The link between what I feed my body and how it impacts my mental health.
By Joanna Willis
Like many of us during the pandemic, I have been guilty of packing on a few COVID-kilos. I have struggled with feelings of anxiety and low mood too. My lack of attention to nutrition during COVID made me think about the link between what I feed my body and how it impacts my mental health. A growing body of work in this area demonstrates the importance too.
A healthy mind and body are crucial for people who have SCI because we require fewer calories, making it much more essential to make every calorie count.
With too much time on my hands during the lockdown periods, I began focusing a lot on my diet. I usually try to stick to the Mediterranean diet of fresh produce and lean meats. I would generally take a relaxed approach, but instead, I began to measure and weigh everything I ate to hit the macro targets the diet prescribes. The problem was that I needed to increase my consumption, particularly of whole grains.
At first, it was fantastic; I was eating more than ever, feeling better than ever, and my brain was on fire! Unfortunately, though, I was also weighing more than ever and had to remind myself that I should consume less than I would before my injury because I have an SCI. While I knew this, I still wasn’t sure what I should be eating for optimal physical and mental health.
So, I began researching the topic and found some interesting information on the subject.
Nutrition is vital for all our physical health, but we are more than just bodies. Although people with SCI need to consume fewer calories than people without SCIs, we still require the same amount of protein, particularly if we are experiencing different health issues like pressure sores. Our mental health is also critical, and it turns out that the food we eat impacts our mental health in several surprising ways.
The relationship between nutrition and mental health is complex, with many aspects of the phenomenon still unknown. However, more and more research indicates that our mental well-being is directly influenced by what we eat. Studies have found that having a healthy gut microbiome is directly correlated to having a healthy mind, and nutrients like Omega-3 can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Folate found in foods like leafy green vegetables is linked to lower rates of depression, while a lack of iron can make you feel lethargic and lead to inactivity.
Maintaining a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, fish, and whole grains, can be difficult for people with SCI. The rising grocery costs and reliance on frozen ready food and carers can influence a person’s diet, but developing a food plan can make it more manageable. There are many ways to reduce the cost of food while still being able to eat well, and discussing your needs with your carers may help. Introducing pulses like lentils and chickpeas is a great way to maintain protein levels while cost-effectively increasing the variety in your diet. Adding spices and herbs like cumin, chilli, oregano, mint, and dill can make healthy meals much more appealing. Buying fruit and veggies from Asian supermarkets or frozen pre-chopped vegetable mixes is also helpful.
If you have concerns about your diet, ask for a nutritionist to be included in your next NDIS plan, or talk to your GP or specialist. If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, ask your GP or Forward Ability Support to help you access support.
Maintaining a healthy diet is essential to maintaining a healthy mindset and lifestyle. However, I have certainly learned my lesson and won’t be obsessing over everything I eat in the future.
The pandemic has reminded me that we are not robots. So, while I will make every effort to maintain a rich and varied diet focusing on nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods, I will take a little of my grandma’s wisdom and remember that “a little of what you fancy does you good.”