Voices for Recovery: Feed your body, feed your soul during National Recovery Month
Editor’s note: In observance of September as National Recovery Month, the Craig Press will publish a four-part wellness series focusing on mental, emotional, and behavioral health. Following is the second column in the series.
Mental health problems are often depicted as emotional struggles, existing “all in your head,” but the body and mind are intricately connected in ways scientists are still exploring. For many 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 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.
What’s on your plate?
We all know that poor diet can lead to major health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But did you know 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, according to research published in 2009 in the British Journal of Psychiatry and a 2017 study on dietary patterns and depression risk: a meta-analysis published in Psychiatry Research.
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, and even in your coffee. Break this cycle by cutting back and eating foods that support healthy gut bacteria. These include 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 three drinks per day and no more than seven drinks per week; for men, this is no more than four 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 two to three 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 one in 10 residents in Northwest Colorado. That’s about 6,000 people across five counties.
So what can you do?
Contemplate your own habits, do an online risk screening, and practice moderation. If you, a friend, or family member want further information about recovery options and support, call Mind Springs Health at 970- 824-6541.
There are many paths to wellness and recovery. For any physical symptoms, you should always consult your physician before making drastic changes to your lifestyle.
Stay tuned over the next two weeks to learn about exercise and the power of a good night’s sleep.
To celebrate September as Recovery Month, view our full calendar of events at ncchealthpartnership.org/news/calendar.
Sarah Valentino is Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership’s regional behavioral health educator.
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