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What does eating have to do with your mental health?

You will often hear stories of people who have suffered a catastrophic break-down or developed a serious mental health condition and they (or nobody around them) ever saw it coming. They only even became aware that they had a state of mental health once they had completely fallen to pieces and could no longer cope. Very often this sudden and unexpected breakdown happens because these people have never taken the time to stop and check in with themselves at any point in their lives. Are they happy or are they just “surviving”, just “okay, just “getting by”? Are they really thriving or do they spend most of their days worrying about something, dwelling on mistakes from the past and feeling overwhelmed? Are they really enjoying themselves or are they just on the hamster-wheel of life – getting on, making do, never asking themselves why they are doing a job they hate, paying for things they don’t even need, spending time with people they don’t even like.

Okay so maybe you aren’t unhappy – but are you really happy? Okay so maybe you aren’t clinically anxious or depressed – but what are you thinking about and how do you feel on most days? Okay so you are not doing badly – but are you really excited about your life and do you feel you have a purpose? A key part of the journey to improving your relationship with food is also all about improving the state of your mental health.

The words “mental health” are still pretty scary for many people. Just the word “mental” is often associated with “craziness”, someone “dangerous” or someone that has “lost it”. Talking about mental health is still often seen as a sign of weakness and very often when I talk to someone about their mental health they immediately assume that I want to talk to them about mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. They immediately assume that I think something is wrong with them or that they have some sort of problem. Such is the stigma still attached to conversations around “mental health”, that we still associate those two words with illness. Yet if we talk about “physical health” we do not immediately think about diseases such as cancer or diabetes. Physical health is often associated with positive imagery such as being in shape, exercising or eating well.

Much of this difference between the way in which we perceive mental and physical health comes down to how comfortable we feel talking about these things. The reality is that we all have a state of mental health and at times we will be thinking good thoughts/feeling good and at other times we may get caught up in some negative thinking/not feeling so great. Yep – you and I both have mental health and neither of us is “crazy”, has “lost it” or is a “danger to society”. Sometimes our mental health will be great and on other days we won’t be doing so well – that is completely normal. Life has its ups and downs …but do you really realise what is going on for you up there most of the time? Are you really in touch with your feelings and what is going on in your mind?

A little M.O.T.

How often do you stop and check in with yourself? I mean really stop and ask yourself how you are feeling and examine what is going on in your mind? The majority of us are not naturally inclined to think about our thinking – and by that I mean that we very rarely stop and pay attention to that inner dialogue or little voice that narrates our day. How much time does that little voice spend telling you that “you are too fat”, “you need to go on a diet”, “you are not good enough” or something else pretty awful? How often is that little voice in your head harsher to you than you would ever be to a friend or an enemy even? I mean if my best friend was telling me all day that I was “too fat” and “too ugly”, she certainly wouldn’t be my best friend for long!

Very few people realise that the state of their mental health is completely intertwined with the state of their physical health and the food choices that they make. How often have you reached for biscuits or a sweet treat when you are sad or stressed? How often have you felt the need to over-eat when you are anxious or worried? How often have you noticed that you are eating to fill a void – because you are bored unfulfilled or just unhappy? Food is a coping mechanism for most people and they over-eat (not because they don’t know what is healthy for them and what isn’t) but because eating is a way to get by, eating is a way to feel better. Whether they are coping with a clinical condition such as anxiety or depression or whether it is just an occasional bout of stress or low mood – over-eating very often happens as a result of us not being in optimum mental health.

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