6 Things You Need to Know about Primal Living and Mental Health

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by Heather Culpepper | May 2014

It was about 4 years ago when I first had the epiphany about my health and weight struggles. I knew that I wasn’t alone and that there had to be a workable solution to my problem. Now, I am a spiritual person who has great admiration for scientific discovery. I don’t subscribe to the belief that our brains are simply computers and when we die nothing happens. I honestly have no clue what happens but I believe our consciousness lives on. I firmly believe in an Intelligent Designer of some sort. Whether it’s the God of Christianity or something more obscure, I do not know.

I was sitting in Barnes and Noble one day thinking about God and evolution and what life was like for the first hominids. I asked myself what they would have eaten to sustain themselves and the answer became so clear. Having a very basic understanding of evolution, it was so obvious as to what modern humans should be eating: the same things our ancestors ate. And I came to this conclusion on my own, never having even heard of the paleo diet or primal living.

Not long after that day in Barnes and Noble,  I came across The Maker’s Diet by Jordan Rubin. I purchased it immediately and went home to devour all the knowledge and insight the author had to give. Things finally started making sense to me. We were not meant to eat things that come out of a box or a can. Real food doesn’t need a label.

Then, a few years later at the very same B&N bookstore, I saw the book that changed my life: Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas. I learned a lot from reading that book and decided to make a permanent change. Now, don’t get me wrong- I’ve fallen off the Paleo wagon many times. I have an addiction to sugar and have a hard time resisting it. I’ve fallen prey to the saying “Everything in moderation,” which, in the case of an addict, doesn’t work. (See “Why Everything in Moderation is Killing us by Kris Gunnars, editor of Authority Nutrition.

PRIMAL LIVING and MENTAL ILLNESS

I have struggled with manic depression and Borderline Personality Disorder since I was about 12 years old. As a child I consumed crazy amounts of sugar in the form of Dr. Pepper and Laffy Taffy along with a lot of other junk. My family didn’t know any better. On top of that, I suffered sexual, physical, emotional and psychological abuse over the years.

I know that Primal Living cannot fix the scars of my psychological past, but it can help me feel my best physically. I have tried going without my prescribed medication many times and the result was always horrific. Emotional outbursts, violent tendencies and severe, chronic insomnia.

1. Don’t expect the Paleo Lifestyle to cure everything. If you have any kind of mental disorder (i.e. Bipolar , ADHD, ADD, OCD or PTSD) then you should continue your therapy and medications. If you feel you should go off your medication, you should do it under the supervision of your primary care doctor. Never try to do it alone.

2. Give yourself time to adjust to this new way of living. You didn’t get unhealthy or overweight over night, so, take it slow if you need to by gradually cutting down on foods like sugar and wheat. Going cold turkey can be dangerous for someone with a mental illness, exacerbating symptoms of anxiety and depression.

3. Keep a food diary and keep track of how much sugar you’re taking in each day. Then, gradually cut down each week until you’re in ketosis, which usually takes about 2-3 days of going below 20 grams of carbs.

4. Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. Water is the very essence of life.

5. Always take your prescribed medication as directed. Discuss your decision to live the Primal Life with your doctor. If your doctor is among physicians who are still telling patients to follow a low-fat diet, consider changing to a doctor who is aware of the benefits of healthy fats and whole foods upon the mind and body.

6. If you are a spiritual person, thank your Higher Power or whatever you call God for the gift of life and ask for patience and strength to change your life for the better.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Making a huge lifestyle change, even if it’s positive, can be stressful, especially for those living with mental health issues. Try doing some Yoga and deep breathing or go for a long walk every day.

According to Michael Otto, PhD, a professor of psychology at Boston University, “Exercise is something that psychologists have been very slow to attend to. People know that exercise helps physical outcomes. There is much less awareness of mental health outcomes — and much, much less ability to translate this awareness into exercise action.”

And the American Psychological Association says that, “Researchers are still working out the details of that action: how much exercise is needed, what mechanisms are behind the boost exercise brings, and why — despite all the benefits of physical activity — it’s so hard to go for that morning jog. But as evidence piles up, the exercise-mental health connection is becoming impossible to ignore.

PHOTO CREDIT:  http://becauseitsgoodforyou.com/tag/naturopathy/

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