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Let's Talk About: Nutrition (and why you don't need to diet)

Today's post is part of Dr. Shaban's conversations with the majority of her patients. We here at Saha Psychiatry want people to experience mental and physical health. You can't have one without the other. Part of this journey is paying attention to nutrition. Our goal with discussions on nutrition is to help you make small, meaningful, and sustainable improvements to what you put into your body. However, we know this can be extremely difficult for a variety of reasons.

So here's a list of things we talk about with patients, and myths we try to debunk. First: your weight does not equate to your health. It's not our job to tell you to gain or lose weight. Some people may gain weight while seeing a psychiatrist, others lose weight, others stay stable. It's normal for weight to fluctuate. Your body shape and size is not our primary focus.

Second: you do not need to go on a diet. You may need to adjust the amount of food you are eating, or pay more attention to what types of food you are eating or missing. However, fad diets are not something we promote. Most diets cause weight loss in the short term, then may result in weight gain when you come off of them. Some diets can cause real health problems. The diet industry does not have your health in mind. They want to sell products and focus on your insecurities.

Third: you do not need to do detoxes or cleanses. Your liver's entire job is to detox your body for you. Most detox teas or supplements cause you to pee more, so you think you're losing weight. In reality, they aren't helping you, and sometimes can have real health consequences. Most detoxes are a marketing ploy, most cleanses involve you starving your body, and missing out on key nutrients.

Fourth: the majority of your nutrients can be found by eating them. You do not need expensive supplements. A quick google search can show you what foods to eat to get the nutrients you need. A fancy lab doesn't need to tell you that you're deficient in a bunch of micronutrients. If you eat a wide variety of foods you will (for the most part) get everything you need. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA. That means there's no one monitoring whether or not the contents of the supplement match what is being marketed on the bottle. You could be taking an iron supplement that doesn't have that much in it, and may have a bunch of other chemicals in it. Instead, you could eat an iron rich food, like meat or soy.

Fifth: there's no single thing you need to cut out of your diet. Some people will notice that they feel better if they cut out dairy, or dyes, or salt, or gluten. However, there's no single culprit that we can point to for any given issue. Generally, trying to limit processed foods or too much sugar can be helpful. But cutting out gluten doesn't magically cure anything other than a gluten sensitivity. Pay attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel. If you want to see if you feel better in a dairy free life, give it a try! A month long elimination should help you figure out whether or not you want to cut out that food. If it helps, great! If not, try something else.

Sixth: variety is key. We talk a lot about "eating the rainbow." This is an easy reminder for people to incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables in their daily intake. It doesn't always take cultural foods into consideration, but it can be a nice starting point. We generally recommend people start their nutrition journey by increasing their fruit and/or vegetable intake. If you know you're getting your daily share of nutrients from fruits and vegetables, it's easier to then work on what else you need to put in or out of your daily intake.

Seventh: You can get all your nutrients from a plant based diet if you are mindful of what you are needing and where you can get it. Meat is not the only source of protein. You don't need dairy to get calcium. And there are other sources of Omega's besides fatty fish. The only nutrient that isn't naturally in plants is B12, but there are so many foods that are now fortified to get you your needs. Although we have evolved as omnivores, our bodies were not meant for daily meat intake. In fact, more research is pointing towards the importance of plant based eating. Try cutting out meat once a week to get started. Being a vegetarian isn't right for everyone, but incorporating more vegetables and less meat is important!

Eight: your body needs carbohydrates! Poor carbs, they get such a bad rap in society. But our brains cannot function without an appropriate level of carbohydrates every day. Same for fats, protein, and fiber. In fact, we probably need less protein than we are convinced to ingest. Many of our popular eating habits are in fact based off of biased science.

In the end, nutrition is a journey. We don't eat "perfectly" every day. It's ok to enjoy food and eat what you like. Some days you'll over eat, others you'll really listen to your hunger cues. We don't need to feel guilt or shame around what we are eating. You don't have to lose weight to improve your nutrition and health. Eating fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and carbohydrates are essential for making your body and mind clear and strong. If you want more advice on how to improve your nutrition as part of your holistic approach to health, set up an appointment with Dr. Shaban today!

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