This year the focus for Mental Health Awareness Week is body image, and these days with perfect ideals continually streamed through our social media feeds, it’s almost impossible not to feel the pressure.

It’s not uncommon to go to extreme lengths to try and change our external appearance with the hope of improving how we feel on the inside, despite the fact we know it doesn’t work.

Diet culture is everywhere and while it’s hard to let go of body hang ups and external pressures, it’s important to remember just how incredible the human body is. It’s far more interesting and a much more positive mindset to think about all the incredible things our bodies can do, rather than how they look.

Running marathons, giving birth, emotional intelligence and our capacity for rational thinking are just a few examples of our capabilities. As a human being I naturally have my own hang ups, but as Nutritionist, I like to remind myself of this and shift focus to nourishing my body with the food it needs and steering well clear of restrictive diets – which in turn helps to ease the mind.

Top 5 tips tips to nourish your body and ease your mind:

  1. Eat yourself happy – choose foods that boost ‘happy hormones’. Protein contains amino acids that form the building blocks of neurotransmitters, including serotonin which encourages feelings of calm, well-being, optimism and happiness. Meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds, beans and pulses are all good sources.
  • Choose healthy fats – our brain is around 60% fat and to make sure it’s in good working order choose those that are rich in omega 3 which is also important for the production of dopamine and linked to mental wellbeing. Oily fish is the best complete source, so try to eat salmon, mackerel, tuna or herring 3-4 times per week. Too fishy? Add flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts to your meals, or try flax and walnut oils for salad dressings.
  • Stay hydrated – if you don’t drink enough, you might find it difficult to concentrate. Aim for approximately 2 litres per day, water is your best option. Tea and coffee also count but if you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine limit to 1-2 cups per day as too much may cause feelings of anxiety and disrupt sleep.
  • Balance blood sugar – our brains’ preferred source of fuel is glucose, most readily obtained from carbohydrates. Cravings for stodgy comfort foods or sugary snacks are completely natural in response to stress, it’s our body’s way of getting a quick boost. There’s nothing better than a cup of tea or coffee with a slice of cake but while the sugar/caffeine combo helps lift us out of an energy rut, it can be short lived and leave us tired and irritable, with cravings for more of the same. If this ‘blood sugar rollercoaster’ sounds familiar aim for regular meals and snacks (every 3-4 hours) to help keep you on an even keel.
  • Combine carbohydrates with protein and healthy fats – which work to slow digestion and the release of sugar into our blood. Whole grains are broken down gradually, providing a steady stream of glucose for the brain and B vitamins for energy. At breakfast, top porridge and fruit (carbs) with Greek yoghurt (protein), nuts and seeds (fats). Snack on oatcakes (carbs) with houmous (protein) or nut butter (protein/fats) or an apple with a handful of nuts, then include fish, meat or pulses (protein/fats) at lunch and dinner.  
Mental Health Awareness Week by the Mental Health Foundation
Image courtesy of the Mental Health Foundation