When we feel stressed, exhausted, depressed or anxious, what we're eating is often not even on the radar of things to monitor or change. It can be overwhelming to cook, shop or even to decide what to eat. Add to that a lack of time, energy or mindful emphasis on eating well, and we have a perhaps familiar cycle of unhealthy food choices followed by feeling even less well (rinse and repeat).
Why might you want to make a change in this area?
Perhaps you have come to an awareness that certain foods affect your well-being, positively or negatively. Or you've expanded on the pitifully small packet of nutrition instruction we received in training, and come to the conclusion that fast food is not the pinnacle of nutrition. You may have seen patients who have changed their diets and had positive effects on their illnesses, and wondered what might happen if you changed yours. If you've finished your residency, you may have enough time to cook (at least sometimes). If you're in the throes of distress, you may be wondering how to help yourself. Or perhaps you have a family to think of, one that you're role modelling for and setting their dietary preferences.
What would the rewards be?
Perhaps most important, positive changes have a cascading effect on self-worth and self-efficacy, 'greasing the wheels' for further successful change. But there are other rewards as well. Blood sugar stabilization can reduce hunger-related mood swings and anxiety. Eating more whole foods increases our actual nutrition, resulting in more and more stable energy, increased clarity of thought, better physical performance, even better quality sleep. And positive role modelling can affect our family and friends and even our patients. How would eating more healthfully help you reach your mental health goals?
Does your diet need a complete overhaul, or just a few tweaks?
Most of us are somewhere between those two poles, but it can be overwhelming to think about. There are choices- big changes or small steps? One food group at a time, one meal at a time, subtracting unhealthy foods, adding in healthy ones? What works for you will likely be unique to you but within a common pattern. A coaching mindset may help here- small, sustainable changes over time, treated as information-generating experiments, are more likely to lead to lasting improvement, and a relaxed yet mindful attitude towards nourishment. Where can you get the resources you need to decide what changes to make, and their priority?
What is your optimal diet?
There is much nutritional research available, most of it conflicting, however it likely starts with whole foods- foods which are not altered from their natural state by processing. From there, experimentation may be required to determine how you tolerate or thrive on different food groups, or sometimes even individual foods within groups. The diet that serves you best will be 'the one that works'- one you truly enjoy and feel nourished by (mind, body and spirit), and that fits within your lifestyle and your health goals.
Eating is a tool for wellbeing, a pleasure, a need, and sometimes a thorn in one's side. Adopting a compassionate stance toward your present food choices, developing a clear vision for how and why you want to nourish yourself, and taking small, regular and flexible steps toward your optimal diet will improve your self-confidence and the symptoms that initially led you down this path.