When it comes to treating mental illness and substance abuse disorders, you think about psychotherapy and medication, but you probably don’t think about nutrition. Although it isn’t possible to treat these disorders with diet changes alone, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests a healthy diet triggers positive chemical and physiological changes in the brain. Therefore, what you eat can improve or worsen symptoms of various illnesses, especially depression and anxiety.
What Does a Nutritional Counselor Do?
Nutritional counseling is being incorporated to many psychiatric and addiction treatment programs, including those at Silver Hill Hospital. Registered dietitians (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN) are in charge of completing the nutritional assessments. The registered dietitians have a bachelor’s degree, complete an accredited clinical program and pass a national test; all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.
A nutritional counselor assesses a person’s dietary habits, weight and health problems and then identifies changes to be made and provides recommendations for implementing the changes.
Role of Nutritional Counseling in Behavioral Health
Nutrition is an important aspect in behavioral health treatment because not only can foods, beverages and nutritional deficiencies trigger symptoms, some foods can even interact with medications. Every person’s needs are different, but some common recommendations include:
- Incorporating Omega-3 fatty acids – Low levels of omega-3s are known to negatively impact a person’s mood. Adding foods like salmon, mackerel and sardines, or alternatives like flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil can all boost Omega-3 levels.
- Upping intake of foods rich in magnesium – This mineral has been linked to reducing stress levels and helping reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Foods rich in magnesium include: dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit and dark chocolate.
- Limit caffeine and sugar – Those with anxiety should be careful with caffeine because it can worsen symptoms. Sugar can negatively affect anyone because it causes spikes in blood sugar. Those fluctuations can cause a temporary boost in mood, but then causes a crash.
- Drink lots of water – Dehydration is physically harmful, but it can also make you grumpy and disoriented. In addition to water, low fat or skim milk has whey protein that will improve your mood, memory and reduce stress. Skipping or limiting soda is best.
Note: These are general recommendations and it’s important to have an evaluation by a registered dietitian to address your unique needs.
Nutritional counseling also plays an essential role in eating disorder treatment. At Silver Hill, patients receive comprehensive medical testing to ensure your overall health and then routinely meet with a dietician to discuss food options that address the individual’s physical needs and preferences, and to encourage greater comfort and flexibility with a variety of foods.
Good Nutrition is Important in Depression, but Often Overlooked, PsychCentral
10 Nutritional Deficiencies that May Cause Depression, PsychCentral
7 Foods That May Contribute to Your Depression, Psych Central
Nutrition in Recovery from Addiction, Psychology Today
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