Q: I don’t have a degree in nutrition, but I think many of my clients could improve their moods by incorporating some basic ideas about healthy eating into their self-care. How can I help them do this?
A:After working as a psychotherapist and a behavioral medicine specialist for more than 35 years with diverse populations of depressed and stressed clients, I’ve found that the standard North American diet—which includes a large proportion of refined foods, such as breads, rice, pastas, and sugary drinks—is a prime contributing factor in many clients’ presenting complaints. Of course, just as there’s no one correct psychotherapeutic intervention for everyone, there’s no one diet for everyone, but I’ve developed two basic dietary requirements for helping clients better integrate wellness, self-care, and nutrition. One is to eliminate refined carbohydrates and sugars from their diet, and the other is to increase their protein intake.
Mood follows food, and mood swings follow blood-sugar swings. Refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour, cause blood sugar to rise sharply and then drop; hence the quick pickup when we grab sugar, followed by the just-as-quick letdown within an hour or two as glucose levels drop and fatigue and irritability return. To balance mood, stabilizing blood sugar is the first nutritional action to take.
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