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Diet is for Mental Health too

I had a phenomenal “white girl” experience today. I cried on my drive to Whole Foods because I was so thankful for extraordinary change that food has brought to my life, specifically in last year.  My choice to label my drive as a “white girl” moment is to get all the jokes out of the way, not for people to get fired up about. Chill out, I am already not allowed to go to my own women’s march. Let’s just stay focused on my moment here.

Let me back up to a year ago. January 2018. My husband and I chose to go “carnivore” for a month after hearing a podcast about it on Joe Rogan. I was also in the process of gaining a Masters in Nutrition and have been studying the science behind diets for about 6 years. We are both incredibly conscience with our nutrition. Our pursuit of becoming our best selves involves our diets, plus exercise, so I felt comfortable trying something so extreme because I understand the science and the physiological mechanism behind it. I don’t think people should willy nilly implement something so extreme without the guidance of a true professional. That being said, I have always been in love with self study in regards to nutrition, sometimes it’s worked, sometimes I’ve been really fucked up. Disclaimer over.

The Carnivore Diet is exactly what it sounds like. Eat only things with faces sans other humans. And cats. And dogs. It started a process that would end in a balanced Ketogenic Diet, but the extreme and limiting through elimination allowed me to figure out what worked with my body and what did not; Our diets do evolve and there is lots to tinker with. It’s one major facet of how we are in relationship with ourselves and provide self-care.

I had always been carbohydrate fueled. A macro-counting fiend who always worked towards lean body mass. Everything with diet had been about body. Am I lean enough? Am I strong enough? Do I have enough energy to workout so become more lean and strong?! I am a sports nutritionist and athletics have always played a major role in the “why” to my eating. This is also where I tell you I was also a vegan for 7 years because I care very much about the treatment and care of animals. I watched a propaganda video called “Earthlings” when I was 21 and went from Bulimia to deciding I would save myself and the earth through veganism. I am incredibly aware of how dogmatic I am capable of being and will admit to you now, I’m just thankful the Vegans got to me before ISIS did. Insert tasteless joke… I was trying to dig myself out of a very dark place and the thing we often forget is that while someone is climbing out of the dark place, it may be some time before that brighter place. Vegan turned into Paleo, Paleo turned into macro-counting. All together it took about 15 years for me to feel like I was out of the darkness with my eating disorder. That doesn’t mean I’m “recovered/healed/impervious to” my disordered behavior surrounding food, I’m just at a place where I understand managing something means you can have an understanding of yourself with no judgement or expectation of perfection while still saying you might need a hand from time to time; or as I like to think of it, I am no longer fighting the dragon. It’s in a cave somewhere in a deep slumber, but the dragon is still very real and very alive, and it could come back and fight the castle. But everyday I am ready for it. And everyday I don’t let it show it’s ugly head is a grand, dragon free day.

Rewind to a year ago, I am dragon free and pursuing my best self. I decide after some research and long discussions with my husband in our kitchen, it’s time to do some experimentation with the diet. Our choice was based on research that was showing improved mental clarity, better healthy bio-markers i.e. low inflammation and reduction of arthritis symptoms, increased cardiovascular and respiratory endurance (after adaptation, times of that varied.) OK, this all sounds great. Side note: Everyone in our lives was convinced we were going to die in 6 months of heart attack.

We didn’t. As you might have deduced while reading this. But what happened? I went through a violent sugar withdraw in the first month and anyone eating a banana in the same room as me, was in danger of having it stolen or smash in their face, because like I said, I was violent. I dealt with a lot of self pity a lot of “I can only eat ribeye steak and salmon, woe is me” moments. I wanted to cheat, I dreamt about it at night, and fantasized about it during the day. As my body dumped glycogen out of my muscles due to the lack of carbohydrates my performance as an athlete collapsed. Leg cramps, heart racing, weak, slow, dizzy. I am an incredibly competitive person and to watch my athletic capabilities get flushed down the shitter was demoralizing…. “So then shut the fuck up and eat a goddamn apple Sarah! I just don’t understand why you keep writing at this point! Eat some sweet potatoes and let us get on with our lives! I can’t believe I just wasted 4 min reading this already, I can’t get that time back!” Yeah I know.

Why did I continue? Well a couple of reasons, one it takes time to truly adapt to a different diet due to previous habits, lifestyle, fuel source etc. BUT the main reason which holds true to today is, my anxiety symptoms were GONE. GOOONEEE. Imagine carrying a 50lbs pack your entire life and then feeling the relief of finally putting it down.

Now, if you have anxiety I already know I have your attention. If you don’t have anxiety, don’t worry, I am also so fucking over hearing about it because it seems everyone has anxiety. I’ll let you in on a little secret, many people actually do! They just have no idea that it may be largely caused by their diet. But just so you can perhaps understand what anxiety is think about this. You lie to your mom about cleaning your room when really you shoved everything under the bed. She calls your bluff, heads to your room, you trailing behind her, helplessly. She beelines to your bed, gets on all fours… that feeling right there. The DREAD. That’s what living with anxiety feels like (to me) and it sucks. Now replace getting found out by your mother with freaking out about death, all the time. Yeah mine was a particularly horrible breed of anxiety. I used to joke that I was going to write a book of all my anxious thoughts about death because they came to me all the time and I couldn’t process it. Almost everyday I had a new obsessive and intrusive thought enter my head on how I was going to die and how I wouldn’t be able to control it. I would shove it down in order to be productive but it was always RIGHT under the surface. I have always understood why people go on anti-anxiety medication because for most of my adult life, I know my anxiety symptoms held me back in some ways. Not that I ever wanted it to, but it was incredibly exhausting and you only have so much to give as a person. Ever since leaving the church (another blog for another day) I have been incredibly science based and when researching long term  and side effects of depression and anxiety medications it didn’t make sense to me as an optimal choice. Feel nothing. Have no connection. Suppress dopamine, which can change you on a cognitive and behavioral way (duh, you’re not anxious) but I mean really change you. Limit connection with others. I wasn’t interested in fucking with my brain chemistry in an unnatural way to take away an emotion that isn’t abnormal it was just overwhelming.

The change in diet healed my mind. Not in a new age, fru fru spiritual way, but in a way that can be explained via blood glucose and hormonal regulation. That’s a very short and extremely unscientific way to put it but I want to keep it moving. (We can dig into the science of it and if you want to know more, please reach out I would be more than happy to discuss this with you. My email is original.method.pt@gmail.com). What I want to talk to you about, is that in changing my diet, the symptoms of anxiety went away and when that happened I was able to CHILL THE FUCK OUT. That allowed me to work on the “why” to those symptoms.

There isn’t a magical diet out there, but diet 100% effects EVERYTHING our body does. (Little known fact, without food you die.) So we are committed to eating for. ev. er. My “why” to becoming a nutritionist and why I am so passionate about what other people decide to shove in their pie-holes is because I have had a life changing experience from changing my diet. In a world where we are often prescribed pills to alleviate symptoms. We have settled for, treat the symptoms with a temporary solution, permanently. See the flaw?

Why have we chosen this? For one, it’s very easy to take a pill and two, it’s fucking difficult to work on yourself, to do real and meaningful work.

Work = Force x Distance and the amount of work you have done is measured by displacement of energy. If an object’s kinetic or gravitational potential energy changes, then work was done. Yes that is the law of Physics but your brain is fucking physics. Your brain is literally activated when you learn and study physics. Again I don’t have time to back this shit up so click here if you care to read more about the last couple of sentences I just threw out at you.

It takes a lot of work to change who we are. A lot of force or perhaps deliberate focus over time to have a different result or to be in a different place than where we are at right now. Since you’ve decided to track with me thus far let’s talk about the scientific definition of force. Force is the interaction that causes an object to change direction or accelerate. The force required to move a golf ball, minimal. The force required to change the direction of a cruise ship, enormous. R.I.P. Titanic, which I’m listening to the soundtrack as we speak. Ugh. Sing it Celine.

The amount of force you have to apply to yourself is varying, but it’s a requirement in order to do work and sometimes that force must be extreme. This is why change can be so fucking hard.

To put a big happy bow on it, let’s go back to why I was crying this morning while driving to Whole Foods. I realized that my diet changing provided a solution that so many seek. An absence of a symptom that distracted me from the root cause of my pain. Or really, thinking the symptom was the disease. The days of feeling so beat down that it would never end. This is “just” what’s wrong with me and I will have to learn to mask this forever. To suppress. To treat. But if you can eliminate symptoms, then you can get to work uprooting what causes it to begin with. That’s where the real work comes in. You’re no longer fighting the wind in the branches that keep whipping you in your face. You cut the tree down and uproot it. And roots go deep. The bigger the tree the deeper the roots. And uprooting something leaves a big hole and you get to choose what to fill it with. On that drive I realized I had been working so hard for a solid year on uprooting and replanting, on getting to truly choose the kind of person I wanted to be, for myself, for my husband, for others… I cried. Because I achieved (still working on) what we hope to experience by taking a pill. I experienced an emotional reprieve because I changed my diet and it eliminated a symptom that prevented me from focusing on the real work which was the root cause of my anxiety and emotional turmoil.

As I sit here in my studio, trying to figure out how I want to wrap this blog up…

The point that I want to get across to you is that, whatever you’re dealing with, what you’re consuming is contributing to it. That statement is intentionally ambiguous because it could be food but we consume other things as well. Food 100% contributes to our energy levels, our hormonal regulation and balance, our physical state and well being. Those physiological factors will heavily influence our ability to produce and function in other areas of our lives.

Most people seek diet only when they want to lose weight (always an arbitrary number.) A current hot topic is about mental health and how we need to take it seriously. I’m telling you I am, and I have experienced how diet is a significant part of helping, curing, and maintaining mental health and well-being. How can it not? When diet contributes, influences and creates diseases such as cancers, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease how can we so willingly overlook how it drives mental disease?

Diet isn’t about skinny. It’s about mental health. It’s about well being. It’s self care. Self-love. It’s our energy source for our bodies and our minds. It allows us to create force to change an object in motion (us) in order to do the work required for us to get a desirable result for our life. Diet goes hand in hand with anything we want to accomplish in our lives because it is literally the fucking fuel source that get us there. It won’t be easy, you’ll want to quit but remember your “why” to your well-being because it’s the only thing that matters. It will be worth it.

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