DOs and DON'Ts of Updating Your Diet (And Improving Your Mental Health)

by: Adia Nesbeth

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Eating good is feeling good. It’s true when they say diet impacts your health, both mentally and physically. Food is energy that fuels you. And it’s hard to deny that diet is a hot topic. Lately, there is a rise in veganism, so much so that even fast food restaurants are modernizing their menus by including plant based and gluten free options. But putting aside the commercial aspects of updating your diet is the question of whether this is the healthy option. What does a healthy diet really look like?

Why Update Your Diet?

There are many benefits to making educated decisions when it comes to nutrition. For myself and others, I have found a correlation between what I eat and how I feel. Too much dairy and added sugars will negatively impact my mood and even my self-esteem. I feel more anxiety and stress when my eating habits are unbalanced. However, it wasn’t just what I was eating, but when and how. Creating a new diet from scratch isn’t easy. Finding the time to cook and prepare the food, not to mention trying to stay under budget could lead to stress as well. If you are battling mental health issues like depression, it can be hard to stay motivated or invest the time and energy to updating your entire meal plan. How do you find that balance of making good food that’s good for you, your calendar AND your wallet? There are some tried and tested tips that set me in the right direction.

If you want to update your meals, here are some important DOs and DON’Ts.  

The DOs

  1. DO your research. This part does not have to be as scary or as intense as it sounds. But everyone’s body is different. When making a change, you need to take into account your diet, budget and lifestyle. Start simple, by reading the ingredients lists of the items you buy most regularly. You can’t know what needs changing if you don’t know what you put into your body. Try to limit foods that seem overly processed with many additives. Be sure you are still getting enough vitamins.

  2. DO look up healthy alternatives to your favourite foods. It is possible to love what you eat! It doesn’t mean pizza and ice cream everyday, but it doesn’t mean restricting yourself to salads. Part of the struggle comes from tradition. Food is community and ancestry. However, not all traditions are healthy or relevant anymore. Updating your diet means updating your family recipes by swapping out or reducing the unhealthy ingredients.

  3. DO talk to your doctor before major dietary changes. It doesn’t hurt to check in with your family doctor, if you can before making any extreme changes. For example, if you’re looking into going vegan or vegetarian, you should look into vitamin B12 supplements. 

  4. DO start slow. You want to be mindful of your body’s reaction to new foods. If you have a strange or allergic reaction, you want to know what worked and what didn’t. It will also make the transition easier. 

  5. DO create a meal plan that fits your lifestyle. It’s important to take into account what is realistic to your budget and your calendar. Those elaborate dishes on Pinterest may look nice, but they may also take more time and energy than you have, especially if you are someone with a busy schedule or challenging mental illness. Which leads into the next point...

  6. DO meal prep as much as possible - even if that just includes pre-slicing your carrots, it will make cooking easier and more appealing in the long run. I try to do this at the beginning of the week so I can throw together a quick meal before or after work. So whenever you have some free time, just turn on your favourite show or let an audiobook play from your phone and get to slicing! You will thank yourself later.

  7. DO pair your new diet with exercise. Improving your diet is half the battle, but you should take into account going for walks, yoga or whatever recreational activity speaks to your soul. 

  8. DO remember to love your body no matter what! The goal should be to be as healthy as possible. Be mindful that your diet plan is enriching, not obsessive or restrictive. 

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The DON’Ts

  1. DON’T get caught up in counting calories. Yes, calories are important and it is important to be aware of your calorie intake. But they are not the only relevant information when updating your diet. Becoming obsessive about it can be dangerous. If you would like more information on how to distinguish the difference, talk to your doctor. 

  2. DON’T Change your diet overnight. The worst thing you could do is go $200 over your regular budget buying unfamiliar/specialty ingredients, only to find out you absolutely hate kale and almond butter. Try introducing one or two new recipes at a time.

  3. DON’T Assume vegan means it’s healthy. Plenty of junk food is made without the use of animal byproducts and many meat substitutes are heavily processed. Plant based diets are great and there are healthy and culturally relevant options. However it is still important to look at the ingredient list and eat as much whole foods and complex carbs as possible.

  4. DON’T forget to check in with your body. The important thing is that you feel good. Food should give you energy, so you can go out into the world and be the best version of yourself.

Updating your diet doesn’t have to be a struggle, it just may take some forethought and some motivation. It was only after switching to cashew milk that I realized there was a link to the consumption of dairy and my mental wellness. I chose my wellness. Constant headaches, stomach aches and fatigue was my motivation to update my diet. Whatever push it is for you, hopefully these tips will help you find a place to start.

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