Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug and exercise is the most under-utilised antidepressant

My post today is probably a bit more contentious than my regular posts but it’s a topic that’s close to my heart for a number of reasons.
How often do we read stories about people piling on the pounds because they have low self-esteem and they turn to the wrong food for comfort? Or people getting stuck in a vicious circle of hating the way they look and feeling down about it so once again turning to the snack cupboard in a bid to cheer themselves up? On a different subject how many of us know people that have suffered from depression and been prescribed anti-depressants? And on the contrary how many of you feel better after a rubbish day when you force yourselves to go to the gym for an hour even if you don’t want to?
My point to writing this post today is to highlight just how important diet and exercise can be to your overall life. I think people have become more aware of this over recent years but I still think it’s massively underestimated. Now I’m no expert in health and fitness and don’t pretend to be; it’s not an area I’m qualified in; ask me about leadership, management, risk & investigations and I can give you theories for days as that’s my expertise. However I have spent a lot of time doing research over the years since my love for health and fitness began and so this post is based purely on my own opinions of what I’ve learnt. Which goes to show you don’t have to be an expert in the field to be knowledgeable enough to make informed decisions about your health.
‘”I really regret that workout”…said no one ever’
When you exercise your body releases chemicals called endorphins. When these endorphins interact with receptors in your brain they reduce the feeling of pain and also trigger a positive effect in the body which can in turn improve people’s self-esteem and boost people’s mood. This is why often we feel great after a good workout. Who doesn’t love the feeling when you’ve been to the gym; know you’ve worked hard, come away feeling more awake, fresh and absolutely loving life? That’s your endorphins kicking in (WebMD)
The National Health Service (NHS) recommends exercise if you are suffering from depression. This is based on guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) who legislate the quality of health and social care in England based on evidence-based practice. NICE recommends that people who suffer from mild to moderate depression should take part in about 3 sessions of exercise per week for a period of 10-14 weeks (NHS Exercise for Depression)
So I wonder why the UK now has the seventh highestprescribing rates for anti-depressants in the Western world with around 4million Britons taking them per year which is twice as many as a decade ago? It does make one wonder whether it’s simply easier for a General Practitioner (GP) to prescribe you a course of anti-depressants in your 10 minute appointment which will often be running late as services are so stretched, than to sit down and really understand your needs and identify the most appropriate care treatment package for you.
The same article referenced above also describes how research has proven that anti-depressants are actually no more effective than talking therapies such as counselling. However, if you go through the NHS for these services you potentially could be waiting a considerable amount of time. I’d like to know how many GPs discuss the element of exercise with patients suffering from depression and help them to develop a plan where they could try this method first before handing over a packet of tablets that will have a range of side effects.
Don’t get me wrong; medication has its place and I’m sure for some people anti-depressants will have helped but I do really wonder whether it’s just something to mask the problem rather than actually solving it.
I’m under no illusion that exercise alone will solve depression but I honestly feel it’s so underutilised as a treatment and so many people could benefit from something that doesn’t have to be that time consuming or expensive. You don’t have to join a gym, even a walk every day could be beneficial and you don’t have to spend hours exercising; a 20 minute walk would make a difference.
I came across a few interesting articles online including one from the American Psychological Association (APA) which talks about clinicians being very aware of the physical benefits of exercise but not paying as much attention to the mental benefits. Whilst the article acknowledges there is further work to be done in order to understand how much exercise is required, techniques and mechanisms behind these boosts we feel, it sums it up perfectly at the end when it concludes that ‘as the evidence piles up, the exercise-mental health connection is becoming impossible to ignore’
I’d like to see exercise used more pro-actively over the coming years to treat depression than what we currently see.
‘Don’t ask why healthy food is so expensive, ask why junk food is so cheap’
So, now onto the food side of things. My diet is something I’ve become increasingly aware of over the last few years. Growing up my mum always made sure I had a balanced diet; I always got my fruit and veg and plenty of goodness in me but I was allowed treats too. Once I hit 18/19 my diet wasn’t good to be honest as I started going out clubbing every weekend so I was binge drinking and my diet consisted heavily of takeaways. I didn’t exercise much at that point either but I never put on any weight so I never felt the need to (not having an awareness of the impact it would be having on me internally). I lived that way for a couple of years probably before I outgrew that stage and gradually got a bit more into exercising and tried to eat a bit better. I still had very little knowledge at that point on what foods were good or bad other than the obvious stuff.
In 2013 I got much more into my training and this stepped up in 2014 when I sought the help of a Personal Trainer and along with this I cleaned up my diet. Since then my knowledge has just grown and grown and I’m so much more aware of what I’m putting inside my body.
You’d be surprised and shocked at how much research and information is out there on food and nutrition yet as a country we still seem to live in oblivion to this.
As you all know I’m dieting at the moment so my foods are focused around that but in general I’m very selective about what I eat. It genuinely horrifies me when I go into supermarkets as the shelves are just lined with poor quality food. And some of these are dressed up to be healthy such as quick and easy ready meals that claim to be good for you. Negative. They are not good for you. They stay on the shelves for weeks so imagine all the additives and extra products they put in there to maintain their shelf life.
I never now buy anything without first checking all of its nutritional content as believe me you will find some shockers in there, as I did when I first started taking more notice. One of my biggest bug bears is people on diets eating things such as tins of soup without having any appreciation for what’s gone into it. This article in The Telegraph highlights some damning truths with some soups on the high street shelves having more salt in them than a portion of takeaway pizza.
Ready meals such as cottage pie loadened with salt, same as many cereals and the list goes on. People don’t understand the health implications that this can lead to further down the line with higher risks of strokes and heart disease. And it’s the same with the sugar contents within certain foods. And people are conned into believing that these are actually good for you because they contain less than 100 calories per tin. Check your food’s labels before you buy it.
People often think if they physically look ok in their appearance that’s the main thing. And yes we all want to look good let’s not lie but it’s more important what’s happening on the inside. It is all about balance in life and if you want a KFC every few months then fair enough have one or a trip to Maccas after a night out, but having these every week is just so damaging for your body. There are certain things such as fast-food of this sort that I simply refuse to put inside my body other than 1-2 times per year (if that!) as after researching what’s in some of the products I just can’t bring myself to put that rubbish inside my body.
It’s each to their own but this is why I don’t agree with many of the fad-diets that are out there. I won’t name them as I don’t want to offend people but honestly when you look at some things that diets allow and then actually look at the nutritional content it’s pretty shocking. Yes overall it might make you lose weight short-term as it’s low in calories but is it actually any good for you on the inside? Making an adjustment to your lifestyle and having balance is a much more sensible approach in my opinion.
Supermarkets don’t help our battle as it’s no secret that you can save money by buying unhealthy food. Studies show that price promotions on unhealthy foods are more successful than price promotions on healthy alternatives which may be more telling of the times but often supermarkets promote these offers more obviously than the healthy ones. But following a healthy diet doesn’t have to be expensive if you’re smart with your meal planning, your preparations and sometimes shop around for the good deals. Making bigger portions and saving these for lunches or dinners during the week can help and there are so many recipe ideas out there that focus on keeping meals cheap and easy. I love Jamie Oliver and his books and my new favourite is Lean in 15 by Joe Wicks (I’m going to do a separate post about this soon)

It can take a little bit more time to prep your food rather than picking up a tin off the supermarket shelf or grabbing a ready meal out of the freezer but generally it tastes so much better when you make it yourself and wouldn’t you rather know exactly what’s going into your body?
I’ve seen and heard on so many occasions where people are fed up with their appearance, feel self-conscious and anxious and as a remedy they comfort eat. They’ll turn to their favourite bar of chocolate or allow themselves ‘just one more’ takeaway before they promise to get back on track. And it’s just a vicious circle. Experts often refer to it as ‘emotional eating’ these days as, as human beings we are renowned for our eating habits reflecting our emotional state. When some people are stressed their diet suffers or they reward themselves for doing something good with some naughty food. But this doesn’t solve the emotional issue we’re dealing with; it often makes it worse as we then feel guilty for what we’ve eaten too. Sometimes it’s ok to react to situations by eating but if this becomes your primary coping mechanism then that’s not a good place to be in.
And unfortunately I see this so often and people misusing food and not appreciating the effect it has on you physically and mentally. The physical health conditions associated with a poor diet are often well-documented with conditions more likely such as diabetes or high cholesterol. However some studies have shown that having a poor diet can actually also lead to mental health issues such as depression. This website is really good for documenting just what happens to your body when you eat junk food.
I haven’t talked about obesity in this article and it’s not something I want to spend too much time talking about. I think most of us are aware of the growing numbers of people who are obese in our country and the effects that has not only on individuals but society as a whole. I was pleased to see today more developmental plans put in place by the Department of Health to help tackle obesity in higher risk towns and cities throughout the country but you can’t help but think of all the tax-payers money that this is using on conditions that have often been self-inflicted. Yet we don’t have enough money to put into cancer treatments and therapies; but that’s one for another day.
Wow, I’ve certainly rambled on a bit there but I was keen to write this post and just highlight some of the issues that are out there and hopefully make people a little more conscious about what they’re putting in their body and about the lifestyle they lead. I think there’s a lot of positive work being done across the country to promote living a healthy lifestyle but I think we could do more. The first part of this is personal responsibility; people need to stop being ignorant to the reality of it and start realising the importance of living an active and healthy lifestyle and the potential risks associated with not doing so.

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