulting improper diets (often well-intentioned but misinformed) irritate and imbalance us on all levels, while causing this imbalance to perpetuate itself.
When we remove the food-related causes of irritation and assault, we experience a profound relief and unburdening of our whole system. Naturally, along with resolving physical symptoms, this overall unburdening and detoxifying of the whole facilitates a renewed state of greater mental stability, positivity, and resiliency, with healthier thoughts and perspectives. For me, adopting an unprocessed, uncooked (raw), plant-based, fruit-centric daily diet lifted my general mindset and mood almost immediately, and soon released energy I could begin to apply toward identifying and investing in my authentic life-goals. This, in turn, raised my mental health status another level.
A body burdened and aggravated continuously with inappropriate fuel, is a mind similarly burdened and aggravated. The system is a whole unit, and cannot be operated or experienced separately. Emotions also, are not caused only by thoughts, but also are a reflection of the vibrational frequency of our body. A clean, clear, unburdened body-mind resonates with a higher, happier, more peaceful frequency. Mental health can be complex, but we don’t need to complicate it by contaminating our whole inner terrain with the wrong fuel. Nature’s fresh, ripe, whole fruits provide us with the cleanest fuel, lighten our digestive load, unburden our bodies and free up our energy for a clear and balanced mind