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Nutrition and Mental Health: Where to Begin

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Nutrition and Mental Health: Where Should We Begin? Lev Dolgachov/PhotoSpin

No one will ever “get it all together.” That’s like eating once and for all. Silly to expect and miserable trying to achieve — yet here we are.

Everyone gets down sometimes. Everyone. Life isn’t always love and sparkles, in fact sometimes it’s hard and that takes its toll on a person. You’re not alone, nor inferior — you’re human.

Millions of Americans go through depressive states due to one reason or another. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 40 million adults in the United States suffer from some form of anxiety.

What’s more, the NIMH finds that women are 60 percent more likely to have anxiety at some point in their lives than men. This all translates to nearly 1 in 5 people you know facing some form of anxiety. You are definitely not alone.

We all have our journeys to travel, and there will be bumps along the road. Individuals coping with mental illness have a different viewpoint of the road and the intensity of its ups, downs and bumps.

When you’re having trouble navigating through your day-to-day life, asking for assistance may seem like another stressor to the pile. Motivating yourself to reach out for help may seem exhausting or impossible.

This is where nutrition comes in to help. Being well-nourished can help you find your inner Rocky Balboa and get back up when life has knocked you down with some serious blows.

You need the fuel to want more, to see it can be better and to seek out help. What you choose to eat and drink throughout the day can begin to improve your thought process, energy, emotions and overall wellbeing to give you what you need to get on the road to happier days.

Where to Start

Getting well takes time and money. Not everyone has the motivation, time or funds to take a full-blown approach to wellness. Know that you don’t have to decide between all or nothing when it comes to feeling better inside and out.

Do what you can with what you have to seek health and you will begin to find it. Additionally, some of the best and most important things you can do to start feeling better are free.

Have a Glass of Water

Waking up overwhelmed with frantic worry before your feet have even touched the ground makes for a long day. Your mind is racing over a million and one worries of what could go wrong.

Get up, take a deep breath and pour yourself a glass of water. This simple wonder works any time of day.

The first signs and symptoms of dehydration are impaired thought process and increased irritability. This means that when you’re dehydrated you’re not thinking well, not processing those thoughts as you normally would, and your perspective is skewed. It also can affect the way you perceive the words and actions of others.

Dehydration can easily make the tiniest incident seem like the end of the world. Before you react to a situation or throw in the towel on a perfectly good day, take a moment and have a glass of water.

Dehydration thickens the fluids within the body that transport all of our hormones, enzymes, nutrients and neurotransmitters are thicker. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers of the brain that tell us how to think, feel and function.

This situation translates to an intense concentration of the actual compounds that make up our emotions and it will take longer to move them along.

Water can also help logistically. Drinking more water means having to pee more. If you’re dealing with depression, sleeping more often and not wanting to get out of bed, there’s nothing like a full bladder to wake you.

Kick Chemicals to the Curb

There are tons of food additives that can significantly contribute to a decline in mental health. Check your cabinets for foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), high fructose corn syrup, artificial food dyes including caramel coloring, and partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats.

While the list of chemical saboteurs is lengthy, it’s easy to remember — “avoid four and live some more.” Reading the back of food labels for these four types of chemicals actually will help you to avoid buying foods with the hundreds of other harmful food additives that can contribute to anxiety, depression and many other health problems.

By scanning the ingredient panel of your food you are taking an active role in your health. It may not seem like that initially, but thinking of it this way can bolster your spirits enough to start taking more steps towards your health. Plus it prevents these chemicals from entering your body and worsening your mental health.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest makes an awesome and free app that lists nearly every food additive in the United States.

They have even color coded it for quick use — green/go, yellow/caution and red/no! This helps with decisions at the grocery store and also makes for a great read when you have more time to look at the app.

Let Go of the Bad

The chemicals and other toxins in our body build up and linger far after you’ve had the food — sometimes months. Get them out of your body and improve your mood with naturally detoxifying foods and beverages that happen to double as delicious.

Start with organic cucumbers, beets, lettuces, melons, cucumbers and/or citrus fruits. All are great at detoxifying the body. Herbs like mint, parsley, basil and cilantro are also terrific for this.

You can mix and match any of these in meals or simply in a glass of water to benefit from their health and mood boosting properties. Choose ones that you enjoy and that are easily available for you.

Off to a Great Start

Taking the first steps is the hardest part, even if those steps are simple things like a glass of water, scanning ingredient labels or flushing toxins from your body. Starting with these three simple approaches can make just enough change to encourage you to take your next steps.

There is so much that you can do nutritionally that can help you thrive, rather than simply survive. You’re reading this — you’re ready to start healing.

You can read my article Nutrition and Mental Health: Benefits of Supplements here.


Chemical Cuisine: Learn about Food Additives. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Retrieved May 19, 2015

Anxiety Disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Retrieved May 19, 2015.

Altered Mental Status. MedicineNet.com. Retrieved May 21, 2015

Reviewed May 21, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.