The Brain is a Body Part

The following post is about mental health. These are my experiences and are in no way meant to be prescriptive for other people. I realize that the issues we each deal with are complex and varied, and that my experiences are likely very different than others. This is not a post about how to solve mental health problems, it is simply a post about things that seem to have worked for me and how my body seems to function.

We tend to separate the brain from the body. At best, we see the two as having a symbiotic relationship but we also treat them as independent and operating in a vacuum. When I first realized that I had some mental health issues that needed professional help I saw a therapist and started my own research. There was a lot of information about medication and therapeutic techniques to help both the foundation of my problems and some of the ways it has manifested itself (trichotillomania, suicidal thoughts, depression, etc) but I can’t recall ever having a discussion about overall health practices.

Eating right, drinking water, sleeping enough, and exercising regularly was never mentioned by my therapist as something that I should be doing. Looking back, I feel like that is a huge gap. My brain is a body part and the practices that keep my heart and lungs healthy, strengthen my muscles, maintain a healthy level of body fat, and provide vital nutrients to my organs are also beneficial to my brain health (which is the physical location of mental health).

Looking back, there appears to be a clear correlation between my mental health improving and adopting healthier habits (even though I adopted those healthier habits for other reasons… mostly to get laid). While I think I have a fairly healthy lifestyle now (see below for details), it started very incrementally. Adopting little practices like going for a morning walk for 15 minutes outside before breakfast or replacing soda with carbonated water or turning off computer screens an hour before bed started a snowball effect towards better body health (which includes the brain). I’d guess that it has taken five years or so for me to get to the point I am now, and that journey has had many struggles, but the difference between my mental health now and in 2012 is night and day.

I guess I just think it is a shame that I’ve never had a therapist sit down with me and go over my diet or exercise routine. I know that therapists aren’t dietitians or nutritionists or personal trainers, but having a base knowledge in these subjects (or partnering with professionals in those fields) could be incredibly beneficial to the parents. Medication helps, therapy helps, meditation helps… but other things help as well. Cutting out bad food helps, drinking water helps, getting outside helps, running helps. At least that is my experience.

So, what are my health practices like now? Every day is imperfect, but here is what an ideal day would look like. Looking at the list of daily practices it seems like I do a ton of stuff, but when I cut out Facebook and shitty TV I actually end up with downtime at the end of the day for more reading or an evening walk.

Daily Practices
Outside exercise in the morning (anything from a 10-minute walk to a 7-mile run)
Stoic reading – a short, daily exercise
Write (journaling, blogging, fiction writing, anything at all)
Meditation
Work on a new skill (foreign language, musical instrument, coding, etc)
Sleep from 10pm-6am (8 solid hours, though I’ve been waking up early recently and I’m not sure why)
Weight lifting or yoga
Read daily
Cold shower or bath – sometimes 60 seconds, sometimes 15-minutes
1-2 additional daily walks, usually during lunch and after work

Diet – ~1,800 calories (No, I’m not hungry all day. Yes, I get plenty of protein for health and muscle growth) – Carb/Fat/Protein = 55%/25%/20% (~Grams 260/55/95)
8 cups of water
2-3 cups of coffee
5 cups of green tea
3 servings of nuts/seeds
3 servings of fruit
3 servings of non-leafy vegetables
3 servings of leafy vegetables
2 servings of legumes
2 servings of whole grains
1 serving of nut milk
1 serving of plant-based protein powder
1 serving of nutritional yeast*
B-12 supplement*
Choline supplement*
8/16 intermittent fast (I have an 8-hour window to eat, usually 10am-6pm

So, that’s where I am right now and I feel like my body (including my brain) is the healthiest it has ever been. If you have any practices that you have worked for you I’d love to hear about them, I’m always looking to improve and experiment. Leave me a message on SurveyMonkey.

*These are due to my vegan diet and may not be necessary for others. Though, I highly recommend running your daily diet through a program like www.cronometer.com to discover any nutrients that may be lacking. I was shocked at some of my deficiencies and some of the nutrients I was getting too much of. For me, focusing on calories or the fat/carb/protein distribution was not the best way to find a healthy diet. Instead, I started with the needed vitamins and minerals and build a diet that met all my needs, the rest just fell into place and I ended up with around ~1,800 calories that was 55% carb, 25% fat, and 20% protein (260 grams, 55 grams, 95 grams)

Alcohol – Revisited

Last week I decided to take a week off of drinking. I wasn’t perfect at abstaining for seven days, but I think it was an overall success. I didn’t drink any alcohol Monday-Thursday, shared one beer with my partner on Friday, drank 5 beers during my calorie splurge day on Saturday, and split two beers with my partner on Sunday. Overall, I drank six beers, which is a significant reduction from 21 beers I had the week before. To put that in calorie and financial terms, I spent $30 less on beer and consumed 2,325 calories less. Over a month that would amount to $120 and 9,300 calories, or 1/3 of my rent and 3 lbs. Or, to extrapolate it out even further, if I take that $120 each month and put it into my Wealthfront investment account I’ll have about $1,650, which would basically pay for a big chunk of our honeymoon to Iceland. And, I’ll be about 36lbs lighter… which is actually kind of ridiculous because then I would way 115lbs, which is unhealthy, but you get the point. (Or if I put that money into Ethereum I would be a bazillionaire by August)

Now, I have no intention of abstaining completely from alcohol. I don’t think that is necessary or practical for me, but I do want to continue to trim out “unnecessary” beers.

So, what is “unnecessary”? Basically, the beer that I drink because I’m bored, stressed out, feeling slothful, mindless drinking, or when I’m feeling uncomfortable in a public setting. If I can work towards eliminating that type of drinking then I think it will further my other goals, whether they be my financial, work, physical fitness, mental health, or social goals.

Another way to look at it is to list out the situations where I think having a beer is more appropriate for me. I don’t think it needs to be a special occasion, but I think there should be a reason and I want to consciously ask myself before cracking one open “why am I going to drink this?”

Here is my incomplete list of reasons when I can justify drinking, but I still want to stick to 1-2 total in a day:

  • Splitting a high-quality drink with my partner while watching a movie
  • Out socializing with friends (in moderation)
  • While doing yard work in the hot sun
  • Special occasions like parties or events at the local bottle shop
  • My calorie “cheat day” (I’m on the fence on this one… it may not justify drinking but I am also not going to berate myself if I drink)

Hmm, that’s all I can come up with. That’s a much smaller list than I expected. Oh well, the better I get at drinking in moderation at appropriate times (and maybe getting wasted during super special occasions), the healthier my waistline and my pocketbook will be.

Wanna hear my thoughts on some random controversial subject like abortion? Got a question for me that is too personal to ask directly? Do you just want to tell me that I’m not living life correctly? Send me an anonymous message and I’ll respond on my blog! Just fill out this simple form on SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH) and if you need inspiration check out the previous questions that I’ve answered here and you’ll see that no subject is off limits.