Diet, nutrition, meditation and mental wellbeing

There are people around the blogosphere who question the biomedical model of psychiatry as do I. But they also seem to think that since this implies that there are no chemical imbalances that proponents of nutrients and dietary changes are also questionable.

While I’m right there with the people who contend childhood trauma is often a contributory element in “mental illness” and indeed sometimes the only factor, I know that without a doubt nutrition can effect how one feels profoundly.

At this point in my recovery this time around I can imagine some of you wonder if any of my diet and nutrition is helping as I often continue to suffer and there is no way to tell while I am going through profound withdrawal symptoms, though I know that before I made these changes I was unable to tolerate the symptoms of withdrawal and now I can. What I do know is all the anecdotal stories of all the people who are part of my email groups and not only that—when I was 17 to 19 years old I was cured of my extreme mental anguish even in my abusive household by the help of diet and nutrition.

I had severe PMS even then and I saw a nutritional oriented MD. She saved me at that time. It was like night and day. Most significant I stopped being hysterical towards my mother all the time who was not the cause of abuse in my family but is the one with whom I took out my dismay. I went to college and stayed sane until I started to experiment with illicit and then psychiatric drugs.

I can’t tell you why I never went back to that way of living with diet and nutrition after being diagnosed with bipolar except that I bought the psychiatrists bullshit and I was on a self-destructive course thanks to hating myself and having no self-esteem because of how I was raised.

I was premenstrual each time I was hospitalized. I should have known that I could get help again from the nutritional doctor, but I slowly, over time bought the bullshit being spewed forth by the various psychiatrists I saw. In the hospital I was essentially tortured and your mind plays tricks on you after a while.

I did not have money for the nutritional doctor anymore and she did not accept insurance and it seemed to me at that time that I really had a more serious problem. I was thoroughly brainwashed.

My life has now again changed dramatically since I’m changed my diet and nutrition. So if a “chemical imbalance” means needing nutrients to feed our brains then I believe in the the chemical imbalance theory. I just don’t believe in a pharmaceutical solution.

Also there are plenty of studies of children diagnosed with ADHD responding to whole food diets particularly foods without sugar or additives. One report on a recent study is here. And a google movie I linked to a good while back also speaks of this reality.

I don’t think it is the answer for everyone but it certainly can’t hurt and it also helps all sorts of other health problems to eat like I do. And supplements are key too. There is plenty of evidence that fish oil helps for example and I know that many other supplements help too. See here for my approximate regime (I’ve changed things a bit since I wrote that.)

This is simply a response to some of the comments I see being bandied about the blogosphere that is critical of pharmacology. Some of them seem to be critical of good health practices as well. I challenge people to try these alternatives. Really get religious about sticking to a healthy diet with supplementation. Reading a book like “Depression Free Naturally” by Joan Larson which gives good advice for any mental health issue. Or the book “The Mood Cure” by Julia Ross. Tibetan Buddhist monks have been studied and they have radically different EEG’s than most of us do. Meditation does change our brains for the better and thus our mental health. And SF Jane had radical abuse and trauma in her history. She claims to have no symptoms of PTSD or “bipolar disorder” anymore at all.

Have you really tried everything? Or have you just settled for the quick fix? Sometimes healing takes lots of time and commitment. Certainly these suggestions are just a few of the alternatives to prescriptions there are many, many more.

And oh my god, what a difference a caffeine free life has made! That took me two years to accomplish—so I’m not saying any of this is easy. It is often a slow evolution.

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

10 Responses

  1. Zoe

    What an amazing woman and a fascinating story! Thanks so much for sharing her with us! Funny, there goes the higher power again…I bought this lovely little meditation stool a few months back but until this morning had done little but look at it. After my yoga session this morning I was inspired to sit and do a mindfulness of breathing practice which I learned some years ago in a Buddhist organisation. It felt great! A sort of homecoming, and made me aware of how much I have changed. I immediately felt the amazing power and potential of this practice…it was like tapping into something. Jane’s story will stay with me. Thanks again Gianna, and by the way, so very glad and grateful that you’re still blogging! You are a shining light despite all your travails…or maybe because of them!

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  2. Denise

    Thank you so much Gianna for writing about this subject, because I too was told by many people that if I believed in diet and nutrition as a solution, then I fed into the biomedical model. Heck, if it makes me feel better, who cares what anyone says anymore. If not for the vitamins and whole foods, I would still be hooked on drugs and shaking profusely. I appreciate your candor and your blog has helped me immensely. Thank you for pointing the way to so many good tips and resources.

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  3. Denise

    what astounds me is that the consumers that complain to me about the drugs and the side effects, even after I tell them about the options and alternatives, continue to do as their doctor says. They don’t want to change or take charge of their own health, so it continues to deteriorate. All I can suggest after that is to have their doctors at least lower their dosages of meds, if they don’t want to suffer all the consequences. and these are people I know who are not forced by anyone. I have to fight for my health, because I have family members who boldly tell me that they know best. Thank goodness for leaders who are outspoken against the psych drugs.

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  4. ama

    i eat rather healthily, but certainly i could do better, especially given that i have chronic fatigue syndrome. but eating is a touchy area for me, and regimenting is has always gone badly. either i become very cranky or i stop eating altogether. until a short time ago, even taking supplements was unbearable to me. recently i found an alternative doctor i like and taking his supplements is pleasant and rewarding for me. so it’s all tangled up with other issues. my mother in law had followed a macrobiotic diet for eons and it is a great mystery to her why i wouldn’t follow it, too. she is the greatest poster child for it! at 84, she’s way more energetic and fatigue-resistant than either my husband or i. but following a diet would kill me. so there you have it. it’s all very complicated. we do the best we can!

    i’m very happy, though, that diet and supplements are working for you!!!!

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  5. My mother got me started on vitamin supplements when I was around 20 years old or so. So it’s been nigh over 30 years for me now.
    I agree about the trauma-causes of mental illness but I also have to look into the genetic factor as well. In our family, we are batting 1000, 4 offspring, 4 degrees of mental illness. What are the odds of that? And, personally, I think the numbers are much much higher than the reportedly 1 family out of 4 being affected by a mental illness.
    As far as nutrition goes, I eat a pretty balanced diet, fruits and vegetables, salads when I get on a salad fix. I have to commend my husband for my better diet, since he does most of the cooking. I’ve realized that people have different eating styles during stress. They either go on eating like they always do, or they tend to stress-eat, or, like me, they stress-starve. It’s not something I intentionally do, I’ve just noticed that when I am extremely stressed about something, my appetite goes completely away and I have to force myself to eat.
    Yoga and meditation are marvelous mood-enhancers. I have several guided meditation tapes that I listen to on a regular basis which encourage nice, slow deep breathing and body relaxation. And there is a wonderful book called “Peace Is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh which teaches awareness, mindfulness and staying in the present moment. I also have several daily affirmation books, one in particular which deals with dual-diagnosis recovery, which I read every day. All of these practices help me tremendously and whenever I veer off one of them or several of them, my mood and stability takes a nose-dive!

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  6. Gianna, there’s an interesting article in the New York Times about a scientist who discovers that her episodes of psychosis were caused by a thyroid deficiency http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/30/health/views/30case.html?em&ex=1193889600&en=78cf39a817b4b19e&ei=5087

    My experience is that emotional distress is caused by fear, but I do know that hunger makes people cranky and I believe that mine is not the only experience that is valid.

    I take vitamens. I’ve had my extreme lack of energy caused by anemia diagnosed as dysthemia and generalized anxiety…I look back shocked, who didn’t the psychiatrist take a medical history and run a cheap blood test before diagnosing and prescribing.

    I look at it this way (keep in mind I’ve got a head cold and I’m taking near lethal doses of theraflu and cough drops), fear, shock, hunger, health problems, nutritional deficiencies, can cause changes in mood, does the chemistry of the brain changes when mood changes, maybe but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the healing. Healthy diet and nutrition is important as the body suffers when the mind suffers but I must confess sometimes I feel pretty healed by onion rings and ketchup but I swear by my “blood builder” supplements.

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  7. Your are so right that diet and nutrition play a huge part in recovery from bipolar disorder. I wake up a lot at night but get back to sleep right away. However, I have noticed I don’t wake up in the night when I have been dancing. My doctor suggested that perhaps I am not getting enough exercise and fresh air during the week.
    Since I started eating healthier over 2 years ago I have been able to keep some weight off although I still like to indulge once in a while in my favorite foods.
    I believe we can re-wire our brains in any way we choose. But it is not easy. Surrounding myself with motivational sayings really has helped me. I also read one self-help/motivational book every week.
    Surrounding myself with positive people is still something I am working on. Now that I am stronger and moving forward in my life some of my old friendships aren’t working because I am no longer needy. I even think some people are jealous of my accomplishments. Hopefully, as I read blogs and continue my public speaking career, I will meet other people who have a positive outlook on life and will want to see me succeed. Deepak Chopra says to avoid “toxic emotions, toxic relationships and toxic jobs” to stay healthy. I would like to add that we need to avoid toxic foods as well. I have the best job in the world right now………I am still working on the other two.
    I still believe medications have their place but too many people are over-medicated. Working through one’s issues is the only real cure for any illness, physical or mental. It’s not easy for anyone to take a look at their lives. It can be a very painful process and in many cases takes years to work through things. Speaking from experience, I would not advice anyone to stop taking their medication unless they are under close supervision of their doctor. By all means, “twig” it once in a while but do so very slowly and monitor your moods as you do.

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