I got interested in the effect of food on mental health quite by accident about a year ago. I was very ill with severe anxiety and depression and had been informed that I possibly had traits of borderline personality disorder. I was enduring a long wait for counselling, it took ten months in the end, and I was experiencing a high degree of issues with cognitive functioning. A lot of the day to day things I used to be able to do I was now finding quite difficult. I was experiencing a lot of issues with working memory, trying to remember facts or words and I didn’t have enough concentration to read a book or watch tv programmes, let alone work. I think, in hindsight, my cognitive funtioning and memory recall had been noticeably slower for a long while. I called it “brain fog” and my GP informed me that it was a symptom of my depression and the only way to combat it was to cure the depression. Given that I have had depression on and off for many years I wasn’t filled with a great amount of hope from this.
As it happened my son was starting to study for his GCSE exams and he brought home an A4 print out about how certain foods could help your brain that he had been given by the school. This included information on foods to help anxiety and mood disorders and I was shocked as to be honest I had never heard of any link between nutrition and mental illness. I started slowly to explore the relationship between my brain and food and trying to eat more of the foods that would help my brain recover. On top of this I also baked a lot of bread, as when I attend a Wellness Recovery and Action Planning (WRAP) Course we had noted that baking for me was a good go to activity to lift my spirits when I was low. Combining an activity which made me feel good with the benefits of giving my brain the nutrients it needed to heal seemed like a great combination. So baking and cooking were my go to things when unwell.
However, often there were days when notwithstanding all my good intentions I was just too ill, cognitively unwell (I have been known to lose my coordination as well as my memory!) or tired to cook. This left me with a dilemma as I needed the food to get well but wasn’t well enough to necessarily cook it and whilst my husband was great at doing many meals when he was home I couldn’t always rely on him and I had to feed myself when he was at work. I started to look for and develop recipes that not only had included the nutrients that my brain needed but also were really easy to cook. They were quick, maybe dumbed down in places, or I could make them in bursts, do something for ten minutes and then leave and rest and then go back to do something else. At my worst it might have just been a smoothie and a homemade berry muffin for breakfast but it was at least some nutrients my brain needed to heal.
When I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy the first thing I asked for help with was conquering the brain fog. It was her suggestion that as I had already started to make some headway on what I ate I should also cut out caffeine, processed sugar and alcohol to try and avoid any mood spikes. I also had to cut out day time naps which I think was worse than cutting out any foodstuff but I did get there in the end and I started getting stronger and more able to concentrate, though it did, and still does, fluctuate.
I have also been attending a local Recovery College, which are classes run at the hospital on an adult education basis to educate people in learning how to manage severe mental health conditions. I have met some truly lovely people there, classmates and trainers alike, and the classes have been so well put together and informative. I really do wish they were available to anyone with a mental health diagnosis, howevere severe, because we have been taught things that really might prevent people from getting progressively more ill.
Anyway, my most recent class was Food and Mood and my classmates asked for my recipes. So this blog is for them, you know who you are, and any other people who need to engage in a little nutritional warfare in the battle with their brains!