Mood follows Food: What is Nutritional Psychotherapy?

From the moment we put a piece of food in our mouth, we set off a chain of chemical reactions throughout the body. Hormones, peptides, neurotransmitters, and thousands of other processes begin to transform our food into the building blocks of our cells and the energy we need to live our lives. 

Each bite brings us closer to health or further away from it

What has been traditionally categorized in a wide swath as “mental illness” covers a wide variety of causes including, but not limited to, nutritional deficiencies, toxicity, inflammation, disturbances in the microbiome, infections, blood sugar issues, and food allergies and sensitivities. 

At the most basic level, we know that we need to eat to survive, but that is often as far as we get. To make matters more complicated and confusing, there is still a lot of misinformation and conflicting nutrition information. The majority of people still believe in a calories in calories out model. While caloric intake is an essential factor, it isn’t the only one, and all calories are not created equal. The quality of our food, macro- and micro-nutrient profiles, and if it is a whole food or processed, make a world of difference for our physical and mental health. 

Why does it matter?

The components of your food such as proteins, fats, fiber, sugars, amino acids, antioxidants, etc. are utilized by the body in the repair and creation of new cells and vital in the production of chemicals that help facilitate every chemical reaction in the body. If we are consuming nutrient-poor foods or foods laden with toxins and chemicals, that is what is being utilized to build our cells and assist in energy production and all bodily processes. 

Imagine it like this, you have just bought a brand new car, it is fast, beautiful, fun to drive, and it runs great, but the first time you run out of gas, you pull up to the pump and put in unleaded instead of premium in the tank. You put the correct amount of gas in the tank but the wrong kind. Your car continues to run, but over time it doesn’t drive as well; you have less power and reduced gas mileage. Then you’re having to maintenance it more and more, and most likely, it will stop running before it should. 

Ultimately, costing you more in the long run

Our bodies are the same way. Our bodies are amazing and adaptive and will compensate and adjust for blows to the system i.e. lack of sleep, poor diet, chronic stress, substances use, etc., for a while. It will do amazing things to keep the system functioning optimally until it can’t anymore. Then we begin to see symptoms, although the symptoms may start in just one area, symptomatology rarely occurs independently. Most likely, it is evidence of a systemic issue or not properly fueling and maintaining the system. 

What we eat impacts every part of our bodies, including our immune system, mood, energy, health, and wellbeing, and every cell in the human body is replaced every seven years. 

Are you building a new, more resilient body? Or a sicker one?

What this means for the 26% of Americans with mental health diagnoses is that there are a variety of complementary, alternative, and integrative approaches they may help stabilize mood and provide healing. The emerging field of Nutritional Psychology looks at how nutrient intake impacts mood, stress tolerance, inflammation, energy, sleep, cognition, and behavioral dysfunction, with a focus on how diet plays an essential role in mental health and wellbeing.

By viewing the body as a complex interconnected system and by addressing root causes, nutritional therapy can assist clients in getting unstuck from chronic physical and mental conditions. For some people, conventional psychology and psychiatry can be vital and life savings. However, for others, alternative approaches can help where conventional methods have failed, or they do not want to be on psychiatric medications or want to support and enhance the work they are already doing with their psychiatrist or therapist. 

Some areas that a nutritional psychotherapist may assess are diet, sleep, exercise, gut health, light exposure, community, nature exposure, mindfulness, stress reduction, life satisfaction, and many more. By optimizing our life, we optimize our mental health.

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