Hi! I’m Fit, Foodie, and a little F***ed Up.
“What the f*** does that even mean?” You say.
In a nutshell, that’s what this entire column is about: Fitness, Food, and Mental Health. These three things have been a constant source of struggle, strife, and triumph for me. They have constructed the tracks on my roller coaster of life, making me go up and down and up and down again. Truly, they impact everyone just as much as me, but some people struggle to navigate their cart and build their tracks more than others. This happens for an infinite number of reasons that are influenced greatly by your genetics, environment, and experiences. I’ll be delving deeper into that later.
Welcome to my struggle.
At one point, I had a grip on my weight. I was born 4 lbs and 5 ounces. I was the skinniest little baby in the hospital and all the ten pounder babies hated me for it. I was a proud, content little infant. After that, things got a little out of hand. Growing up, I found myself turning to food for comfort in dealing with life’s hassles, my depression, anxiety, and ADD. Therefore, I was always a little overweight. My poor diet and lack of exercise contributed further to anxiety and depression, creating a cycle of not-so-ideal health and emotional turmoil.
Does having depression, anxiety, and ADD make me “f***ed up”? I guess it depends on who you ask. We’re all weird and crazy in our own ways, and I think everyone would be better off if we all talked to a therapist. But it’s just more fun to say “f***ed up” than “fit, foodie, and suffers from mental health issues”. The bottom line is: over the years I’ve noticed when I was healthy, i.e. physically active and eating well. I felt better. I was happier and had a great grip on my depression and anxiety. Consequently, some of my lowest points have been during a period where I experienced high stress, did little to no exercise, and binge ate. Essentially, diet, exercise, and mental health tie together and influence one another.
When you work out and have a balanced diet, you reap rewards onto your entire body, especially your mind. Have you ever heard of endorphins? If not, please watch “Legally Blonde” for the first hour or so and you will be given context. “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. And happy people just don’t kill their husbands.” Exercise releases endorphins into your brain and basically signals your neurons to release a waterfall of dopamine (blissful, happy, tingly feelings) in the brain, creating a natural, safe high that wreaks positive rewards onto your entire existence.
We all know exercise is good for us. It’s a simple “How to be a Human 101”. If you don’t believe me still, google it because WebMD and some scientists somewhere will have something to say about it. Exercise is not just about the “I look good” confidence, it’s the “I feel good” confidence. And that’s what’s important. Looking good can just be a side effect of that. So exercise? Good for your machine.
Your diet is meant to give you energy and fuel your body. When you fuel it with unhealthy food it won’t function optimally and can lead to many side effects, the most obvious being weight gain.
Healthy food? Good for your machine. Exercising literally makes you happy, can sharpen your attention, regulate your body; good food does the same.
What can make this difficult for those who experience mental illness, however, is motivating yourself to do these “machine friendly” things. Your mind is the window through which you see the world. Mental illness even further colors and shapes this window, influencing your outlook, emotions, decisions and relationships. So when that window is painted a shade of gray and topped off with a depression filter, it makes it hard to see the brilliant sunlight that is exercise, and the vibrant green grass that is healthy eating. You just want to keep the window closed.
Even those who have not experienced mental illness may suffer from emotional problems, low self-esteem without proper diet and exercise. Your body affects your brain, and your brain affects your body.
So what does mental illness look like?
Typically, mental illness is not like what the media portrays (shocker). Even the phrase “mental illness” has a heavy, negative connotation. You automatically imagine old school mental hospitals fully equipped with electro shock, intimidating doctors, barred windows, and pacing patients. Not everyone who has a mental illness suffers from multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, etc.
Mental illness can also blend in. You see it in the people who cross paths with you every day, even if you don’t realize it. It can be the cute athlete in class next to you who can’t focus because of their ADD. It can be the mother of two speed walking through the grocery store, running on anxiety and even more caffeine. It can be the quiet, kind-faced person sitting next to you on a bench, who suffers from a depression that makes it painful just to leave the solitude of their bedroom.
Mental illness doesn’t have to be crippling, but it does have to be treated through therapy, medication, support from loved ones, or simply learned cognitive behaviors. Even more importantly, it needs to be embraced. It can strike even the most unsuspecting of people. It is not limited to a socio-economic class, race, gender, or sexual orientation. It can be found in the healthiest and happiest of families. While genetics, experiences, and your environment greatly influence whether you experience a mental illness like depression or not, sometimes it is simply altered brain chemistry that even further shapes and colors the window through which you see the world.
I’m here to talk about mental illness, get rid of the stigma, help people understand it, and assist anyone trying to survive and thrive despite the challenges mental illness can pose, in any way that I can. Principally, this will be through exercise and diet as I believe strongly that these things can help pull you out of depression and anxiety. But, I want this to be useful information to anyone who comes across it. So this is for everyone.
Until next time,
Fit, Foodie, and a little F***ed Up