Eating Well is Self-Care

Eating Well is Self-Care

Eating Well is Self-Care

I had a great time at the Food, Mood and Brain Health event on Thursday, June 20th. 

Sunnybrook Hospital’s Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC- Psychiatry) hosted the event to raise awareness of its role in promoting a culture of patient and family-centered care by working collaboratively with mental health providers at Sunnybrook. The funds raised at this event will go to support the vital programming and services for patients and families on the road to recovery at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

In addition to a fabulous meal prepared by the culinary students at Centennial College, each meal was described to us by certified nutritional practitioners and authors of The Living Kitchen cookbook, Tamara Green & Sarah Grossman. You can see their bios in my previous post.

During Dr. Laura LaChance’s talk, she revealed the importance of eating well and the effects it has on the brain. Main takeaways included: 

  1. Choose complex carbohydrates
  2. Limit ultra-processed foods, sugars and refined carbohydrates
  3. Include healthy fats and sources of omega-3s
  4. Eat vegetables (and fruits) with every meal
  5. Consider variety and nutrient density

Two of my own takeaways from the event were: her research found that eating was above social interactions when it came to mental illness intervention and eating a Mediterranean diet was best to maintain good mental health.  A lightbulb moment!

I had the chance to ask Dr. Laura LaChance a few questions and here is what she had to say:

What would you tell someone who has not considered the important link between their nutrition and mood health?

We’re learning more every day about the complex interconnections between physical and mental health. Your brain is a vital organ, and like any other, it needs the correct nutrients in order to function normally. Feeding your brain what it needs is a means of self care and increases your resilience to cope with whatever life throws at you. 

Do you think there is a limiting belief folx have about eating well for their mental health? What is it and how can we change that thought?

When I talk about changing eating habits as a tool to prevent and treat depression, I’m often faced with a list of barriers: Healthy food is expensive, it takes too long to prepare and shop for food, I’m too exhausted to prepare food, or the suggestion that eating well is simply not important in the context of a mental health crisis, for example. As mental health providers, we work with individuals to make changes in many aspects of their lives and this often requires exploring intimate details of one’s private life. Why isn’t food on our radar? Eating well is self care. Improving nutrition can be a focus of care while waiting for medications or psychotherapy, it can be a way to connect with your support network, build structure and normalcy into an otherwise chaotic or very challenging day. And it is an intervention without negative side effects. 

What are 3-5 recommended food habits or options when someone is in a low or depressive mood? 

Increase sources of omega-3 in the diet. If unable to eat fish/seafood at least 3 times per week, consider taking an omega-3 supplement (EPA 1000mg daily). 

Eat vegetables and fruits with every meal. Think variety and density of nutrients. 

Don’t fear healthy fats. Think about adding a handful of nuts or seeds to meals or snacks, use olive oil liberally and enjoy avocados. 

What can mental health advocates like myself do to help educate people to better understand the link to our food, mood and brain health? Any suggested reading material?

Consider eating well as part of self care, the same way we think about sleep, exercise, stress management, mindfulness/meditation, setting limits in relationships etc. 

The conversation and the importance of food with our mental health is not lost on me. As someone who has struggled with food management and nutrition, I can attest to the importance of eating well with mental and physical health. I look forward to discovering and sharing more about this topic with you.

Thank you to the folx at Sunnybrook, mainly Alison Reid and Jessica Salloum for supporting and inviting me to this event. 

What do you think?

Do you think food is an important part of your mental self care?

Would you consider changing your diet?

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