In an earlier post a few days ago, I introduced my philosophy, which helps me with my bipolar disorder called the ‘Spokes of the Wheel’. As promised, here is Spoke 1) Nutrition.
Don’t let this word put you off. Too often as humans we disconnect from being accountable for what we put into our bodies. The truth is that everything we consume has a direct effect on our body chemistry and brain function. It sounds obvious but how many of us really pay attention to nutrition? It is a rare thing when people acknowledge or question what food; whether it’s chocolate, meat, bread or doughnuts, does to their brain. Unfortunately eating mindfully is not second nature, though for those of us in the bipolar tribe, it should be.
Recently, I experienced a fraught break up, which changed my life. It drew into question how little I knew about my emotions, which dominated my behaviour. I caused a lot of damage and hurt during a particularly frenetic manic phase. But, as with everything in life as much as there is shadow – there was plenty of darkness because of my bipolar – there is also light. Thankfully!
The good thing that happened as a result of this personal period of self-reflection over the summer last year was how putting stuff in my body really did affect my brain and therefore how I acted on my emotions. Centre stage was the relationship between food and feelings.
Emotional eating is prevalent in us bipolars. Soothing with food – typically junk which glistens with sugar, high saturated fats and packed with calories that taste great at the time – are empty of nutrition and a go-to when times are tough. Crappy I know!
Psychotherapist Susan Albers wrote a lovely little book entitled 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. She unwraps the mysteries surrounding emotional eating with a series of handy techniques that include mindfulness, changing thought patterns, distraction and practice. Albers asserts how food, for many people, is a way of calming nerves and relaxing body and mind by putting them in a trancelike state to escape an emotional funk. Sound familiar? If you are looking for new ways to nurture and centre yourself then this handy guide is a smart first step.
I love this book. It really helped me to know that my addiction to sugary food was actually a response to dealing with – or hiding from – my emotions. Rather than continue to strap up my arm with loads of chocolate bars and tubs of Ben and Jerry’s (God that stuff is narcotic when you’re feeling low), I try and comfort myself with healthier techniques like relaxation breathing and mindfulness exercises. Also important is getting outside to see the sky or visit my favourite place – the beach – or meditate if I can. Though sometimes all of these remedies are really tough – as we all can appreciate.
Highly acclaimed neurology expert, Dr. Datis Kharrazian in his 2013 bestseller Why Isn’t My Brain Working? Explains it simply – “Take charge of your brain by taking charge of your diet. If you want your brain to work, you have to change your diet.” He realises the difficulty in doing this and doesn’t down play the effort needed to rewire old habits differently. Everything you need is in here, above and beyond the basic foods to avoid, which will make you sulk initially:
- Going gluten-free
- Optimising blood sugar levels and what the Hell that means!
- Hero foods you can munch on all day long that taste stonking
- How probiotics actually work and why you need them in your life
- Nutritional compounds to help manage stress
- Stopping brain fog
- Preventing poor cognition
- Removing brain fatigue
All largely attributed to a lack of nutrition. Sexy stuff right?
Why Isn’t My Brain Working? is a real eye opener and well worth a read if you want to know more about how food affects your bipolar mind’s ability to function. The science of food is pretty convincing, especially if you haven’t explored this world before. Kharrazian outlines how things work in a no-nonsense language that is underpinned by loads of delicious factoids and tips on loving your brain for life.
Stay away from bread. It is a gluten catastrophe. For 5% of the bipolar population, gluten is the primary imbalance (Walsh, 2008 in Edelman, 2009). Reactions to gluten can include profound depression, alienation, weeping, mania, mood swings, compulsive ritualistic behaviour, anxiety, hyperactivity, problems learning or remembering to speak, introversion and psychosis (Edelman, 2009). Gluten can also trigger irritable bowel syndrome (Jacobs, 1997) and Candida, which is common in bipolars (Edelman, 2009).
Candida affects bipolar depression because it prevents the production of serotonin in the gut. Also, Acetaldehyde, a by-product of Candida – reacts with the dopamine neurotransmitter in your brain and can lead to depression and other mental health disorders (Edwards, 2014). It’s pretty nasty and covert. You don’t see it coming. Like a Ninja, it sneaks into your life silently!
It’s worth knowing that Candida can start for a variety of reasons including refined carbohydrate intake, (so watch out if you are experiencing a depression and gluttonously in bed with Ben and/or Jerry!), overuse of antibiotics, mood disorders like bipolar, nutritional depletion, birth control pills, low thyroid, immune suppressive disorders and stress (Edelman, 2009).
Unfortunately it is difficult to eradicate but it can be overcome in these Five Steps so don’t give up.
Keep clear of sugar. It is Candida’s best friend and your arch nemesis. It encourages yeast overgrowth (Jacobs, 1997). Avoid all types of sugar like sugar itself, honey, maple syrup, sugar substitutes, sweets, cakes, biscuits, tinned foods and fruit juices. They provide you with no nutritional benefit (even if they are yummy), because they metabolise quickly as opposed to complex carbohydrates. Sugars spike insulin and stimulate fat production (Ferriss, 2010). So, if you are on medication that causes weight gain, any kind sugar is the last thing you need! But don’t fret…
Try instead a can of sardines (in natural oil) because they are packed with loads of Omega 3 and 6 and a sure fix if your brain is on its last legs. Because they come in small tins, they are easy to carry around and there is no need for a tin opener! Pack mints as well though as your breath will likely offend others! Your brain should shine immediately though and get you out of trouble temporarily.
Omega oils are essential fatty acids or EFAs. They have antidepressant effects, (Ratey and Hagerman 2008). They also best serve brain health and are critical for improving brain vessel growth and nervous system function. You should be taking 5,250 milligrams of Omega oils daily. This sounds a lot but fish oils contain EPA and DHA. DHA especially is one of the major building blocks of the brain and an essential nutrient for brain health and function of the neurons (Kharrazian, 2013). If you fancy a new love affair, then make a date with a sardine! It’s the best two-way relationship as far as food -that-help-a-bipolar-brain is concerned.
Invest in a Nutribullet and blend every day if you can. There are plenty of tasty recipes to follow. A quick bipolar brain food favourite includes just 5 ingredients – kale, spinach, linseeds, an orange and a few goji berries.
If you want to learn more about how juicing can change your life too, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead is quite an education. And it’s FREE!
In the words of Tim Ferriss (2010), a proficient health guru, entrepreneur and one of my all-time favourite inspirational thinkers – “Your body is almost always in your control; controlling your body puts you in life’s driving seat. The fastest way to improve your inner [nutritional] game is to improve your outer [attitudinal] game. Start with the precision of changing physical reality and a domino effect will often take care of the [some of the] internal.” Ponder on that, even if only a fraction is true to you. Wouldn’t it be something if connecting with what you put in your mouth benefits how you live with your bipolar?
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Be well. Ben
- Albers, Susan. 50 Ways To Soothe Yourself Without Food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2009. Print.
- Edelman, Eva. Natural Healing For Bipolar Disorder. Eugene, Or.: Borage Books, 2009. Print.
- Ferriss, Timothy. The 4-Hour Body. New York: Crown Archetype, 2010. Print.
- Jacobs, Gill, and Joanna Kjaer. Beat Candida Through Diet. London: Vermilion, 1997. Print.
- Kharrazian, Datis. Why Isn’t My Brain Working? 2013. Print.
- Ratey, John Dr, and Eric Hagerman. Spark! How Exercise Will Improve The Performance Of Your Brain. London: Quercus, 2009. Print.