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Michele sat down with ICMI, a platform for iconic speakers and entertainers, to discuss the importance of nutrition for strong mental health. Learn how to improve your own wellbeing with her tips and tricks!

Explain the role of nutrition for strong mental health? 

Most people think about nutritionist education and consults discussing issues relating to the physical body like lean bodies, immune systems and fat loss. But I love educating people on the importance and impact that nutrition has on mental health.

We have an epidemic of anxiety, depression and mood disorders in the modern world, with 1 out of every 4 people being affected by these silent and scary conditions. Mental health issues can be caused by many reasons from genetics, viruses, social pressures, toxicity and quite frankly, many things that we cannot control. But what we do know now is that eating well can improve our wellbeing and mental health, and eating is something we can control.

The ‘SMILES’ trial is the first gold standard study which concludes that ‘dietary improvement may provide an efficacious and accessible treatment strategy for the management of this highly prevalent mental disorder.’  World researchers have a spotlight on food and its nutrients right now as modern medicine is simply not enough for this insidious health concern.

We know that when we eat meals that are tasty and full of whole foods that aren’t packaged and processed, we simply feel better – physically and mentally. We are less bloated, more energetic, more productive and sleep better.  

Why is this?

It’s not only what’s in this food from a nutritional perspective that assists with our brain chemistry, but it’s what’s not included.

What is your advice for someone wishing to get started in using nutrition to improve mental health?

So where do you start? Nourish not punish. I dislike it when people are not eating joyfully.

So, let’s go back to my point on what is in the food. Just eat real, whole food, unpackaged and unprocessed most of the time. What’s in real food that assists with our brain chemistry? Iron, B12, essential fatty acids and amino acids are all vitamins and minerals that are essential in our biochemical pathways that help create happy hormones and neurotransmitters.

Whole, real food also doesn’t contain added sugar. Excess sugar consumption and an overload on hidden sugars can lead to feelings of being wired then tired, exhaustion and mood swings – all of which can appear like anxiety, depression and mood disorders.

When I talk about eating real, whole food most of the time, I am not talking about being perfect. I am a qualified nutritionist who likes a bit of coffee and wine. Removing added sugars from your diet is imperative as sugar plays havoc with our digestion system and gut. It can often create what we call ‘dysbiosis’. Simply think of it like this – sugar creates unhappy guts but guess where most of our happy hormone is created? In our gut. About 85% of our serotonin, our happy hormone, resides in our gut. Does it not make sense that we need to clean up our diet to maximise the hormone that makes us happy?

How did your own interest in nutrition and mental health come about?

I am a great believer in the thought ‘if we can get our mental health and clarity right, this can have a wonderful knockoff effect on our emotional resilience and physical wellbeing.’

There was a time during my working career when I was having panic attacks and anxiety. As it turned out, they were temporary. They were crippling and scary but only lingered for about a year. After a lot of interventions with doctors and consulting, I uncovered it came about from eating on the run, thoughtless eating, junk food munching, a massive sugar addiction and lack of sleep. Food and bad food choices became a mental health hijacker for me.

I was lucky – it was not true mental health issues, but this was the beginning for me to become a nutritional researcher on food and mood. I currently dedicate the proceeds of my book, The Healthy Hormone Diet, to Deakin University and their nutritional research. With research, we will be able to continue to help mental health suffers, with our fork!

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