As certain health issues are noticeably on the rise, the correlation between diet and wellness has become more apparent. Making sure to incorporate the right foods as Wellness Tools into your daily diet is key to staying well.
When my kids were teens, there was a song going around. It told of some dire circumstance, followed by a chorus of “And it’s all because you didn’t eat your vegetables, as a kid, as a kid, or its all because you didn’t chew them properly, if you did, if you did.” Any time any little or big thing came up, from a hang nail, to a bad grade, a bad hair day, to a cold or flu, or a disastrous love, someone would start in singing, “it’s all because you didn’t eat your vegetables,” then the rest would join in and before long everyone was rolling on the floor laughing, acting as if it was so preposterous that eating your vegetables as a kid could have anything at all to do with future life events.
Now we are finding out that there was a lot of merit to that song – that eating our vegetables, and all plant based, non-processed foods, foods that are high in fiber content, could support us in preventing various “modern-day” maladies, and, if we already have them, might even help us to feel better, get well and stay well.
Focusing my diet on plant based food and eating plant based food, vegetables, fruit and whole grains (grains that have not been processed) is my key Wellness Tool. I have found that it is more important than any of my other Wellness Tools. My Daily Maintenance Plan includes eating a big salad with at least 3 different raw vegetables in it and four other vegetables, sometimes plain, sometimes in a soup, baked, in a stir fry or a casserole. If I am having a really bad time, trying to Avoid a Crisis, I ask a supporter to prepare these foods for me. It is in my When Things are Breaking Down action plan, in my Crisis Plan and in my Post Crisis Plan. I need to eat my vegetables. They are by far the most important element in my diet, and absolutely essential to my life.
I have been doing mental health recovery work for almost 30 years. In that time, I have noticed some frightening increases in certain health issues. Perhaps you have noticed this too? When I began doing this work, I occasionally met people with diabetes, autoimmune disorders, asthma, and eczema. Very, very occasionally I heard of, or met people with severe obesity or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Even depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder seemed occasional. Now, they are all more and more and more common—an epidemic, perhaps a pandemic in our society. We don’t need the statistics. We are reminded every day. If we don’t have any of these issues ourselves, we all know and care about people who do. That increase coincides with a sharp increase in eating fast and processed foods and a sharp decrease in eating plant based foods.
I have recently reconnected with a retired psychiatrist who I knew well when I was beginning to do this work. He is looking closely at this phenomenon, studying the work of physicians and scholars all over the world. I have asked him three questions:
- Why is this happening?
- What can each of us do to keep from developing these health issues?
- What can we do to help ourselves if we already have these kinds of issues?
First, why is this happening? Dr. London feels the reasons include: 1. our low fiber non-plant diet that includes excessive amounts of sugar, flour, trans fats and processed fast food, (He says that these maladies are increasing in countries around the world, but not in those countries (certain countries in Africa and Asia) that continue to have a plant-based diet) 2. the excessive use of antibiotics 3. exposure to chemicals that are not a natural part of our environment.
We may not be able to do anything about points 2 and 3, things that likely happened in our past, or over which we had no or little control. We can do a lot about our low fiber diet. When we make dietary changes, we often see and feel positive change, sometimes quickly. That is my experience. I eat lots of vegetable and plant based foods. Sometimes that is all I eat in a day. I am 75 years old. And yet I feel much younger. The depression, the obsessive-compulsive behaviors and the fibromyalgia that used to be my constant companions are now part of my past.
Let’s put this important information into the context of WRAP. The first step in developing a WRAP is making a list of all the resources that you can use to stay well and to help yourself feel better when you don’t feel well—your Wellness Toolbox. What are some of the Wellness Tools that affect this kind of diet? Some of mine are listed below. You can discover many more, and make them specific to your situation, by doing an information search yourself at your library or on the internet. Then include them in your Daily Maintenance Plan and the other action plans of your WRAP.
- Eat 7 servings of vegetables each day (fresh or frozen)
- Eat 2 servings of fresh fruit each day
- Eat at least ½ cup of legumes (beans) each day
- Avoid fast and processed food
- Eat a big salad every day
My Daily Maintenance Plan includes:
- Eat a big salad made with fresh vegetables for one of my main meals
- Eat a cup of legumes each day (I can include some canned beans in my salad or enjoy a healthy canned bean soup that I get at the local food co-operative. )
- Avoid sugar, foods made with refined flour, deep fat fried and heavily salted foods)
Managing the two things that get in the way of eating vegetables:
You may be saying that focusing your diet on lots of vegetables and fruit is too expensive. Look at your grocery list. Make sure most of your food budget is spent on plant based foods that are rich in nutrients. This way you get a lot more for your money. I used to tell myself I couldn’t afford healthy food. Then I realized that, for the same price as a bag of chips, a six pack of soda or even a big chocolate bar, I could buy a bag of apples, several bags of salad greens or several packages of frozen vegetables, some healthy canned beans or bean soups, maybe even some nuts which are a great treat. Eating out is expensive, and often the food you get when you eat out is not healthy. Save money and support your health by eating at home and using the extra cash you save for vegetables, fruits and whole grain products.
Vegetables do take some preparation. You may not even like to or know how to cook. Perhaps you don’t even have a place to cook. First, focus on eating raw vegetables. The preparation is much simpler. Wash all your salad and raw vegetables as soon as you get home from the grocery store and store them in you refrigerator so they are easy to eat and to make into a salad anytime without a lot of fuss.
You can easily microwave vegetables if that is the only way you can cook vegetables. You can cut up vegetables and stir fry them in a bit of oil, or in water. I like to start cooking with some cut-up onion or garlic, add some vegetables that take longer to cook like squash or celery, maybe even some sunflower seed, and add some greens and/or mushrooms and you have a delightful vegetable meal. You can serve it over brown rice, quinoa or whole grain pasta. You can simply bake the vegetables or boil them in a little water until tender. You can add some soy sauce or herbs for flavor. Experiment and before long you will feel comfortable cooking your vegetables, enjoying their flavor and discovering that you feel better than you ever thought you could.
If all of this makes sense to you, and I hope that it does, if getting started on this dietary change seems overwhelming, discuss it with your care providers, supporters, friends and peers. It is a great topic for a support group meetings. You can all figure out how to do this together. You may even want to plan some potluck meals where everyone brings food to share that is plant-based. People will get good ideas about including vegetables in their diet from each other.
Learn more about WRAP
Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, developed Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) with a group of people with lived experience who were attending a mental health recovery workshop in 1997. She is the original author of the WRAP Red Book, as well as dozens of other WRAP books and materials. She has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to learning from people who have mental health issues; discovering the simple, safe, non-invasive ways they get well, stay well, and move forward in their lives; and then sharing what she has learned with others through keynote addresses, trainings, and the development of books, curriculums, and other resources. Now that she is retired, and that, as she intended, others are continuing to share what she has learned, she continues to learn from those who have mental health issues and those who support them. She is a frequent contributor to this site.