I decided to write this blog after recently finishing therapy with ‘Andy.’ The reasons for writing this blog is because I believe an extremely important factor which can sometimes be overlooked by therapists due to the focus being on ‘cognitions’ or ‘behaviours’ in therapy was incorporated into Andy’s treatment plan as a way to help him overcome his feelings of low mood and depression. It is hoped that this will also benefit others.
Therapy with Andy involved working with his thought patterns and behaviours namely avoidance behaviours which are central to depression treatment. Treatment however very early on involved discussing Andy’s lifestyle namely diet and exercise. It is well known that exercise can help to increase mood due to the release of endorphins however diet or nutrition though it may be obvious is an under recognised factor in mental health and it can be extremely beneficial to incorporate diet and nutrition as part of a treatment plan for some clients. It is at this point where the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ makes sense and it certainly applied to Andy’s treatment and his journey in overcoming his low mood.
According to The Mental Health Foundation approximately two thirds of those who report mental health problems eat fewer healthier foods (fresh fruits and vegetables) and more unhealthy food (ready meals, takeaways). It is important that in order to experience a balanced mood and feelings of well-being our diets must also be balanced to include a range of nutrition such as complex carbohydrates to essential fatty acids and vitamins, minerals and water. We have all experienced the effects of for example eating too many sugary foods. Sugary foods are absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream and this causes an initial surge in energy followed quickly by a drop in energy levels. If one is suffering from depression and low mood it is easy to see how eating a diet high in sugar for example may therefore worsen the experience of depression and may even exacerbate already existing symptoms of depression. Changes to diet therefore is something worth thinking about especially if you are suffering from depression.
When I first met Andy, Andy was experiencing low mood and depression. He reported that he was finding it difficult to concetrate almost as though there was a ‘fog’ in his head. As a result of this Andy was not enjoying his life. Andy used diet changes to help overcome his low mood and depression. The changes that Andy experienced as a result of diet and exercise changes was that he felt more focused, more alert, happier and felt an all round improvement in his health. The changes took approximately 2 weeks to have affect but once this occurred Andy was experiencing benefits he had not experienced in a long time.
Some of the main changes that Andy made were that he reduced his Carbohydrate (bread) intake which in time allowed Andy to feel more alert and increased his fruit and vegetable intake which were organic.
Below was a typical day in Andy’s diet:
Juice: spinach, kale, celery, cucumber, carrots, apple, pear, orange, lemon and ginger.
Anything in the juice can be substituted for any other fruit and veg.
Side salad from Asda with some falafel and humus or avocado. A couple of days a week a fruit platter.
Something consisting of avocados, tomatoes, rye bread or sweet potato and maybe some cheese.
Eating mixed unsalted nuts or a banana.
Andy implemented these changes for approximately 2 weeks before he noticed a difference to how he was feeling. Once a positive change is felt this acts as a positive reinforcer to continue the beneficial behaviour, it is important therefore to persevere with any changes that you make. Andy states that it is important to ‘not to think of it as a temporary solution. It is best to think of it as a permanent lifestyle change and allow room to treat yourself. ‘
So what changes can one make to their diet to improve their mood? Below are a few suggestions:
– Increase intake of Omega 3 fatty acids
Researchers have recently found that a diet which contains healthy amount of these essential fatty acids which are found in oily fish like salmon and also nuts can help protect against depression.
In people with sensitivity, caffeine may exacerbate symptoms of depression. If you have a sensitivity to caffeine then why not try a reduced caffeine or deaf diet.
-Increase Vitamin D
Researchers from the University of Toronto noticed that people who were suffering from depression, particularly those with seasonal affective disorder, tended to improve as their vitamin D levels in the body increased over the normal course of a year. Vitamin D increases the levels of Serotonin in the brain which it is thought contributes towards mood. Eating a diet which contains Vitamin D or maybe taking a daily Vitamin D supplement could help if you are suffering from low mood.
Diet is just one change that can be implmented in order to boost mental health, in addition to other techniques and lifestyle changes slight changes in this area may make a significant difference to one’s mental health.
For more information on how food can affect your mood or for healthy eating tips visit http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/food-and-mood/#.VX8DBk10zVI