written by Eunice Simon who is a mother 3 boys and works as a nurse practitioner with a focus on holistic nutrition and integrative health.
Stress. Anxiety. Depression. Trouble Concentrating. Trouble Sleeping. These are some of the most common psychiatric complaints that Americans are seen for in doctor’s offices. But imagine if instead of being given a prescription for a psychiatric drug, you were given a list of foods to eat.
You may not realize this but there is a strong connection between what you eat and how you feel! In our gut (our intestines), we have nerve cells (neurons) which make up the Enteric Nervous System. These nerve cells control nearly every aspect of digestion and communicates with our brain’s hypothalamus. Our hypothalamus regulates how full or hungry we feel and helps regulate our emotions (happiness, joy, anger, anxiety, etc). These emotions in turn cause physical reactions and symptoms in our digestive system.
So you can see how important it is to feed your gut with high quality foods! But before we start eating correctly, we have to have the right mindset! According to the American Psychological Association and the American Institute of Stress, 75-98% of current mental, physical, emotional and behavioral illnesses come from our thoughts! It’s astonishing that our thoughts and our mindsets can bring about physical ailments! No wonder God tells us to take EVERY THOUGHT captive and bring it to the submission of Jesus. Our thoughts about ourselves and the world around us must correlate with Scripture, which is the truth.
God intricately fashioned our body to work together with other parts of our body.
1 Corinthians 12:20-26 (CEV)
“…God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. If one part of the body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy.”
Our soul, which is made up of our mind, will and emotions, affects our physical body.
Dr. Caroline Leaf, who is a neuroscientist, in her book Think and Eat Yourself Smart, does a fascinating job of describing how one can change the biology of their brain (which is different from the mind) by the thoughts they think. This in turn, affects our decisions, like what we eat.
She explains that the NONCONSCIOUS mind is responsible for 90-99% of your mind’s activity! This part of your mind is always working, even when you are asleep, and influences the conscious mind. Whenever a thought is planted and then becomes a habit in your nonconscious mind, it shapes your perceptions of everything related to that thought.
On the other hand, the CONSCIOUS mind only operates when we are awake and it is the part of us that is deliberately and consciously thinking and choosing. We have the ability, with our conscious minds to change thoughts and memories that have been embedded into us. This is why Paul tells us in the book of Romans to renew our minds, which will transform us. When we change our thoughts and renew our mind, even our oldest and worst habits can be transformed! This is liberating because no longer do you have to believe “This is the way I’m wired.” You can “rewire” yourself!
So, even if you have terrible sugar cravings or have no palatability for vegetables or if you hate to exercise, or whatever your weakness is, you can actually create new perceptions and habits. How do you practically do this?
Assess –Examine the thoughts and feelings you have about that matter. For our discussion about food: Why do you crave this food? Does this bring back a good memory? Are you eating out of emotion such as sadness, loneliness, anger? Does this make you feel comforted? Did you get inspired to eat this because of an ad that you saw or heard?
In this stage you are pulling things out of your nonconscious and bringing into your conscious where you are deliberately thinking about it. In essence, you could be thinking or feeling a certain way because of something you received through your five senses or an embedded memory, but didn’t pay much attention to.
Inform – Educate yourself on what proper nutrition is and how to be healthy. God says in the book of Hosea, “My people perish because of the lack of knowledge.” Get properly informed. The very fact that you are reading this blog, shows that you want to get more educated on your health.
Declare -For me personally, I make certain declarations over myself and my family. I speak ALOUD what Scripture says about me. There is such power in confession. When we speak it, even if we don’t believe it at first, we start believing it after we’ve said it enough times. Faith truly comes by hearing.
Act– Then start making informed decisions based off what you know, not what you feel. Allow the Holy Spirit, who is within every believer, to help you interpret and filter the messages and information you receive.
Dr. Leaf states that it takes 63 days to form a habit. In the first 21 days, when you are thinking about something enough, it becomes a short term memory. However, over time, it becomes a long-term memory and finally a habit. When it is a habit, it stays in our nonconscious mind where we do things without really even thinking about it.
We’ve been discussing emotional problems so far. But what in our diet, or what lack in our diet could contribute to these psychiatric problems?
Numerous studies have shown a link between mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, and insomnia with a deficiency in these important vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients: Omega 3 and 6, Magnesium, Zinc, Folate, Thiamine, vitamins B1,B6, B12, and D. While it is more convenient to get this through a supplement or pill, that’s not the way God designed us for us to get our nutrients.
In my career as a Family Nurse Practitioner, I try my best to stay current on the latest research, especially in the field of nutritional science but I keep finding, that if I stick with what the Bible says, science always catches up to the Bible.
To prove this, Dr. T. Colin Cambpell, who is a pioneer in the field of Nutritional Science and who authored the book Whole, Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, explains why extracting a certain nutrient and putting it in a pill or powder form, is not the same as eating the actual food. We miss out on things like the phytonutrients and the chemical and metabolic interactions that take place among the different nutrients in the food to give us what our body needs.
- Clean house
In order to make room for your healthy lifestyle of eating, go through your pantry and refrigerator and get rid of junk foods like cookies, chips and sodas (which are high in calorie but low in nutrient value). Get rid of highly processed foods which containing lots of sugar, salt, and fat (which makes up so much of our American diet unfortunatley). This includes processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meats. I say highly processed because, let’s face it, most foods, unless we pick it straight from our garden, will have some level of processing involved. Try to consume foods real, whole foods, with the least amount of processing as possible. In the words of Dr. Michael Gregor, “Unprocessed is nothing bad added, nothing good taken away.” When you go shopping, get your foods from the outskirts of the grocery stores where you can get fresh fruits/veggies (things that spoil quickly). You’ll notice the aisles contain food that have been refined, processed and preserved, making it last longer but stripping the food of essential nutrients.
- Plan ahead
Plan the week before the meals you want to make the following week. Incorporate healthy grains such as brown rice, quinoa, barley, millet. Try to get lots of your protein from things like dried beans and lentils and can also do some lean meats like chicken and fish. Incorporate options for healthy snacking like hummus, fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheese, etc.
- Eat a Variety of foods
If you eat a diet that incorporates a variety of real foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, humanely raised meat and wild fish, you will get the essential nutrients that your body needs. The problem with most fad diets is that they focus on a certain macronutrient (carbohydrates, proteins or fat) and eat that in excess while not considering micronutrients (like the above-mentioned vitamins and minerals). Hence the deficiencies in these important nutrients and problems that ensue mentally and physically.
- Avoid products high in sugar, especially products containing High Fructose Corn Syrup
Sweeten with things like Honey versus sugar. Did you know processed sugar acts in your brain similar to addictive substances like alcohol and drugs? It alters your brain’s natural pain killer and reward system. Most sugary products in America contain excessive amount of fructose which doesn’t signal the hypothalamus when you’re full, so you end up eating an excessive amount of calories with sugar but never get the satisfaction of feeling full. Whereas things like honey, has the perfect balance of fructose and glucose which will alert your brain with satiety.
- Flavor with herbs, spices, and vinegars which have numerous nutritional benefits vs salt. Limit salt as much as possible. Salt is one of biggest contributers to high blood pressure. Herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties which prevent sicknesses and chronic diseases.
- Be aware of stress in your life
Healthy stress is appropriate in certain situations. It releases a small amount of cortisol which help you be more attentive and store information. Unhealthy level of stress however can lead to high levels of cortisol (especially when prolonged) and leads to problems like accumulation of fat (especially in the abdominal region), insulin resistance, and diabetes. Neurologically, high levels of cortisol can impair attention, memory, and alters how your brain responds to stress.
BOTTOMLINE: Change the way you think, and you can change the way you eat! As a child of God, you are a new creation and are more than a conqueror through Christ. Get informed and start making changes little by little and you will form new healthy habits. I guarantee you will feel better mentally and physically!