The Blog

  • Janine Ruddy

How we fuel our bodies is the third component to the mental health “house.” Since poor mental health does not just start in the mind, I’ve recruited the incredible, lovely and intelligent Natalia D’Abramo to share her thoughts on the mind/body connection. Not only is she a Registered Nurse, but she is also a circus performer, a health enthusiast, and an overall badass.

This is a great read kids! Have fun!

~ J

Key Takeaways

1. Don’t underestimate your gut’s influence on your emotional health

2. You are and you “feel” what you eat

3. An Eating Pattern is Just as Important as Food Choices

4. You might actually be thirsty!

The research encompassing nutritional psychiatry is still in its infancy. However, it has been well established that the health and state of our gut not only has been associated with physical disease but also neuropsychological conditions. Chronic inflammation and a disruption in the bacteria profile in our guts- resulting from factors like diet, lifestyle habits, and being overweight can negatively contribute to psychological state and behavior. Although diet alone is not the primary cause of mental health illnesses like depression and anxiety, it does have the potential to either reduce or exacerbate symptoms depending on the choices we make.

The Mighty Microbiome

The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes. It seems to play a never ending role pertaining to health, including immune system health, chronic diseases and mental health. Along with many other factors, diet has a profound effect on your gut’s health. Studies have shown that the beneficial bacteria in our gut prefer fiber and the byproducts of plant food, while pathogenic bacteria thrive off of animal food, protein and fat. If we want to get a little geeky for a moment, let’s talk a bit about a couple neurotransmitters. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences not only psychological state, but also physiological and cognitive functions. About 95% of our body's serotonin is produced by enterochromaffin (EC) cells that reside in our gut. Consuming whole grains, starchy vegetables, legumes and fruits to feed the good bacteria glucose by carbohydrate breakdown can help achieve optimal Serotonin levels.


EC cells also respond to mechanical stimulation. Fiber helps food move through the GI tract faster and can stimulate these cells to produce higher serotonin levels. Studies have shown that taking a probiotic can also improve mental health, as it reduces depression and anxiety symptoms and improves neurotransmission of serotonin. If diet alone is not enough to improve gut health, a probiotic may be a desirable adjuvant to consider.

Nutrition for Better Mental Health

So what should we aim to eat more of? A diet composed primarily of whole plant based foods. If consuming animal products, consider limiting your consumption to two to three times a week, and choosing less processed options. Also, reserving treats (as delicious as they are) for special occasions can have a profound effect on overall health and well-being. Healthy staples should include legumes, whole grains, squashes, potatoes, root vegetables, and other vegetables and fruit.


Eating a poor diet can have an impact on fatigue and energy levels, which can contribute to depressive feelings. Eating well can have a direct effect on physical health by improving energy levels and chronic tiredness. This way of eating is supported and encouraged by Canada’s Food Guide, which recently had a massive shift in nutrition guidelines based on an overwhelming amount of evidence on diet and disease.


This dietary pattern does not ask for perfection. Indeed, striving for perfection often leads us back to where we started. It supports an “all or nothing mindset” when it comes to our efforts in bettering our diet. A huge takeaway should be that it is the overall dietary pattern that we need to focus on - not the fact that we had a piece of cake one night, saw this as a failure, and decided to deem all our previous healthy choices as pointless.

Eating Pattern is Just as Important as Food Choices

Research shows that what and how we eat influences our health too. Distorted eating patterns, where dieting restrictions are perceived as helpful (e.g., skipping meals, restricting calories) can lead to binge type behaviours and increase the likelihood of emotional eating. Eating regularly (5-6 meals/day) is an important step to maintain metabolism function, and to aid in sustainable/normalized eating. Eating with family instead of eating while watching TV is another healthy eating habit to choose more often. Developing valuable skills like planning and scheduling meals, grocery shopping, food journaling, and batch cooking can be learned with the help of a certified health professional if needed. Health improvement is maximized when good food choices are combined with optimal eating patterns.

Hydration for the Win

Staying well hydrated can contribute to better physical health, mood, and cognitive function. It is absolutely vital to our health as every cell in our body needs it! Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can cause physical symptoms, as well as memory impairment, fatigue, tension, anxiety and mood changes. The recommendation for adults is 64 ounces of water daily (more if physically active and out in the heat), and for children to drink half their weight in ounces of water daily. You’d be surprised by how many chronically dehydrated people there are walking around! An effective way to make sure you are drinking enough water is to measure your intake daily.

Conclusion

There is a significant amount of evidence highlighting a dietary connection to poor mental health. Therapies like CBT/DBT/CPT can be much more effective when combined with diet, exercise, hydration and other self-care strategies. It is clear that a person’s overall state of health can contribute to worsening mood, depression and anxiety. Addressing mental health should include an assessment of physical health, diet and lifestyle behaviours. It can be overwhelming at first, but small changes are a great place to start.

~ Natalia D’Abramo, RN

Sources used:

Messaoudi M, Violle N, Bisson JF, Desor D, Javelot H, Rougeot C. “Beneficial psychological effects of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in healthy human volunteers.” Gut Microbes. 2011 Jul-Aug;2(4):256-61.

Slyepchenko A, Carvalho A, Cha D, Kasper S, McIntyre R. “Gut emotions – mechanisms of action of probiotics as novel therapeutic targets for depression and anxiety disorders.” CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets 2014;13(10):1770-86

  • Janine Ruddy

It’s the wild west out there kids. As George RR Martin so aptly tweeted, "2020 was directed by me." We are all glued to the news and seeing headlines like:


“Global Pandemic!”

“Stark Covid-19 projections”

“Unprecedented!”

“9 dead in…”

"Massive job loss..."

This is a lot... not only are people fearful of getting sick, many are reeling with loss of income, isolation, and fear of what’s to come. Life as we know it has changed.

I am not so naïve to suggest that the “ominous unknown” lingering in the background can be fixed with one simple blog post, or some “quick tips.” HOWEVER, there are things that we can do that will help weather the storm (and hopefully get out the other side without losing our minds too much).

1. Decide how you want to interpret your situation

A lot of things during this time are out of our control. Maybe you haven’t seen friends or loved ones because of physical distancing. Perhaps you’ve lost your job, and you’re worried about how you will pay your rent.

You can’t control Covid-19, but you can control how you choose to interpret and react to it. It's easy to "find the bad" in this situation, but perhaps there may be some good (or neutral) hidden in there too.

2. Create a Routine

It is so important to implement some type of routine into your day. We all need meaning and purpose in our lives (whether you are still working or you've lost your job). It’s so easy to get lost in a Netflix binge, or to go down a YouTube spiral (trust – I’ve been there).

Remember your high school time table? From 9:00-10:15 you had math, 10:15-10:30 recess, etc. Make one and try to stick to it the best that you can. Here’s mine (and yes I still get up at 6:30 a.m.):

6:30-8:30ish: Espresso, cuddle with pug, study German

8:00 – 9:00ish: Read

9:00 – 10:00ish: Spend time chatting with my husband (handsome devil)

10:00 – 11:00ish: Study

11:00 – 12:00: Walk my pug

12:00: LUNCH

12:30 – 1:00: Workout

You get the point. Naturally, I don’t always do the same things every day. However, I do have a general idea of how I’m going to spend my time.

3. Self-care

Do the things that make you feel good. Here are some ideas:

- Go for a walk

- Spend time with a pet

- Have a bubble bath

- Create an exercise routine

- Learn how to cook

- Talk to a friend or therapist

- Read a book

- Meditate

- Yoga

- Take a course

4. Reframe your situation

So! You’re at home and now you find yourself with a bunch of hours to fill. I would wager that a month ago, you probably didn’t have time to do all of the things that you enjoy. Now before you object, lets clear the air. YES it sucks that this is happening. YES you’re scared about getting sick. YES you are worried about running out of money.

Everything comes with a price. “Regular life” is a busy life. It's a busy life where we often don’t have spare time to truly be present with loved ones, to go inward and focus on ourselves, or to practice a hobby that made you happy in the past.

Think about the things that used to bring you joy. Were you an athlete in high school? Go for a run! Did you like to draw, paint, sing or play an instrument? Get to it! Have you felt distant from your spouse? Now is the time to reconnect.

Finding little joys in crappy situations can help you ease the tension, and find a little relief.

5. Take action

Take actions on the things you can control. If you’ve lost your job, start sending out resumes. If you feel anxious, call a friend, go for a walk, or watch a funny movie on Netflix. If you’re feeling bored or restless, learn something new. There are so many platforms out there that offer free courses (e.g., Coursera).


Control what you can control!

Stay safe kids!


-J

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© 2023 by Janine Ruddy Online Psychotherapy, Registered Psychotherapist, M.Ed, RP    Proudly created by Creative Resource Group