The Diet Variable

First of all, I hate the word “diet”. For me that word conjures up images of people practically starving themselves while eating minuscule portions to lose weight. For the record I just want to make it clear that that isn’t what I’m talking about here.

What we ingest can have an effect on both our physical bodies and our minds, so I usually try to address what I’m consuming when looking at the external variables that are having an effect on my mood.

That said, this is a hugely touchy subject for a lot of people. I’ve never had an eating disorder in the traditional sense, but I have had periods in my life where I could not afford to eat. Obviously not knowing where my next meal was coming from put an incredible strain on me mentally and I’ve had to work very hard to combat some of the effects that has had on my psyche.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the show Surivor, but usually after 40 days without substantial food the contestants return to every day life to find that they have become overly possessive of food. They take extra food and hide it, almost without meaning to, and they can’t stop eating (even when their weight surpasses what it was when they began the show). Their minds have been wired into survival mode, and even when they return to normal life it takes a long time for them to return to having a casual (rather than overbearing) attitude toward food.

My own experience has been similar.

Each person has an individual attitude toward food and have had different experiences (good and bad) surrounding food. I don’t want to encourage any obsessive food monitoring of any kind because from my own experience, even having to monitor my food intake for medical reasons when I was being tested for a food allergy caused me so much stress that my mood was significantly worse than usual.

Today my only suggestion is to just be aware of how different things you ingest effect you.

Awareness goes a long way, and once I became conscious of how certain foods/beverages were effecting me I found that I avoided some things immediately without even trying. Other things, like caffeine, I indulge in every once in a while (heck, I live in Seattle!) even though I know it doesn’t always have a great effect on me.

I know some people who swear that vegetarian or vegan or gluten free diets help manage their symptoms, but like I said… I found that I had the opposite reaction.

Some things to consider exploring their effects:

  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – though not used as widely anymore it can still be found in some seasoning salts, canned soups, Asian food, and more. It is a pretty easy thing to check for and many Asian restaurants will put signs up now to signify if they do not use MSG in their food. Some people have allergic reactions to MSG without realizing it, so this is a good one to be aware of.
  • Sodium (salt) – too much sodium has been linked to several health problems (including some heart problems) and I’ve found most of the really intense amounts of sodium in processed foods like hot dogs, frozen pizza, and velveta cheese (to name a few). If I eat some of a frozen pizza my fingers will be so swollen the next morning I can hardly bend them. Yep, that’s the sodium causing water retention. If you are going to change the amount of sodium you ingest and you take Lithium, please consult your doctor. Sodium intake directly effects the amount of lithium absorbed by your body.
  • Sugar – who doesn’t love Kool-aid, right? I’m not usually that into sugar, but it is good to pay attention to this one because of those fun sugar highs, followed by the drop in energy (and potentially mood) when the sugar has worn off.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup – at the very least, this one has a similar effect to sugar. There are several studies going on around HFCS though regarding how it is processed, as some people believe it may be doing more damage to people’s health. I feel like this is a hard one to avoid, because it can be found in anything from soda to condiments (like ketchup). I’ve noticed a lot of cereals and breads now that boast to be free of HFCS, which is nice if you’re trying to avoid it.
  • Caffeine – another culprit of the “crash” when the caffeine wears off, and as I mentioned in Variables: An Introducion I have experienced having hypomanic episodes triggered by caffeine. This may not be something that requires complete elimination from the daily routine but some people choose to. Like I said, I live in Seattle (which may as well be heralded as the caffeine capitol of the US) so it is common for social activities to be centralized around coffee. For the most part, as long as I consume the caffeine before noon I will be ok for the rest of the day.
  • Alcohol – again, I have no business telling people how to live their lives, but it might be beneficial to have a general idea of how alcohol effects you (if you intend to partake). I’ve heard from some that alcohol has triggered mania for them but for me it usually triggers depression. I can usually have a glass of wine or a beer, but for me anything more than that might wreak havoc on my mood. The effects of alcohol are very unpredictable for me.

There are plenty of other things to think about but, like I said, I am not trying to encourage any intense obsessive food monitoring.

Comfort Foods and Baking Beware!

There are periods when I am depressed where the only thing I want to eat is noodles with butter and Parmesan cheese. Seriously, I can go for days without eating anything else, and it isn’t hard to come to the conclusion that I’m not eating anything near a well balanced diet. It can be extremely difficult not to gravitate toward comfort foods while in the throes of depression. Really, all I can say on that is that my boyfriend has played a pivotal role in prompting me to switch out one of those bowls of noodles for a salad every once in a while. The only thing that has helped deter me from comfort foods is the attention of another person.

Likewise I am a big fan of baking, and whether I’m baking while manic or baking while depressed there’s suddenly an awful lot of sugary (but delicious) treats everywhere.

Do I need to eat 6 loaves of zucchini bread? No. Maybe one. I’ve found it is helpful to have a group of people that I can anticipate giving a portion of these treats to. Sharing with co-workers, friends, family, clubs, and my support group means less unhealthy food around for me to eat and less sugar for me to rattle my mood with. Also, others usually really enjoy getting a baked treat!

8pm is about the time that the sugar cravings kick in for me. It only takes a moment before I’m tearing the apartment apart looking for sugar, chocolate being on the top of the list.

My latest tricks to combat the 8pm sugar monster is to make sugar free candy readily available to myself (so I still get some of the sweet flavor without the sugar), or when that doesn’t do it I also keep a bag of chocolate chips in the apartment. I usually only need a few chocolate chips to feel satisfied enough to quit the sugar hunt. In the event that I need something more filling I have been having frosted mini wheat cereal. It does have sugar, but it also has 26% of my daily fiber requirement so I feel a lot less guilty about eating it.

Ideally, my ultimate goal is to be able to consider both nutrition and what will satisfy my craving instead of grabbing the first thing that sounds good and consuming it. It may take a while… but I’m working on it!

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6 responses to “The Diet Variable

  1. I know exactly what you mean about being touchy with the subject of food. I’ve been on the side of not having enough food. Especially last year when my husband and I were unemployed at the same time between August and late November. All of the food was rationed to our son first. Then we split what was left. I’d give C.S bigger portions because he’s bigger than me. I stayed in ration mode until I had pneumonia in June.

    But now everytime we get closer to winter, I go into ration mode. I dropped 5lbs in 2 weeks because it’s getting cold in Pittsburgh. Total since September = 9lbs. If I continue at this rate, I’m going to have a problem with being underweight by spring. I’ve never ended up underweight before. I don’t even have any clothes to fit that size.

    Ok, back to the point. Here’s a little known fact. MSG is in a lot more things than you think. C.S is a nutritional consultant and has pointed this out to me. There are a lot of molecularly similar compositions of MSG that are not recognized as such. Remind me to get a few chemical additives for you.

    Also, sugar has a few cousins people should be aware of. Aspertaime can actually cause headaches and allergic reactions. *Shiver* I tried to avoid sugar once and ended up with these awful, itchy welts all over me. I imagine that’s what hell is like. Also sucralose, and a few others.

    Studies have revealed that many people have co-morbid addiction. Removing oneself from any mood alterting substance is a good precaution. I’m a recovering alcoholic, caffeine, nicotine addict. Alcohol is gone. Caffeine is about to mostly go (gotta have that morning one), and nicotine is next on the list. It’s very easy to become addicted.

    Oh! And fiber! Here’s the exciting news about fiber and carbs. Any fiber content over 5g will begin to counteract carb content. I love butter, noodles, and cheese. I figured out how to combine my loves with fiber. Throw in some broccoli with mac n cheese. Throw in several different peppers and onions into butter noodles. Onions are fantastic for health. And spinach too.

    Feed your body, feed your mind.

  2. I really like this series that you’re doing a great deal. Keep it up!

  3. Pingback: The Weight of It « bi[polar] curious

  4. Diet has been one of the most important changes I have made to become well , and to stay well.

    I am not totally insane about it, but I follow a general plan which is basically lots of veges & protein, some complex carbs and very little sugar. I do not drink alcohol because it is the quickest way to trigger a mood episode for me. I’m allergic to MSG.

    Interestingly, a high intake of MSG was associated with the development of the mania that ended up getting me diagnosed and on medication.

  5. Pingback: The Relaxation Variable « bi[polar] curious

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