Self Care Series: You Are What You Eat
I don't think I'm alone in this - in times of stress, I have a tendency to eat like crap. Too busy to eat a decent lunch? Peanut butter sandwich it is. And you know, that's usually fine if it's just a day or two. The problem is when a day or two of peanut butter sandwiches turns into a week... then two weeks... without a nutritious lunch.
Sometimes this sneaks up on me. I'm feeling lethargic, restless, and a little down, and I wonder why. I've learned over time to make sure I've accounted for my diet when I'm feeling off. Many times, a week of eating nutritious meals turns the whole thing back around.
The way we eat has a profound impact on the way we feel. In general - physical wellbeing and emotional wellbeing are tied together. The way we eat has a profound impact on the way we feel, physically and emotionally.
It's only in recent years that scientists have begun to pay attention to mental health and the impact of diet, but the results are pretty interesting so far. One thing that's been studied a lot is the impact of a Mediterranean-style diet, and the results are pretty compelling. In a systematic review of the impact of diet on mental health, eating a Mediterranean diet is consistently protective against depression. And in a pretty rigorous study conducted last year, three weeks of eating a Mediterranean-style diet significantly reduced depression, anxiety, and stress in a group of adults with elevated depression.
A Mediterranean diet involves eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats (e.g., olive oil), while limiting amounts of sweets and red meat.
Researchers think that this way of eating reduces depression because it reduces intake of foods that cause inflammation. Although many factors influence the development of depression, increased inflammatory activation of the immune system has been repeatedly associated with the development of depression and fatigue.
A total dietary overhaul like this may be impossible, however, if your depression is severe enough. For those with more severe depression, even making a peanut butter sandwich could be a challenging task. If that's where you're at, ignore all of this advice for now. This is too big a mountain to climb. You'll need care from qualified professionals to help you get to the stage where articles like this one even make sense.
But maybe you're not in crisis, but you're in a place where you're trying to create a self-care game plan for your long-term mental health. If you're wondering how to take better care of yourself, it might make sense to start paying attention to the foods you eat, and how they make you feel. You might try a Mediterranean diet specifically. The science backs it up.