There are many studies detailing the impact of healthy eating and exercise on mental health. A simple Google search will bombard you with the science and undoubtedly an abundance of detoxes and cleanses. But what happens when the healthy lifestyle promoted in the research doesn’t mix well with our food-focused culture?
I would like to preface this article with a disclaimer which I feel is important at any time of the year but merits extra attention as it was eating disorder awareness week last week. The tips in this article are simply to allow for the enjoyment of celebrations and holidays while protecting your mental wellbeing.
They are in no way intended as a promotion of restrictive or disordered eating habits. If you want to enjoy a conventional birthday cake you can, life is too short not to. If you are struggling with your eating habits or thoughts around food, please reach out for help. Beat charity is a great resource.
I have always had friends who could seemingly eat whatever they wanted and not feel any kind of way about it. They would happily eat a pain au chocolat for breakfast, some type of greasy pastry item for lunch, and fast food for dinner, sprinkled with sweets and chocolate as snacks.
I used to join in with this type of eating, and it took me years to realise that the more processed, quick-fix meals that I ate, the worse I felt about myself and in myself. I eventually realised that it was more than just feeling annoyed at the spots on my chin, or at the number it did on my digestive system.
I was a teenager who was feeling lethargic, depressed, and unhealthy, despite having been raised by a nurse who always encouraged us to eat well-balanced nutritious meals. Despite the acknowledgement that I wasn’t feeling good eating what I was eating, it took me until full adulthood to realise that not only am I totally in control of what I eat, I can actively make myself feel a little better by being mindful of the type of things I am eating.
I have to be perfectly honest, it’s still a process. I am by no means a super healthy eater. I love chocolate, crisps and popcorn, I like my boyfriend’s heavy cream cooking. This article feels almost hypocritical to write after the way I have been eating lately, but that’s where these tricks come into play.
I have been eating lots of sweets, lots of biscuits, lots of quick and greasy food, and I can feel my mental health slipping slightly. My saving grace today was the trip to the vegetable stall down the road, it motivates me to live the lifestyle I want, and that my mental health needs.
My main joy in trying to eat healthily when surrounded by people who can eat anything is trying to find healthier alternatives to their usual treats. For example, last month for my birthday, I knew a full-sized birthday cake between me and my other half would mean at least a week of either feeling bad for wasting food or negatively affecting my mental health if I ate it every day.
So, I made an alternative. I baked some delicious cranberry and orange muffins, the knowledge that they were lower in sugar than a cake allowed me to enjoy them without worrying when the sugar crash would happen and allowed for maintenance of mental wellbeing.
The easiest way that I try to encourage myself to eat healthily for my own mental and physical health is to learn how to make delicious, nutritious meals and snacks that make me feel as good as they taste. YouTube is a wonderful resource for inspiration, along with Pinterest.
Attempting and executing new recipes that are good for you and that those around you enjoy is a great feeling and can definitely spur you on to continue to eat for your mental health. It is also beneficial to be robust in the face of failed attempts, believe me!
What I am trying to say is that it is okay to prioritise your own mental health, despite the pressures that we may feel from our culture that places so much weight (excuse the pun) on rich foods at every excuse for a party. You are not ‘boring’ for bringing your own healthy snacks to a party, you are not, nor are you ever, in the wrong for doing what you need to, to protect your mental health.
I would like to reiterate that if you do feel that your relationship with food is disordered or dangerous, please reach out for help. You deserve to live a full, free, nourished life.