Your food can make you miserable.
I have for many many years treated my nutrition as a cornerstone of my own health, both mental and physical, in fact for me it was a huge turning point, and yet, I hesitate to share that side of my passion because of how intensely people can respond if you have an opinion on it. But considering how important to my overall approach it is, it seems more and more ridiculous not to talk about it.
Perhaps a little background to explain where I’m going with this.
My most deeply experienced period of depression coincided with my greatest period of poor nutrition, starting with a weight loss that was achieved and maintained by living on a pathetic diet of french fries and aioli sauce, the occasional burger and regular amounts of chocolate.
Its honestly not hard to be thin on junk if your calories are low and you’re an active 17-year-old, but I became a very different person, dysfunctional and deeply depressed. My eating was most assuredly disordered, but even when my weight normalized and I was placed on antidepressants, nothing changed. In fact, things got worse. A lot worse.
Something that I don’t often share is the fact that I was housebound for two years due to depression and intense anxiety. I was like a hollow shell of a person, a ghost that floated endlessly around the house. A nonliving being that was somehow still alive. A pretty horrific existence I can assure you.
And then is seemed that suddenly one day a switch was flipped and I was recovering. On the road back to being ME. It wasn’t a new drug or a new counselor and I wouldn’t start to really understand the working of my own mind for a few years, what started off in the direction of recovering ME was finding a book on nutrition.
This was the first exposure I had to the concept of your diet having an impact how you feel and the regulation of your emotional and mental health.
It was a mind-blowing revelation that triggered a passion for understanding the science behind nutrition and to this day I spend far more time than I really have wading through the incredible amounts of research that’s out there.
Which is why nutrition is such a hugely vital part of my personal practice and why I advocate for all my clients to consider a holistic approach to their coaching experience that includes their nutrition. I’ve found that people make progress faster when their physical health is supporting their mindset changes. And it's easier to make positive changes when you aren’t being dragged down by a poor diet.
The problems, however, are the diet marketing and hysteria, the ways in which we punish and abuse our bodies with food regardless of the impact on our emotions, and how we learn about nutrition.
If the only place that you get nutrition information from is advertising, magazines or blogs then you’re in trouble. There are almost zero places where the information is unbiased. Almost every single article you read will be either paid for by someone with an agenda, like selling products (the latest “green” cokes and pepsi come to mind) or by someone who is dead set on a particular belief, whether they profit from it, or simply define themselves by it.
My overall eating approach is simply to eat whole foods, whether I'm cooking or eating out. And I supplement with good quality products when I know I'm not going to have time to prepare something or when I simply don't want to.
But once your body is healthy, its a lot easier for it to deal with treats.
Every now and then, I want more cheesecake than is reasonable for a sane person, and I drink coffee like its water from the spring of life. I also take supplements because I don’t always get it right (and I find it supports my health better than just my diet) Does this make me some kind of dishonest foodie?
No, it makes me human.
But I know damn well that if I have bread and pasta on the same day (or even a couple days in a row) my stomach will hate me and my mood will be dull and apathetic. If I have sugar in my coffee or eat too many sweet treats, the quality of my sleep deteriorates and I start feeling anxious.
I am deliberately flexible but aware when it comes to my diet and as a result, I am in perfect physical and mental health. Even did my first triathlon recently and have not had a relapse of depression in almost 9 years.
My health is the result of educated choices, and deciding what my priorities are.
And as part of my approach, I focus on these 4 principals.
1 – Remember, what you eat is the building blocks that your body is built out of. You are literally what you eat, so always prioritize quality over quantity.
2 – Don’t underestimate the mind/body link. Your mental state and mood are absolutely affected by your nutrition, there is good solid science to back this up. And let's be honest, you didn’t really believe that eating utter junk was going to be good for you anyway.
3 – Look at all nutritional evidence and articles critically and without emotion or getting caught up in the hype. Educate yourself, rather than allowing people to push their message on to you.
4 – Experiment. And be honest with yourself.
Beyond that, I heard a great expression recently. Eat 80% for your body and 20% for your soul.