by Jennifer Zmurchyk – Prairie Sky Wellness
When I first began my journey in 2016 towards health and well being I eventually ended up in a place where I am now effectively managing Type 1 Bipolar disorder. The thing that made the most significant impact for me in being able to manage this illness was drastically changing my diet.
Now I understand that a lot of people may not want to hear that because me saying ‘you are what you eat’ sounds a lot like a lecture, however in my own experience this is an absolutely true statement and it significantly improved my life. When I changed my diet, initially I didn’t notice any real difference with my Bipolar Disorder however what I did experience right away was weight loss. A lot of people who are taking psychiatric medications will understand when I say that the side effect of significant weight gain from psych meds is pretty upsetting, and to see that the dietary changes were helping me to drop some of the weight caused by the medication initially kept me going. Then after two months of eating well something miraculous happened – I felt a definite change in my mental clarity, and physically I felt better. Significantly better. This success that I had when changing my diet prompted me to continue making other changes in my life and these changes were aided by the mental clarity I experienced from dietary improvements. This one small victory lead to a series of victories that snow balled and enabled me to take my life back from the clutches of mental illness.
Getting off of processed food…
When I began researching the psychiatric medication I was taking and how it worked in blocking certain dopamine receptors, and subsequently found out that processed food causes the brain to release dopamine, I made the conclusion that perhaps the chemicals in the foods I was eating were affecting the efficiency of the medication.
I made the decision at this point to completely stop eating processed food, and the transition was way easier than I thought it would be.
“Another form of addiction?
In addition to physical effects, eating processed/junk food can cause serious psychological effects. Consumption of these foods causes the brain to release dopamine. When done repeatedly and chronically, the dopamine receptors will start to down-regulate. In the presence of high amounts of dopamine, the brain removes dopamine receptors for balance. But, with fewer receptors, more dopamine is required to reach them. This is known as “tolerance,” and is a tell-tale sign of addiction. Fewer dopamine receptors and less dopamine activity leads to feelings of unhappiness and the need to get a “fix.” This is known as “withdrawal,” another hallmark of addiction.”
We are trained through the media to believe that processed foods are a good choice because they are convenient and quick to prepare, but I have found that is just as fast to make a nice plate of steamed broccoli with a delicious butter/garlic sauce than to cook up a pot of boxed macaroni and cheese. That being said, it is difficult in the modern age to completely cut out all chemicals in the diet, however the immense physical and mental health benefits far outweigh the perceived ‘convenience’ of junk food.
Eating food close to source…
Another common roadblock people face when choosing to eat healthy is cost. Like advertisers convincing us that convenience foods are far quicker to prepare than healthy foods, there is a lot of misinformation misleading people to believe that eating healthy is more expensive.
Though it may be slightly more expensive, a research study done by Harvard University shows that it only costs an extra $1.50 per day to eat healthy. From my own experience eating healthy has not had an effect on my budget, and as a divorced single mother with two children to support I need to closely monitor my spending. The easiest way to implement this for me was to begin eating food closest to its original source, and it was not hard to do once I made the commitment towards better health. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive, but I found frozen vegetables to be a great cost effective alternative with the bonus of quick and easy preparation. I also began cooking and baking from scratch which gave me complete control of what me and my family were eating, and I found that it did not take that much more time to prepare a completely home made meal as opposed to something from a box.
In conclusion I would like to say that yes the dietary changes I made were ‘drastic’, however they were quite easy to implement and did not make a noticable difference in my food budget or time expended. And the benefits such as weight loss and physical and mental well being far exceeded the extra effort required. Also, knowing that I am providing my family with healthy and nutritious foods is a great feeling. Yes my kids still get the odd bag of potato chips or a chocolate bar; I am not a drill sergeant when it comes to food, but they have benefited in the same way that I did when I decided to put my health and well being first and foremost, which trickled down to improvements in all of our lives.