Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Part 1 Diet Mentality and Intuitive Eating

Part 1 Diet Mentality and Intuitive Eating: Based on the book "Intuitive Eating Workbook"

Fearmongering, in the name of health, in front of the backdrop of an appearance-based culture, has triggered the perception that we are one bite away from a disaster. It’s a cultural neurosis; the fork has become akin to a loaded gun—just one wrong move pulls the trigger. A substantial body of research shows that dieting is not sustainable and leads to a host of problems, including eating disorders, food and body preoccupation, distraction from other personal health goals, reduced self-esteem, weight stigmatization, discrimination, and—paradoxically—weight gain. As a result, people are weary of dieting and yet terrified of eating. People don’t know how to eat anymore. They are ashamed of their bodies and don’t trust that their bodies “work.” Intuitive Eating is a dynamic mind-body integration of instinct, emotion, and rational thought. It is a personal process of honoring your health by paying attention to the messages of your body and meeting your physical and emotional needs. It is an inner journey of discovery that puts you front and center; you are the expert of your own body. After all, only you know your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Only you know how hungry you are and what food or meal will satisfy you. No diet plan or guru could possibly know these things. You’ll need to learn body attunement, the ability to hear (and thus respond to) the physical sensations that arise within your body, such as biological cues of hunger and fullness—and other principles work by removing the obstacles to body attunement. The ability to perceive bodily sensations is known as interoceptive awareness, which is critical for attunement. This is because biological states, such as having a full bladder or feeling sleepy or hungry, have a physical sensation. Even emotional states have a physical sensation, which can be very subtle. Being attuned to the physical sensations of your body gives you powerful information into your physiological and psychological state, which helps you determine what you should do to meet your needs. If, rather than listening to your body, you have instead repeatedly followed popular diet crazes, you may find yourself thinking that you don’t know how to eat anymore. You may be feeling confused, conflicted, and mistrustful of your body. Obstacles to interoceptive awareness usually originate from your mind, in the form of thoughts, beliefs, and rules —such as rules about what you should or should not eat, beliefs about what a healthy body should look like, and judgmental thoughts about good food versus bad food. If you are not getting your basic needs met (such as enough sleep), it can interfere with body attunement. At best, it may make it difficult to hear, let alone respond to, the messages of your body in a timely manner. At worst, you might find yourself turning to food to self-soothe and cope. Remember, health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. At some point during your intuitive eating journey, you will normalize your relationship with eating and your body. Weight loss may or may not be a side effect. If you focus on weight loss, that preoccupation will interfere with your ability to make choices based on your intuitive signals, and it will place focus on appearance rather than inner wisdom. Placing the focus on healthy lifestyle behaviors, rather than on weight, provides health benefits with or without weight loss. If dieting programs had to stand up to the same scrutiny as medications, they would never be allowed for public consumption. Imagine, for example, taking a cholesterol medication that improved your blood results for a few weeks but, in the long run, caused your arteries to clog. Would you really embark on a dieting program (even a so-called sensible diet) if you knew that it could cause you to gain more weight and affect your emotional wellbeing? Many people are aware that dieting doesn’t work in the long run, but most are surprised to learn that dieting actually increases your risk for gaining even more weight. There are profound biological mechanisms at play that trigger rebound weight gain from dieting. As far as your cells are concerned, they are being subjected to a famine, and they’ll do anything to survive. Your cells have no idea that you are choosing to restrict your calories (or some group of foods) for weight loss. One well-known survival adaptation they have is to slow down metabolism. Another way the body survives dieting is by cannibalizing its own muscle. Energy is so important that the body will destroy its own muscle to burn as fuel (the muscle is converted to carbohydrates). Fat overshooting is another way the body tries to survive the dieting process. In essence, the loss of both fat and lean muscle tissue triggers the body to gain more weight in the form of body fat to survive. Hormonal changes also make you more hungry and preoccupied with food. High-quality studies on millions of people show that being at a lower weight does not confer better health or outcomes. Health should not be measured by a number on the scale or the size of your jeans. Many of our clients romanticize their first diet like a first love—it was so easy and effortless. The weight just came off. But that first dieting experience is the seduction trap that launches the cycle of weight loss and gain. With each diet, your body adapts and learns how to survive, making it even more difficult to lose weight. With each failed weight-loss attempt, a learned helplessness becomes stronger, resulting in poor self-efficacy and empowerment. Dieting contributes to body dissatisfaction, food and body preoccupation, food cravings, distraction from other personal health goals, reduced self-esteem, and weight stigmatization and discrimination. When the dieting mentality is engaged, your eating decisions are dictated by the diet rules, which mandate what you eat, regardless of your food preferences, energy needs, hunger, and so forth, all of which can trigger feelings of deprivation. No diet plan could possibly know your hunger level or the foods that satisfy you. The dieting rules also trigger an inner rebellion, because they are an assault on your personal autonomy and boundaries. It’s a process of listening and responding to the needs of your body. The dieting mentality erodes trust in your body, because “the rules” micromanage and dictate your food choices, regardless of how you feel. This creates a cognitive dissonance, a clash between what you are experiencing to be true and what you’re told to do, which leads to confusion about eating, with most individuals saying: “I don’t know how to eat any more.” It’s important to keep in mind that every eating experience you have, whether perceived as negative or positive, is an opportunity to learn about your body. Intuitive Eating is not a pass or fail process—it’s a learning experience. Have self compassion. self-compassion is associated with well-being, increased feelings of happiness, and greater personal initiative to make needed changes in your life. Self-compassion is simply having a neutral but understanding consideration of yourself and your actions. This is because self-compassionate individuals do not criticize or bully themselves when they make mistakes. This makes it easier for them to admit vulnerability and mistakes, change unproductive behaviors, and take on new challenges, such as Intuitive Eating.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Disordered Eating Part 4

 Disordered Eating Part 4: Based on the book "Surviving Disordered Eating"

Mindfulness is not a new idea. Cultivating conscious awareness of the present moment—along with the thoughts and actions within it—is a practice that has been taught and followed all over the world in many cultures and traditions, first as a spiritual concept, and, more recently, as a research-proven method for gaining greater peace and wellness. In a nutshell, mindfulness simply means acknowledging that life unfolds one moment at a time, and in each moment we have a choice of what to think, feel, and do. Many people have little conscious awareness of how their thoughts affect their moods and choices, eating disordered or not. A branch of psychology called cognitive behavioral therapy says that if people can learn to become aware of their thoughts, they can change them, and if they change them, they will feel better emotionally and, thus, behave in more satisfying ways. Another habitual thought loop that can develop in people with disordered eating is constant comparison and judgment of themselves and others. This can take the form of walking into a room and instantly sizing up everyone in order to: feel good if they judge themselves as the smallest person there, or feel bad if they believe someone else is smaller. Either way, the judgment is used to fuel the compulsion to starve, binge, purge, overexercise, and such. It is a never-ending cycle of dissatisfaction that ends in exhaustion, isolation, and despair. Notice destructive thinking as it is happening, stop, breathe (deep breathing calms your nervous system), and acknowledge that you are engaging in negative thinking patterns. Then, take another deep breath and think loving, positive, kind things toward yourself such as: “It’s okay. I don’t have to stay stuck in these thoughts. I am good and lovable just as I am. No need to compare or judge. I am on my own path to health. Others are on their paths. Be in this moment. Research has proven that learning to quiet the mind and body helps relieve depression, anxiety, stress, and perfectionist tendencies—all of which accompany disordered eating. If you can learn to quiet your mind, you can also become more attuned to your true emotions and needs, so that you can make healthy choices to fulfill your actual needs, not your habitual ones. Rapid or shallow breathing is interpreted by the brain as danger or stress, which raises the body’s anxiety level. Deep, relaxed breathing that inflates the belly tells your brain that everything is fine and it’s okay to relax. This is an important skill because, oftentimes, it is imagined stress and anxiety that trigger eating disordered thoughts and behaviors. Having the ability to calm and soothe yourself is critical to recovery. Because recovery from disordered eating requires you to relearn hunger and fullness cues, the ability to be fully present during mealtimes can be extremely helpful. Eating mindfully means eating with full awareness of the food, the setting, your body’s needs, and the emotions present. One way people unlearn their natural cues about hunger and fullness that all people are born with is by doing other things while eating which distract them from their bodies, such as reading, watching TV, driving, texting, talking on the phone, surfing the web, and such. Another way we learn to ignore our inborn cues is when other people interfere with comments like, “You’re not going to eat another cookie, are you?” Or, “Is that all you’re going to eat? Have more!” Mindful eating requires that you just eat, tuning into your own internal experience, while perhaps gently socializing if you are eating with others. Increasing momentary mindfulness is very possible; it just takes practice. Some simple ways to get started include: Turn off technology for a certain amount of time each day in order to focus more on real-life experiences. Take a sensory walk outdoors. For a minute or so, notice sights, and name them as you see them: tree, flower, bee, cloud, sidewalk. Then switch to sounds, and name them: car, dog, cat, leaves, airplane, wind chimes. Then, go through the other senses: smell, touch, taste. You might surprise yourself at the things you discover that have been there. As you are doing a simple task, such as washing dishes or showering, try to notice the smells, sights, and textures as you experience them. Name them, and let yourself fully feel the soap or the bubbles or the water. Sit quietly in a chair, or lie down, and become aware of your breathing. Don’t change it; just feel the air coming in through your nostrils and down into your lungs, then notice the exhale as the process reverses. Try counting each one, up to 10. If you lose track, start over, without judgment.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Disordered Eating Part 3: Journalling

 Disordered Eating Part 3: Journalling Based on the book "Surviving Disordered Eating"

Journaling is a recovery tool you can use. It is a powerful resource that can help you in your healing journey and beyond. Journaling is nothing more than writing your thoughts and feelings on paper, in a private notebook or journal. Some people write only about events, some write only about feelings, and some write about both. Some people write poetry or make up stories. There is no wrong or right when it comes to journaling. It’s very important to understand that your journal is your journal. What you write in it is for your eyes only. You may write something that you want to share with someone at some time, but that is not the main purpose. The main goal is to write honestly about anything you want without fear of judgment or criticism. Next, you’ll need a good writing utensil. This is very important. You’ve got to find something that, like your journal, invites you to write and makes it a pleasant experience. Journaling is about more than what you say. It’s a physical process as much as an intellectual and emotional one. Your hand moves a pen across a page in a notebook. It needs to feel pleasing to you or you won’t do it. Finding the right writing utensil for you helps make the experience one you’ll enjoy. First thing in the morning, when households are usually quiet, and before the rush of your day gets started, you might find that your brain is able to focus in a more relaxed, open manner as you write about your life. Some people find that incorporating a few minutes of journaling into their morning routine helps them start their days feeling more calm and centered. If you aren’t a morning person, or there is simply no extra time, try journaling at the end of the day. Writing can be a great way to process the events and emotions of the day, now that you have time to focus. If you’re like many people, your day can fly by so quickly sometimes, that it seems all you can do is react, all day long. Taking time to check in with how you feel about what has happened, and how it relates to stress, anxiety, body image, and eating can really open your eyes as to how these things are connected, and what you can do about it. It can become a midday break that opens your eyes and awareness so that, if you need to make adjustments in your day, you can do so. Once you have gathered your materials and found a time and private place to write, how do you get started? First, commit to the following: You will always tell the truth in your journal, no matter how difficult. The truth may be hard to express, at first, but it is crucial if you want to heal. Following are some prompts to get you started. General Topics: Write about what you’ve been doing lately—homework, school, job, family events, things with friends, hobbies, and such. Try to describe the events in detail. Now, write how you feel about the things you’ve been doing—what do you find satisfying? What do you not like? Why? Describe some of the people in your life, in detail: looks, personalities, hobbies, ages, relationship to you, and so forth. Also describe how you feel about these people. Be honest! Remember, no one will read this but you, and if you don’t like having the truth about your feelings lying around after you’ve written them, you can always remove the pages and destroy them. Your journal may help you recognize and remember important things, but if it makes you uncomfortable to have your true thoughts out there in black and white, you can destroy the pages, knowing that doing so won’t destroy the truth of your feelings. Write about important things you remember from different ages in your life. Why are they important to you? What feelings do you associate with these events? You might go back as far as your memory allows, and then work your way up to present. Try one thing for each year of school, and then move onto important experiences of adulthood. Write about romantic relationships, attachments, or crushes you have had. What attracted you to these people? How do you feel about them now? Getting to Know You: Make a list of your favorite things: music, movies, TV, sports, friends, family, places, classes, animals, trips, clothes, stores, artists, and so forth. Pick one or more of the things you listed, and write more about it: a detailed description and your feelings. Make a list of your least favorite things, and describe some of them in more detail. What are some hopes you have for your future? These can be career, relationships, adventure, wild dreams—anything! Why do you hope these things happen? What are some things you will have to do to make one or more of them a reality? Is there a small step you can take toward one or more of them right now? What scares you about these things? How will you overcome your fear, if you want to? Describe yourself as you think your best friend would. What are your strongest qualities that have nothing to do with appearance or looks? How can these qualities help you achieve health and your greatest hopes? Family People don’t get to pick their families, but they are all part of one, for better or worse. Name some of the “better things” about being a part of your family; then name some of the “worse things.” What can you learn from being a part of your family that will make you a stronger person? Who in your family do you feel closest to? Why? Who in your family would you like to feel closer to? Why? Who in your family do you worry about? Why? How has your disordered eating affected your family? How do you feel about that? Describe the role of food in your family. Is it used in celebrations? Is it something not much thought is given to? Or can you recognize some food obsessions in your family members? Are others in your family struggling with food or body image issues? How do you feel about that? Who in your family is the most supportive of your recovery? Why? If no one in your family is supportive, to whom outside of your family can you turn? Some families experience trauma (very upsetting events), or some members of the family do. Things like: death, divorce, addiction issues, abuse, job loss, and the like. If any of these issues have been in your family, or have happened to you, try writing about them, including your feelings. Many times these types of issues are involved in disordered eating. Understanding struggles with your family traumas can help you achieve better emotional and physical health. Disordered Eating and Body Image Topics: Remember back to when your disordered eating habits began. Describe what was going on in your life and how you felt about it. Who knew about what you were doing? What was their reaction? Talk about your disordered eating habits and rituals today. Be specific and detailed. How have they changed since you first began? How do you feel about them now? Describe how you feel about your body. Be honest. How do you feel about how you feel about your body? Again, be honest. List things you like and/or respect about your body, such as, the fact that it keeps oxygen flowing in and out of your cells, 24/7, and you really don’t even have to ask it to do so. What would you like to change about your body image and disordered eating so that you could enjoy life, people, and yourself more? What are you doing to make these changes happen? What are some of your fears? These can be about anything, real or imagined. Talk about exactly what it is you fear about these things. Write a letter to your eating disorder voice. Give it a name. Many people name that voice ED (for eating disorder). Tell ED your real feelings about the things it says to you. Be honest and blunt. Tell ED your hopes and plans regarding recovery and health, and be bold about it. Your Worldview Describe your moral code of ethics. What things do you believe are right, and what things are wrong? Why do you believe this? What and/or who influenced the development of your sense of right and wrong? How well do you live by your own code of ethics? When have you fallen short? When have you stood firm? How did you feel in those situations? What problems or issues in the world today concern you? Write about what you can do to help solve that problem, both in small ways and larger ways, now and in the future. Write a letter to someone saying what you always wanted to say to that person. Don’t have the intention of sending it—just do it to experience what it feels like to say the things you need to say. Maybe you’ll want to share this with your therapist, maybe you’ll want to edit it and send it, or maybe you’ll want to rip it to shreds. The choice will be all yours. If you are new to journaling, you might want to start with some short writing periods, say 10 or 15 minutes. You can write longer if you want.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Disordered Eating Part 2

 Disorder Eating Part 2: Based on the book "Surviving Disordered Eating"

What are you really hungry for that has nothing to do with food? Eating for non-hunger-related reasons, or not eating when you are hungry, can often be driven by intense—and often hidden—emotional pain, which may have roots that run deep in your heart, mind, and soul. For some reason, such as not eating enough during the day, boredom, or avoiding unhappy relationships, evening and nighttime often trigger some type of disordered eating experience. By tuning into your body and mind, you can move through that time of day without sabotaging your recovery efforts. First, tune into your body. Is it giving you clues that you are truly physically hungry? Some people report physical hunger as feeling like an emptiness in the pit of their stomachs, a rumbly feeling and sound, sharp pains, slight nausea, lightheadedness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and so forth. If your body is giving you your particular signals, then feed it! Fix a portioned snack, and eat it mindfully. If you’re not physically hungry, but you’re feeling weak about fighting an eating disorder impulse, or you are emotionally upset, depressed, or bored, try one of these ideas: wrap up in a soft blanket, meditate on pleasant thoughts, and fall asleep; then wake up proud you didn’t binge and purge. Try getting involved in a creative activity just for the fun of the process, not to create a perfect product. Call a friend. Listen to music. Make a list of how you can help yourself during your hardest time of day, and turn to it when you need to. Oftentimes, underlying disordered eating is the belief that looking “perfect” according to cultural standards will lead to feeling happy, confident, and carefree. Along with that irrational belief might be the hope that if you could do everything in your life perfectly, you would feel calm, cool, and collected, and all your problems would be solved. People who believe that perfection is attainable are often anxious, unhappy, stressed, and lonely, because they are in pursuit of a goal that can never be achieved—unless they come to realize that messiness and imperfection is part of what it means to be perfectly human. Perfectionists often start the day with thoughts like these: “I am going to be good today. I’m not going to eat any bad foods, and I will work out harder than ever.” Because the list of “bad” foods tends to increase as disordered eating and thinking grow stronger, this can severely limit your food choices, often resulting in starvation, which can then lead to eating mindlessly, which can then lead to thoughts like these: “I wanted to be so, so perfect with everything, and now I went and ate some M&Ms. The whole day is ruined! What is wrong with me? I’m so gross; I’m such a pig!” This type of downward spiral can lead to more destructive behaviors and thoughts, and it all began with unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of perfection. Drop the expectation, and you’ll be surprised at how your attitude toward yourself might shift. You might be able to be more loving and helpful and make choices that nourish your body and mind rather than hurt them. Try embracing the concept of good enough. A brain entrapped by disordered eating thoughts wants to focus on the things that don’t go perfectly: no meals are eaten well enough, no clothes look good enough, no progress is fast enough. Good enough is good enough. Many people believe the lies about appearance, self-worth, eating, and diets. If you were raised by parents who themselves have (or had) unhealthy relationships with their bodies and/or food, they may have passed on those beliefs and behaviors to you. Not necessarily because they were trying to hurt you, but because it was all they knew. This is true also of friends, coaches, teachers, and others. In order to please those important people in your life, you may have tried to perfectly conform to the standards they set for you, even though those standards were not healthy ones. Because you are a human, and humans make mistakes (from which they often learn the most), you will likely experience a setback or two as you journey toward health. That is normal, acceptable, and just fine. The important thing is not the setback, but that you pick yourself up and get back on track. Right away. What happened happened. Now, in this moment and the next, you can choose to do the right thing, the loving thing, the healing thing. Take a deep breath, and do it. Remember, life is full of setbacks. Expect them, accept them, learn from them, and move on. A trigger can be a food that for some reason makes it hard for you to be mindful as you eat it. It may activate urges to restrict or binge. Emotional upsets can also trigger the desire to use food or disordered eating behaviors to somehow deal with the difficult feelings, or to numb them. Food and emotions are things you have to face and deal with every single day. Staying in recovery is a matter of how you react when triggered, not whether you are triggered. Also, triggers actually play an important role in your recovery because they provide a chance for you to practice healthy coping skills. You have to be willing to begin, one bite at a time, your healing process. You are the only one that can accept and live out the cure. You can read books, go to therapy, visit a dietician, meet with a mentor, keep doctor appointments, but if you don’t change your thoughts and actions, you will not recover. You will have to honestly face yourself with an attitude of tough love in order to move forward. You will have to face your fears, as well as the consequences of your disordered eating thoughts and behaviors. Stop hiding from the truth, and enjoy the freedom of honesty. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Disordered Eating Part 1

Disorder Eating Part 1: Based on the book "Surviving Disordered Eating"

Mindful Awareness: One of the hallmarks of disordered eating is eating while distracted, or eating to numb difficult or intense emotions. Eating is transformed from a physiological necessity rich with cultural and social meaning to a psychological coping mechanism with many negative side effects, including mindlessness. The most powerful way to get out of the mindless eating trap is to start paying attention to what, when, where, why, and how you eat. Mindful eating is a skill you can relearn. Following are some strategies to help you do so. Some of them involve food, and some of them do not, but the awareness you gain from any one of them will help with mindful eating. Mindful eating might very well be the most important skill presented in this blog. It will allow you to remember the purpose and meaning of eating: to nourish your body so that you can live your life. Disordered eaters can get so lost in their fear and worries about food, or in the numbing out trance induced by bingeing, that they forget all they were born knowing about how to eat: eat when you’re hungry and stop when you are satisfied. Relearning your innate sense of how to eat requires that you slow down, notice what you’re eating, notice how it feels in your body, and take special care to calm any anxieties or worries that arise. Following is how it is done: Gather your food. Take a moment to be grateful; think of something positive in your life. Have one to three bites of your food. Put your food and utensils down. Touch your napkin to calm anxiety. Take a sip of liquid; let it soothe you. Breathe more than once. Check in to see if you are stressed. If you feel stressed, take some more deep breaths and tell the stress it is not invited to this meal. Tune in to your body’s deep awareness of its needs: are you hungry, satisfied, or full? Turn your attention to a card or uplifting picture, if you are alone. In a social eating setting, express the need for kind conversation if topics turn negative. Enjoy more bites! Repeat, repeat, and repeat this mindful eating rhythm. Notice the negative judgments and harsh thoughts regarding food and your body that arise when you are eating. Choose to change those thoughts so that you can nourish yourself well. During mealtimes, be sure to eat while listening closely to your hunger, satiety, and fullness cues. If you have eaten mindfully, and find that you have truly had enough, but there is still some food on your plate, please remember: you don’t need to be a member of the clean-plate club if your body is telling you something different. You can either throw the food away, or put it in a container to save for another meal, if that is a safe recovery behavior for you. Either way, you do not have to eat it!

Self Care: For some reason, many people with eating disordered habits have learned to place everyone else’s care and needs ahead of their own, and then they end up depleted of energy, health, and peace. This empty, tired feeling can send them into disordered eating thinking and behaviors, hoping to feel replenished by them. Instead, they feel more drained. If this sounds like you, then it is time to put into place a good self-care routine. Doing so will actually allow you to be more effective in helping others because you’ll feel better yourself. One of the most difficult aspects of healing from disordered eating may be developing positive feelings about your body and its appearance. The normal, healthy connection between mind and body can be lost when you become so focused on calories in and out. The stress that develops, or that was there to begin with, interrupts your body’s inherent communication system, and can result in feelings of dissatisfaction, disgust, or even hatred. Trying to heal a body toward which you feel hate and anger will not work. Bodies—especially women’s bodies—can vary in how they feel and look over the course of a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime. Rather than cultivate feelings of anger and frustration about these inevitable changes, try learning to accommodate them with a more accepting attitude and actions. Mirrors can be tools for recovery or sabotage, depending upon your attitude when you look in one. You can focus on what you perceive to be the negative and set yourself up to turn to disordered eating behaviors, hoping they’ll change your perceptions. Or, you can choose to gaze at yourself with a different mindset, and loosen negative body image’s hold on your emotions and actions. Whenever you look at your reflection in a mirror or window, try saying one of these kind expressions to yourself, or out loud: “Okay, fine!” This phrase can help signify to yourself that you are okay, you are fine, and you are moving forward in your life regardless of what you see in the mirror. If you catch an unexpected glimpse of yourself in a mirror or other reflective surface and it surprises you in an uncomfortable way, use this phrase to move forward in your day and let it go. “Good to go!” This phrase is something you can think to yourself when you need to check to see that your clothes are clean and straightened, hair is fixed, face is washed, and teeth are clean. It is a statement of gentle appraisal and acceptance and tells you that you are ready to face the event, the day, and the life that is waiting for you. Even if you feel afraid to do so, get clothes that fit your body now, and don’t look back. By all means, get rid of the old clothes because they are not supposed to fit anymore. The person they fit before was dying from disordered eating and its deadly grasp. The sooner you get rid of the past and the clothes that represent the sickness and danger of it, the sooner you will be able to embrace and celebrate the new you! Often, the messages are specifically designed to increase your dissatisfaction with how you look so that you will want to go on a diet, buy cosmetics, purchase a magazine or book, watch a TV show, or visit a website. These messages, and their products, are not designed to help you love yourself or your life, even if they say they are. Their main purpose is to make money for someone, somewhere. And many of the images of the people featured in these messages have been digitally altered to impossible human proportions. This constant barrage of false beauty standards can have a toxic effect, and they are hard to escape. Often, however, far too much emphasis is placed on a particular number as being an “ideal” weight to strive toward. It will be important for your recovery efforts to create and maintain a new attitude about what you weigh, and what significance you place on that number. It is not easy to change a lifetime of messages you have received and believed about weight, but it is possible and worth the effort, if you want to break free from weight obsessions. If you have an eating disorder, or suffer from any type of disordered eating, it is likely that negative thoughts about yourself circulate through your brain nearly all the time. If you were to stop and really notice what that voice is saying, perhaps write it down or say it out loud, there is a good chance you’d be shocked by how mean, pushy, and critical that voice is.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

What Do I Eat? Brain Foods

What do I Eat? Brain Foods: Based on the book "This is Your Brain on Food"

B: Berries and beans 

R: Rainbow colors of fruits and vegetables 

A: Antioxidants 

I: Include lean proteins and plant-based proteins 

N: Nuts (almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and cashews) 

F: Fiber-rich foods, fish, and fermented foods 

O: Oils 

O: Omega-3-rich foods 

D: Dairy (yogurt and kefir, certain cheeses) 

S: Spices

Berries and Beans Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries all make great additions to your day and double as a dessert. Eat berries that are in season. When you buy fresh berries, make sure to eat them soon—good ripe ones won’t last long, even in the fridge. At times of the year when fresh, ripe berries aren’t available, frozen berries are fine to use as long as you make sure they do not have added sugar or other additives. Beans, legumes, and lentils are important staples for your brain. A healthy source of nutrients, vitamins, and fiber, beans, legumes, and lentils are easy to prepare and can be a main course or an appetizer, can be added to a salad, or can even be made into a dessert.

Rainbow Colors of Fruits and Vegetables Eat as many different colorful vegetables as possible. From red cabbage to radicchio to green and yellow bell peppers, expand your palate and maximize the range of nutrients that are beneficial to your brain. This is particularly true of micronutrients, like vitamins, polyphenols, phytonutrients, and flavonoids. The same applies to fruits! Berries, apples, and citrus all come in a wide variety of colors. Just be careful not to overdo it with sweet fruits like grapes and cherries. Even though I want you to chase color, don’t forget the most important color: green. Though eating a broad range of colors is great, you have to make sure you’re getting enough dark, leafy greens such as arugula, romaine, Bibb lettuce, endive, and bok choy. Add microgreens when you can find them; they add a flavorful nutrient-dense punch to my meals.

Antioxidants We’ve covered many kinds of antioxidants throughout the blog, including berries and the polyphenols in colorful vegetables we’ve just discussed. Dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants, as long as you stick to the dark stuff and make sure that it doesn’t include too much sugar. While cocoa and chocolate are delicious—aim for natural or non-alkalized for the highest antioxidant levels. Many vitamins are crucial antioxidants. You can get vitamins from a broad range of dietary sources. This is one of the most important reasons to eat a diverse diet. But get a recommendation for a multivitamin supplement from your doctor; this is a great way to make sure you’re not missing anything. 

Include Lean Proteins and Plant-Based Proteins Well Sourced lean poultry, seafood, and occasional grass-fed beef are good choices to ensure you are getting plenty of protein and the essential amino acids that your brain needs to function. For plant-based sources of protein, organic tofu and tempeh can be enhanced with spices for flavor. 

Nuts Nuts have healthy fats and oils that our brains need to function well, along with vitamins and minerals, for example, selenium in Brazil nuts. Eat ¼ cup a day (not more—it’s easy to overdo it with nuts!) as a snack or added to your salad or vegetable side dish. Nuts can even be combined into a homemade granola or trail mix that contains much less sugar and salt than store-bought versions. 

Fiber-Rich Foods, Fish, and Fermented Foods Beans, legumes, lentils, fruit, and vegetables are great sources of fiber. Fiber is important as a prebiotic, can help keep your weight down, and decreases inflammation in the entire body. As we discussed earlier, fish such as salmon add healthy omega-3s to your nutrition plan. Fermented foods like kefir, miso, and kimchee are great for your brain and gut since they’re a natural source of active-culture bacteria. 

Oils While you want to avoid an excess of saturated fats and other unhealthy oils like the omega-6 oils used for frying, you want to ensure you’re getting enough healthy fats from sources like olive oil, avocados, and oily fish. Even with healthy fats, be aware of portion size and try not to eat too much. All fats are calorie dense. 

Omega-3- Rich Foods We’ve talked about omega-3s so you know well by now to ensure you’re getting plenty of them. The most important source of omega-3s (especially docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid) is oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, and tuna. Omega-3s (largely alpha-linolenic acid) can also be found in plant-based sources—chia seeds, Brussels sprouts, walnuts, and flaxseeds to name a few.

Dairy (Yogurt and Kefir, Certain Cheeses) Yogurts and kefir with probiotic cultures are great for your gut, providing you with helpful bacteria and protein. Grass-fed dairy products are better options for you and your brain. Remember that certain conditions, like ADHD, can be aggravated by dairy, so be aware of its negative effects. 

Spices Spices are a no-calorie, guilt-free way to boost flavor in all your food while adding beneficial brain effects as well. In particular, spices like turmeric, black pepper, saffron, red pepper flakes, oregano, and rosemary should be part of your brain armor.

SET UP YOUR KITCHEN LIKE A CHEF! Just as your brain and gut need certain nutritional building blocks in order to operate at peak efficiency, your kitchen also needs certain equipment before you can cook a great meal. You don’t need a whole lot of fancy equipment—no need for single-use tools like avocado cutters or mango pitters—but you do need some decent-quality basics. Here is a quick list of the tools you’ll want to have before tackling the recipes that follow. Large knife and small utility knife. The large knife should be a chef-style knife that you feel comfortable using. The smaller knife is for smaller jobs in the kitchen. Once you find knives you’re comfortable with, make sure to keep them sharp. A sharp knife is less likely to slip and cut you. Knife sharpener I prefer the countertop sharpeners, where you just guide the blade through a slot, rather than the large handheld sharpening steel used in professional kitchens. Vegetable peeler. I use a vegetable peeler both to remove the skins from vegetables and to create easy ribbons for salads. You’ll need a chopping board, either wood or synthetic. The board can be used for all your prep. Start with vegetables on one side, then flip it for your meat prep. Be sure to keep it clean and sanitized. Instant-read thermometer. Eyeballing the doneness of your meat can easily lead to it being undercooked and dangerous, or overcooked and dry. With the ease and accuracy of modern instant-read digital thermometers, there’s no reason to guess. Lemon or lime zester. An easy, inexpensive way to add the vibrant bold flavors of citrus rind from lemons, limes, oranges, and clementines to salads, side dishes, and even baking. Measuring cups. These are used for measuring dry ingredients and are helpful to measure out portions for meal planning. Measuring pitcher and measuring spoons. The measuring pitcher is for liquids and the measuring spoons are useful in both cooking and baking. Medium and large stainless-steel or glass bowls. Having plenty of bowls in a range of sizes allows you to be flexible and efficient during food prep. Mini mise set. This mini prep bowl set helps to organize and set up your ingredients—see more about the importance of mise en place in the next section. Kitchen towels and paper towels. These are useful for drying dishes and for drying vegetables or fruit after washing. Moisture can breed bacteria, so keeping your workspace and equipment dry is key to a clean kitchen. Sanitizer spray. Mason jars. These are handy for mixing salad dressings, storing foods, and building salads for meals or snacks. Half sheet pan/baking pan and glass casserole dish for oven-baked dishes. A simple aluminum sheet pan is an inexpensive workhorse in the kitchen. No need for nonstick coatings. For recipes that need a higher-walled vessel, use a glass casserole dish. Parchment paper makes baking on a sheet pan very easy, as it provides a nonstick surface and allows for browning. It also makes cleanup much easier, since you can throw out the parchment paper. Stainless-steel pots and pans. If you have not invested in a set of pots and pans, I’d recommend looking at a good quality stainless-steel set at your local kitchen store. If a whole set is too pricey, the most important components are a large stock pot, a medium-size saucepan, and a 10-to 12-inch sauté pan. Cast iron is cheaper than stainless steel, and often its heat retention and superior browning make it the right choice whether on the stovetop or in the oven. I recommend a 10-to 12-inch skillet. A cast-iron skillet can last a lifetime as long as it’s properly cleaned and seasoned. You can find instructions for proper cast-iron care online. A Dutch oven is a large cast-iron pot with a tight-fitting lid used for soups and stews. Dutch ovens are often enameled (like the classic Dutch ovens from French brand Le Creuset). Food processor. Food processors take a lot of the labor out of mixing, chopping, and blending food. An 11-cup food processor is a good basic size for any kitchen. Mini food processors (sometimes called mini food choppers) are best for chopping small herbs or pulverizing foods like garlic or ginger. Blender. Blenders are similar to food processors but are intended to blend liquids rather than solid foods. They are perfect for pureeing wet ingredients or making smoothies. Immersion blender. An immersion blender is a handheld blender that allows you to blend food in the pot you’re cooking in—much more convenient than pouring everything into the bowl of a traditional blender. They’re great for smoothing out soups or giving lentils a more even consistency. Ice pops are a great way to make your own healthy frozen treats for dessert. I prefer stainless-steel molds, which are usually dishwasher safe, making cleanup easier. Salad spinner. This is a very useful item if you eat lots of leafy greens (as you should!), because you can wash your greens properly without worrying about waiting for them to dry. It’s helpful to prepare a large quantity of lettuce, spinach, or kale for a few days at a time, and store the extra in a tightly sealed container.

Monday, November 14, 2022

This is Your Brain on Food: Bipolar, Schizophrenia, and Libido

Bipolar, Schizophrenia, and Libido: Based on the book "This is Your Brain on Food"

Bipolar and Schizophrenia:

As we already know, the ongoing, low-grade inflammation in your body is often related to disruptions to your gut. When this widespread inflammation throughout the body occurs, the marker C-reactive protein increases. When BD patients are in either depressed or manic states, we also see an increase in C-reactive protein, an indicator that gut inflammation may also be associated with mood swings. We also see symptoms of leaky gut associated with BD. In BD patients, we can see gut chemicals in the blood by tracking a part of the gut-bacteria cell membrane called lipopolysaccharide. In healthy individuals lipopolysaccharide stays confined to the gut, but in BD patients, it leaks out, stimulating inflammation and promoting proinflammatory cytokines, which lead to greater depression and mood symptoms. Once again, we see the damaging effect of the Western diet. Eating bad fats, refined carbohydrates, sugar, and meat with very few vegetables is destructive to the bipolar brain. While the Mediterranean eating pattern is a good alternative to the Western diet, there’s another diet that has shown even more promise for treating BD. Preliminary data and case histories indicate that the ketogenic diet— which is high fat and low carbohydrate—has mood-stabilizing effects. In other words, patients with BD are more likely to have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Whether medicated or unmedicated, people with schizophrenia have less diversity of gut bacteria, and they even have some unique bacteria that aren’t found in healthy guts. As we saw with BD, SCZ patients have more gut problems than the general population. They have more inflammation, food intolerances, and defects of the gut wall leading to leaky gut. One postmortem study of gastrointestinal inflammation associated with SCZ in eighty-two individuals found that 50 percent had gastritis, 88 percent had enteritis, and 92 percent had colitis, all signs of serious gut inflammation.

BIPOLAR DISORDER CHEAT SHEET The keto diet has been shown to be a good whole-diet approach for patients with bipolar disorder. Foods to Embrace: Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. N-acetylcysteine: While NAC itself must be taken as a supplement, cysteine-rich foods can also be effective. Try meat, grains, eggs, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, broccoli, red pepper, and onion. Vitamin B9 (folate). Minerals: Magnesium, zinc. Foods to Avoid: The components of the Western diet: Foods high in bad fats (red meat, fried foods) and high-glycemic-index carbs (white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, and anything else made from refined flour). Caffeine: Keep caffeine consumption under 400 mg/day. Sodium: For patients treated with lithium, it’s important to keep sodium levels constant. Gluten: If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, avoid all wheat products, such as bread, pizza, pasta, and many alcoholic drinks. Alcohol: BD patients should totally abstain from or heavily restrict alcohol use. Complications with medicine: Grapefruit juice and foods containing tyramine (aged cheese, aged or cured meats, fava beans, Marmite, sauerkraut, soy sauce, and tap beer) can interfere with some medications prescribed for BD. 

SCHIZOPHRENIA CHEAT SHEET Foods to Embrace: Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. N-acetylcysteine (NAC): While NAC itself must be taken as a supplement, cysteine-rich foods can also be effective. Try meat, grains, eggs, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, broccoli, red pepper, and onion. Alpha-lipoic acid: Spinach, broccoli, tomato, and meats, especially organ meats like heart, kidney, and liver. L-theanine: Green, black, and oolong tea. Melatonin: Eggs, fish, milk, rice, barley and rolled oats, grapes, pomegranates, walnuts, sunflower seeds, mustard seeds, flaxseeds, asparagus, broccoli, and cucumber. Vitamins B9, B12, and C. Foods to Avoid: The components of the Western diet: Foods high in bad fats (red meat, fried foods) and high-glycemic index carbs (white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, and anything else made from refined flour). Gluten: If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, avoid all wheat products, such as bread, pizza, pasta, and many alcoholic drinks. Sugar: Baked goods, candy, soda, or anything sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Alcohol: SCZ patients should try to abstain from or heavily restrict alcohol use.


As for estrogen, in postmenopausal women, it appears that gut microbiota play a key role in regulating levels of estrogen circulating in the blood. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a chemical with many applications, most notably in certain kinds of nonstick cookware and food packaging. Studies have suggested the potential of PFOA and similar chemicals to disrupt the endocrine system, increasing the risk of adverse health effects. 

LIBIDO CHEAT SHEET Foods to Embrace: Foods that boost oxytocin: Dark chocolate, magnesium, and essential amino acids (found in meat, grains, milk, dairy, and, to a lesser degree, vegetables and eggs). Coffee: Keep total caffeine consumption under 400 mg/day. Red wine: No more than 1 glass/day. Nuts: Pistachios, almonds, and walnuts. Apples. Pomegranate juice. Onions. Avocados. Herbs and spices: Saffron, fenugreek. Foods and Compounds to Avoid: The components of the Western diet: Foods high in bad fats (red meat, fried foods) and high-glycemic-index carbs (white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, and anything else made from refined flour). Alcohol: For men, stay under 14 drinks per week and have no more than 4 drinks in any single day. For women, stay under 7 drinks per week and have no more than 3 drinks in any single day. Sugar: Baked goods, candy, soda, or anything sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Licorice: Avoid candies and other products that contain licorice extract. PFOA: Beware of nonstick cookware and food packaging that contains PFOA. Use stainless steel or cast-iron cookware, eat PFOA-free microwave popcorn, and use unbleached paper snack bags.

Next Week is the final discussion of this series, what do I eat?

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

This is Your Brain on Food: OCD, Insomnia, and Fatigue

OCD, Insomnia, and Fatigue: Based on the book "This is Your Brain on Food"


As we’ve seen with related conditions like anxiety, the gut-brain connection is a factor in OCD. Changing gut bacteria can change the course of the disease, and gut bacteria change when OCD symptoms emerge. Dietary glutamates are generally regarded as healthy in normal amounts for most individuals, but sufferers of OCD should be very careful about their glutamate intake. That’s because glutamate plays an important role in your brain as a neurotransmitter that is deeply intertwined with OCD symptoms. There are two types of dietary glutamate. Bound glutamate is usually eaten as part of a protein, and thus it can be digested and absorbed well. Free glutamate is not bound to other amino acids, which means that it can cause spikes of glutamate in the blood. You want to avoid these spikes. Free forms of glutamate are found in cured meat, Roquefort and Parmesan cheese, fish sauce, soy sauce, ripe tomatoes, broccoli, grape juice, caviar, salami, miso, and bone broths. 

OCD CHEAT SHEET Since OCD is so closely related to anxiety, the dietary recommendations for anxiety also apply here. Foods and Supplements to Embrace: N-acetylcysteine: While NAC itself must be taken as a supplement, cysteine-rich foods can also be effective. Try meat, grains, eggs, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, broccoli, red pepper, and onion. Myoinositol: Fresh vegetables, especially navy or green beans, Brussels sprouts, and lima beans; peanut butter; whole wheat bread; cantaloupe; and citrus fruits. Glycine: Meat, fish, dairy products, legumes, spinach, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, pumpkin, bananas, kiwi. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum): Available as a supplement. Vitamin B12. Spices: Turmeric with a pinch of black pepper. Foods to Avoid: MSG, other glutamates, and glutamic acid: Fish sauce, oyster sauce, tomato sauce, miso, Parmesan cheese, savory snacks, chips, ready-to-eat meals, mushrooms, spinach, seaweed, cheeses, soy sauce, fermented beans, tomatoes, and high-protein foods like meats and seafood. Gluten: If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, avoid all wheat products, such as bread, pizza, pasta, and many alcoholic drinks. 

Insomnia and Fatigue:

Maintaining the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut is crucial for healthy sleep. The gut-brain connections we see with sleep should feel familiar by now: by interacting with the immune system, your hormones, and the vagus nerve directly, gut bacteria communicate with your brain to determine sleep patterns. And once again, the interaction goes both ways, with the brain able to have an effect on gut bacteria as well. You’ve probably heard about the circadian rhythm, a twenty-four-hour internal body clock that regulates when we sleep and when we’re awake. When this sleep/wake cycle is disrupted, it leads to metabolic damage. Melatonin is available as a supplement, but it also occurs naturally in certain foods. Food sources include eggs, fish, milk, rice and other grains (barley and rolled oats), fruits (grapes, pomegranates), nuts (especially pistachios and walnuts), seeds (sunflower seeds, mustard seeds, and flaxseeds), and a variety of vegetables (asparagus, tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumber). There are nine essential amino acids that cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from food sources. Like tryptophan, L-ornithine is an essential amino acid that has the potential to improve sleep quality when you’re fatigued. It is produced in the body from foods containing L-arginine. The simplest way to get L-arginine is to eat complete protein sources, which means they contain all nine essential amino acids, which the body cannot produce on its own. These include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, soybeans, and quinoa. Foods that increase inflammation can decrease your energy availability. To reduce inflammation, it is important to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. The central tenets of an anti-inflammatory diet are as follows: Your brain is made up of 60 percent fat. In order to perform at its best, it requires a constant supply of omega-3 fatty acids—at least 2–3 g combined of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid per day. Reducing omega-6 fatty acids is key to maintaining the correct balance of omega-3s to omega-6s. Eating an excess of omega-6s can trigger the body to produce chemicals that spike inflammation. These fatty acids are found in oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, soy, peanut, and vegetable. That means you should cut down on mayonnaise, many salad dressings, and most processed and fast foods. A diet rich in colorful, non starchy vegetables adds polyphenols, which fight inflammation through a number of processes. Other sources of polyphenols include: cloves, star anise, cocoa powder (natural, non alkalized), Mexican oregano, dark chocolate, chestnuts, and flaxseed meal. Black and green tea, blackberries, muscadine grape seeds, apple-cider vinegar, cinnamon, and superfruits such as the maqui berry may also help to decrease inflammation. When you are on an anti-inflammatory diet, you must stabilize insulin by eating whole, plant-based foods rich in healthy fat (avocados, dark chocolate, olives, chia seeds, coconut, almonds, pecans, and walnuts) and natural chemicals. Eat vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, and broccoli. More than two decades ago, researchers realized that patients with chronic fatigue syndrome had low magnesium levels in their red blood cells. When their magnesium was replaced, they felt more energized. Magnesium decreases inflammation and relaxes the nervous system. For example, when you exercise, lactate accumulates in your blood, which leads to tired and achy limbs. However, magnesium can prevent this lactate accumulation, which in turn helps relieve fatigue. Food sources of magnesium include dry roasted almonds, boiled spinach, dry roasted cashews, soy milk, cooked black beans, and edamame. Low zinc levels are also a hallmark of chronic fatigue syndrome, and increasing zinc can improve and prevent fatigue. Zinc deficiency is very common, with about half of the world’s population prone to zinc deficiencies due to dietary patterns. To get more zinc, incorporate lamb, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, grass-fed beef, and chickpeas into your diet.

INSOMNIA AND FATIGUE CHEAT SHEET Foods to Embrace: Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. Melatonin: Eggs, fish, milk, rice, barley and rolled oats, grapes, pomegranates, walnuts, sunflower seeds, mustard seeds, flaxseeds, asparagus, broccoli, and cucumber. Tryptophan: Turkey, other meats, and chickpeas, especially when combined with carbohydrates. L-ornithine: Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, soybeans, and quinoa. Chamomile tea. Foods containing helpful micronutrients: Lettuce, tart cherry juice, barley grass powder, maca, Panax ginseng, lingzhi, asparagus powder. For Fatigue: Anti-inflammatory foods: Omega-3s, colorful vegetables for polyphenols. Minerals: Magnesium and zinc. Vitamins B1, B6, B9, B12, C, D, and E. Capsaicin Rich foods: Chili peppers including cayenne, serranos, and jalapeños. Spices: Black cumin and turmeric. Foods to Avoid: Caffeine: You don’t have to completely eliminate caffeine, but stick to the guideline of no more than 400 mg/day, and don’t drink caffeine after three p.m. Alcohol: Though alcohol can put you to sleep, it also disrupts sleep.

Next Week: Bipolar, Schizophrenia, and Libido.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

This is Your Brain on Food: ADHD and Memory

ADHD and Memory: Based on "This is Your Brain on Food"


When you have ADHD, the connections between different brain regions are disrupted, specifically between the prefrontal cortex, the “thinking” brain, and the striatum, the part of the brain that deals with reward behaviors. Additionally, your brain chemistry is affected, particularly your levels of dopamine, the brain’s “reward” chemical, and noradrenaline, a fight-or-flight hormone. Larger molecules such as dopamine and noradrenaline cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, which means that they are confined solely to your brain. But they are made of precursor molecules—building blocks—that can. And where are these precursor molecules made? You guessed it: the gut. There is also a well-established link between ADHD and gluten intolerance or celiac disease. It’s true that sugar can have an effect on ADHD through several pathways. For instance, because it can increase adrenaline, a hormone that increases heartbeat and blood sugar levels, sugar may cause more hyperactivity. And because it reduces dopamine sensitivity in the brain, sugar can amplify impulsive reward-seeking behavior that is common in ADHD. Before diving into specific nutrients, it’s worth noting that research has shown that overall diet intervention has been effective at staving off ADHD—in other words, it’s important to eat healthily over a broad spectrum of food. Breakfast is an important meal for everyone, you want to make sure you are adequately fueled to jump-start your brain (and body) every morning. But for ADHD patients, stimulants can take a toll on appetite, so being hungry in the morning may not be a given. It is often found that creating a routine around breakfast can be helpful. Presumably, the caffeine in tea increases people’s motivation, alertness, vigilance, efficiency, concentration, and cognitive performance. On the other hand, caffeine may cause overexcitability too, so it’s important not to overdo it. One crucial type of antioxidant is polyphenols. Polyphenols are chemical weight lifters for the body’s immune response. They act as low-dose toxins that train the body to mount an immune response in a process called hormesis. Polyphenols can also exert other biological effects that are helpful to the brain; for example, they influence the survival and regeneration of neurons. The richest sources of polyphenols are berries, cherries, eggplant, onions, kale, coffee, and green tea.

ADHD CHEAT SHEET As with depression, the Mediterranean eating pattern is a great overall diet to follow for improving ADHD symptoms. Foods to Embrace: Breakfast: It’s important for ADHD sufferers to get the day started right, so try starting with a smoothie. Caffeine: While caffeine can be beneficial to ADHD, keep consumption under 400 mg/day. Polyphenols: Berries, cherries, eggplant, onions, kale, coffee, and green tea. Vitamins C and B1. Minerals: Zinc, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Foods to Avoid: Gluten: If you have celiac disease or non celiac gluten sensitivity, avoid all wheat products, such as bread, pizza, pasta, and many alcoholic drinks. Dairy, specifically A1 milk caseins: Drink and cook with products made from A2 milk, nut milk, or goat’s or sheep’s milk. Sugar: While sugar is unfairly vilified as a cause of ADHD, it’s still best to limit intake; avoid baked goods, candy, soda, or anything sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Food colorings and additives: Colorings and additives can be eliminated by following diets such as the Feingold diet or the few foods diet if ADHD symptoms don’t respond to less radical diet changes.


Given that your gut “remembers,” it should come as no surprise that it works hand in hand with your brain’s memory systems. The key to that connection lies in the chemicals that make your brain and body function, many of which are regulated by your gut. For example, the stress hormone cortisol can disrupt your ability to recall long-term memories, and as we’ve covered before, your gut bacteria affect blood cortisol levels by regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. That means that the wrong balance of gut bacteria can lead to a spike in cortisol, which in turn can put a damper on your ability to recall memories. High-fat and high-glycemic-index (high-GI) foods can alter brain pathways necessary for learning and memory, with neurons in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex especially affected. In addition to these direct effects on the brain, the Western diet compromises the blood-brain barrier, which is tasked with keeping toxic substances out of the brain. Dietary components such as saturated fat may also exacerbate inflammation in the brain, which has been linked to cognitive decline in aging and risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Inflammation disrupts many of the chemical pathways instrumental in memory formation, such as those that rely on dopamine and glutamate. The nerves themselves become sluggish and information travels far more slowly. Several types of dementia are associated with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Many animal and laboratory studies have found that extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) protects cognition. Olive oil is a source of at least thirty phenolic compounds, such as oleuropein, oleocanthal, hydroxytyrosol, and tyrosol, all of which act as strong antioxidants and brain protectors. Turmeric: Once again, turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin, are front and center. Curcumin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neurotrophic activities. Black pepper and cinnamon: When winter arrives and you have to be outside in the cold for a long time, studies show that low temperatures can impair your cognition. But black pepper and cinnamon are two spices that can reverse this decline in thinking ability. Besides suppressing inflammatory pathways, these spices may act as antioxidants; increase the availability of acetylcholine, which improves memory; and help clear amyloid deposits, which as we’ve seen is an important factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Saffron. Rosemary: One study indicated that the aroma of rosemary changes brain waves so that people become less anxious, more alert, and better able to compute math problems. While we need more studies to have full confirmation, at this point you can assume that rosemary will help boost memory, attention, and well-being. Ginger: Ginger has also been shown to enhance working memory in middle-aged healthy women. Sage: Due to its rich array of pharmacological constituents, sage can influence cognition. Sage decreases inflammation in the brain, reduces amyloid deposits, decreases oxidative cell damage, increases acetylcholine, and helps neuronal growth. Studies have demonstrated that sage can enhance memory, attention, word recall, and speed of memory in healthy adults. Sage can also make people feel more alert, content, and calm and can improve cognition. The MIND diet (MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) has been shown to be effective at reversing and protecting against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. 

MIND Diet “Good” Foods and Their Optimal MIND Score Serving Sizes: Green leafy vegetables (kale, collards, greens, spinach, lettuce/tossed salad): 6 or more servings per week, Other vegetables (green/red peppers, squash, carrots, broccoli, celery, potatoes, peas or lima beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, string beans, beets, corn, zucchini/summer squash/eggplant): 1 or more servings per day, Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries): 2 or more servings per week, Nuts: 5 or more servings per week, Olive oil: Use olive oil as your primary oil, Whole grains: 3 or more servings per day, Fish (not fried, particularly high-omega-3 fish such as salmon): 1 or more meals per week, Beans (beans, lentils, soybeans): More than 3 meals per week, Poultry (chicken or turkey): 2 or more meals per week, Wine: 1 glass per day (it’s important to note that 1 glass of wine per day resulted in a higher MIND score than any more or less).

MEMORY CHEAT SHEET The MIND diet is the most comprehensive eating plan for ensuring a healthy memory. Eat green leafy vegetables, colorful vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, fish, beans, poultry; drink red wine. Foods and Strategies to Embrace: Calorie restriction: Work with your doctor to make a plan to reduce your total calorie intake by about 25 percent. Alcohol: Don’t abstain totally. Coffee: Coffee is beneficial, but keep total caffeine consumption under 400 mg/ day. Olive oil: Olive oil is protective, especially when used in a sofrito preparation. Herbs and spices: Turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, saffron, rosemary, ginger, sage. For brain fog: Luteolin-rich foods (juniper berries, fresh peppermint, sage, thyme, hot and sweet peppers, radicchio, celery seeds, parsley, artichokes, and dried Mexican oregano); phosphatidylserine (PS)-containing foods (white beans, eggs, and dairy); citicoline-rich foods (beef liver, egg yolks). Foods to Avoid: The components of the Western diet: Foods high in bad fats (red meat, fried foods) and high-GI carbs (white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, and anything else made from refined flour). Gluten: If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, avoid all wheat products, such as bread, pizza, pasta, and many alcoholic drinks.

Next week we dive into OCD, Insomnia, and Fatigue.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

This is Your Brain on Food: Anxiety and PTSD

Anxiety and PTSD: Based on the book "This is Your Brain on Food"


The Western diet actually refers to the standard American diet. Though plenty of Americans are as health conscious as anyone else in the world, the Western diet is what you’d typically find in a fast-food meal—the major components are bad fats (saturated fats, trans fats, and unhealthy PUFAs like the vegetable oil commonly used for deep-frying) and high-GI carbs, which means lots of fried food, sweetened drinks (especially those sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup), and lots of red meat. While there’s no question that this diet is bad for your physical health, we’ll see its negative influence on mental health throughout this blog. Anxiety is no exception. It’s important to realize that excess caffeine in your diet can precipitate or worsen anxiety. Caffeine overstimulates regions of the brain that process threat. When you use artificial sweeteners that have no nutritional value, they can increase “bad” gut bacteria and therefore negatively affect mood and anxiety. Sweeteners like aspartame have been more directly linked with anxiety in research studies and should be avoided, or at the very least used in moderation. Diets rich in dietary fiber may reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress. You’ll find rich dietary fiber in the “five Bs”: beans, brown rice, berries, bran, and baked potato with the skin on. Other high-fiber foods include pears, apples, bananas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, artichokes, almonds, walnuts, amaranth, oats, buckwheat, and pearl barley. Fermented foods, like plain yogurt with active cultures and kimchi, are a great source of live bacteria that can enhance healthy gut function and decrease anxiety. In the brain, fermented foods may confer several advantages. Fermented foods have improved human cognitive function in several studies. Other sources of fermented foods include kombucha, miso, tempeh, and apple-cider vinegar. You can also ferment vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, green beans, radishes, and broccoli. Other foods and nutrients that decrease anxiety include selenium (found in Brazil nuts), potassium-rich foods (e.g., pumpkin seeds), flavonoids (e.g., dark chocolate), and theanine (e.g., green tea). Foods that contain high amounts of lysine such as lean beef and lamb, tempeh, seitan, lentils, black beans, and quinoa can also be helpful. On the other hand, avoid wheat bran since it contains phytic acid, which blocks zinc absorption and causes anxiety. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, decreases anxiety and changes the corresponding brain chemistry, protecting the hippocampus.

ANXIETY CHEAT SHEET Foods to Embrace: High-fiber foods: Beans, brown rice, berries, bran, pears, apples, bananas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, artichokes, almonds, walnuts, amaranth, oats, buckwheat, and pearl barley. Aged, fermented, and cultured foods: Yogurt, kombucha, miso, tempeh, apple-cider vinegar, and pickled vegetables. Tryptophan: Turkey, other meats, and chickpeas, especially when combined with carbohydrates. Vitamins D, B1, B6, A, C, and E. Minerals: Magnesium, potassium, and selenium. Spices: Turmeric. Herbs: Lavender, passionflower, and chamomile. Foods to Avoid: The components of the Western diet: Foods high in bad fats (red meat, fried foods) and high-GI carbs (white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, and anything else made from refined flour). Caffeine: Keep caffeine consumption under 400 mg/day. Alcohol: For men, stay under 14 drinks per week and no more than 2 drinks in any single day; for women, stay under 7 drinks per week and no more than 1 drink in any single day. By cutting back slowly, you will help lower anxiety. Gluten: If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, avoid all wheat products, such as bread, pizza, pasta, and many alcoholic drinks. Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame is particularly harmful, but also saccharin. Use sucralose and stevia in moderation and with caution.


The Western diet is particularly destructive to PTSD patients, so let’s first consider the effects of the abundance of fat (as always, when I talk about high-fat diets, I mean diets high in unhealthy fats like saturated fat, trans fats, and fats used in fried food, rather than healthy fats such as omega-3s or those found in olive oil). In human studies, it is clear that PTSD affects metabolism in a way that promotes overeating and obesity. Sugar and high-GI carbs are also destructive to the traumatized brain. One study found that acute stress increased cortisol and blood glucose after a meal. This was consistent with another study that demonstrated that women with PTSD had twice the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to women without PTSD. High blood sugar affects the ability of the hippocampus to react to stress. As a result, when people are dealing with trauma, eating sugary foods may compromise the brain’s ability to deal with that stress. High-GI carbohydrates, like potatoes, white bread, and white rice, can have a similar effect. Foods with a low glycemic index (low GI) can help prevent sudden spikes in blood sugar. It’s important to know which foods increase blood glucose more than others. For example, a banana increases blood glucose more than an apple, which has the same amount of carbohydrates. And a boiled sweet potato increases blood glucose more than a boiled carrot. You can reduce the GI of foods like rice by adding foods rich in dietary fiber, or by adding vinegar or beans or dairy products. In fact, one study found that you can reduce the GI of white rice by 20–40 percent in this. As long as you make an effort to understand how it affects your body and brain, consider your individual sensitivities, and eat unhealthy foods only in moderation, finding ways to integrate your favorite foods into your diet will ultimately have a positive effect. There has been considerable controversy over the years about whether MSG is toxic or not. However, that matter is considered close to settled in modern nutrition circles: extensive scientific studies have demonstrated that MSG is safe at ordinary levels, and some studies show that it may even promote digestion and metabolism of food in the gut. However, in sensitive individuals, MSG may cause problems including brain toxicity. PTSD patients are particularly likely to be vulnerable to excess glutamates, leading to increased brain inflammation and the destruction of brain cells. Foods that contain MSG and other glutamates include fish sauce, oyster sauce, tomato sauce, miso, Parmesan cheese, savory snacks, chips, ready-to-eat meals, mushrooms, and spinach. Glutamic acid, a precursor of glutamate that has similar effects, is also found in seaweed, cheeses, soy sauce, fermented beans, tomatoes, and high-protein foods like meats and seafood. Blueberries have an anti-inflammatory effect. One study found that a blueberry-enriched diet increased serotonin levels in the brain and reduced free radicals and inflammation. When looking to bolster your omega-3s, general rules of thumb to remember are: Eat fish, especially farmed, fatty fish from reliable sources. If you eat beef, use grass-fed beef. If you’re vegetarian, use organic canola oil and seek out foods fortified with omega-3s. Every time you expose yourself to stress, it can damage the cells in your body the same way that powerful environmental pollutants can. Chronic PTSD means your brain is constantly stressed and therefore flooded with free radicals. Vitamin E is part of the body’s defense system against free radicals. Just 1 tablespoon of wheat germ oil a day will give you your total vitamin E requirement. Other sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, dry-roasted almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, spinach, broccoli, and raw tomatoes. 

PTSD CHEAT SHEET Foods to Embrace: Blueberries: ½–1 cup per day. Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. Vitamin E. Spices: Turmeric. Supplements: Ginkgo biloba. Foods to Avoid: The components of the Western diet: Foods high in bad fats (red meat, fried foods) and high-GI carbs (white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, and anything else made from refined flour). Sugar: Baked goods, candy, soda, or anything sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. MSG, other glutamates, and glutamic acid: Fish sauce, oyster sauce, tomato sauce, miso, Parmesan cheese, savory snacks, chips, ready-to-eat meals, mushrooms, spinach, seaweed, cheeses, soy sauce, fermented beans, tomatoes, and high-protein foods like meats and seafood. Some of these foods also have positive impacts. It is all about working out a personalized nutrition plan.

Next week we will discuss ADHD and Memory.