Is Your Brain Sick?

Namaste Focused on Nutrients

Hey there, it’s your friendly, neighborhood dietitian here. I have had some interesting experiences this week, relevant to nutrition’s role in holistic health. I’d like to share one of them with you.

This week marked the fourth or fifth time I had seen this one particular patient for outpatient nutrition counseling. The first time she came in, arms crossed in reluctance for being there at all, she was down-trodden (to say the least). She tearfully told me this was the most she had ever weighed in her life, and she was disgusted with herself.

This woman is a young mother of FIVE kids (zoinks!) and has a super-supportive husband at home. She simply had fallen off-track with healthy habits after separating from the military. Or, perhaps her habits had never been very healthy, and they simply caught up with her. At any rate, she was there to see me for help.

At visit #1, she admitted she had stopped any form of exercise since it “hadn’t help me lose any weight.” She was eating 0-1 meal(s) a day. She cried throughout the majority of the visit while telling me how depressed she was; I believed her, and it broke my heart.

Keep in mind, weight is merely an indicator of what is going on inside our bodies. We can be overweight and malnourished. Yes, it’s a thing. When our internal machine is not getting the fuel it needs to function, everything gets out of whack.

During the next few visits, the story remained about the same. This young woman was so depressed, she was resorting to near starvation. She was too depressed to do any sort of exercise, and she saw exercise simply as a punishment designed to help you lose weight.

What we continued to focus on from day one is the role of nutrients in human functioning. Our society is taught to count everything and eat as “low calorie” as possible in order to achieve a desirable physique. If that includes near-starvation? Sure! Eating only once a day and calling it “intermittent fasting”? Sure! Will we exhaust all nutrient stores in our body’s tissues and organs? Sure! Although she had come seeking a “diet” from me, I refused; but I offered her another way.

The reality is, this woman was depressed. I don’t know the details behind her military experiences. I don’t know what the first few decades of her nutrition and exercise habits were. What I did know is what her most recent health history looked like, and what her current lifestyle was.

Without eating well (or at all), the brain cannot function optimally. At the very least, our brains need a regular influx of nutrients, such as:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids – salmon, sardines, tuna, trout, herring, chia seeds, etc.
  • Antioxidants (including, but not limited to):
    • Vitamin C – bell peppers, cabbage, kiwis, oranges, Brussels sprouts, etc.
    • Vitamin E – nuts, seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, etc.
  • B-vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folate, B12) – 100% whole grains, whole fruit, whole vegetables, milk, meat, etc.
  • Iron – meat, fish, dark greens, etc.
  • Calcium – broccoli, oranges, milk, yogurt, cheese, figs, etc.
  • And many, many others.

Luckily, this woman had begun to see a mental health professional to unpack some of the behavioral aspects of her depression and other factors impacting her mental health. However, no amount of mental health counseling can make up for the absence of proper physiology inside the body. Sure, medications can help, too; but that still isn’t the only solution, nor will medications “fix” anything without proper nutrition and exercise.

Holistic health includes nurturing body, mind, and spirit. Mental health counseling addresses mind and spirit; it cannot independently help depression if the bricks and mortar of the chemical processes that make the brain function are not there. Optimizing nutrition and exercise are critical components of a healthy brain.

Upon arrival to the most recent session we had this week, she arrived practically beaming with joy. She truly seemed like an entirely different human walking into my office. Her life hadn’t changed much; her family is (and always has been) very supportive. Her mental health counseling has continued regularly, as it had for months/years.

What was different?

She had reluctantly taken my advice to focus on developing a more consistent, more robust eating pattern. She was eating at least 3 times a day – morning, midday, and evening. If there were long breaks between meals, she was having a snack. Not only was she actually eating (which was new for her starved body), but she was also intentionally choosing nutrient-rich foods. She had begun exercising as a means of spending quality time with her family, and she was enjoying herself. She wasn’t dieting. She wasn’t counting anything.

Her brain (and body) are healing. Not only is her depression markedly improved, but she has begun to lose weight healthfully. She is enjoying her newfound increasing energy; she is smiling instead of crying. She is gaining some muscle and her clothes are fitting better. She is beginning to live, not just exist.

Remember, our body weight is merely a piece of the puzzle, it is not the whole picture. An undesirable weight (underweight, overweight, whatever) is a signal that our body is not functioning properly. Often, suboptimal nutrition is to blame. “Normal” weight does not guarantee health without proper nutrition.

Bottom line? Nourish your body with real food. Move your body, even if it is just a little bit at at time when you get started. If you take care of your body, you are more likely to have a healthy one. If you are struggling, seek guidance from a registered dietitian nutritionist.

xoxo – Casey

Just the Tip…

Hey there! Today I’d like to focus on motivation again, since we all struggle with finding it and keeping it. I know I risk being repetitive, because we talked about motivation last time. But I hope this is a different spin on the same concepts discussed in my last post.

Just the tip...

I encourage you to see that motivation is like a garden. If you just plant seeds in the garden but never water it or tend to it, you’re not going to reap a harvest. Motivation, just like a garden, must be cultivated, fertilized, and monitored frequently, or it can die. Motivation is perishable under the hot sun of excuses. Once you’ve developed your motivation, you must protect it from withering.

For those of you who have known me a long time, you know that my history of the desire for laziness is vast. I recall being unable, mentally more than physically, to run a solid 2 miles for my Army physical fitness test (APFT) for quite some time. So-called “mentors” would often counsel me after my failed attempts, only to say things like, “you know if you just run more you’ll pass it.” Oh, wow, that’s the spirit! I’m sold! Not.

The thing that completely overhauled my mindset is when I really spent time on my own motivation. The tipping point was during Officer Candidate School (OCS). I had a major epiphany regarding the fact that I was about to be a distinguished Army officer, the likes of whom I had admired my whole adult life.

Getting a good score on my APFT was not enough to motivate me independently; however, the thought of being an example to younger Soldiers DID. I ran, and I ran, and I ran some more. I got up at 4:30 am to run before work (which is typically unheard of for me). For the first time EVER, I ran 4 miles straight one morning. For me, that was HUGE. Shortly after the 4-mile surprise, I signed up for a half-marathon (13.1 miles) and ran the whole thing without stopping. Me, who WHINED about running 2 miles. I had successfully overcome my mental block to physical success. I even ran 3 more half-marathons in the following years.

After completing OCS, I continued to use the “lead by example” mentality to fuel my motivation to eat well and to remain physically fit. But then I left the military a few years later. My motivation had to be watered and fed, because it was withering a little.

During my time out of the military, my motivations became more selfish. I became a mom, and I refused to be held hostage by “baby weight.” I later decided that I wanted to be an example of health and fitness as a registered dietitian nutritionist. I thought that maybe my credibility would be enhanced if I clearly embodied a physique of fitness.

Eventually, although the “lead by example” mentality has never left me, I have added some other powerful garden tools to the mix. The current miracle grow fertilizer that is sprinkled on my motivational garden, so-to-speak, is that I want to be STRONG. I also crave that feeling of being done with a killer workout – you know, that sweaty, accomplished, beastly feeling. The only way to feel that way and to get those muscles is to do the work. So I do. Not as often as I should, but I do it frequently. I feel better, which makes me want to do it more.

My story may not look like yours. But I hope that you find some bits and pieces of inspiration to tend to your own motivational garden. Learn what motivates you by paying attention to how you respond to things. Silly little inspirational quotes work for me, despite the fact that I know they are cheesy. So what. Regarding fitness, find activities that you actually enjoy. When you find movements that make your body feel alive, and feel strong, you may just create the craving to keep doing them.

Let me know what keeps your motivation garden alive and well!

xoxo – Casey

How to Be Un-Lazy.

Hello dear friends. As I sit here mustering up the energy to workout today, I decided to write about it. I might be procrastinating, in reality.

Finding Motivation

Although I intended on exercising first thing this morning, I didn’t. I could make the excuse that the tiny people inhabiting my home startled me awake at dawn; but truthfully, that isn’t the reason. I just didn’t want to do anything this morning. Wait – that’s not true. I’ve been super domestic, actually. Sheets are changed, floor is swept, laundry is tumbling away in the dryer. Babies are fed and clean. So, what’s the deal?

Motivation comes in many packages. Some are motivated by positive feedback, such as praise. Some are motivated by fear. Fear of failure, specifically, can be a huge driving force. Whatever it is inside us, we often simply haven’t spent enough time with self-reflection to find it. If we do know what motivates us, we still have to spend the time to cultivate it or it will wilt like a little flower that hasn’t been watered.

Whether you are struggling with motivation to eat better, move more, or really any other goal you have, the real trick is developing your why. Your why is metaphorically the tiny little flame deep inside your belly. Why do you want to be healthier? Why do you want stronger muscles? If weight loss is what you desire, then why? It might seem silly, or even obvious. But sometimes it’s not.

While teaching a weight loss class one time, I asked each participant why he or she wanted to lose weight. Each looked at me like I had four heads; it seemed like such a stupid question. “Um, duh, Casey” is what their faces all said. But “duh” isn’t accurate.

Me: “[Lady], why do you want to lose weight?”

Lady: “Uhh….well, because weight loss would help me have less knee pain.”

Me: “Why would less knee pain be good?” (c’mon, bear with me here…)

Lady: “Well, less knee pain would allow me to walk more.”

Me: “Why would you want to walk more?”

Lady: “If I could walk more without pain, I could travel more. [eyes tear up] I used to travel all over the world; but I can’t now because it’s too painful on my knees to walk around touring places.”

Me: “Bingo.”

Maybe that lady’s example doesn’t exactly hit home for you directly, but I hope you get the point. The point is, preventing diabetes isn’t a dazzling motivator on a lazy Sunday morning. The idea of reducing my cholesterol and blood pressure doesn’t jolt me out of bed for some treadmill time. I know exercise would do those things, but that honestly isn’t enough to motivate me.

I’ll share with you what my motivations have been over the years. Mine are dynamic, and yours can be too.

My motivation to get through Army basic training as a fat, out-of-shape teenager was the fact that I absolutely had to prove everyone wrong. I had so many people tell me I couldn’t do it. Some said “did you know you can’t wear mascara in boot camp, Casey?” When my hands were literally bloody from doing a zillion push-ups on the rocks, and I truly didn’t think I could keep going, I remembered how pissed I was at all those naysayers. I’ll spare you the saga of the injuries my non-athletic body endured during that nine weeks, but I only made it through that pain because of the motivation to prove I could do it. (And I did, like a boss.)

In my current career as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), I am charged with being a spokesperson of health. If I am trying to inspire people to be super fit and healthy, I guess I should be fit and healthy, right? I am far from perfect, but the thing that keeps me from eating poorly and turning completely gelatinous is that someone, somewhere, might be using me as a symbol of hope.

A silly, yet powerful, motivator for me is that I really, really want to be strong. I want arms that resemble those warrior ladies on the newest Wonder Woman movie. I really do. Gone are the days of my teen years wanting to be “skinny.” I never want to be skinny; I want to be strong AF. So, when I am tempted by the warmth and coziness of being lazy all day, I envision the chiseled body I want, and usually it’s enough to get me off the couch…eventually.

arms

Ask yourself “why” over and over until you get a little misty-eyed; that means you found that little flame in your belly. We don’t need no water; let the motherf***er burn.

xoxo,
Casey