Food and Wellbeing

It’s widely recognised that there is a significant link between the food we eat and our wellbeing, both physical and mental.  With a baffling array of dietary advice online, in magazines and on TV, it can feel overwhelming to know best how to fuel our bodies and minds.  This week, one of our Positive Peers blogs about their personal journey with food and what they have learned from their studies in nutrition.

For further information on food and mood, as well as some practical tips, mental health charity Mind have this great resource.

I find food fascinating. Every person on this planet has a relationship with food and the overwhelming amount of information has made it increasingly difficult to know what is actually good for you.

I became aware of this at age 12 when I watched Food Inc. for the first time. I became infatuated with food. Over the years, I watched an absurd amount of food documentaries and read health articles that seemed to say that everything in our diet was wrong. Yet all of them had different solutions. So, I took it upon myself to try all of them. I tried vegetarianism, veganism, gluten-free, sugar-free, juicing, and the paleo diet. Every time, I was left quite unimpressed. The sources always claimed that I would have super-human energy after I changed my diet and that I would never think to look back to my old ways. Personally, I didn’t feel much of a difference nor did I see a change in my body.

This disappointment led me to the conclusion that, since nobody else seemed to be coming up with a solution I liked, I would have to go study nutrition and find it myself. I started my journey by participating in a summer program at Boston University where I took my first nutrition class. I discovered that nutrition was a complex topic that could not give you one ideal diet for all people. Similarly, I found that research in nutrition is hardly conclusive because it can never be completed in a vacuum and it is unethical to ask people to follow an unreasonable diet. This challenge made me even more excited about nutrition because I will have the opportunity to witness the change in attitudes and recommendations of diets as new information comes out.

Another issue I ran into during my experimentation with all the diets was that they were impractical. Most of the diets focused on restriction. I found this particularly difficult because they didn’t factor in culture. I grew up in a Bulgarian household where meat and cheese are a very important component of our diet. It was hard at first to find things that I knew how to prepare… and that I liked. Additionally, my grandmother was adamantly opposed to my vegan diet and even showed me an article stating that veganism was a mental disorder (from a questionable source, of course).  However, anyone from a Bulgarian family knows that you never question Baba’s sources. This struggle between culture and a healthy lifestyle got me thinking about the complicated relationship between people and the food they eat.

Now that I am studying nutrition at university, I am finding that the world of nutrition is far from being decoded and that no one should firmly commit to a diet based on a few things they heard from a documentary or an article. So far, the only thing I firmly know is that diet is unique to the individual. Other common features of a healthy diet consist of high whole food, high fruit and vegetable content, and most importantly, moderation!

This post was written by a Positive Peer. The Positive Peers are health students who support other health students through wellbeing initiatives. Find out more about them here!

Meditation: The Secret to Self-love

Happy belated Valentine’s Day!  At this time of year, we often use Valentine’s as a chance to reflect on the important relationships in our life, romantic or otherwise.  But sometimes, we can forget to think about the most important relationship of all – the one we have with ourselves!  One of our Positive Peers and meditation aficionado has written this blog post with exactly that in mind and shares here the benefits of meditation for general wellbeing and as a gateway to self-care and self-love!

I initially perceived  meditation as an abstract concept and associated it with peaceful monks amidst  the Himalayas and those 50 times the level of “zen” I would ever be. However, to my surprise it’s more practical and accessible than I first imagined.

I first encountered meditation when I participated in a 5-week Mindfulness course that investigated whether it can influence your interactions with patients and service users in clinical practice. It encouraged me to incorporate formal and informal mediation practices into my daily routine and although I was initially apprehensive, the benefits became apparent quite quickly and eventually I started looking forward to the time I took out of my day to meditate.

So what actually is it? Meditation is not about emptying your mind but observing what’s in there and accepting it.

I found that by being less engrossed by the running commentary that existed within my head, I was able to do the things I was supposed to be doing more efficiently. It also enabled me to be a little less critical towards myself as I was less reactive to the thoughts that created doubt and worry and hence more able to face stressful or intimidating situations and just deal with them. This changed the way I responded to my own actions and enabled me to be less judgmental, improving relationships I had with myself and others.

So how can you give it a go? What you should know is that when doing any activity whether that’s eating, washing your hands or running, by being more attentive towards the processes and sensations associated with it you are in fact meditating and the more you practice doing so, the easier it becomes. Be aware that you are not going to become a pro meditator straight away, it is a slow burner and it does take a while to reap the benefits but it’s worth it when you get there!

There are also a lot of resources out there that can introduce you to meditation. Some that I found useful were these free audio clips: http://franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness/-  taken from an 8 week Mindfulness course pioneered at Oxford which fyi you can actually find in book form at some KCL libraries. I also thoroughly enjoyed using the app Headspace, this lets you try out a basic 10 day introduction to meditation for FREE and what’s great is that you can do it anywhere and choose the duration which can range from 3-10 minutes. There is also great accompanying animations that make it a bit more relative. The founder of the app discusses his experiences of meditations in this TED talk here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzR62JJCMBQ-.

There are also lots of Mindfulness books out there, some of them are discussed here  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwtg6kN83i4 and Just Breathe London, London’s first Mindfulness initiative which aims to make meditation more accessible to everyone, runs frequent events that discuss its basic concepts . More info can be found here: http://www.justbreatheproject.com/ .

So take a little time out of your day and give it ago, there’s no harm in trying and it may help you foster a bit more self-love.

This post was written by a Positive Peer. The Positive Peers are health students who support other health students through wellbeing initiatives. Find out more about them here!