Good Mood Food
Author and mental health activist Rachel Kelly explains that what we eat impacts our mental health
A recent Office for National Statistics report found that a quarter of young women in the UK have suffered from anxiety and depression, and suicide is still the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. In this era of comparison and endless striving, looking after our mental health has never been more important.
Author and mental health activist Rachel Kelly and nutritionist Alice MackIntosh explore the power of good food in book The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food. It explains how the food we eat affects our mental wellbeing and includes easy-to-follow recipes that can help positively impact mental health.
Rachel was first struck by the medicinal power of food a decade ago when she took her then 10-year-old son George to see a nutritionist about his persistent eczema.
“It was remarkable to see how his sore and scaly red skin healed within a few weeks of changing his diet” Rachel says. “Despite this encounter, it wasn’t until years later at a routine check-up to see how I was dealing with my anxiety that I returned to the topic of nutrition. My GP told to me that there was compelling evidence about the links between mood and food.”
Rachel proceeded to write down a list of ‘happy foods’ that might keep her calm, which included green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate and oily fish, all of which are now staples in her personal diet and throughout her recipes.
A former journalist at The Times, Rachel’s interest in health as a form of ‘self-help’ continued to develop. When she later found herself in a deep depression, she explored nutrition as part of a holistic approach to looking after her mental health.
“I began to experiment with foods and was delighted to notice the difference adopting a healthier diet was making to my mood” says Rachel. “To fuel my growing curiosity I started speaking to doctors, therapists, cooks, psychologists, academics, dieticians and people I have worked with when doing talks for charities.
To clarify my thoughts, I sought out nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh who worked for a reputable clinic on London’s Harley Street. A friend had recommended her as someone interested in the relationship between mood and food, and who had helped many people with anxiety. With Alice’s knowledge and practical advice, together we began to develop recipes for my symptoms. Our conversations and experiments led to creating The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food in which I share all I have learnt about eating for happiness.
But it’s not just about particular foods. The act of cooking and being mindful also make me feel more cheery. The recipes put the theory and more than 150 nutritional studies into practice. They’ve helped me to become more energised, less anxious, clearer thinking, more balanced and a better sleeper.”
Rachel is careful to say that it is not just food that has helped her manage her mental health, and that she has also benefitted from exercising more, using mindful breathing techniques, and the healing power of poetry. For others, medication may play a key role. As an ambassador of the mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness, Rachel is all too aware that there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment for mental health issues.
“For me, food is a key part of the toolkit I rely on to ensure I stay calm and well” says Rachel. “Who wouldn’t try and rely on themselves if at all possible – though I’m the first to recognise for those experiencing severe mental illness this isn’t an option.
“But after years in which doctors looked to medication as the sole answer to mental illness, now there is a growing sense that drugs are one part of the solution. Lifestyle interventions are now seen as crucial to managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and some heart conditions. A similar approach is beginning to be applied to depression and anxiety.
“For me, a happy kitchen is a place to practise self-care that has changed my mood in the most positive way.”
The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food is out now. For information or help about mental health from Rethink Mental Illness visit www.rethink.org
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