Changing Bipolar Disorder: Through Food

by Carley Cooper 

Spinach Salad with Veggies & Chicken, and Green Tea

This is the second article in a series about Changing Bipolar Disorder.  The first was called “Changing Bipolar Disorder: Through Journaling”. 

Controlling our Bipolar Disorder is a full time job, even during the good times.  We have meds, psychotherapy, and other standard treatments.  However, have you considered food as a form of treatment?  I've discovered there are certain foods that help me keep the Bipolar roller coaster on the up side.

Here’s My Story in a Nutshell

It all started several years ago when I was in a period where I didn't want to take my meds (That's not the case anymore).  During this time I learned much about diet and exercise as a way to keep myself in check.  I had a goal of improving my mental health before it was too late.  I was on a downward spiral that was out of control and getting worse fast.  I believed that going natural was the only thing I could trust as being 'right'.  To me, 'natural' meant God's way, and I knew I couldn't go wrong following that route.  I started reading anything and everything I could get my hands on about healthy living.  I also started testing  myself with certain foods that I read are believed to help.  I was my own guinea pig for testing.

Some Foods Believed to Help Depression

The foods that I have found helped me are:

  • Green Tea (has a long list of benefits in general; green tea can be a blog on it’s own)
  • Pro-biotic Yogurt (helps keep me regular, which helps to improve my mood)
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Flax Seed
  • Flax Oil
  • Oatmeal
  • Spinach (fresh; not canned or frozen).  I use it to make salads instead of lettuce.  It gives me a major energy boost when I eat it.
  • Salmon
  • Chicken
  • Bananas (increases serotonin)
  • Chocolate – Dark, (increases serotonin) 70% or more Coco (avoid Milk-chocolate)
  • Nuts (in particular, Almonds and Walnuts)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar (Raw with Mother). In the beginning, I tried actual organic apple cider vinegar mixed in water (a table spoon in a glass of water 3 – 4 times per day), but the vinegar after several months started to hurt my stomach, so  I switched to ACV capsules - extra strength, organic version.  For 4 years I was medication free because of these.  But you have to figure out the dosage that works for you.  I took 8 capsules each morning with breakfast. DO NOT quit your meds without consulting your doctor first.)
  • Whole Grain breads, pastas, and cereals

Other Ways to Help Your Mood

  • Eat foods that are slow to digest - Foods that are high in fibre such as beans, oats, brown rice, apples, and other fruits and vegetables are good examples.
  • High-fibre foods are also an important staple
  • Protein also helps to avoid blood sugar crashes - Some good sources of protein are chicken, fish, eggs, seeds and nuts, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese and milk, tofu, and peanut butter. Ideally, you should combine protein and carbohydrates at every meal.
  • Often, it’s how we put foods together that makes a difference. Combining protein and carbohydrates can help slow digestion and help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
  • Avoid concentrated sources of simple sugars, such as soft drinks, fruit juices, jellies and jams, syrups, and candy bars.
  • Go for Fatty Acids - Omega-3s, the essential fatty acids found in walnuts, flaxseed; and cold water fish, such as salmon.
  • Limit Alcohol and Caffeine - alcohol is a depressant. Caffeine interrupts sleep cycles, which is important for good mood. If you drink caffeine, don’t stop abruptly as that might cause headaches and make you more irritable.
  • Take a B-vitamin Complex supplement – specifically; B vitamins, including B6, B12, and folic acid; which play a role in the production of brain chemicals that regulate mood. Good food sources for many B vitamins include shellfish, poultry, eggs, low-fat yogurt, and fortified breakfast cereals. Folic acid in particular is found mostly in leafy greens.
  • Take vitamin D - helps your brain produce mood-boosting chemicals - The best food sources of vitamin D are fortified dairy products.  (NOTE: Because Vitamin D and Calcium work together in the body, it is important you always take both together.)
  • Eating regularly is a key factor in boosting mood. Never let yourself get too hungry. Ideally, you should eat something healthy every four to five hours to keep your blood sugar stable.

The Bad Stuff

In addition to increasing the amount of these foods that I have in my daily diet, there are other things that I stay away from.  This helps, at least, as much as the healthy helpful foods.  They are:

  • White Flour
  • Processed foods (if it comes in a can, bag, or box; chances are you don't want it)
  • Too much sugar
  • Foods with a lot of sugars, alcohols, preservatives, or chemicals listed on the labels (If you can't pronounce the words, or don't know what it is... leave the product in the store.)

Trigger Foods

Finally., I found that certain food were in fact triggering bad episodes for me.  I call them 'Trigger Foods'.  My trigger foods could be different than yours.  You need to keep a detailed journal of what you eat and when, as well as a mood journal listing your physical symptoms as well.  Then compare the two.  For example, processed cheese slices cause me to go into a bad downward spiral starting about 20 minutes after I eat them.  It also causes severe 'Foggy Brain Syndrome' that will last for at least 24 hours. Other trigger foods cause me to go into a bad depression, sometimes even with a lot of crying.  By keeping the food and mood journals you can find patterns between your eating and your mood swings.  This will help you find your trigger foods. Once you find them, you will know what to avoid to keep bad episodes at a minimum.

My trigger foods are:

  • Artificial  Sweeteners (gives me severe Foggy Brain Syndrome, and often confusion)
  • Fat Free products (I know the world is preaching fat-free, but it doesn’t agree with me, so I avoid them)
  • Lactose (dropping dairy with lactose from my diet increased my energy levels by leaps and bounds)
  • Processed Cheese Slices (gives me depression, emotional outbursts, Foggy Brain Syndrome)
  • Carbonated Soft Drinks (same results as artificial sweeteners)
  • Other drinks made from crystals, such as Kool-aid (same results as artificial sweeteners and processed cheese)
  • Some red food-dyes (give me migraine headaches)

You can Do It Too!

These lists are very basic, and are just a jumping off point.  I hope this information can help you get started on your own healthy eating program that can be geared to help Bipolar Disorder.  Oh, and exercise regularly!  It helps so very much to increase your mood. 

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I would very much appreciate your feedback.  Thank you. 

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