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Eating well when you're low

Wednesday, 05 April 2017 Catriona

Catriona's tips on eating well when you're feeling low on energy and motivation.

You can find out more about Catriona on her blog and on Twitter @Cook_with_Trina

I have bipolar but it doesn't have me. This is what I have taught myself since I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2015.

The wonderful psychiatrist told me "It can't be cured but it can be managed." As soon as I heard this I burst into tears.  A combination of relief at having a diagnosis of what I had been suffering on and off for 20 years and hope that I could learn to manage it.

I had suffered from long spells of having completely lost myself.  It was as if my personality had left me and been replaced with an unbearably anxious and depressed shadow. 

"I was too embarrassed and ashamed to talk about how I felt and I'd convince myself that it would pass."

It didn't and the lost spells got longer. Sometimes I'd feel like this for months at a time. Struggling to go to work and pretending everything was fine, when it took all my energy to get up in the morning. Putting on a brave face for family and friends because I didn't want to worry them.

I thought 'there's nothing they can do so why bother?' I'd try to hang on to thoughts of when I was happy and talk myself into thinking they would return if I could just stick it out.  

I think the lightening bolt I needed was when my partner told me "When you are ill you are the last person to know".

At the time I was still in denial about the severity of my illness.  He made me an appointment with my GP and we went together - this was the start of my acceptance.  By the time I was referred to the psychiatrist I was in such an abyss I had nothing to loose.

It took 4 attempts to find the right medication that would bring me out of my black hole.  I had to give each course of medication a month and if I felt no improvement the psychiatrist would try another combination. 

This was like Russian roulette. The 4th course of medication started to bring me back. 

"Slowly all my enthusiasm for the things I used to love returned."

My passion in life is cooking and  I've been lucky enough to do what I love as a career. Once I accepted that my illness was with me for life I began to research what I could do to improve my mood and wellbeing.

I had no idea there was so much help and support available for those of us who have mental illness and the people who love and support them. I was referred to Mind for a course of therapy.

My friends all stuck by me and even though the last thing I felt like doing was getting in touch and chatting about how awful I was feeling, they just kept calling and reassuring me things would get better and how they were thinking of me. And things did get better.

"But what I found really effective was the way I could use what I ate to help manage my mood."

I found that eating healthy, at least for most people, can’t prevent or cure mental health problems, but for me at least, it’s definitely helped.

So I set up my blog 'Cook Yourself Happier' to show people how to make meals to match their mood and the huge benefits of eating well.  There is so much in the press about the importance of eating enough fruit and veg and everyday there seems to be new research into what we should be eating. It can be overwhelming, and I don’t want to add to that information overload.

I just want to help people make sense of the information available and show them that no matter how uninspired, unmotivated or low they feel  you can use food to maintain and improve our mental health.  

For example:

  • Take advantage of the better periods to batch cook and freeze healthy meals, which you find easy to eat, for the days when you can't face cooking from scratch.  

  • Fresh fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies can give you the vitamin boost we all need. They can be kept in the fridge and help towards our 5 a day.

  • When I was too ill to work I was very conscious about what I was spending.  I was on sick pay so had to budget accordingly.  I discovered you can eat well using fresh fruit and vegetables on a limited budget.  Pulses, beans, quinoa are protein packed and very economical.  Cooked up with some delicious herbs, spices and vegetables and they work wonders for your health.

  • Don’t put pressure on yourself, it’s really important to cook at your own pace.

  • Try and include family and friends - there's nothing better than having a cuppa and slice of cake and chatting. I think it's very important to keep a healthy balance of nutritional meals but also treats! Homemade cakes or biscuits can be shared and contain no additives or preservatives unlike shop bought varieties. A little of what you fancy!

It’s not just about the end product for me either. I also find that when I'm cooking and focussing on my recipes it's my form of mindfulness.  It helps to keep me in the moment and focus on what I'm making.

If I could talk to my younger self I'd say the most important thing you can do is to talk about how you are feeling and ask for help.  There is no shame or embarrassment with mental illness and if I can do anything to help someone who feels like I used to, I'll shout from the rooftops! 
My blog isn’t designed as a magic elixir to cure all (I wish it was!) but to show people how to make quick and delicious dishes depending on their mood. 

From when you feel as flat as a pancake and really can’t be bothered to as tip top terrific as the perfect Soufflé and everything in between.

For more information on how to manage your mood with food see our info.

We also have other self care tips for bipolar here.

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