For the first time, we have a featured contributor, Christie Ransom! The opinions below are expressly hers and reflect how a dramatic lifestyle change including exercise and healthy foods positively affected her mental health. As with any exercise and diet program, you should consult your doctor. Christie shares her story as mode of encouragement and inspiration. If you would like to be a guest contributor and share your mental health story, leave a comment with your contact information below. Thanks, Christie!
In my early teenage years, I started to recognize a significant difference in how I felt and behaved. My moods were erratic and very depressive. From attempted suicide to medication and therapy, I never felt in control of my emotions. I related it to my life situations and circumstances and assumed that had everything to do with it. For many years, I would continue to struggle with depression and anxiety and mental anguish. I was gaining weight, which was creating more emotional pain. I was exhausted and felt unable to even smile some days. My thyroid had stopped functioning properly and my digestive health created pain worse than any I had experienced. I finally hit a point where continuing along that path was no longer an option. I decided to focus on my physical health, because I felt it was the only thing I had the power to control.
In January of 2014, I changed my entire lifestyle. I began eating organic foods and focused on clean eating. I incorporated nutritional cleansing into my life. I eliminated all processed and fast foods and soda from my diet and I began to exercise (though minimal… it was more than I had been doing previously). I embarked on that journey with the hope of losing some excess pounds. What I hadn’t anticipated, was how it would affect everything else. From my thyroid health and digestive health, to my energy levels, mood and mental health… everything changed. I felt amazing. I felt a way that I hadn’t recalled feeling in as many years as I could remember. It opened my eyes to the possibility that I had created so many of my mental health issues strictly based on what I had eaten. This caused me to start reading and doing research to discover the correlation between the foods we eat and our complex mental health.
When it comes to mental health, far too many people are ignorant to the root causes. For those that suffer from depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, and so many others… the feeling of hopelessness is nearly enough to swallow them entirely. From one medication to the next, from one dose to another, from one therapist to the next… the “cure” to remedy these debilitating diseases is sought after. And yet, for many, the relief from symptoms is rarely fully realized.
What I find interesting is that many sufferers from mental health disorders (which are on the rise at a rate that would shock most of us) do not have a family history of similar disorders or situations. While our life situations and the pains that we experience along the way play a role in our mental health, what most do not know, is that FOOD and EXERCISE play a much more prominent role! Everyone understands the connection between nutrition and physical illness. However, depression is typically associated with a bio-‐chemical deficiency in the brain. Nutrition, however, will impact the direct onset and the severity of depression.
While looking back into the history of our ancestors’ health, we discover a much lower rate of obesity and mental illness. Though it did exist, it was not nearly at the rate in which we see in society today. In recent years, life is far different and mental health disorders and diseases are far more common. When researching people with depression, the National Institute of Health states that an interesting observation was made… their nutrition is far from adequate. Studies have shown a direct correlation between our diet and our physical, emotional, and mental health. Look in your refrigerator, your pantry, your freezer… how many items can you find that are pre-‐packaged, pre-‐processed, or boxed for convenience? How many snack foods /cereals/soda line your cupboards that are filled with processed sugars and MSG’s? Artificial flavors and colors have been shown to produce a myriad of health concerns. ADHD, for instance, has a direct relation to MSG, artificial flavor and color, and preservative intake. Processed sugars affect our mood by producing a “high” or energy boost that ends with a crash and an opposing “low”. Such sugar intake can trigger mood swings for that very reason. It can also cause a feeling of depression as we crash and a feeling of anxiety or restlessness on the high.
Processed food consumption has also decreased the protein supply in our diets. Proteins contain amino acids, which also influence mood and directly impact neurotransmitter production in the brain (including serotonin and dopamine). We need protein to maintain our skin, organ, muscle, and immune function, but many people are unaware of how important it is to our mood and emotional health. Essential fatty acids (Omega 3’s) are also critical to brain health and function. All of the excess preservative and artificially filled and mineral and nutrient deficient foods have created deficiencies in our bodies that didn’t exist 50 years ago. With the increase in genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), foods have lost nearly their entire nutrient density. Not only that, but they are high in toxins and chemicals which cause a myriad of problems within our bodies on a cellular level. Soils no longer contain the minerals in which we need to maintain healthy brain and body functions (Calcium, Chromium, Iodine, Iron, Lithium, Selenium, and Zinc) or the vitamins we need for cellular and organ health (Complex B vitamins, Vitamin B-‐12, Folate). The more processed and depleted foods that we ingest, the greater this epidemic becomes.
All of those deficiencies in our diets create the beginning of mental health and physical health problems, which in turn create an ever-‐repeating cycle. Maintaining a healthy weight is very crucial to preventing depression and other mental health conditions. Depression affects people in so many different ways. Some people lose complete interest in food, while others use it as an emotional release and over-indulge. Both excessive weight loss or weight gain can make your mood worse. Weight loss and lack of good nutrition will deprive the brain of glucose and the other nutrients that control the mood. On the other hand, putting on excess weight or feeling out of control of your eating can increase depression and also lead to excessive dieting and eating disorders. Another thing that impacts our health is our water consumption. Not drinking enough fluid (or the wrong fluids…sugary drinks) each day has significant implications for mental health. The early effects of even mild dehydration can affect our feelings and behavior, causing symptoms such as irritability, loss of concentration and reduced mental functioning. Caffeine, on the other hand can increase blood pressure, anxiety, depressive symptoms and sleep problems.
I have changed my entire life, absolutely based on what I eat, and what I DON’T eat. Additionally, I have changed how my children eat. I have made it my life’s work to help educate people as to the effect of their nutrition on their entire body and both physical and mental health. Every day I coach those ready to make a change. My hope is that we can soon educate the masses on the correlation of nutrition and mental health and change the way we treat people entirely. Let’s treat the problem or prevent it from the start, instead of treating the symptoms once they have begun. You are what you eat. Remember that. Live it. Eat in a way that will love your body, so that you can find peace, contentment, and whole body health permanently.