The Nourished Psychologist: The Connection Between Food and Happiness
Monique is a Clinical Psychologist who is passionate about sharing through her blog, The Nourished Psychologist what she has discovered: that our diets and our mental health are most certainly linked. I love that she is spreading this message with such passion. In some areas we have differing views but we both believe strongly in avoiding additives and the beauty and power of real food to help us feel good. With 1 in 3 Australians going on anti-depressants at some point in their life, I think it is clear we need a little help with our happiness... each choice we make can empower us or disempower us, can lift us up or bring us down. After reading this blog I encourage you to take a look at the connection between what you are eating and how you are feeling...
How did you first come to see the link between our diet and mental health?
I have always known that in order to have good mental health we need to have good physical health. Emotions are felt within our body not in our minds so the link between our bodies and how we feel is important. However, it was not until I read an article about additives used in foods and the effects that they have on physical health, mental health and behaviour that it really hit home how much of an effect what we put into our bodies can have. I immediately removed additives from my families diet and noticed a significant effect on our sleep, behaviour, moods and energy levels. Since then I have removed refined sugar and almost all grains. The more I read and researched the more I learnt just how strong the link actually is.
What effects do additives have on children's growing bodies and minds?
I find it extremely scary what effects additives can have on our children. Various food additives (some of them that are classed as natural) can have effects such as depression, asthma, sleep disturbances, tantrums, head banging, aggressive behaviour, concentration and learning difficulties and headaches or migraines. Some additives are known carcinogens or have been linked to toxicity of various systems such as neuro, endocrine and immune systems.
I am convinced that many children who display behavioural or learning problems at school or ADHD type symptoms are experiencing the effects of additives in their diets.
Have you seen changes in your clients since bringing nutritional advice into your practice?
In my work in a public mental health service it is difficult to bring a lot of nutritional advice into my practice but I have seen clients experience more energy, improvement in mood and stabilisation of blood sugar. In my private work as The Nourished Psychologist I see clients' mental states stabilising, depression and anxiety reducing and energy levels increasing. I also think that people's confidence about making choices that work for them and learning to listen to their bodies is one of the most important and significant changes that I can help people make.
What is your opinion on gluten and mental health?
I personally believe that gluten is not a substance that is helpful to anyone. Too much research suggests the strong links between gluten and schizophrenia and also the elevated rates of all mental health disorders in people with coeliac disease.
Gluten is linked to leaky gut syndrome and to inflammation which are both implicated in depression and other mental health disorders. I strongly believe that although some people may be able to eat gluten with no ill effects, for most people gluten will trigger problems in their particular area of weakness. This may be the gut or the brain or the endocrine system, the nervous system or the cardiovascular system and it may show up very early on or may take many years (for me it was about 20 years) but at some point it will likely be a problem.
I have had so many people contact me to say how much their mental health has improved since eliminating gluten from their diet. It is not an essential nutrient for anyone so my advice would be to get rid of it.
What do you see are three effective ways of affecting changes in our world today?
- Information and education provided in a non-threatening and easy to digest manner. Knowledge is power but there is so much confusing and conflicting information out there. I think we need to help educate people about how to read studies and information in an objective manner and how to make decisions based on their own personal circumstances and needs rather than following 'experts' advice without question.
- Leading by example and starting with changes in our own homes and families. The only thing we really have control over are the choices that we make for ourselves and our family. If we make these changes in our own homes and improve our own health then hopefully others will see that and be interested in what we are doing and begin to bring about those changes in their lives. I think that educating our children through example is one of the best ways to bring about change through future generations. I am hoping that in the very near future we will see changes in our school canteens so that we can give our children the best start in life and the best opportunity to learn and grow.
- I think we need to change the balance of power from the big industries and big pharma who’s main interests are money and move towards value being placed on people's health and wellbeing. Funding needs to go into research that looks at more natural ways of living and eating so that we can have alternate options that are backed by science. I am hopeful that by bringing the first two points into play we may move towards this third one taking place. Until the health and wellbeing of the population comes before money I can't see too many changes taking place on a large scale.
Making changes in our diets can be challenging, what is some advice when implementing change for the better?
Do the research and reading for yourself so that you are confident in the changes that you would like to make and your reasons for making them. Take things one manageable step at a time. This way you are more likely to stick with it and not feel overwhelmed. Listen to your body and observe how each change that you implement affects you. There is no one diet that works for everyone. If it doesn't feel right then try something else but stick with changes for at least a few weeks to give your body the chance to adjust. Pay attention to things like your mood, anxiety, sleep, energy levels and elimination. These can be great ways of seeing if your body is functioning well. Some people find it helpful to keep a journal so that they can document the changes they make and how they feel. This can be helpful to look back on to see what progress you have made and what changes you have seen. Remember, no change is too small and every journey starts with one step. Value yourself and your family. You are worth the effort.