We all know that what we eats affects our bodies and is important for our health. But it is the impact it has on our mental health which can sometimes be forgotten.
I love food. My family and friends love food, and I’ve grown up with it being an important and enjoyable aspect of get togethers. However, my personal relationship with food has been difficult. I spent a good part of my late teens/early 20’s unhappy with myself and during some low moments I found myself binging and purging. It’s taken me a long time to finally get to a place where food and guilt no longer live hand in hand and I’m grateful to have finally reached this point.
I won’t go into huge detail about my previous struggles with food, maybe I will at a later date but I wanted to touch on this point for this post to explain why food has had an emotional impact on me.
When I was unwell, I didn’t eat properly. This wasn’t through an unhealthy relationship with food, it was a combination of anxiety, depression and lack of care/effort to eat well. I lived on biscuits, crisps, pasta, bread; anything which was quick, easy and took little effort. Caring for a newborn is tough, and with my added obsession of never leaving her side, I either didn’t eat or I grabbed a chocolate bar for a quick boost of energy.
When I began seeing a therapist she handed me a leaflet filled with information about food and how it impacts our mental health. I had never made the connection, why I don’t know, but it never occurred to me that what we eat can effect not only just our physical self but our mental state.
So, here I was, armed with new information, and what did I do? I ignored it. I carried on eating whatever I wanted, comfort eating to make myself ‘feel better’. Sometimes I improved my eating for a couple of weeks but then it was back to my ‘convenient’ eating. I began to recover from my PND but I still felt sluggish. I blamed it on tiredness, the kids weren’t great sleepers so it must be that. And I continued like this until summer 2016.
It was during July 2016 I noticed I was feeling exhausted, not just tired but aching to my bones. Sleep wasn’t helping, I wasn’t depressed or anxious so I went to the doctors. I was anaemic again, and I had gained some weight. I was only 1 stone away from my heaviest weight when I was pregnant. So I joined a well known “diet” and changed my eating habits. It wasn’t easy, in fact I found it very hard. But I did notice I had more energy, I lost about a stone and my recent blood test came back with no anaemia.
It didn’t last long though, two months later I had stopped going. I noticed unhealthy habits forming. Obsession with numbers, calories were taking over my life and I felt unbelievably guilty each time I ate something I ‘shouldn’t’. I couldn’t live like this and so I decided to stop. Life is about balance I told myself.
Slowly over the next year I let things slip and before I knew it I was back to feeling sluggish, my weight had started to creep up and I was exhausted. During the past year I had been tested for thyroid problems, had my endometriosis further investigated (which had definitely been a huge contributing factor) but I still wasn’t feeling good.
So fast forward to June this year and I had another set of blood tests, this time they came back with not only anaemia, but low platelets, low white blood cells, and low haemoglobin. It really scared me. I had two months of high dose iron tablets to take and then I could go back for further tests to see if it helped my levels improve, if not further tests will be needed.
So after all this time, and all the work I do with mental health, it was my physical health which made me sit up and realise my diet needed to change. I felt like a hypocrite but it had finally made me really look at my lifestyle.
After some research I decided to phase out gluten, and dairy, not completely but as much as I could. It’s been nearly two months and the changes have been positive.
I still struggle around my period but that’s connected to my endometriosis, and I’m hopeful things will improve with this. But the rest of the time, I’m less tired and I have more energy. I feel better, happier.
It has really shown me how our diet is connected to our mental health, if we make better choices we feel better not only physically but mentally. For once, I’m not changing my eating for my image but my health and its been so much easier because I’m paying attention to the positive physical and mental changes. I am, however, a great believer in balance. I will always love cakes, chocolate, pizza, in fact any kind of dessert and I’m not going to give them up. A little of what we love isn’t a bad thing, and can also have a positive impact on our mental health. It feels great to have something delicious, but what I’ve learnt is maybe instead of having it each day, or snacking on processed food all day long, it’s about having it in moderation. I’ve shared my tips on how I’ve tried to do this here.
You can read really informative, professional information here on the Mind Website.
Do you find it difficult to have balance to your diet, have you noticed changes between food and your mental health?