by Mary Ellen Copeland 
Mental Health Recovery Newsletter 1.3, Copyright: Mary Ellen Copeland, 2000  All Rights Reserved

In my studies it has been confirmed again and again that diet definitely affects all aspects of how you feel.  The curious thing about diet is that the effects of what is eaten vary widely from person to person.   For instance, you may find that dairy foods make you feel calm and help you to sleep.  However, they cause me so much gastrointestinal distress that I get uncomfortable, irritable and even depressed.  You may find that tomatoes make you feel agitated while they don't seem to affect someone else at all. 

It's a good idea to figure out which foods make you feel better or don't bother you and those you may want to avoid because they make you feel worse.  Do this by: 

  1. noticing how you feel right after you eat certain foods and how you feel several hours later;

  2. eliminating from your diet for a week a food that you think might be making you feel badly, then noticing how you feel when you don't eat thatfood and how you feel after you begin eating that food again;

  3. studying various self-help resources on how foods can affect the way you feel, then making changes accordingly;

  4. addressing diet issues with a nutritionist or naturopathic physician (many general practitioners have little training in diet or nutrition, and n the worst cases may disregard their importance).  A nutritionist or naturopathic physician could also advise you on the use of food supplementsand herbs.

You will find that work on your diet is through trial and error.  As you continue to work on this issue, you will customize a diet for yourself that  works best for you. 

What is a healthy diet?  You can use the Food Guide Pyramid developed by the United States Department of Agriculture, (Home & Garden Bulletin Number 252), which follows, as a guide to what you should eat each day.  Adapt it according to what you have learned about your own special needs and issues.  * 3-5 servings of vegetables * 2-4 servings of fruit * 6-11 servings of grain based foods * 2-3 servings of milk, yogurt and cheese * 2-3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts * use sparingly: fats, oils and sweets 

Focus on foods that are wholesome, natural and fresh.  Many people complain that these foods are more costly than highly processed and junk foods. However, they are very high in nutritive value while most junk foods have little or no nutritive value and are not worth what they cost.  You can stretch your food budget by spending little or nothing on unhealthy or junk foods and buying healthy foods instead.  An added bonus, if extra weight is an issue for you, is that a diet focused on wholesome, natural and fresh foods is a good weight-reduction diet.  Loss of weight often correlates with feeling better about yourself and your appearance, and a lessening of symptoms.

Some people do well when they eat three good meals a day.  Other people find that they do better if they eat five or six small meals throughout the day.  Experiment with what works best for you.

If you have medical problems like diabetes, hypoglycemia or heart disease, adhere strictly to the diet prescribed by your doctor. You will be the beneficiary. 

Many people find that an excess of protein in their diets makes them feel agitated and irritated.  An excess of carbohydrates can make you feel tired and sleepy.  There will be some differences from person to person.

Most people find that the following foods worsen symptoms significantly and  choose to limit their use of these foods, or eliminate them from their diet entirely: * sugar. * highly processed foods like white bread, donuts, cakes, cookies, TV dinners, canned spaghetti and sugared breakfast cereals. *  anything that contains caffeine, like coffee, tea, cola drinks and chocolate. * foods that contain a lot of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and other additives (you can tell if this is the case if there are lots of words you can't pronounce in the list of ingredients). 

I include those foods I know I need to eat every day in my Daily Maintenance Plan - like suggestions from the Food Guide Pyramid, and a listing of those foods I need to avoid - like sugar and caffeine.  In my plan for responding to Early Warning Signs, my tool is to look back over my diet in the last few days to see if I have been eating poorly and make a diet correction if necessary.  In my crisis plan I have a list of healthy foods I really enjoy that others can easily prepare for me when I am having a very hard time.  You may come up with other ways you can include diet issues in your WRAP. 

                        copyright 2000 Mary Ellen Copeland  All Rights Reserved