clinical psychology
clinical psychology
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Food and Psychology

Food is broken down into chemicals that can help or harm the physiology of the physical body. Similarly, food can directly and indirectly affect the psychology of our emotional body or our mental health. The chemicals from food can alter our feelings and moods, and impact the development of genetic inclinations, thus affecting our ability to manage or process difficult or uncomfortable emotions that may arise from our physical internal and external environments. Food can therefore play a notable role in the exacerbation or improvement of symptoms associated with mental distress or stress.  

  1. Food, Genes and Our Mental Health 

Our mental health is partly determined by our genes, and nutrients from food help to determine what genes are expressed or activated in a person’s body. Some mental and physical illnesses are passed genetically through the generations of a family.  The body’s internal environment plays a key role in determining the genes that are activated. For example, if there is a history of a heart condition in your family, there is an increased probability that you are genetically predisposed to the same condition.  Keeping the environment in your body adverse to the expression or activation of that gene can help delay or even prevent the gene expression.  So, for example, if you were to have junk food three times a day, every day of your life, the environment in your body may become conducive for the activation of the ‘heart condition gene’.  Whereas eating a healthy balanced diet may delay or suppress the gene.  Mental health works in this same way. Psychological research has shown that some types of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse all possess a genetic component.

2. Prenatal Nutrition

A mere few days into our parents’ pregnancy the quality of our mental health begins to take form. The brain is one of the first things that develops while we are in the womb and is where the chemicals that contribute to a healthy emotional body can be found. Prenatal nutrition directly influences early brain development. It can also impact the development of physical disability and determine intellectual capabilities. 

3. Food and Pre-Existing Disorders

For persons with existing mental health disorders, the type of food consumed can directly impact the severity of the symptoms experienced. It is important to understand the specific chemicals that our food breaks down into and the potential effects of these chemicals prior to your consumption. For example, usually, after a hard workweek, some people look forward to an alcoholic drink as a “pick-me up.” However, alcohol actually acts as a depressant once chemically broken down. Additionally, studies have shown a link between a diet of processed and fatty foods and depression and anxiety. For those with anxiety, foods with caffeine and sugar can make symptoms worsen. In some instances, the physiological effect of some foods can trigger psychological symptoms. For example, salt can increase the blood pressure in the body, which makes the heart need to pump harder. When this happens the body releases the stress hormone adrenaline, which can then trigger additional anxiety symptoms. 

4. Food as a Coping Mechanism

Sometimes we can use food as an unhealthy coping mechanism to manage overwhelming or difficult emotions. Eating too much or too little can give us a sense of control during the times that we are overwhelmed. At other times snacking or binge eating can take our minds off of difficult emotions. Remember food is for sustenance and good health and not a tool to avoid processing our emotions.

In conclusion, our mental health and food are involved in a dynamic relationship that starts a few days into pregnancy. Brain development, gene activation, healthy coping mechanisms and current symptoms experienced are all important aspects to your mental health that is impacted or determined by the food we eat. We should therefore be mindful of our diet, need for nutrition, and food choices. It is important to consult with your physician and mental health expert on the best diet to support you achieving your best physical and mental health. 

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Sticks and Stones.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

After reading the daily news for just one week one may be forgiven for concluding that we live in an explosive society where rage seems to be the order of the day. Fighting in schools, road rage, senseless murders, forceful taking of others’ property and person and rampant addictions of varied type plague our headlines daily. These are all external, illegal and unhealthy mechanisms to cope with internal mental dis-ease or distress. I was mulling over when exactly do we learn to externalize our hurt instead of treating with it internally and the nursery rhyme “Sticks and Stones” popped into my head. 

I can’t even try to recall this nursery rhyme without automatically breaking into a chant; a clear indication of the thousands of times I must have chanted it as a child. It was taught to most English-speaking kids as a response to verbal bullying. There can be some harm in taking this nursery rhyme literally because words do hurt. In those moments when they do, it may make us feel weak or that something is wrong with us. Worst of all, it can lead to us ignoring the hurt in order to be “normal”. The thing is emotional distress can be swept under the rug for only so long before it becomes a huge pile of stuff that you will someday inevitably trip over and can no longer pretend isn’t there. It is okay for us to acknowledge that sometimes the worst type of pain can come from words. 

While words can hurt, it is not a hopeless case; there is a way to take back your power.  The first thing to do is to figure out what made these words hurt? I can hear all of my clients’ usual indignant responses when I ask them this as I type it now. They usually sound something like, “Obviously, because the words were hurtful!” or “Who thinks to say that to someone?” or the ever popular “Are you saying it’s okay for her/him/they to tell me this?” My usual response to this is to remind my clients that the person who has said the hurtful thing is not someone that we agree with all the time. In fact, that person has done or said things that we can very easily say was nonsense or just dismiss without a second thought. So, what makes us believe that one thing they said that one time?

What makes being directly or indirectly called this or that so bad to us? What makes the answer to that so bad? Nothing really, other than you just believe it to be so. You can change that belief by recognizing it comes from you and thus is changeable by you. I can say with 100% surety that there is no one in the world who can convince me that I am neurosurgeon no matter how many times they tell me, simply because I am not one and I am sure of this! We all have to look within ourselves and see what makes us believe those words that hurt. 

Usually it is something we have determined in childhood. This is where all our rigidly held beliefs that define who we think we are, what we think of the world and how we relate to the world are formed. These beliefs stem from biological factors and also the type of environment we were raised in, Basically, they determine whether we recognize our own worth and whether we think the world out there is safe for us. This is why we are all able to experience similar situations but walk away with different interpretations and emotions triggered. You create the setting in which your story takes place and you have the power to change it anytime you want. Otherwise, people need to be exactly who you need them to be in order for you to be okay. So naturally, this means that when they interact with another person they must change yet again to accommodate that person and so on. Seems unrealistic huh? Yes, it is. We are all free to be whomever we choose to be, including that person whose words hurt and we are allowed to put our boundaries down and move on peacefully.

So my final word is this, teach the kids the rhyme for tradition sake only; but be sure to include that words can hurt and teach them how to be free from this through introspection.  Of course this is not an easy task, and sometimes we may need extra help, so please call and make an appointment if needed. Peace is attainable. 

It can be a bit difficult to implement these strategies but this is where the therapeutic process can be quite helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for one on one work or to any other qualified professional with whom you are comfortable. 

I can be contacted via telephone: 868-495-6285email: camillemquamina@gmail.com or social media on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @camillemquamina