Eating Well to Feel Well

Worth Living Ambassador Ann Ottaway

“Ann is a 30 year old former legal assistant, animal lover, and a believer in new beginnings. Ann shares her recovery journey with the hope that her story allows others to realize they are not alone”.

It’s no secret that nutrition plays a key role in our health. I find that I often have to remind myself that this is also the case for my mental health.

When I am experiencing a depressive episode I feel lethargic, fatigued and lack the energy and enthusiasm to prepare meals for myself.  The times when I feel like I cannot manage my emotions, I am left with an overwhelming feeling that I cannot manage many things, self- care included. I sometimes find myself sick to my stomach when I am dealing with anxiety or lacking an appetite during my struggles with depression. This leads me to eat food that is fast, easy, convenient and ultimately unhealthy. If I am able to consume any food at all, it is generally food that is comforting rather than nutritious.

When my depression reached a point where I had to be hospitalized for my own safety,  I learned the importance of nutrition for the sake of my mental health.  It didn’t matter that I had no drive or energy to prepare a meal, food was provided for me.  It was a huge weight off my shoulders! It seems small but consider for a moment the feeling you have when a friend or family member surprises you with a meal that they have prepared for you. It was one less thing I had to deal with and while I lacked an appetite initially,  even just having a few bites of a meal made a difference. A few bites turned into a few more and before I knew it I was eating three full meals a day and snacks. My body finally had nutritional energy to allow me to work on my emotions.

The hospital had a cooking class once a week in which patients could take part and work together to prepare things like baked goods. Cooking was communal again! Participants would work together to prepare a treat and bring it back to share with everyone.  I had forgotten about how important proper meals and nutrition were but I was suddenly reminded that there was a social aspect as well. Meal times at the hospital were an opportunity for me to bond with other patients. We would all gather together to eat, chat and get to know one another outside of our group therapy sessions.

Going home from the hospital meant that meals were not going to be prepared for me but I still had the experience of understanding the impact proper nutrition on my well- being. I planned meals at home and made arrangements with friends to get together for meals. I also prepared freezer ready meals on days when I had energy so that when I have depressive episodes,  I still have convenient and nutritious meals that I can warm up.

It seems simple, but taking a step back from the complications of life and spending some time to do something good for myself each day has a big impact. Treating my mental and physical health as two separate entities is something that I have to remind myself not to do. The mind and body work together and I feel a great sense of pride when I do something to take care of myself, even something as small as having a nutritious meal.

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