Welcome to The Lounge! This week the theme is Food and I have a guest post from Kylie Ofiu about how she uses diet and exercise to manage her mental health.
Before I start, I want to be clear that I don’t think diet and exercise should replace medication or professional help completely. They do have a significant effect on your mental health, but since conditions vary greatly, it is always best to use medication if needed and continue to get professional help.
I have overcome Borderline Personality Disorder. I have had issues with anxiety, depression and ADHD all my life. My psychologist said he prefers to refer to me now as having an ADHD brain. I think very fast, a million ideas in a split second, I’m fidgety and, as friends and family like to say, I have ‘quirks’, but this is all in a positive manner. My quirks work well for me and are a positive thing. It has not always been this way and it’s been a long road to get here.
I have been on and off anti depressants since I was 16. I have had to use sleep medication at one point, started seeing a psychiatrist when I was 16 and first attempted suicide at 16. I am ecstatic to say that through psychological help, learning more about myself and how different things effect me, I generally don’t have issues. Life isn’t perfect though and I know things may change in the future. As I learnt more about myself, I found it very interest to see the impact what I was eating and how I exercised had on my mood and my ability to cope.
Here is what I have learnt:
Certain foods trigger chemical reactions in our body
I found caffeine is shocking for me. I was raised not drinking tea or coffee and have discovered if I have anything that is heavily caffeinated I will be on edge, emotional, angry and frustrated for up to 4 days after.
Some food dyes and preservatives impact on our mood and food intolerances are more common than you might think. The food we eat now is not the same as it was years ago.
One thing I did was an elimination diet, (from my doctor) then slowly introduced foods and monitored my reactions, my feelings and my skin. It was easy from this to determine which foods I should avoid, which I can have in moderation and which I can eat plenty of. When I eat foods I shouldn’t, both my mind and body suffer. When I stick to a cleaner lifestyle my mind is clearer.
Ensuring I had plenty of natural fats such as nuts, avocado and coconut oils has been just as important as fruits, vegetables and lean meats. We often worry about fatty foods, but learning about good fats and eating them goes a long way in maintaining mental health.
Moderation is key
I have been known to binge eat, where I will gorge on foods such as chocolate which leave me feeling physically and mentally unwell. I try not to eliminate too many foods or ban my self other than foods I have an intolerance to (such as wheat for me). Instead, I focus on eating healthy most of the time and allowing myself an occasional treat. I am selective on what treats I have though, because I now know which foods set me off. If I eat that food as a tasty treat, it is not worth it if the long term effects are negative mental health.
I don’t view how I eat as a diet or that I am depriving myself. I am making lifestyle choices, which improve my mental health, my physical health and my life.
Making good food choices means my mind is clearer, I can make better choices and I notice quickly if I feel off and can take measures to protect my mental health such as taking time out for myself if needed, reassessing what I am eating, doing some exercise, spending time with friends or whatever it is I need to recharge and stay mentally healthy.
With everything you do, do it with the mindset of being healthy. By cutting out caffeine, wheat and other foods that trigger me, I am not missing out, I am living a fuller life.
Find the right exercise
Exercise doesn’t have to be a gym class or running for a hour a day. Find the exercise that works for you. I happen to love rock climbing, but the exercise that helped me the most, when I was really struggling was actually pole dancing. I did it a few times a week with a friend. My strength and muscle tone improved faster than any other exercise I had ever done plus every 8 weeks I knew a whole new routine. It gave me confidence and was something I looked forward to. There are classes with lots of mums too, which I liked and did not feel out of place in.
I love to run as well. Running outside is great because you get the fresh air too but I preferred on a treadmill at home because I could fit it in any time.
Yoga, pilates, water aerobics, Zumba, gym classes, boxing, swimming, bikeriding, dance, rock climbing or teams sports such as netball, soccer, basketball or football are all great forms of exercise but are very different. Find what works for you, do free trial classes and ask others what exercises they enjoy to find your groove.
I’ll be honest – if I don’t exercise enough, I am a grumpy lady! I love to use running as a way to clear my head, boxing to smash things out if I am frustrating and dance for my confidence.
Supplements and vitamins
I started taking a few supplements and vitamins at times too including probiotics, vitamin E, evening primrose oil and a multi B vitamin. Since I was a teenager I have found these help. I have had blood tests at various times to see if I am deficient in anything and changed my eating habits if necessary, but I still found an extra boost of those mentioned helped too.
Have a back up plan
I can forget to eat if I get too involved in something or too depressed. I keep protein shakes on hand for this reason. If I can’t stomach the thought of eating something, I can usually still drink. It takes less than a minute to make a shake and depending on my mood, I may blend in fruit, chia and other things to get maximum benefits from the drink to help me.
Having a menu plan for what I would eat and drink helps maintain a healthy lifestyle. Making food ahead of time to keep in the fridge or freezer helps you stick to it when you don’t have much time or feel low as well.
Always have a back up plan so you don’t end up reaching for food and drink that adversely affect you.
By eating the right foods and exercising, after having professional help, I have not needed medication for some time and in 2013, my psychologist said I don’t need to see him anymore. I learnt how to change my thinking and learnt about my mind and body’s reaction to foods, exercise and certain environments. It takes time to learn about food, healthy choices, discover the exercise you like and to implement a support network but it is worth it.
How have you found diet and exercise impacts your mental health?
Kylie Ofiu blogs about ways to make and save money on her site, as well as sharing pieces of her life, including aspects of mental health, homelessness, domestic violence and ways to overcome obstacles.
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I do find if I’m particularly irritable, exercise will lift that – unfortunately for everyone I live with, I don’t exercise nearly enough! (because I’d rather write).
lol, I think many of us don’t exercise enough. I can tell when I haven’t. My kids have even told me on occasion “Mum, maybe you need to run on your machine!”
I used to think people who were “funny” about food were wankers! But as I’ve gotten older I’ve started listening to my body more and found that bread is an absolute no no for me. Not only do I feel bloated and heavy after I eat it I also feel tired and like i have “cotton wool” head. Now that I rarely eat it, its easy to see the difference when I do!
Hahaha, so did I! Cotton wool head is a perfect description of the feeling!
Getting out in the fresh air for a walk does wonders for my sanity! As does chocolate and wine. I do eat less processed food and go for fresh as much as possible. I did find though, that when I did change my diet to a healthier one, the depression came to the forefront, because that was the only thing that wasn’t right with my body and I was able to get help.
I’ve never been a wine drinker. Interesting about the depression. Glad you were able to get help for it and notice it.
Oh I am so with you about exercise. It’s a MUST for me. Unfortunately I still struggle with food. I’m massively addicted to sugar and carbs. I’m slowly improving, but slowly is the operative word. Sigh. Thanks for the tips.
It is hard to change the way you eat. I went an all or nothing approach and did an elimination diet and detox. I’m intense like that though. Good luck with it. The fact you know and are trying is huge.
As much as it sux when I do actually get out and bust my ass I do feel tonnes better for it!! Great post.
I was going to have something prepared for today but am still not 100% so I have hooked you up with One Mother Hen and her awesome weetbix slice which I make pretty much weekly with apple and sultana (a great lunchbox filler!!) and the awesome ladies from Melting Moments who had this delish recipe a couple of weeks ago which I made on Sunday and it was bloody yum!! I used premade custard and tinned apples so it was extra easy!!
I grew up with weetbix slice! It was a lunchbox staple.
The only thing messing with my mental wellbeing these days is a lack of sleep! These early years of parenting are a killer… thank god the causes of our angst are super cute and say amusing things from time to time… But a good walk or swim also does wonders for a good sleep which = a happy outlook on life 🙂
Lack of sleep is terrible and really messes with you. Thankfully they are super cute and the sleepless nights don’t last forever.
I started exercising religiously this year and I feel so much better for it. I’m physically tired when I go to bed and it’s helped my insomnia. Because I sleep better, I wake up less tired. There’s definitely lots of ‘food’ for thought in this 😉
It does do wonders for you wellbeing overall and especially sleep.
I finally found an exercise that I really enjoyed, running at the beginning of the year and it was awesome to not only have the physical and health benefits but the mood benefits also. I was happier and I was also a better Mum as I was much calmer and clear-headed. In July I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and wasn’t able to run at all for a good 6 weeks. As a result I started eating crap, my mood and patience levels went beyond south, and I put on weight. Over 3 months later and I am still struggling with the plantar fasciitis and it’s made something that I was really enjoying a total pain and actually contributes to stress and anxiety. The amount of extra stuff I will need to do if I want to be able to run 3 times a week like I was is quite honestly not worth the effort and stress, but I know I need to be doing that exercise so I am now looking in to getting an exercise bike and getting my bike cleaned up and out of the garage and hopefully I can get back on the good mood, exercise wagon sooner rather than later!
Oh what an experience for you. I hope the bike works out for you and you love it as much as running.