Join the Voices for Recovery, Part 3: Feed your body, feed your soul
September 30, 2018
Editor’s note: This is the third part of a four-part series of columns about mental health and wellness.
Have you heard about the wonderful mental health benefits of social connection, laughter and eating well? No? Go read Parts 1 and 2 of the Health Partnership's wellness series in celebration of Recovery Month.
Welcome to week 3 of the Health Partnership's wellness series for Recovery Month. This week's topic is all about feeding your body to feel better. While mental health problems are often depicted as emotional struggles, existing "all in your head," the body and mind are intricately connected in ways that scientists are still exploring. For many people in recovery, therapy often goes beyond support groups and medication; it often involves lifestyle changes. Your emotions, behaviors and thoughts are rooted in your brain and nervous system; the foods you eat affect the neurotransmitters and hormones that send messages to and from different parts of your brain and body. Thus, changing what you feed your body can be one of the most foundational ways to "re-program" an unbalanced system.
Nutrition: What's on your plate?
We all know that poor diet can lead to major health problems like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, but did you know that it is also linked to higher rates of depression? People who eat a diet high in processed, fried and sugary foods have as much as a 60 percent increased risk for depression.
The great thing about improving your food choices is that it doesn't have to be expensive. Think of it like fashion choices. You don't have to wear fresh-off-the-runway looks from top designers to look stylish. Similarly, you don't have to buy expensive food delivery services or shop at specialty stores to improve your diet. Lean meats, eggs, legumes, whole grains and fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables are found at every grocery store.
Stress can cause sugar cravings, and this excess sugar, in turn, can wreak havoc on your digestive system, potentially causing more cravings and further physical and mental health problems. This month, see if you can find all the sneaky ways you're ingesting extra sugar: in your salad dressing, sports drinks, snack bars, pasta sauces, even in your coffee? Break this cycle by cutting back and eating foods that support healthy gut bacteria: bananas, garlic, berries, apples, yogurt with active cultures, kombucha (fermented tea) and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar.
What about alcohol?
Just like anything else you feed your body, alcohol can have a huge impact on your mental health. Low-risk drinking for women is defined as no more than 3 drinks per day and no more than 7 drinks per week; for men, this is no more than 4 drinks per day and 14 per week. Alcohol use causes a rush of feel-good chemicals, but over time, heavy use depletes your body's natural store of those neurotransmitters and makes your brain less sensitive to them, leading to heightened risk for depression and anxiety. On the other hand, people struggling with mental health problems are 2-3 times more likely to have a substance use disorder, as alcohol and other drugs may become a method of self-medication.
Substance use disorders affect almost 1 in 10 residents in Northwest Colorado. That's about 6,000 people across 5 counties. So, what can you do this month? Contemplate your own habits, do an online risk screening and practice moderation. If you, a friend or family member want more information about recovery options and support, call Mind Springs Health at 970-879-2141 in Steamboat Springs.
There are many paths to wellness and recovery. Stay tuned for Part 4, where we explore the other side of stress: regulation and relaxation. To celebrate September as Recovery Month, view a full calendar of events at ncchealthpartnership.org/news/calendar.