Nutrition and mental health

This week is Mental Health Awareness week and a few weeks back was maternal mental health awareness week, so I’ve written a blog for you all about mental health for Mums, but the same advice is applicable to many!

Nutrition is an important element of a healthy mind.  So often, eating well is talked about in the context of dieting and weight loss, but these diets almost never take a person’s mental health into consideration. In my educated opinion these diets, more often than not, have a negative impact on mental health in the long-term, as the yo-yo dieting cycle causes people to feel deflated and unsatisfied with their bodies. 

Eating well to promote mental health is, more obviously, about WHAT we eat:

  • Eating at least 5 fruit and vegetables a day

  • Aiming for your 30g of fibre each day by including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses in your diet.  This will promote the good bacteria in your gut which love to talk to our brains and research is proving this to be ever more important.

  • Including oily fish once a week in your diet as a source of omega 3 or including vegan sources of omega 3s (walnuts, linseed, chia seeds, algae supplements)

  • Eating regular meals with wholegrain carbohydrates to keep energy levels on an even keal throughout the day

  • Minimising processed foods high in fat and sugar

  • Drinking plenty of non-caffeinated fluids

 

Eating well to promote mental health is also, less obviously, about HOW we eat:

  • Do you eat when you actually feel hungry and stop when you are full or do you eat because you are stressed, tired or bored?

  • Do you eat what you really fancy and feel satisfied afterwards?

  • Do you eat in a relaxed environment and take time over your meals?

  • Do you enjoy meals with other people?

  • Do you plan your meals and get a variety through the week?

  • Do you cook as many meals as you can or rely on ready meals?

 

As a mum, eating well is something that often gets renegaded to the bottom of the pile when we are trying to do a million other things and put our family first.  However, I can’t stress enough how eating well is part of self-care and giving yourself time to eat and enjoy your food will boost your mood. 

Becoming a Mum brings so many challenges and one of these is adjusting to our changed bodies after birth and beyond.  This can really effect how we feel about ourselves.  Paired with tiredness and heightened emotions eating habits can really change.  Being mindful of these changes can help us manage them.

As your child grows your attitude around food and your body will impact how they feel about food and their own bodies, so there is yet another reason to look after yourself. 

Here are my top 3 suggestions for nutrition and mental health:

  1. Take time to eat regular 3 meals a day.  Sit at the table (with company if you have it) and slow down.  Whatever you are eating take time to enjoy it.  Even if you have a colicky baby, either pop it in a sling or lie them down just for 5 minutes whilst you prepare yourself something (a bowl of cereal or a piece of toast will do).  Their crying is so hard to listen to I know, but if you time yourself, you’ll realise it feels a lot longer than it actually is and they won’t suffer in this short time.

  2. Learn to accept your new body. This one takes time and some will find it easier than others (for some their body doesn’t even change that much). Rest assured that even 3 years down the line my body is still finding it’s way back closer to it’s pre-babies self (although it will never be the same!). I’ve not worn a bikini since having children, but I have just this year bought my first bikini with high waisted bottoms (progress!). It helps to surround yourself with other people that speak positively about bodies - there are lots of body positive people on social media who share more normal images of their bodies than the usual edited pictures out there.

    You may well ask what this has to do with nutrition, but you really need to master this one if you are going to protect your mental health and look after your body by eating well. It is also key to raising children who don’t judge themselves or others by their body size and shape.

  3. Don’t diet.  Don’t follow some crazy restrictive diet to try and reach your pre-pregnancy weight.  Take it slowly and make small changes to your diet when you can, so that over time you’re creating healthy habits.  You could pick one of the pieces of advice from the first list in this blog and aim to make that a habit. 

    If you are struggling, seek advice from a professional (for your mental health or your diet).