Mind food: Eat well for mental healthAt times like these, it’s just as important as ever to look after yourself and maintain a healthy diet—with whatever resources you have.
There is surely an element of truth to the saying “you are what you eat”.
What you eat not only affects your waistline, it affects your mood and mental health. Eat badly and eat junk, and you might find yourself feeling not only bloated and heavy, but surly and lowly.
That said, at a time like this, when Nepal has been told to stay home amid concerns it will be overrun by the global pandemic, it’s high time we look after ourselves. Finding time to stretch and exercise, and busy yourself, is certainly important—but so is what you eat.
Dr Prabhakar Pokhrel, a Kathmandu-based consultant psychiatrist, said the importance of eating well starts when you wake up each morning.
“A good breakfast has regularly been associated with mental levels and your being more healthy, there’s some evidence of that,” said Pokhrel. But from what Pokhrel told the Post, it seems not all breakfasts might be equal.
“When it comes to particular foods that affect your mood, high glucose foods may lift your mood,” he said. But there’s a catch, according to the psychiatrist, who added that over time they may end up being detrimental to mood.
“But that’s really difficult research to establish, because there are other foods that alter your mood [such as chocolate], but they will not have a standard effect,” Pokhrel added.
The reason high-glucose foods affect mood is because of the swings in blood sugar levels, something that can have several effects on mood, people’s clarity of mind, and erratic energy levels. One example of the high glucose foods is rice, Pokhrel said, which compromises the quality of daily dal bhat.
“Fibrous vegetables and dal, which is high in protein; turmeric, which has antiseptic properties—these are great. Where people go wrong is that in Nepal there’s too much rice,” he said, adding it should only constitute 30 to 40 percent of the plate.
Food and drink is also crucial to think about when it comes to sleep, which is another proven stalwart in keeping healthy. In fact, one paper in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, linked sleep apnoea to depression, which shows how important a good night’s sleep really is.
Pokrhel suggests staying away from food at least two hours before going to bed, as it could disrupt the quality of sleep, and that high-fibre foods would aid in digestion. That goes for drinks as well.
“Coffee is obviously not good for your sleep, which is then not good for your mental health,” he said.
But Jagganath Lamichhane, a mental rights activist, said it’s not just about food; it’s about mentally and physically stimulating one’s self.
Whether that’s just doing some yoga, or gardening if you have a garden, any little bit helps; meditation is also a mentally-stimulating practice that can help, Lamichhane said.
“You should eat well, but we should find ways to be more physical. That’s actually connected to mental health and wellbeing too,” said Lamichhane, who added that lower activity levels might lead to lower motivation to eat well.
But Lamichhane added that eating well was not an exclusive term, rather he encouraged people to eat as well as they possibly could, given their personal access to certain foods.
“It’s a time of difficulty, it’s a time of uncertainty, and people may not be able to buy when they need to eat,” he said. But it’s not necessarily or solely about eating healthily, as cooking for loved ones and for oneself can be a form of therapy. There are several accounts of people suffering through grief who have found salvation in baking, and sometimes cooking.