How Nutrition plays a role in Women’s Mental Health

Casa Capri Recovery is Committed to Helping Create a Healthier Lifestyle for Women.

There are several categories of mental health issues and many require medications, therapy, DBT, CBT, EMDR, and even ECT. Casa Capri Recovery is a primary substance abuse treatment program that treats women with co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disease, PTSD and eating disorders. We take a comprehensive, holistic approach to treatment as many mental health issues are co-occurring.

An Overlooked Approach for Treating Mental Health Issues is Nutrition.

We are so used to eating what we crave, what’s cheap, what’s convenient, and what’s available that we don’t consider what’s healthy! Most people would likely agree with the statement “You are what you Eat,” but if we do a deeper dive and analyze how our eating habits affect our mental health, we might be in for quite a shock.

In Early Recovery the Brain is Typically not Firing on all Cylinders.

Clients often complain of poor memory, confusion and emotional instability. The brain is trying to adjust to withdrawing from substances…and it is not happy about it. PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) can last for up to two years while the brain is trying to readjust to a life without drugs or alcohol. So, to propel recovery, the sooner the brain is saturated with optimum nutrition…the better.

Casa Capri Recovery Teaches our Women Proper Nutrition for Long-Term Recovery

Our clients attend nutrition classes, meet individually with me, are served healthy meals, and learn to cook nutritious and delicious meals themselves. Casa Capri Recovery is all about teaching lifestyle skills that can make a big, positive impact on long term recovery…and proper nutrition is one of them.

 The Brain is a Highly Metabolic Organ so it Needs Calories, but not any ‘ole Calorie will do. The more nutrient-dense (filled with vitamins and minerals) the calories, the better. Starvation alters brain function and may present itself as brain fog, confusion, anxiety, depression, and irritability. Starvation doesn’t just mean lack of calories… you can eat plenty of empty calories and be starved of nutrients which is why we advocate a balanced, well-rounded diet for our girls.

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Sugar is Bad for the Brain AND is a Primary Empty Calorie!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news because most of us love sugar in some form or fashion, but a high sugar intake is associated with ‑ and causes ‑ a myriad of issues. Depression & anxiety, cognitive decline, poor learning skills & memory, not to mention it hijacks the reward system which then causes sugar addiction and unstable emotions. It is very common to have intense sugar cravings in early recovery, and we at Casa Capri Recovery understand that fully so while we don’t outlaw desserts, we won’t be having them for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

You Need Fat to Have a Fully-Functioning Brain…and the Brain is 60% Fat!

Eating the right kind of fats is essential for brain performance! Good fats include Omega-3’s from wild-caught salmon, trout, anchovies, sardines and mackerel, while monounsaturated fats from olive oil, avocados, and nuts & seeds are other good fats. We need some saturated fats for cell membrane structure, but just don’t overdo the butter, cream and fatty meats-everything in moderation!

In Order for our Fatty Brain not to go Rancid, we need Antioxidants. Vitamins C, A & E function as antioxidants along with colorful compounds found in fruits and vegetables. They are essential in stabilizing damaged molecules from drug use, pollution, and other stressors of life. We call those compounds phytochemicals or phytonutrients and there are hundreds of them. Eating a big variety of fruits and vegetables helps to ensure you get better coverage of these healthy compounds.

Taking a closer look at neurotransmitters, we see that you have to eat protein to get the ball rolling to produce them. Neurotransmitters are the compounds that makes us human, while dopamine is motivational, and serotonin takes the edge off. Protein breaks down to amino acids which are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Along with protein, your body needs vitamin/mineral co-factors like magnesium, iron, vitamin C, B-6, folate.

What is the Best Way to Get Nutrient Co-Factors? Eat unprocessed, Whole Foods. Humans need around 50 different nutrients to be healthy and when food is processed, it loses many of these key compounds. By law, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, iron, and folic acid are added back into our food and their loss can have a significant impact on our health.

Let’s look at a single nutrient. Magnesium. Studies show that a majority of Americans are not meeting their recommended intake of magnesium, and we need magnesium to make neurotransmitters and is essential for relaxation—one thing those in recovery desperately need. Cocoa, nuts & seeds, beans, avocados, and 100% whole grains are all good sources of magnesium. Now we’ve come full circle and know we need nutrients to have a fully functioning brain— food processing strips nutrients from food—nutrients deficiencies affect brain function—and poor brain function leads to all kinds of problems. It is no wonder we don’t feel right…our brains are hungry for real, honest-to-goodness food!

How do we go About Getting the Best Quality of Food Possible?

It is not likely that most people will have an organic garden, but why not plant some herbs, greens, strawberries, or scallions in a few pots around your home? They can sit in your backyard, front yard, balcony, porch, kitchen window, or deck and is a fairly simple, fun project! It’s the next best thing to shopping at a Farmer’s Market or joining a CSA (Community-supported agriculture). The food is fresh, local, and you can talk to the farmers that grew it. Buy organic (if possible) at your local health food store but know that just because it is called a health food store and has organic food, doesn’t mean ALL the food is organic so you should always read the packaging. Even if you can’t buy local or organic, keep buying fruits and vegetables—fresh or frozen—your body craves them!

The Impact of the Gut Microbiome on Mental Health. There are trillions of microbes in your gut and can weigh up to a pound or two…and their imbalances are affecting us! Microbial imbalances are being linked to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

Probiotics are live bacteria that are good for you, and it is essential to eat foods that increase this good bacteria! Fermented food provides live cultures of good bacteria like, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir and pickles are some examples. Prebiotics are the food that feeds the good bacteria. Think high fiber: wholes grains and beans, Jerusalem artichokes, and garlic. Our bodies needs all of this to thrive and work together in harmony.

So, for the best possible recovery, we at Casa Capri Recovery suggest eating a healthy diet that is both nutritious…and delicious!

Casa Capri Recovery’s Nutritionist, Lisa Licavoli, RD