Nutrition and Your Mental HealthWe are what we eat! It’s just NOT all in your head!

If you read my article in the Courier on January 4th, you read about ways to help you keep your New Year’s Resolutions. Well, if you have already had a set back and those resolutions suddenly have been forgotten, check them out again knowing that you can start over and make “New Year’s Resolutions” anytime of the year. As a mental health therapist, I know that things can get in your way and that’s ok; just keep on trying. Your physical health and your mental health are connected and working those two entities together with good nutrition can make your 2015 wonderful.

Many times when we speak of wellness and nutrition we only think of physical wellness. Physical wellness certainly is affected by what we eat and how we maintain our nutritional status, but how does this then impact our mental health and well being?

Wellness is a balance of physical, mental, spiritual, social and emotional elements in life and making positive choices in these areas. What we eat can, and will, affect our weight, increase or reduce the risk of chronic medical conditions present or future, determine our energy level – all of which may effect our self confidence, self esteem, and thus our mental health.

Our great American busy life styles have really added to the challenge of healthy nutrition. Many foods that are processed for quick eating are not always the healthiest due to high sugar or artificial sweeteners, salts, and fat. We also lack the fiber intake needed and many times will even totally eliminate the fruits and vegetables needed for fiber. I have also noted many restaurants in our area only offer one vegetable (other than french fries), if at all, and if that is not a challenge ….just try ordering fresh fruit with your meal!

Some health problems that may be connected to poor eating habits include, but are not limited to: obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hyperactivity in children, migraine headaches, constipation and skin conditions. There are some sources that actually report that if you increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you may also reduce the chance of getting cancer and make your immune system stronger.

Thus, one would surely anticipate mental health issues from the complications of these acute and chronic medical problems. Our mind is connected to our body so we cannot address the physical impact of nutrition choices without addressing the mental health affects. Like physical problems, mental health problems associated with poor nutrition may present quickly or over a long period of poor choices. If we become obese, for example, due to poor eating habits, this alone could effect our self confidence, self esteem and how, and if, we interact with others. Many obese people will admit isolating themselves and living with depression which they attribute to the weight problem. Of course, when anyone is diagnosed with a medical condition such as a stroke, high blood pressure, cardiac disease or other, this may then lead them into a world of depression, anxiety and other social issues related to mental health problems.

There are many resources available to address nutritional needs in order to maintain or improve your physical and mental health. Some individuals may be able to review nutritional literature and then begin preparing healthier meals. Some may just need to reduce their intake of junk and fast foods in between meals. Others may require more professional assistance such as utilizing services from a nutritionist or physician. In any event, all of us can improve our mental health by addressing our nutritional needs and taking care of our bodies.

Carol Gooch, MS, LPC-S, LCDC, LMFT, is a columnist for the Montgomery County Healthy Living Alliance and she is the Director of Business Development for Aspire Hospital at 2006 South Loop 336 West, Suite 500, Conroe, TX 77304. Aspire Hospital has diagnostic imaging and a behavioral health hospital in Conroe, Oncology services in The Woodlands, Sleep diagnostics and Physical therapy in Huntsville.