Food for a Healthy Body and a Calm, Happy Mind

A few weeks ago I met up with Alice Mackintosh , a nutritionist and author based in West London. I was really excited to meet with someone who knew all about food, health, digestion and wellness as I've been struggling with my eating habits for many years. I tend to eat pretty healthily but I've been experiencing various problems with my digestive system and mental health for around four years now. During the session, Alice gave me much information (I'm still reading all the print outs!) and I felt really inspired to kickstart a new diet. I'm really looking forward to sharing what I learnt and I hope that you find this blog post useful in your own wellness journey.

My Diet History

My personal food history has been a relatively healthy one. I grew up in home where my mum cooked pretty much every meal from scratch, and when I was a teenager we adopted a meat free week. My diet wasn't so good at uni, but then again who eats healthily when they're a student? When I moved to London and became more of a "grown-up" I decided that I should probably look after myself more and focus on eating slightly healthier meals.

Unfortunately, around 2 to 3 years ago my mental health took a turn for the worst. I have had quite severe anxiety since I was a toddler, if you'd like to read more about my mental health journey I have a few blog posts all about that here and here. My anxiety would manifest itself in many ways, but with regards to my digestion, I would often throw up after I had eaten or experience extreme heartburn and nausea on a day-to-day basis.

I'm pretty sure this reaction to food was because I was stressed but I also wanted to try cutting out certain types of food to see if that would aid my digestion in any way. Coupled with this feeling of nausea and heartburn I also began to experience quite nasty bouts of constipation, bloating, generally feeling tired run down and a bit beaten up inside. Over the past few years I've probably experienced every single digestion related problem in the book!

I decided to try cutting out wheat, some types of gluten (I still eat oats), rare red meats and cut down on my dairy consumption. This definitely helped me feel as though I was cleaning out my gut and my inflammation and bloating was reduced massively. I also began to see a therapist about my anxiety and a few years later I am feeling so much better. Talking to someone about my mental health has definitely been the best thing I have done for myself. If you would like to know more about that I filmed a very in-depth YouTube video about my struggles with mental health.

So a little bit further down the line (and before meeting Alice) I'd say I was eating predominately vegetables, beans, pulses and a little bit of meat and fish here and there. An average weeks worth of dinners for me would include a vegetarian daal curry, a bean and tomato stew, maybe a few salads and probably a pasta or polenta dish as well.


What I've Changed in my Diet

Even though I thought I had a healthy diet I was still experiencing bouts of indigestion related problems, mainly bloating. This was so frustrating when I felt like I was working so hard to look after myself. So, fast forward to meeting with Alice. I filled her in on my food and diet history as well as what my lifestyle is like and she began to reveal to me so many things I had never considered before.

Alice suggested to me that I was eating way too many carbohydrates. I had no idea that beans, pulses, and legumes are predominantly starch. I feel as though we're led to believe that things like chickpeas, butter beans, quinoa, and brown rice are very similar to vegetables when in fact they are made up of 80% starch and only 20% protein. To combat this, Alice told me to reduce the amount of carbohydrate-based foods I was eating and incorporate more vegetables as well as fish and meat into my diet.

Alice suggested that I eat fish around four times a week and iron rich foods need to be more commonplace as well. I basically never buy or cook meat, so eating fish at home and the occasional steak when I'm out and feeling like treating myself would be the way to go for me. I have to say that I'm really enjoying eating more fish, it's such a treat to whip up a quick mackerel pâté or salmon on toast for breakfast rather than my usual sugar heavy muesli.

Talking about breakfast, Alice also mentioned to me that muesli isn't actually that healthy if it has dried fruit as an ingredient. I thought I was making a considered decision by not have sugary cereal or granola, but muesli actually contains a lot of sugar and carbohydrates. Both those things will spike your blood sugar levels and leave you feeling wired and full of energy, then you crash and feel tired. Another reason to reduce the carbs and increase protein and vegetables!


Mental Changes

Something else Alice talked about is the act of being more mindful when I'm eating. She told me to be aware that I was about to eat, look at the food and enjoy the colour and the scent before I actually put any food in my mouth. It's so common to wolf down your food if you're busy or distracted. It's really important to be aware that you're eating so that your stomach can produce the amount digestive enzymes it needs to break down your food properly.

If you have tummy issues it might also be a good idea to have proper breaks in between meals. I've tried to cut out snacking, which is so hard! Apparently, your stomach needs at least three hours in between eating so it can work properly. If you can't stop snacking try to fast between 8pm and 8am.

Something else to mention is... ahem, relaxing on the toilet. When I experience constipation it stresses me out so much I don't stand a chance of anything moving. Alice suggested that I take my time on the loo and try slow relaxed breathing, let me tell you the breathing worked a treat!

DIY Tummy Fixers

Something I haven't yet explored properly (but that I'm really excited about) is making my own fermented food and drink. I already absolutely adore kimchi and sauerkraut and Alice recommended that I eat a serving of fermented food every single day to help with digestion. She also explained how easy it is to make your own kefir or kombucha drinks at home, I already but a lot of those from Whole Foods so that will be a nice expensive habit to kick. I am also planning on taking a daily probiotic supplement to help increase the healthy bacteria in my gut too.

I'm still not really eating much wheat and gluten, although recently as I've been on press trips and on my hen party weekend I've been indulging in a lot of afternoon teas and other baked goods! I've tried to cut down on the amount of caffeine I've been having. However, I really love coffee and tea and sometimes it's just not worth me cutting things out when I really enjoy them!

A typical at home menu for me looks something like this:

Breakfast

Home-made mackerel pâté on rye bread
Fruit and veg smoothie
Eggs with smoked salmon

Lunch

I usually have leftovers from the night before for lunch but if I don't have that I make a quick salad or mezze style plate.

Dinner

Steak salad
Roasted salmon with sweet potato fries
Lots of vegetable soups
Curries with extra protein rich veggie ingredients or chicken


It's been really nice to get my books back out again and cook slightly different meals for Simon and I. I made a really delicious roast salmon last night with lots of different vegetables and we really enjoyed it. Alice very kindly sent me a copy of her book that she co-wrote with Rachel Kelly called The Happy Kitchen. It has so many amazing recipes that help with mental and physical health. Something I find so useful about this book is the meal planners and the cut out "good mood food index" which lists all the foods that are fantastic mood enhancers.

Along with her friend Rosie, Alice also set up a supplement brand called Equi. I've used their products a few times so if you're searching for something to give your skin and body a little boost have a little look at their website.

Hopefully after a few months of following my new diet, which to be honest won't be difficult as so far it's delicious and easy and I love it, my stomach and brain will be working in harmony with each other and I'll feel a lot more balanced and healthy. Come on gut I know you can do it!

No comments