How to Kick Start Your Brain
I struggled for years with hyper-vigilance when I got back to Canada after my tour in Somalia. In the military it is not uncommon to never place your hands in your pocket ‘cause if you do the Sergeant-Major would have you by the … how shall I say, … short and curlies (trying to keep the language down). But for several years I couldn’t even walk with my child’s hand in mine. With every step down the street I would be calculating the movement of every person and assessing the upcoming person’s physical and potential threat ability based on their movement. Coupled with lack of sleep from nightmares I would occasionally crash mentally. Although I never realized it at the time, my diet changed during that period. I started focusing on different foods.
I remember sitting down to an extra large pizza and devouring it by myself. I could pack a plate of pasta to the point of overflow and then go back for seconds. I would think nothing of eating a half gallon of ice cream or more by myself and then having a bag of chips and washing it down with 2 liters of caffeinated pop. Not to mention my consumption of coffee increased dramatically. At the time I was 195lbs, and weightlifting not to mention daily running and training as an airborne paratrooper, so it was easy to burn off the calories. As it turns out, not only is it unhealthy physically in the long term it is also unhealthy mentally, both in the long and short term.
Turns out the brain eats fat, not carbohydrates and sugar. In fact the brain prefers a high fat low carb diet and recent health studies are showing our low fat diets are killing us. So why did I suddenly crave starches and sugars when my brain was having difficulties focusing or while it was in overdrive hyper-vigilance. As it turns out part of the reason is I was eating the North American low fat diet of the 1990’s. When the brain is exhausted and/or starving from not enough fats (both result in the same reaction) it searches for any food that will help it to stay alert the quickest but not necessarily healthiest way. Caffeine, Sugar and Starches (which are easily and quickly converted to sugar), become the food the stressed individual craves. Hence the nick name comfort food I suspect.
Although it gives a quick stimulus, it also creates fatigue. The short rapid highs are followed by deep depressing lows and thus the cycle of needing the next quick fix begins. With every sleepless night and tiring day comes a greater need for the sugars, starches and stimulants. Truth is it’s a very destructive path. Couple the lows with the anxiety and depression associated with mental health issues and in my opinion it is a receipt for self destruction. The best thing you can do for yourself if you are a victim of mental health in particular PTSD is not compensating for fatigue and sleeplessness with poor diet and stimulants. The very first dietary change we should make is to not consume any starches or sugars or as little as possible. And simultaneously increase our good fats exponentially.
The easiest way to increase your good fats is to supplement breakfast, lunch and supper with fish oil tablets (omega 3, 6, & 9). Add whole fats to your diet, that is fat that has never been processed or has very little processing. For example cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil/butter, butter instead of margarine, or lard instead of shorting. Choose fruits and vegetables and other foods high with natural fats and eat them raw such as, avocados, bananas and nuts. A great site I use is http://nutritiondata.self.com/ Just plug in the food, find the way you plan on eating it in the list and then read the nutritional chart complete with glycemic load, fat breakdown and nutrient per 100 grams, cup or other measurement. As a rule the more processed a food is the higher it is in starch and sugars, just check out how your favorite comfort food stacks up when you check it out on the nutritional data site. None of this will magically make your mental health disappear, but you may just find it gets you off some of your medications and has you feeling better than you have by eating your comfort food. For me it has made all the difference in the world as I enjoy clarity of thought and emotional stability.