January can be the cruellest month, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot. Many of us embark on diets, only to feel failures when we ditch them a few weeks later. Food is something to be feared.
I've been there and done that. For the last few years, however, I've embraced a different attitude to food. It can be my friend – and one that boosts my mood as well as a chat with a supportive friend or the comfort I derive from reading a Moodscope blog.
For the past four years I've been working with the nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh to let food be my medicine, developing recipes to tackle the symptoms of my own low mood and anxiety. The good news is that relatively simple changes to your diet can heal not just your body but your mind too. It's time to wind back the harms of too much medicine and prescribe a little more food.
It's a topic I've been interested ever since my GP introduced me to the concept of 'Happy foods' when I went to see her for a routine chat about managing my anxiety. Alongside recommending some tenets of cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps us rethink habitual negative interpretations of the world, and mentioning mindfulness, she listed three 'Happy Foods': dark green leafy vegetables, oily fish, and yippee – dark chocolate.
Nutrition is now a key implement in my own mental health toolbox, alongside the aforementioned mindfulness, taking regular exercise and the healing power of poetry which has helped me find a gentler narrative in my head. What I like about a nutritional approach to mental health is that there's plenty of research suggesting what we eat really does affect how we feel.
Alice and I built up a range of delicious recipes which reflect more than 140 scientific studies: Alice has a degree in nutritional therapy and biomedical science. The 70 recipes in our book The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food are designed to boost energy, relieve low mood, comfort a troubled mind, support hormone balance and help you sleep soundly – in other words, to tackle all the symptoms that can affect me.
Good psychiatrists are already stressing the importance of 'lifestyle' interventions for those who suffer depression. I would never say diet alone is the answer, and it shouldn't be a substitution for either medication or other strategies. Antidepressants can be a crucial recourse for those suffering from mood disorders as they were for me for many years. But ideally our use of them should be short term, as they can have adverse side-effects including, ironically, feeling suicidal and weight gain.
Over the last few years, I've tried to find other approaches to staying calm and well. Changing my diet has been a lovely new arrow in my quiver. I hope it might be one in yours too.
A Moodscope member
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