I’ve been working on myself emotionally and mentally for the past several months trying to get back to a healthier and happier me. My doctors, therapists and I have been trying to to balance medications and I’ve been learning new ways of thinking. I have done (or at least tried) everything that has been suggested to me. During this time, I have noticed one thing that has not been emphasized during my treatment and it’s the one thing that I think makes just as big a difference (if not more of a difference) than all the medications and therapy: nutrition and exercise. It has been casually mentioned once or twice but there have been no serious discussions about how they play into good mental (and obviously physical) health. I wonder why that is, don’t you? I personally believe that what we eat today, our lack of exercise and our lack of real nutritional education is a huge contributing factor to all kinds of health problems, including mental health. Many people don’t eat anything that doesn’t come out of a box, bag or can and that is just not healthy. This type of “food” is loaded with excess sugars, fats, preservatives and, in some cases, other chemicals which are completely unusable to our bodies and are possibly harmful. Fresh foods are where all of the nutrition is and a lot of people simply aren’t getting those. I understand that it is generally more expensive to eat this way but I think it is a good trade for better health.
I’ve really got to wonder why diet and exercise are not stressed more, for mental illness. Remember when we were kids, and ate too much sugar? Am I the only one who was told, as a child that I couldn’t eat that certain thing, or at that time of day, because it would make me grumpy? Why is it that we become less aware of this as we get older? I suppose that, as we get older, our emotional control increases, and it becomes less obvious that what we ate might be aggravating us, or depressing us! So, that’s what I am saying. I take medications twice a day, very small pills, with strong concentrations of chemicals, for my mental balance. But how effective can they really be, if the food that I’m taking in (which is a lot more massive) is throwing off my moods, or the energy level that I need to stay “awake” and aware of my thoughts and feelings, so that I can control them?
I just recently got back into eating better and getting more exercise and I am starting to feel the effects of this change. I feel more energetic, a little bit stronger and I have more stamina. I really missed this feeling! I was in great shape when I first came back to California, three years ago. I was exercising 6 times a week and eating pretty healthy. I wasn’t at my goal weight but I was within 10 pounds of it and I was pretty comfortable with that. But then my untreated bipolar disorder reared it’s ugly head and I lost interest in taking care of myself. Slowly, I started incorporating more and more “junk” food into my diet. Instead of cooking fresh meals, I was eating a lot of packaged foods and foods that had very little, if any, nutritional value. It definitely affected my moods too. I felt upset with myself for eating like this but wouldn’t actually do anything about that. I felt guilty because of my poor food and exercise choices. This fed my depression and anxiety. Not to mention all the extra fat, sugar and nasty chemicals. They were biochemically changing my body because of nutrient depletion and chemical substitutions (Sorry! My inner molecular biologist is leaking out). I would intermittently try to go back to working out or eating right but I never did both together and I never could manage either for very long. I finally just got to a point last week where I decided I had to do something about this because I had not only gained weight because I had quit watching what I was eating but my medications were also starting to have an effect on my weight.
I’ve decided to start a 60 day challenge to see how much weight I can lose. I’ve gained a total of 20 pounds since I started going downhill from my bipolarity (8 of those in the last two months because of all my new medications) and that is a lot on my five foot two frame . I have gone back to Weight Watchers because that was where I’ve had the most success in the past. I highly recommend Weight Watchers or SparkPeople for weight loss plans. I love them both! They help to teach you to what to eat and how much you should be eating (which is just as important). I think these programs are so much better than programs that sell you prepackaged foods or pills that are supposed to help you lose weight. Those types of programs don’t teach you how to feed yourself, so, once you stop, you have very little idea of what or how much you should be eating. Diet pills are even worse because they don’t teach you anything and they are supposed to be some sort of magic cure to being overweight. I hate to break it to you, but there is no such thing as a magic cure to weight loss. It takes work and effort to lose weight.
Once you decide to change your relationship with food and exercise (because ultimately that is what it is), I highly recommend taking it slowly. Try to change only one thing at a time. If you start with nutrition, stick with nutrition and try not to change everything you eat all at once. Slowly replace unhealthy foods with healthier options and try to eat only one serving size. If you decide to start with exercise, start off with something relatively easy so that your body can get used to being more active. As that becomes easier try other things or add to what you are already doing. I think trying to do nutrition and exercise at one time is too much to do all at once, if it is something that is new to you, and it will more likely lead to failure. For me, at least, trying to do both at once was very hard. Because I was exercising I was more hungry and that made it very hard to eat less. Because I was eating less I didn’t have as much energy to spare for working out so it made it harder for me to get through my exercise routine. Once you get comfortable with whatever you have decided to change first, you can add the other piece of the puzzle and then you are on your way to not just better health in general but better mental health. Who doesn’t want that?
I’d like to restate just how important it is to make your changes in manageable increments! Because if you make more than one big change, all at once, then you’ll falter, stutter, and stop. Then your change of diet or exercise will only be an exception. And your “rule”, your main ingredient, will remain unhealthy. One trick to make sustainable changes is to ADD things to your diet or routine. People keep thinking that diets are all about limiting and subtracting things. If you add more water and more veggies to your diet, you’ll naturally let other things drop away that are less healthy for you, because you have less room in your stomach.
So, what’s the “secret ingredient”? It’s the MAIN INGREDIENT!
What you eat, or do, or say all the time, is what will shape you. So what’s your fuel?
For more inspiration on getting moving, check out the post about sitting being the new smoking at Aha Now.