Healthy Eating for Mental Health (1-4)

       After trying every diet that I could find, and failing, I decided that dieting didn't work for me. First, and most importantly, I always experienced negative psychological side effects from dieting. If I cut calories, I was miserable. That isn't a great state to be in when I am trying to stay out of deep depressions or to keep myself from having panic attacks. 

       When I followed any of the diet plans out there, they all had me cut out one of the three macronutrients (fats, proteins or carbohydrates), depending on which diet it was. If I cut out fat, I became highly agitated as if my brain was on overload (I would later find out why). If I cut out all protein, I felt as if my muscles were being weakened from my workouts. If I cut out all carbs, I was lethargic and unable garner the resolve required to workout. 

       The only thing that I could find that all the books had in common was that they all said to stay away from sugar. My psychiatrist had told me I should cut out sugar as well. If you are interested in a few of the reasons he mentioned, you can read this short article out of Psychology Today. It sums up what he said very nicely. (Psychology Today Sugar Article) 

       Reducing sugar presented a real problem for me because I love it. I tried a million different times in a million different ways to cut out sugar. Then it hit me; fruit is sweet and healthy. I drastically reduce my sugar cravings by eating fruit. That is where I started. I have learned a great deal over the past four years that I have since implemented, but this is where it all started for me. 

       When I drastically cut down on refined sugars, my life started changing dramatically. Anytime I have a sugar craving I eat fruit. I have found other things that have revolutionized how I feel and perform, and I will share more about those in later posts, but it all started here. 

       In case you are worried about eating too much fruit, check out this video from I think you will find it amazing, and it will free you up to eat as much fruit as you need to kick sugar to the curb!
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As always I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource and is staffed by wonderful people. 
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:

       Dieting and calorie counting caused me an enormous amount of anxiety and depression, two things I have never needed help with. The last time I left a mental facility I was horribly out of shape, I weighed 314 pounds, and my body image was horrible. Of course, that awful body image just added to my anxiety and depression. For my own mental, as well as physical, well-being I knew I had to do something. 

       At first, I wasn't able to exercise much. My weight, and the swelling in my feet from all the medications I was having to take, made walking for more than five minutes nearly impossible. So, I walked as much as I could. However, in the beginning, what I ate was what had the greatest impact. I found out that the foods people eat greatly impact how they feel, which the video at the end of this post, from Dr. Greger, will demonstrate. The reason I eat healthier now is because the better I feel, and the more energy I have, the more I am able to run/exercise. The more I am able to exercise, the better I feel and the more energy I have. It is a wonderful cycle. It is finally that simple for me. 

       After I drastically reduced my refined sugar consumption, I stopped all dieting, and I completely stopped counting calories. Over the years, I had tried a multitude of diets. I wanted to find a way of eating that helped me mentally and physically. In the past, I tried: Raw Foods Diet, Atkins Diet, Pritikin Diet, Paleo Diet, South Beach Diet, The Mediterranean Diet, etc. If dieting worked, then we would all be skinny, vibrant and healthy. However, that is not the case. 

       The American Medical Association released its latest report which indicates that 68% of Americans are overweight or obese. Marketdata released its report showing that roughly $60 billion is being spent each year on diet and weight loss products in the U.S. alone. Colorado University conducted a nationwide survey and found that a little over one-third of all women and one-quarter of all men in the United States are on a diet. The sad fact is, The University of California did a one year follow up with people who had reported that they were going on a diet, and they found that nearly seventy percent regained more weight than when they had started. 

       Obviously, there are major problems with the foods that we eat, and the diets that we are told will solve all of our woes. The biggest problem I found with going on a diet is that the implication is that at some point I will be going off the diet. When I would go off of whatever diet it was, then the weight always came back. 

       Significantly cutting calories never works long term either, because our bodies perceive a famine. When that happens our leptin hormone levels go crazy. Everything we eat is maximized, and fat is stored at every opportunity. Not to mention, most people are not going to starve themselves for the rest of their lives. That is one of the reasons why, when I would go off of a diet, I would immediately gain the weight back. My body was simply self-regulating and trying to save me from the famine that it perceived I had just been in. Add to all of that, the simple fact was, when I was cutting calories or on some diet,  I was miserable. I work hard every day not to be miserable; I don't need to add to my workload. 

       After my last discharge, I knew I had to do something immediately. I heard someone on a documentary say that people needed to stop worrying about taking things out of their meals, and start adding things in. What that meant for me was to stop worrying about everything I ate and didn't eat. All I had to do was add as much of the good stuff in as possible and eventually the bad stuff would be crowded out. NO restrictions. I simply needed to fill up as much as possible on the fruits and vegetables that I love. When I did that, then I could eat whatever else I wanted. 

       The results were astonishing. I couldn't believe it. I wasn't obsessed with food anymore. I wasn't counting calories. I wasn't denying myself anything. I immediately started feeling better. I started losing an enormous amount of weight. My body image started improving. Because of all that, now I rarely crave the unhealthy stuff. When I do, though, I eat something healthy first, and then eat it. No big deal. I don't deprive myself. I never allow myself to go hungry. I simply stick to the healthy foods I enjoy most and eat them as often as possible. The following lists of fruits and vegetables are exhaustive. I used them to remind myself of the things that I truly love. I had forgotten many of the things on them. 

       I wrote a list of the vegetables and fruits that I knew I would eat. For the first month or so, I took it with me to the grocery store. I knew if I didn't, I would forget half of what was on it while I was there. I get overwhelmed in grocery stores. Now, I remember without having to think about it. I will say that I found it easier in the beginning to buy things that I didn't have to cook. I needed something I could grab and eat on my way to devour fast food or eat ice-cream. 

       Again, when I first started, I simply ate a few healthy things before I indulged in the unhealthy stuff. I could still eat what I wanted, but I ate healthy foods, that I loved, first. That way I got to eat the junk, but I ate less of it.  That was my next step. I have done a few other things, but I did those strictly to improve my running performance. If you are interested, I will be posting about eating to improve performance in the near future. Below is the video by Dr. Gregger. 
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As always I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource and is staffed by wonderful people. 
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:
This video is wonderful. The ending is a little funny and perhaps distracting; it was for me. Don't forget the message. If you need to go back a watch it again to let the message sink in, like I did, then please do.

       I hear three common concerns from readers when it comes to eating healthy foods. The first concern is that there isn't enough time in the day to cook healthy meals. The second concern involves not knowing how to cook in a healthy manner. The third is that healthy foods are too expensive to be eaten on a consistent basis, so many feel that they are forced to eat cheap and/or fast food. Next week I'll cover how to easily cook healthy meals, and how to do it in under fifteen minutes. I am living proof that this method works, even if someone is like me and is an idiot in the kitchen. It is unbelievably simple to do, and most dishes can be made using this technique. 

       First, however, I must go over the idea that eating healthy meals is too expensive, because if someone believes they can't afford it, they will never even try it. One of the first things I realized when researching how to eat healthy foods was the way in which food costs are measured. Typically, when someone is analyzing food costs, they measure the price of the calories, not the price of the nutrients. When I was researching healthy foods, I kept coming across the phrase "empty calories". What I found was that the authors were speaking of foods that were high in calories but nearly devoid of any real nutritional value. Cheap junk foods score horribly on the scale of vitamins and minerals per calorie. One of the most important factors I found was that when the price to nutrient levels of foods are compared, healthy foods are far less expensive. Check out this short clip from Dr. Gregger:

       So, the cost of healthy foods is drastically less, from a nutrition to calorie stand point. What was even more profound for me was when I figured in the overall cost of "cheap" foods. With whole foods, rich in fruits and vegetables, comes healthy weight, healthy blood pressure, healthy cholesterol levels and, the most important to me, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety (see Healthy Eating With Mental Illnesses Part 1 & 2). 

       With cheap food and fast food often comes obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, and anxiety. The Mental Health Foundation of the UK recently published a study that reports: 
Those who ate the most whole foods had a 26% lower risk of future depression than those who at the least whole foods. By contrast people with a diet high in processed food had a 58% higher risk of depression than those who ate very few processed foods. Dr. Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of The Mental Health Foundation, said: This study adds to an existing body of solid research that shows the strong links between what we eat and our mental health. We are particularly concerned about those who cannot access produce easily or live in areas where there are a high number of fast food restaurants and takeaways. 

       I remind myself of facts like those often, especially when I am under time constraints or if I'm experiencing symptoms and don't feel like preparing a meal (more on how to easily get around those impediments next week in Planning and Preparing Healthy Meals). It is at times like those, when it seems like it would be easier to get fast food or to munch on prepackaged junk, that I must be on guard. 

       Because processed and fast foods are what is marketed, we have been conditioned to believe that they are inexpensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ingredients are cheap, but they are not inexpensive. It is not hard to compare the cost of eating foods at home and eating out. For example, look at the prices of the "cheap" and healthier meals in the following info-graphics from The New York Times. Please understand that I am aware that readers will fall all along the health-food spectrum, from vegan to paleo. While what is the healthiest may be debatable, what is the unhealthiest is not. I have yet to find a vegan or paleo nutritionist who endorses eating refined grains, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, refined sugars, fried foods, foods with high levels of sodium or any highly processed food, of any kind. So, the principle here remains the same, no matter what the exact replacement meal would be.
       Now, when I took fast food off the table, I was faced with the task of finding enough affordable, healthy foods to keep my family and me happy. It is easy to see in those info-graphics that the meat is by far the most expensive part of the meal. If times are tight, that is one easy way to cut down drastically on grocery bills, cut down on meat consumption. In the last infographic simply taking out the bacon and the milk (and replacing it with water) would still leave a tasty, highly nutritious, meal for $5.92. 

       The real trick for me was to find healthy foods that can be easily prepared and that can be bought inexpensively. If it is difficult to prepare, I have found that my resolve will wane quickly, and we will be eating junk food again. Of course, this takes a little effort, but it is well worth it. I found all the best recipes online, for the least expensive foods I could think of, and I started cataloging them. What a lifesaver that has been. I couldn't believe the things that I could get for my money if I shopped wisely. There are so many reasonably priced foods that are healthy. For example, below is a list of a few of the things that can be purchased, in my area, for less than $1 per pound! 
Apples, Bananas, Barley, Beans, Bok Choy, Broccoli (frozen), Bulgur wheat, Cabbage, Carrots, Celery, Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), Cornmeal (Polenta), Cucumbers, Daikon, Radishes, Eggs, Green beans (frozen), Spinach, Kale, Mustard Greens, Collard Greens, Grapes (on sale), Grapefruit, Lentils, Mangoes, Oatmeal, Onions, Oranges, Whole Grain Pastas, Potatoes, Popcorn, Pumpkin (canned), Brown Rice, Rutabagas, Split peas, Squash (acorn, spaghetti, and zucchini), Sweet potatoes, Corn (frozen), Tomatoes (canned), Turnips, Yogurt (I realize that there are readers all over the world and that prices may vary greatly, but the point is that after I had done my research I was able to find many healthy foods at inexpensive prices)
       It is important to note that the true cost cannot always be accurately calculated by the pound. There are two major factors to consider when buying healthy foods, price per serving and how satiating the food actually is. The first may seem counterintuitive at first, but many times the more expensive cuts of meat turn out to be the least expensive, when the cost per serving is calculated. For example, a whole chicken yields roughly 2 servings per pound, while you can count on 4 servings from one pound of boneless chicken breasts. In my area, whole chickens cost around 25% less, but I'm getting half the servings, so the actual cost per serving for the more expensive chicken breasts turns out to be significantly less. 

       The second thing to take into consideration is how satiating the food is. For instance, even when grapes are on sale for less than $1 per pound, they are still relatively expensive. Because of their high water and sugar content, grapes don't keep a person as full for nearly as long as something that is packed with fiber, protein or healthy fats. Fiber, protein, and fats take much longer for the body to process than water and sugars, so they keep a person full much longer.
       A great example is two slices of 100% whole grain bread with two table spoons of almond butter or a healthy brand of peanut butter. At the stores I frequent, the cost for those slices of bread and almond/peanut butter comes out to sixty cents. It takes nearly a pound of grapes, by the time I take the vines out, to make a filling meal, which means that it costs nearly twice as much as the bread with the almond/peanut butter (and that's when the grapes are on sale). Also, because the bread is 100% whole grain, which means that it is full of fiber and because the almond/peanut butter is full of protein and healthy fats, it keeps me full far longer than the grapes. The meal is almost half as expensive and keeps me full nearly twice as long. That is a great example of how I get the biggest bang for my money. Now, I'm not saying that grapes are bad or that I never eat them, because that is not true. I simply had to realize that they were great for a dessert, but not to try and make a meal out of.
       One more example of a healthy, inexpensive meal for four, before I delve into this next week, is a box of 100% whole grain (wheat, quinoa, spelt, etc.) pasta and homemade tomato sauce (tomato sauces can be made in about ten minutes and in large batches to be frozen and used later). Add chilled grapes or orange slices for dessert, and the meal costs around $3.75, for a family of four. The entire time involved in making it is well under fifteen minutes, and that time is spent waiting for water to boil and sauce to reheat. 

       Of course, the more vegetables and fruits that a person can add into their diet the better, but if the month hasn't run out before the end of the money, there are fantastic alternatives to processed meats on white bread with potato chips. That is the point. 

       Where I live brown rice, beans, 100% whole grain bread and pasta, many vegetables and some fruits are extremely inexpensive, healthy, options. Again, I realize that in different parts of the world there are different selections, preferences, and prices. The concept I'm demonstrating here is that with a little research into what healthy foods are available in an area for a reasonable price, and with a little planning, eating healthy meals on a budget becomes a cinch. 

       Being able to quickly plan out the week's meals and then being able to prepare a dinner in under fifteen minutes, if I need to, is the key to my consistency. That is what next week's post will cover. 
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As always I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource and is staffed by wonderful people. 
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:

       Once I realized that I could afford to eat healthy meals on a budget (Healthy Meals On A Budget) I was then faced with the challenge of learning how to cook them. I am not a chef. I don't have all day to spend cooking or the patience to go to the grocery store several times per week. Grocery stores overwhelm me. Also, I knew that if symptoms were creeping up that I wouldn't feel like cooking. That would lead me to feel like I had failed, which would only make the symptoms worse. Needless to say, I was skittish about starting the process. 

       I have since realized that deciding to forge on, in spite of my fears, helped saved my life. Some may remember that when I started all of this I had just been released from another mental ward. I could barely walk due to my obesity and the swelling in my feet due to all the medications I was having to take. My doctor told me that I was on the verge of full-blown diabetes. My blood pressure was through the roof, and my resting heart rate was around 100bpm. I was in trouble, and I was desperate. I have learned that desperation can sometimes be a great motivator. 

       I was determined to find a way to eat healthy foods, exercise and reduce my medications to reasonable levels (with the help of my doctor, of course). First, I researched everything I could find on healthy foods (Healthy Eating Parts 1 & 2). Then, I realized that I would have to plan out what I was going to eat if I stood any chance at all. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Simply waiting around until I was hungry, to decide what I was going to eat, always meant grabbing junk food or fast food. That was no longer acceptable for me, so I started planning out the week's meals. 

       Planning the meals was the easiest part. Cooking them is where I found I had to really put forth the most effort, in the beginning. Below is a weekly menu planner that I found, for free, on the internet. It is in Jpeg format so that it can be clicked on and printed, or click here to be directed to the site where you can download it (Meal Planners). It makes planning meals and grocery store visits as simple a possible. 
       I write out the meals for the week on this sheet and then make my grocery list accordingly. By doing so, I know when each meal and snack will be. That allows me to make sure that I plan out the appropriate expiration dates of the food. It also helps me choose my fruits and vegetables by when I need them to be ripe. For instance, if I plan on having a banana for snacks at different points during the week I know to get some that are riper than others, to make sure I have them throughout the week. It seems too simple to work well, but it does. I love things that make my life simpler, and I love this sheet.

       Now came the tricky part. I had to learn to cook and prepare these meals, and I had to do it in as little time as possible. Not to mention, I had to find things that were so simple that even if I was barely able to drag myself out of bed, due to overwhelming depression or anxiety, that I could still get it done. 

       For anyone that has very little time to prepare meals, can't cook well or is experiencing symptoms, getting in the kitchen to prepare a meal can be a daunting task. Knowing that I started digging through more cookbooks, in more libraries, than I care to remember. I was determined to find healthy meals that I could prepare easily and quickly. I was able to find many good recipes for meals that could be done in under thirty minutes. Here is a link to some examples (Healthy Meals In 30 Minutes). Even they required quite a bit of work and cooking skill, and I still had to have the resolve at the end of the day to make them. 

       So, even after all that research, I was still occasionally running into troubles. Finally, I stumbled across a cookbook full of recipes for a device that simplified my life drastically. It was full of slow cooker recipes. I was blown away. I had always thought of these contraptions as something used to make roasts or beef stew. What I was unaware of was how versatile they were. 

       I could not believe how many amazing recipes there were in that book, and they required NO cooking skill. All I had to do was throw the ingredients into the cooker, and it took care of the rest. I began searching the internet and found a recipe for nearly every dish I could think of. There are thousands of free recipes online for vegans, vegetarians, followers of the paleolithic movement and simply healthy recipes for everyday meals. 

       When I found all of those recipes, I really started researching the slow cookers themselves. I had many questions. It turns out that slow cookers only cost between $15 and $125, depending on the size and the options it has. I knew if I started saving I could get one rather quickly. Then, I read that they typically use just 100 watts of electricity, and I got excited. Using this formula (wattage   x   hours used  ÷  1000  x  price per kWh  =   cost of electricity) allowed me to figure out that if I used one three times per week, for eight hours at a time, it would cost less than $3 a month in electricity! On average, a single burner on a stove pulls 1500 watts, on the medium setting. An oven set at 350 degrees pulls between 4500-9000 watts, depending on the model. Knowing that, I figured I would quickly make up for the price of the slow cooker in electricity alone. That proved to be true. 

       Please realize that there has never been an ad for anything here, and I have never put a link to a site that would pay me a fee for directing readers to it. I am not selling slow cookers. I just want to illustrate that when I bought mine, it revolutionized my eating habits. Those improved eating habits helped lead me to improved health and reduced symptoms. All Hail The Slow Cooker!
       There has never been a simpler answer to not having time to cook, to simply not knowing how or to not feeling well enough to stand in the kitchen for what can seem like an eternity. In a matter of minutes,a meal can be put in, and there is no cooking technique required. It does everything for me. 

       While I was researching slow cookers, I found an advertising phrase the Crock Pot brand used in the 70s that said, "cooks all day while the cook's away." That is exactly what it does.  Here is a link to seventy-three, mostly healthy, slow cooker recipes on the web, for free. (73 Free Recipes). This link simply gives a quick reference to what can be done with a slow cooker. An internet search will provide a recipe for most types of foods and dishes. 

       If I know that I am not going to have the time to cook (even the thirty-minute meals), or I know that I am going to be drained when I get home, or symptoms have crept up, then a slow cooker is my savior. Simply throw all the ingredients in and turn it on. Period. Yes, it does take a minute or two to also prepare a nice green salad for appetizer and to slice some fruit for dessert. However, I have found that it has never taken me more than fifteen minutes to put everything into the slow cooker, prepare a salad and cut fruit. 

       Finally, there is only one pot to clean, and that is a beautiful thing in and of itself. One quick side note, I purchased a model that turns to the "warm" setting once it was done cooking. That has been an invaluable feature. I may not know exactly when dinner will end up being. If I set it for a six or eight or twelve-hour cooking cycle and it simply shuts off after that, I could be in trouble. With the "warm" feature it's no big deal if dinner has to be pushed back. 
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As always I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource and is staffed by wonderful people. 
Feel free to send your questions or comments to: