For important health considerations like your mental health and personal wellbeing, it’s important to make sure you have a proactive approach in place to keeping your body and mind in good working order. In western cultures, it’s common for people to assume that a pill or medication is the best way to treat health concerns. However, this is actually not the case in many circumstances.
There are many effective methods available to you for maintaining and even improving mental health and wellness that do not require medication of any kind.
One example of these methods is that of consuming a healthy diet. We can drastically underestimate the power our diets have to influence our other biological systems. Our health and the ways our bodies perform rely substantially on what we put inside us as fuel.
Taking the time to learn how your diet can affect — for better or worse — your mental health and wellbeing can help you take control of how you feel and make a huge impact on your overall health.
How Diet Affects One’s Mental Health And General Wellness
It is becoming more and more apparent that consuming a nutritional diet is vital for maintaining adequate mental health and overall wellbeing. This hasn’t always been a forefront assumption in modern western thinking. In fact, the importance of one’s diet, and its impact on the body and mind, fell from much of conventional health awareness for a period of time. This was partly influenced by the rise in popularity of pharmaceutical and medical interventions to treat mental health ailments as well as most conceivable health conditions.
In reality, the nutritional elements in the diets we consume directly influence our body’s ability to maintain adequate mental health and overall wellbeing. One significant reason for this is that many of the nutrients and elements that our mental and physical health systems need to operate correctly can often only be ingested via the food we eat.
Within the realm of mental health and brain performance, a number of dietary elements are essential to maintain necessary brain functions. The brain needs amino acids to regulate emotional states and process information. They are best obtained through protein sources.
Omega-3 and omega-6 acids, also vital for brain functions, are obtained through consuming healthy fats such as nuts, some oils, avocados, seeds, and more. And nutrients such as iron, vitamin B, selenium, and more can be found in healthy plant-based and animal-protein-based foods and also perform necessary functions for brain performance and emotional regulation.
These are just a few examples of how certain foods and dietary elements must be present in your diet for your brain to function properly. And there are many more similar examples that affect one’s general health and wellness. As more and more research is being performed that strengthens the proven links between one’s diet and the vitality of their various mental and physical processes, we are slowly becoming more aware of how imperative diet is to sustain long-term health.
Creating A Healthy And Sustainable Diet That Meets Your Needs
When most people hear the word “diet,” the connotations that come to mind are not usually pleasant. From highly restrictive diets to New Year’s Resolution attempts to yo-yo dieting experiences or failures, many people don’t want anything to do with the idea of dieting. Let’s dispel a couple antiquated notions about dieting and shed some light on how this can actually be an easy, gradual, and life-giving endeavor.
First, the word “diet” doesn’t refer to a limiting set of food rules or the latest fad diet you’ve seen on TV. It can simply refer to the set of food items one consumes regularly. Before making any diet changes, it’s important (and sometimes can be illuminating) to know what your current diet actually is. Try simply tracking or writing down everything you eat for 5-7 days.
You don’t have to change anything — you just need to know what your current diet actually looks like. Anyone who completes this exercise will often be surprised at what ends up on the list. Before you can effectively make any decisions about changing your diet, it is important to first know what’s going into your body now.
After you have taken stock and know what foods (and in what quantities) are a regular part of your current diet, it’s time to start identifying two things: what items and elements of your current diet you would like to limit, and what items or elements you would like to introduce or increase. These will always vary according to your needs and lifestyle. However, a few fundamental guidelines can apply to almost anyone’s diet and will nearly always improve your diet’s positive impacts on your mental and physical health:
It is virtually impossible to eat too many vegetables. They are packed with nutrients your body needs, full of fiber, low in calories, and can virtually never cause excess or harm. Vegetables should be a core element of just about every diet.
Processed sugar is actually one of the most damaging elements in today’s food landscape. It is addictive, causes weight gain, tampers with hormonal and chemical processes in your body that regulate many of your natural systems, and can create harm in multiple ways. The average western diet contains enormous amounts of processed sugar, much of which comes from sources people often don’t even realize contain it. Sugar can wreak havoc on both mental and physical wellbeing when consumed in excess.
Yes, There Are Healthy Fats
The non-fat mantras of the last century have actually created huge misconceptions about the nature of fat. The fat that occurs in healthy plant-based or animal-protein-based foods is actually good for your body. It’s necessary not only for brain functions (as mentioned above) but for skin health, appetite regulation, and more. Don’t fall for the non-fat myths that still circulate today. Incorporate more healthy fats including nuts, full-fat dairy products, avocados, oils, animal proteins, and more.
If you have special health concerns or are interested in making formative changes to your diet, speak with a health professional and a nutritionist to make sure your ideas won’t cause any problems. However, for most people these three simple rules can be an excellent starting point for making diet changes and beginning to invest dietarily in your mental health and wellbeing.
What Makes A Diet “Sustainable?”
The term “sustainable” can be applied to the world of food consumption and diet in a couple of different ways. This can cause some confusion when trying to understand or define the term. We will detail two main definitions here.
First, it is important to choose a diet plan or strategy that is sustainable for you, your life circumstances, and your particular needs. This means that it is a strategy you can commit to and stick to for a long period of time – one that you could, with minimal discomfort, make a lifestyle. Too often, people who want to change their dietary habits decide to make substantive changes at once or commit to a very restrictive diet for a limited amount of time (thirty days, three months, or similar).
When a diet is too restrictive or requires Spartan discipline to maintain, many people attempt to hold on to it but eventually fail and return to previous eating habits. This can often leave them worse off than they were before. This principle, then, recommends slow, gradual changes to diet that don’t completely upend one’s eating habits and allow for new, healthy eating habits to become ingrained and even enjoyable over a long period of time.
The second definition of sustainable diets we’ll address here is the idea of eating sustainably, or committing to consuming food sources that are environmentally, economically, culturally, and ecologically sustainable. Sustainable food practices avoid using harmful chemical pesticides, GMO’s, or other unnatural products and substances. They attempt to produce products that will be consumed locally rather than requiring cross-regional or cross-continental transportation. They attempt to mitigate or avoid carbon emissions. They prioritize local economies, indigenous peoples, child protection, and fair wages.
Sustainable diets also often take into account that producing animal proteins requires much more planetary resources than producing equivalent plant protein sources and often favors limiting animal products. Overall, using a sustainable diet approach to designing and improving your diet over time can create additional benefits that not only help you but help your communities and the world at large.
Mental Health: When A Change In Diet Is Not Sufficient
One final note as you embark on your diet journey. Mental health concerns or illnesses can be extremely serious and can become dangerous if not adequately treated. If you are currently struggling with your mental health or are concerned for yourself or someone else, a dietary approach may not be sufficient. If you aren’t sure, please see a mental health professional to make sure you are taking adequate steps.
These tips and more can help you begin your diet journey towards stronger mental health and physical wellbeing. It’s never too late (or early) to begin!