Monday-ISH Mental health basic skill course - week 2

(This entry is directly taken from course material used in a peer led group support session in Second Life and as such, was designed to be used in an informal group situation. Please bear that in mind when reading)

This week’s section of our eight week course is:


I’m going to be going through our nutrition section. Please save comments or questions until I ask just because it’ll help us manage our time better.

Before we start I want to talk a little about judgement. This is a judgement free zone. The point of this module is to talk about things that affect our health - mental and physical. This is not a judgement on how you eat or how much weight you are carrying. You may be carrying some extra weight, you may not be carrying enough weight - there’s no judgement on any of that here. Please don’t be afraid to talk about it when you need to because it’s very important that you feel like you can.


If you are taking medication then you should consult your doctor before making any major dietary changes. For example if you are taking an MAOI (which is a type of antidepressant) changes in diet which include the introduction of fermented, matured, cured, hung or dried foods are inadvisable. These foods typically contain a higher level of tyramine and the interaction between tyramine and MAOI can be very dangerous.

Likewise the level of lithium in your blood can be affected by changing the amount of salt or fluid in your diet and introducing grapefruit can affect how much of your anti-anxiety medication can get into your blood flow.

So as you can see, it really is vital that you seek medical advice before changing your diet if taking medication. I can not stress this point enough. Please don't do anything dangerous or anything that would impact your health in a negative way.

If you're aware that you have an eating disorder (diagnosed or undiagnosed) please seek advice and guidance from your doctor/psychologist regarding your nutrition plan.

That doesn't mean that you can't learn from this course module or that you aren’t welcome to participate but you should understand that some/much of this may not apply to you.

✦ Food Diaries

Food diaries can be very useful. Recording changes in your diet and writing down how your mood has been that day (or even multiple times through the day) can help you track if anything particular is influencing how you think/feel/function. It can help you figure out which foods are helping to trigger positive changes and negative changes and help you to adjust your diet accordingly. Seeing it all written down can also be really useful in your goal to help you eat more healthily.

Food diaries can be purchased from places like Amazon, but it’s really not necessary as you can absolutely make your own. You could use a notepad and pen, google sheets, google docs or whatever program you prefer to work with. You can also download blank templates from the internet and print them out or use a PDF program to edit them.

You can also find apps on your app store on your phone or tablet and fill them out that way.

When I started working on this section, I was going to create a notecard to link a bunch of templates and diary designs that you can make use of. But honestly, there are so many options with a wide range or level of complication that I decided the NC would have to be REALLY long in order to give a good overview of what’s out there. Instead, I’m just going to give you guys a couple of links to bookmark which will show you some options.

I highly recommend you make use of google and search terms such as, "food diaries for mental health" to have a good look at what's out there. If you do decide to make your own this will help you decide which components you want to use or which you feel are necessary in templates, apps or purchased options.

✦ Blood Sugar and fat


A drop in your blood sugar levels can cause a sudden drop in your mood. It is therefore important (especially if you suffer from unstable moods) that you make sure that your nutrition isn't also messing with you.

If you can't manage to eat regular main meals, then try breaking it down. Have smaller portions spaced out through the day (little and often).

What you eat is also important. If you're surviving on foods with high sugar or fat then you're going to experience spikes and drops in your blood sugar that could also impact your mood. Alcohol also does this, even if you aren't drinking enough to get drunk.

I know for some people it's hard, but breakfast actually is really important. Starting off the day with a nutritionally balanced meal can really aid in your mental health balance.

Slow release energy foods are also a really good option. Foods like pasta, rice, wholegrain bread and cereal, nuts and seeds can help to keep you stabilized.

Your brain needs fatty acids (such as omega-3 and -6) to keep it working well. So rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the right ones.

Healthy fats are found in: oily fish, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados, milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs.

Quick tip:

Try to avoid anything which lists ‘trans fats’ or ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ in the list of ingredients (such as some shop-bought cakes and biscuits). They can be tempting when you’re feeling low, but this kind of fat isn't good for your mood or your physical health in the long run.

Remember: To find trans fats you’re looking for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on the ingredients list that is usually found near the nutrition facts panels. If one of these ingredients is listed, the food item contains trans fats.


✦ Hydration


Fluid intake matters. If you don't drink enough fluids during the day you may start to notice that your concentration drops, as does your capacity to think clearly, which again affects your ability to make good, healthy choices.

Being dehydrated is likely to make you feel crappy in general.

In two recent studies, researchers at the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory discovered the mental, mood and cognitive downside of even mild dehydration.

Investigators determined that it did not matter if a person had just walked for 40 minutes on a treadmill or was sitting at rest – the adverse effects from mild dehydration were the same.

The take home message is that individuals need to stay hydrated at all times, not just during exercise, extreme heat or exertion.

Alcohol does not count towards your fluid intake. Sorry.

People can check their hydration status by monitoring the color of their urine. Urine should be a very pale yellow in individuals who are properly hydrated.

Urine that is dark yellow or tan in color indicates greater dehydration.

If your urine is completely clear (regularly - not just occasionally) this is an indication that you are over hydrated which can cause a drop in your electrolytes.

Sometimes we think we’re hungry but actually it’s just thirst. So if you’re feeling like you’re kinda hungry but you ate fairly recently, try drinking a glass of water and wait ten minutes to see how you feel then. However, if you haven’t eaten, don’t try to replace food with water. Your body needs both.

Quality of fluid also matters. Tea and coffee certainly contribute to your fluid intake (it's a myth that they don't as the hydrating aspects of the fluid you're drinking outweigh the diuretic quality of tea and coffee) but they should not be the ONLY things you drink. As in all things, use balance. Try and make sure you're also getting some water in there too.

Helpful tip: If you're particularly thirsty, you're already dehydrated and need to up your fluid intake.


✦ Fruit and vegetables


A study from Australia in 2016 found improvements in psychological well-being after increases in fruit and vegetable consumption. Researchers wanted to know if this finding held true using a larger sample (more than 40,000 participants) from the UK Household Longitudinal Study.

Analysis showed that increases in the consumption of fruit and vegetables are linked to increases in self-reported mental well-being and life satisfaction in data that spans a five-year period, even after accounting for other determinants of mental well-being such as physical health, income and consumption of other foods.

Fruit and vegetables contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fiber we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy. Eating a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables every day means you’ll get a good range of nutrients.

It is recommended that you should eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

On average, a portion of fruit or veg is equivalent to 80g. Below are some examples of what counts as one portion: 1 apple, banana, pear, orange or other similar sized fruit or 3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables, beans or pulses.

It is completely understandable that money is an issue for some people, but there are ways to get vegetables if you're low on funds. Frozen vegetables are just as good for you as fresh and in some cases better because they tend to be frozen right after picking whereas fresh vegetables have to be transferred to the store and then your home. Likewise canned vegetables are also a totally valid option. Whatever you can fit in your budget is basically the right choice for you.


✦ Protein


Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings. It also helps keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Protein is in: lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), soya products, nuts and seeds.

Some cheap sources of protein (for poor people like me) are: Peanut butter, eggs, canned tuna, plain Greek yogurt (read the label - often "Greek yogurt, isn't really Greek yogurt. If it says "Greek style" that's not it.) sunflower seeds, black beans, sardines, cottage cheese, oats, milk, pumpkin seeds, canned salmon and ground turkey.

Proteins and vegetables can be safer for mood swings than too many carbs.

Protein also helps you to feel more satisfied after you’ve eaten and you’re more likely to avoid unhealthy snacking if you’re making sure that you’re balancing your nutrition plan with healthy amounts of protein.

✦ Healthy fat

This was a major thing for me when I found out about it because I had the attitude that oil = bad = unhealthy. Not true. Unsaturated fats found in things like olive oil is actually very good for you and your mental health.

If you’re looking for a nutritional theme that is rich in flavour have a look at mediteratian nutrition. They tend to eat food that is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.) supplemented with fish oil. A recent study found that this style of diet led to a reduction in depression among participants which was sustained for 6 months after intervention.

I tend to use (almost exclusively) olive and extra virgin olive oil for my fat when cooking. You can even lightly drizzle extra virgin olive oil over salads, as in mediterannian style cooking. Doing research into things like the oils you use to cook can be a really valuable effort that pays off in the long run.

✦ Diets

I’m going to start this section by telling you that I don’t like diets. Any diets. Period. I’ve been very careful in this whole module to use the word “nutrition” instead of “diet”. When I do use the word diet, I mean nutrition.. Not A DIET. Usually, for example, when talking about the Mediterranean style of cooking it’s phrased as “Mediterranean diet” but I’ve tried very hard to stay away from that word (because of the implications) - unsuccessfully as it turns out and I’m going to caution you do to the same if possible.

Please don’t get me wrong, if something works for you and is being done in a healthy way, I totally support you and I think it’s great but in general I personally don’t like diets.

They are often about results as opposed to health. If you are constantly going in and out of dieting you’re causing a yo-yo effect on your body that can cause negative health risks such as increased risk of heart disease, poor mental health, long lasting negative impacts on your metabolism and forcing your body in and out of starvation mode.

The reason that forcing your body in and out of starvation mode is dangerous is because when you do that, your body responds by slowing down a lot of its normal functions in order to conserve energy.

Dieters often don’t get enough calcium, leaving them at risk for osteoporosis, stress fractures, and broken bones.

Dieting also impacts your mind. When you restrict calories you restrict your energy, which in turn can restrict your brainpower.

Medical studies indicate that people on diets have slower reaction times and a lesser ability to concentrate than people not on a diet.

All of the stress and anxiety about food and weight that preoccupy dieters actually can consume a portion of a dieters’ working memory capacity and again, it's not great for your mental health in general.

Numerous studies link chronic dieting with feelings of depression, low-self-esteem and increased stress

You are worth so much more than what you weigh. You deserve a healthy body and a healthy outlook towards your mental health - dieting is not a way to get either.

The only way to get long lasting results for your body and mind is to focus on a healthy, balanced nutrition plan that works for you, your energy levels and your finances. If it’s not sustainable for you, it’s not a good nutrition plan.

Stay away from extremes. You should be including things that you enjoy as part of your balance. Everything is about balance - too much or too little of anything is not healthy. If you have trouble finding the balance you can absolutely find apps and tools online that will help you find that. You can even find plates (or make your own) that will help you mark out what you’re eating into a balanced nutrition plan.

✦ Final thoughts

As with everything we advise at SOS - START SMALL. Small steps are the way to big changes. Do not feel like you have to look at the whole picture. Look at small things you can do and focus on each piece and getting that piece stable before adding a new one.

For example - are you lacking in the fluid intake department. Try setting reminders in your phone to literally drink something at regular intervals. Once you have that down, then maybe you could look at making your snacking a little healthier by keeping some precut fruit and veggies in the fridge within easy reach. Once you have that down for a week or two.. Then move on to another area you want to tackle.

This is not a race. You are not competing. You do not have to have everything down and some weeks, you won’t do as well as you want to - that’s ok. Show yourself kindness and compassion. Again.. There are no points being awarded here. You’re ok. Just pick it up again when you’re able to.. Maybe even go back a step or three if you need to and pick it up at a point that feels manageable for you.

You are amazing just for trying.. And that’s all that matters. Celebrate yourself and as always, if you can’t.. message me, Kitten Meridoc inworld so *I* can celebrate you.

Our next Installment in this series takes place on Monday 22nd March at 2pm SLT where we'll be focusing on sleep.

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