I stuffed my head full of ideas at the Ancestral Health Symposium. Here’s my recap of some of the things I learned in the presentation “Diet and Mental Health” given by Nora Gedgaudas, a Certified Nutritional Therapist and author of the book Primal Body, Primal Mind. (For a very comprehensive round-up of other bloggers’ impressions of the conference, visit FreeTheAnimal.com.)
This was, hands-down, my favorite presentation of the weekend. Nora was a passionate, informative presenter, and I was very interested in the topic she addressed. In my pursuit of being the best version of myself, I’ve wondered how I can minimize the nutty parts and emphasize the awesome parts. Nora gave us lots of insight into how finding our best self can be related to blood sugar, along with tasty soundbites to explain why the foods we eat have a profound impact on what we think of the world.
Things I Liked/Learned In This Presentation
1. “Stress is not what happens to us – it’s how we respond to what happens to us.
This is one of those quotes you hear and figuratively smack yourself in the forehead as if to say, “Duh! How have I not realized that before.” Or maybe you have and just need to be reminded. Consider this your reminder. We can manage our reactions to external factors to minimize our stress response – but the ability to do that is reliant on having the right biochemical balance in our bodies, which brings me to…
2. “Emotions are biochemical storms in the body and brain.”
And to experience emotions in a healthy way, we want to have favorable biochemicals moving around in our noggins. How do we optimize toward “favorable”? By managing our blood sugar.
3. “We see everything through the lens of blood sugar stability, hormones, and neurotransmitters – and interpret the world around us accordingly.”
This statement really made me sit up and pay attention. Anyone who’s ever eaten a basket of tortilla chips or a pint of ice cream, then thrown a tantrum like a 3-year-old who’s missed their nap knows that blood sugar swings can be vicious. But I found it really powerful to imagine the foods I eat forming glasses that actually distort – or clear up – the way I see the world around me. It further confirms my thinking that sweet or grain-based treats are best enjoyed with care in controlled circumstances. And that making any big decisions under the influence of too little sleep, too much sugar, or monthly hormonal surges is a seriously bad idea. Conversely, paleo eating pretty much prepares us for clear thinking and physical activity all the time.
4. “There is no fundamental separation between mind and body.” (See also: Your body is your subconscious mind. – Candace Pert)
Nora went on to explain that we know our brain and body need certain raw materials to function – and therapy won’t fix a raw materials problem. I like this idea because I’m a huge fan of therapy – my therapist gave me some wonderful tools to help me navigate my emotions and external stumbling blocks – but I also believe that we can go a long way toward healing ourselves – at least finding a solid place to start serious healing – with a liberal application of clean food, fresh air, water, and movement… all of which are high-quality raw materials.
5. “Nothing is more destabilizing to the brain than blood sugar surges. Nothing is more stabilizing than fat.”
The notion that fat, in adequate but not exorbitant quantities, is a key to health has really solidified for me as a cornerstone of paleo eating. Nora summed it up this way: “We are Ice Age beings. Fat means survival.” Being free of fat fear has been fabulous for food (Sorry! I couldn’t let go of the alliteration.), and, as it turns out, good for my brain and body, too. Don’t you love when it works out that way?
6. The Big Wrap Up
Nora did a brief overview of various mental illnesses and common associated factors. The same villains showed up over and over again: blood sugar swings, dehydration, gluten sensitivity, insufficient fat and/or protein intake. Her parting advice for optimal mental health and, potentially, longevity: eliminate dietary sugar and starch, eat moderate amounts of protein, consume fat to satiety, and liberally consume fibrous, green vegetables.
For more, visit Nora Gegaudas’s Primal Body, Primal Mind site, or pick up a copy of her book. I just ordered mine, and I’m thinking about organizing an online book club so we can read it together. Let me know in the comments if you’re interested, and I’ll share more details in the next week or so. UPDATE: Nora’s presentation is now posted here so you can read the whole thing in its original form.
(For a very comprehensive round-up of other bloggers’ impressions of the conference, visit FreeTheAnimal.com.)
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