This is the second post of a 12-week series on How I Learned to Manage My Bipolar Illness by Cultivating a Healthy Lifestyle.
My eating habits are not perfect, nor do I believe in the “perfect” diet. But the way I eat today is drastically different than the way I used to eat when I first got sick with bipolar illness and I think a lot of it has to do with diet. What we feed our bodies fuels our existence and if we’re sustaining ourselves on frozen Lean Cuisine meals (my typical lunch when I was working as a recruiter in DC before I got sick) and snacks that come in 100-calorie packs plus a diet soda every day, it’s no wonder our health takes a nosedive.
Finding a Balance
I think moderation is the key. Two years ago I jumped on the juicing bandwagon and then went to a strict vegetarian diet. I felt good, but I wasn’t monitoring my Vitamin D and protein intake and started developing hair loss and fatigue. So I switched to a flexitarian diet and that works for me. I eat vegetarian mainly, but occasionally eat fish or meat. Snacks for me include nuts and fruits like apples, grapes or tangerines. I also love KIND bars when we travel.
I stopped drinking milk because of food documentaries like Food Inc., Forks over Knives, Fresh, and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead which reveal the sad truths about America’s dairy industry. (If you haven’t watched them yet, I highly recommend them all, and most are available on Netflix.) Instead I drink Almond milk, although I do eat cheese. When we eat meat, I try to make sure it’s organic, grass fed and local if possible.
Since this summer, we’ve been transitioning to a mainly gluten-free diet. It started out as a way to help our son with his digestion issues, but I’ve begun to feel the benefits of it and believe it does contribute to a more healthful approach to eating.
I’m not saying a diet like mine is the only answer to staying mentally healthy, but I do believe that diet plays a big part in the overall puzzle of how we manage our mental health.
Curbing my Sugar Addiction
Like most Americans, I have a feisty sweet tooth. I used to crave candy and cookies, but have found that since eliminating as much processed foods and wheat as I can from my diet, the cravings have died down. When I grocery shop, I use the “shop the perimeter” tip of avoiding the aisles in the center of the store since that’s where most of the processed foods are located. Instead of packaged cookies like Oreos or Chips Ahoy, I bake Paleo chocolate chip cookies occasionally with my kids who don’t even notice the difference. We also mix up a batch of energy balls once a week – Pinterest has a gazillion recipes and is my favorite place to find a recipe based on the ingredients I have in my pantry.
I’ve also found that books like Brain Grain by David Perlmutter, MD, open my eyes to what food does to our brains and how easy it is to make adjustments to the food choices we make in order to regain wellness. It’s time we educate ourselves on the power of whole foods instead of processed foods and water instead of soft drinks or juice.
Cutting Back on Caffeine
I am a 2-cup-in-the-morning gal when it comes to coffee. I occasionally enjoy an afternoon cuppa but not after 2pm, so it doesn’t interfere with sleep. If I have more than 2-3 cups of coffee a day it tends to make me feel jittery and I end up regretting it.
Instead, I switch to caffeine-free tea, which I’ve been loving in these winter months. And ever since I started using doTERRA, my water is no longer boring. I add a drop of Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit or Slim & Sassy and I have a refreshing, natural hydrating beverage which I feel good about drinking.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a soda or a beer or a glass of wine occasionally, because I do. It’s knowing that I feel better when I pay attention to the hydration my body needs which makes the difference.
Do you feel like changes in your diet have an impact on your mental health? I’d love to hear your thoughts!