Every year millions of people make New Year resolutions concerning health, lifestyle and dietary changes, yet almost 80% of us fail to achieve them. Most of us strive for unrealistic goals like – going to the gym every day, or losing a certain number of kilograms by winter, quitting alcohol and/or smoking – and ultimately we set ourselves up for failure. That failure brings us down, affects our energy levels, mind set, performance at work and home, triggers non-desirable hormonal responses, and creates unnecessary additional stress. Do we really need to do this to ourselves?
We all more or less know how our diets affect our health on a physical level, but what about our mental health? Most people know that a healthy diet will reduce the risk of obesity, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and other nutrition-related chronic health conditions. But did you know that a healthy diet is also important for your mental health? A number of mental health conditions including depression, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease and anxiety might be influenced by what we eat.
Top Tip: A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.
A healthy balanced diet includes:
- Lots of different types of fruit and vegetables
- Wholegrain cereals or bread
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy products
- Oily fish
- Plenty of water
A balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and water. Remember, you are not just feeding your body – you are also feeding your brain.
In the last decade we used to be a ‘FAT-PHOBIC’ society (we thought all fat was bad, without taking into consideration that fat is essential for many body functions, structures and hormone production). Later, that shifted to ‘CARB-PHOBIA’ (thinking or believing that we can lose weight by eliminating carbohydrates). That approach might work to some degree, but what are the consequences for our physical and mental wellbeing? If you have tried it you will know what I am talking about. Just ask yourself, is having a “good looking” physical body more important then having a healthy mind? And how long did it take to put lost weight back on? Putting on weight unintentionally, or feeling that your eating habits are out of control, can worsen your mental health condition and lead to yo-yo dieting. This can make you feel more out of control. If this sounds familiar to you, then for your New Years resolution, say NO to any new, fancy diet that you might have read about in a magazine or online.
Research has shown frequent weight loss dieting has been associated with increased morbidity and mortality risk, reduced bone mass (even in obese populations) and increased cortisol production, and is a strong predictor of weight gain over time. Further, chronic dieters are more likely to have lowered body appearance evaluation and body satisfaction, exaggerated responsiveness to nutritional or food-related cues, depression and anxiety.
Depression and other mental health conditions affect different people in different ways. When it comes to diet, some people lose interest in food or can’t motivate themselves to shop and cook, and this means their weight drops. Others find they want to eat more and so gain weight when they are unhappy. Some medications can also decrease or increase your appetite. So, if you are concerned that your medication has made your weight problem worse, speak to your doctor.
If you are unhappy with how you look, my advice is that before you make any diet-related decisions, speak to a professional. Do not deprive your brain of important nutrients, minerals and vitamins; do not become focused on your body image at the cost of your health.
Let 2017 bring change in your mindset … make food your medicine, not your enemy. Keep asking and reminding yourself what is more important – the way you look or the way you feel? By feeling well, you will look well!
Dr Desha Welsh is an accredited Dietitian, Nutritional Endocrinologist and Health Scientist passionate about optimising people’s health and wellbeing. Stay tuned for more nutritional facts and inspiration by our guest blogger Dr Desha Welsh!
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