Why diet and nutrition are important to your quality of life
Healthy eating habits are important to staying physically healthy and well. Like everyone else, people with bipolar disorder can feel better if they eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Research has shown that some nutrients may work with regular medication treatment to produce better health in people with bipolar disorder. Nutrients are the good parts of what makes up food. A few nutritional supplements (pills or liquids that you can take when you are not getting enough of a particular nutrient in your diet, like omega-3 fatty acids) may help the symptoms of bipolar disorder – but more research is needed before we can be sure. For example, while many research studies show that omega-3 fatty acids are good for physical health, we are now learning how they can also boost how your brain develops and works.4
How you can take action
It's important to eat well, although, in reality, it’s easier to plan a wide-ranging improvement of your diet than to actually do it. As with physical exercise, it's best to begin with a modest goal and gradually raise it.
- Learn about the food guide, including the importance of serving sizes, attaining a varied and balanced diet, and including a variety of healthy oils, vitamins and minerals.
- Try tracking your daily food intake with a diet diary.
- Set goals that are specific and achievable. You should try to be clear about what you intend to do and aim for manageable changes. For example, don’t force yourself to switch right away to eating only healthy food but rather allow yourself sweet desserts only twice a week.
- Explain your goal to a trusted support person: make it clear what you're going to do differently and why it's important. This person can encourage you and help you to keep track of the changes you want to bring about, and should do so without criticizing.
- Problem-solve around obstacles to maintaining a healthy diet. For example, you may find it useful to think of solutions to the possible problem of emotional eating (eating because of how you feel emotionally rather than when you feel hungry) and how some moods lead you to eat while others don’t.
- One challenge to dietary change for people with bipolar disorder is that people are often taking medications that trigger intense hunger or cravings that make it difficult to control how much they eat. This can be a challenging problem with no easy solution. Discussing this possible side-effect with your healthcare provider to explore the benefits and risks of changing the type or amount of medication may be helpful. When changes to your medications are not acceptable, seeking help from a dietician to help you improve your diet plan can help to offset this increased risk of consuming too many calories.
It’s also important to see your doctor regularly for routine screening or monitoring of metabolic risk factors. Risk factors are things that may cause other things to happen (for example, smoking is a risk factor for getting lung cancer). You can still get lung cancer without smoking, but you have a higher chance if you smoke or have smoked in the past. It is especially important to regularly check your metabolic risk factors (such as fasting blood sugar, cholesterol, blood lipids, blood pressure and abdominal circumference (the distance around your stomach)), if you are on medications that may increase your risk, or if your age or lifestyle puts you at higher risk for, diabetes or cardiovascular disease.2 Monitoring your own weight and blood pressure can also be very helpful.
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