Eating for mental health

Katy Sunshine

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2020 has refocused our emphasis on health, both physical and mental. We’re aware, more than ever, of the care required to keep our bodies and minds at their prime as our circumstances wear us down.

I’ve never been seriously sick, or ill. I’ve never been hospitalized, or experienced significant physical problems. In these times, I especially recognize how lucky I am to have the physical health that I do carrying me through the events of this year.

However, my mental health has been a mess ever since I was a teenager. Although I was raised in a happy childhood, I’ve struggled for over 10 years with mental disorders including anxiety, depression, and (most recently) adult ADHD.

Nowadays, my mental health still isn’t perfect (especially with the current circumstances) but I’ve come a looooong way from where I used to be. Today I would consider myself about 90% “cured”. There are two primary things that have contributed to this phenomenon.


EATING WELL

My mom is a licensed holistic nutritionist who blessed me with a relationship to eating that I’ve carried with me throughout my life. So I grew up eating well. I was lucky enough to always have access to food that refueled me. We ate vegan (fun fact: I’ve never had meat!) and prioritized organic ingredients. Whole grains instead of white flour. No refined sugars. It always felt abundant rather than restrictive, which is why I loved it. That’s why I’ve kept those eating patterns throughout my life, and never felt like I was suppressing my appetite. I love what I eat, and learned what to prioritize in my body.

On the flip side, if you feel like you’re depriving yourself of something you want, it’s harder to feel like you’re living a full life. Here’s my advice: you have to refocus your mind and realize what you’re giving yourself when you choose to eat well, not what you’re taking away.

You’re giving yourself the gift of health, energy, vitality. A good mood. A strong immune system. A body and mind that simply feels good. Focusing on how good you feel, rather than how much you miss eating your favorite junk food, will retrain your mind and body to start craving wholesome healthy foods. (On that note, if you find yourself being obsessive about your eating in regards to appearance or a feeling of control, there is always help if you feel like your patterns are disordered.)

We have a tendency to mostly focus on the relationship between food and physical health. But here’s what they don’t tell you: your eating habits can have a significant impact on your mental health.

According to Harvard Medical, “what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood ... Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.” In contrast, “eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress.”

Hippocrates, the philosopher, once stated that “food is medicine” and I couldn’t agree more. While your relationship to food and medicine is individual and dependent on your personal health, I’ve spent my past years living a life focused on wellness, energy, and finding joy in the everyday. That wouldn’t be possible without my understanding of food as medicine, as well as a few key supplements that keep my body and mind at its highest performing level.


SUPPLEMENTS

As I mentioned, I was taught to eat healthy from a young age. However, I somehow still developed all these mental health issues. What was missing? If my body was getting all the proper nutrition, why was I still struggling day after day?

The truth is, you can still be lacking in vital nutrients even if you are eating as healthy as possible. There are several reasons, but one reason is: with modern-day food production, a lot of our soil is overworked and thus lacking in necessary minerals that we need for good health.

You hear it often, that depression is about brain chemistry, but did you know that you can change that balance via supplements?

When my mental health issues started to consume my life, I researched natural ways of solving them. I don’t feel comfortable taking medication unless completely necessary, so I looked for other solutions first. After some extensive research, I eventually correlated various mineral and vitamin deficiencies in my body to the symptoms that I was experiencing.


I started taking omega-3 oil when I discovered that it could naturally elevate your mood, and keep the blues from hitting. While research is still coming in, it undeniably turned my own problems around. The quick explanation? Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory qualities. They can easily travel through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. (See the Harvard Medical info above!)

Later on, I started taking magnesium when I discovered that it could soothe irritability by calming your nervous system. My anxiety manifests in many different ways, such as worrisome thoughts, fidgeting, and more, with the most irritating symptom being, well, irritability. At that point in my journey, I’d discovered that there were often many supplemental solutions cited for depression, but fewer for what I was experiencing -- being cranky for little to no reason, and easily aggravated. When I stumbled upon research that this could be caused by a magnesium deficiency, it was the solution that I needed. As soon as I started taking it twice a day, I felt calmer and less likely to snap and get frustrated by the little things. Being a natural sedative, it can help the brain & body calm down, which is exactly what I needed.


THE BOTTOM LINE

Mental health is a non-linear journey. It’s bumpy, and not always clear. You’ll feel great one day and iffy the next. What this boils down to, and what’s helped me the most, is balance. (Write that down: you’ll hear the keyword “balance” often.)

I’ve been able to achieve this balance by following a healthy diet that fuels my body and mind. Additionally, I’ve also discovered the supplements that have controlled my brain chemistry in a successful, maintainable way I highly encourage to others.

There was something missing, a link between my physical and mental health. These two steps went a long way in bridging them.

I am very excited to share my personal journey towards optimum health with all of you. If you’re coming from Instagram, welcome! I’m stoked to share my experiences with my community in a more long-form way. If you’re new to the Katy Sunshine experience, I hope that my years of navigating my passions and living a healthy, fulfilling life can help and inspire you to do the same.

Have post ideas? Comment below or reach out on Instagram!

Photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash

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I write about mental health, holistic living, and how to find joy and meaning in your life.

Honolulu, HI
189 followers

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