What Eating Whole Foods Did For My Mental Health

My mom has always been a great cook. I remember helping her with meal prep when I was a kid, and I certainly loved eating. However, the joy and knowledge of cooking never seemed to sink in. As a free-range young adult in college, I microwaved cheddar cheese thinking it would make nacho cheese. Obviously, any yellow cheese plus heat equals nacho cheese, right? So, that was a bad idea but it exemplifies my knowledge level in the kitchen, for years.

Initial changes

It was May 2014, and I was either fatigued or foggy most days. I’d long been lethargic but for the first time in my life, I worried about where that would lead. Over time my disposition had become cynical, too. I wasn’t always like that. Something had gradually shifted. 

Seeking to address my health, I knew one place to start was the kitchen. Since I hadn’t been the best at providing for myself, l I often chose fast, convenient foods over healthier options. I perceived healthier options to be more difficult. Now, it was time to shake things up. I’ve always liked reading, I can read a recipe, I figured. I chopped fruits, vegetables, leafy greens. I Googled mince, saute, and many other culinary terms often. I began to feel comfortable preparing food. Most everything I cooked, I burnt – but I could prep.

changing my diet for mental health

The natural increase in whole food made less room in my day for processed foods. In August of that year, I decided to mindfully avoid added sugars. I wanted time to clear my head. Like a Dry January, but for cookies.

I never planned to permanently remove those foods from my life, since I knew that wasn’t sustainable. Christina Chu, MS, RD, LDN Performance Dietitian at Bracey Performance in Chicago, IL., supports this approach, noting that “A ‘perfectly strict’ diet is not sustainable. Release some of the ‘power’ … foods may have over us, by incorporating [them] into our daily lives.” With my mindful reset, I made the time to determine what a healthy balance looked like for me.

Noticeable changes

I first noticed a change about two or three weeks into August 2014. From the inside out, I felt positive. I hadn’t been as tired lately, my digestion regulated, I felt less rushed and more focused. I felt happier, not because of any change in my appearance, and only partially from goal setting-attaining. I was nourished.

As my inner alacrity grew, my outlook on food evolved. The work involved to regain my health and establish a mindful diet was, at times, challenging, but always rewarding. Slow and subtle at first, but like a trickle to a stream to a river, the power became undeniable.

The greatest teacher I had on this journey was my own body. By listening to how it reacted to a whole-food-based meal versus a meal that had little to no whole foods, my body told me what the best fuel was.

Unexpected changes

I never thought I would love cooking, especially with whole foods; and I definitely never realized how big the mindset change would be. More myself than I’d been in ages, I credited my newfound clarity of mind to fueling it with high-quality, whole-food-based carbohydrates.

As Chu told me, “The brain requires carbohydrates to function. So making sure to include quality carbohydrates sources such as fruit, whole grains, beans/lentils, and starchy vegetables at every meal is essential for maximizing the brain’s function.”

It’s been six years since I redefined my relationship with food and began purposefully incorporating whole foods. I haven’t tried to make nacho cheese again, but I do have several recipes I’m confident enough to make for friends and family now. Cooking, a once abhorrently viewed chore is, in fact, a joy.

My favorite new addition to my kitchen is my 9 month old, Scarlett. I hope she learns the joy of cooking from me, even if it takes years to sink in. After all, sometimes the most sweeping changes are the unexpected ones.

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About Rich Williams

Rich Williams is a health-conscious writer/comedian living in Chicago, Illinois. Digital marketer by day, cat (and human) dad by night! Rich’s love for food, writing and comedy makes for entertaining and savory reading. Rich may love all people but he is feared by salads worldwide. Follow along with Rich, whole foods and his cats on Instagram @richmwilliams