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Food for the soul ... literally

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. I am sure you know people who have had experienced one. I definitely have. I have seen the damage first hand that mental health disorders can do to families. I still see loved ones struggling with low days/months/years. 50% of my clients have a form of mental health disorder. Depression. Anorexia Nervosa. Bulimia Nervosa. Personality Disorder. Anxiety. But we don’t speak about. We ignore it and hope it disappears. But it won’t. As a dietitian I am continuously being asked what diet we should eat to achieve a healthy body; and SO much has been written on this topic. Organic foods. Processed foods. Whole foods. Genetically modified foods. Low carbohydrate foods. Superfoods. We give so much consideration to how our diets nourish our bodies but we often forget to consider how we can eat to nourish our souls. What does it matter how much we can lift? How fast we can run? How deep we can stretch? Or how healthy our blood pressure is if we do not look after our minds? If we cannot connect with others? If we feel unworthy of love? I truly believe that the way we think about our diets and the food we nourish ourselves with has the potential to prevent and improve emotional distress and mental health illness.

Here are my top 5 “soul food” tips …

1. Eat more mood boosters

The following foods have been found to boost mood for various reasons – from increasing serotonin to supporting brain health and including peptides that support relaxation. So try to include them in your daily diet!

• Chicken and turkey breast meat • Salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna • Walnuts • Greek yoghurt • Milk • Lentils and beans • Sweet potato • Green tea • Turmeric

2. Make friends with your cravings – then show them the door

When we are feeling low we generally crave sweet, fatty or salty foods, one way I can tell when a loved one feels’ down is because they want a takeaway … I have watched them eat a large pizza, bottle of coke and tub of ice cream within 20 minutes. Rationally we know this food won’t benefit us, it will just give us instant satisfaction, which is often followed by guilt, regret and self-loathing.

Once we understand how to deal with those cravings and how to control them we can decrease this binge guilt cycle. Write down your cravings, ask yourself what has happened to trigger it, how do you feel? How would indulging in your craving make you feel afterwards? What is it exactly about that food you are craving? The sweetness, the texture? Is there something else that could satisfy those cravings? What could you do for 20 minutes to distract yourself?

Including foods from Tip 1 will also help balance energy levels and short circuit the “junk food” cravings.

3. Eat mindfully once per day

How often do we eat in front of the TV? Scoff our lunch down at our work desk? Chomp on our sandwich whilst scrolling through social media? Often I suspect.

Mindful eating isn’t a diet that tells you what food to eat; it is just a really simple idea. To eat slowly, to not multitask when eating – so no TV or talking or working. Really taste the food, enjoy how the textures feels and slow down the entire process by putting your fork down between bites.

4. Love yourself so deeply that you want to nourish your mind and body

When we love ourselves we realise we deserve respect. We stop accepting bullshit from people, including ourselves. Which means the mindless binging or the starving behaviours stop because they are disrespectful to our minds and bodies.

I always try to encourage people to treat themselves how they would treat their children, with love, with empathy and with care. When we treat ourselves that way, our behaviours change, we treat ourselves with the dignity and gentleness we deserve.

If you want to indulge, buy food that you wouldn’t normally buy in a weekly shop. The finest steak, some raw dark chocolate, an exotic fruit and savour them. Most of the time love yourself enough to feed yourself beautiful, natural food.

And how do we go about loving ourselves? … well I think that’s a blog for another day!

5. Eat the cake (occasionally) … and enjoy it!

Meeting friends for a coffee and cake? Being taken out on a date for a romantic dinner? Got period pains from hell? Then look at the menu or in the supermarket and choose whatever the hell takes your fancy. There are occasions where it is more important for us to forget about calories and macros and just focus on comforting ourselves, on feeding our souls.

So do it. Eat the damn cake … just not too often!

Wishing you strength and self-love

Rachel x