Is Your Diet Making You Crazy?

03.04.2011 | by:

Charlie Sheen does the Sunday ComicsWatching Charlie Sheen this week in various interviews about his drug habit and party lifestyle, I couldn’t help but think some are guilty of jumping to conclusions.

It may well be that in Sheen’s case references to showing up to work “sideways” and going on “all night benders” refer to a bad drug habit. But as a counter point, I have also known individuals who have made similar claims about late night binges and losing control at Dunkin Donuts.

While food may seem a less threatening alternative to heroin or cocaine, consider the effect of any substance we put in to our bodies with the intention of affecting our thoughts, energy level and personality.

Much like a drug addiction, the way we cope with this substance has everything to do with quality of life and appearance (given Sheen’s strung out demeanor on Piers Morgan, I would predict he has gone low carb)

Getting back to our topic at hand, one of the primary considerations when choosing a “diet” is the way these substances will affect the mind. Chances are if you suffer from low energy levels, cloudy thoughts, depression or lack of sleep, your diet is playing at least some role.

Whether you are seeking better fitness or just peace of mind, the first step in surviving your diet (getting your head together) begins understanding (and coping with) how nutrition affects the body.

Reading the signs:

Do you find it hard to get out of bed in the morning? Run out of energy in the afternoon? Need an extra cup of coffee to keep going? All of the above? If you’re feeling tired all the time, your lack of energy might very well be a sign of hormonal imbalance.

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance, affecting perhaps 80% of women in perimenopause and menopause. Aside from physical symptoms, the consequences of excluding macronutrients such as fat, carbohydrates or protein will inevitably affect our mind and decisions.

In low carbohydrate diets for example, the objective is to reduce overall of glucose (carbohydrates stored as fuel) to cause the body to burn stored bodyfat for fuel. While this has been shown to be useful for fatloss, it also severely limits the brain’s primary source of fuel.

To compensate for this issue, the idea behind ketogenic diets such as Atkins is that the body will feed off of available fat in the absence of carbohydrates.

But while Atkins proposes a higher level of fat to compensate for carbohydrates, the crucial error most dieters make in this process is going both low fat and low carb while limiting calories.

Considering the long effect of such yo-yo dieting is the early onset of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimers, Stroke and Dementia, the primary objective with any diet is staying within an acceptable limit.

According to the National Institute of Medicine, the acceptable macronutrient range for health and cognitive function is:
Protein: 10-35%
Fat: 20-35%
Carbohydrate: 45-65%

Dialing in your Diet:

Once we are working within basic parameters, the key to avoid starvation (and staying sane) is controlling hormone levels.

In particular, Lepetin, a hormone which suppresses appetite, drop steadily as the body is deprived of calories and carbohydrates. This means our cravings rise in proportion to how hard we diet—luckily, there is a way around this.

For those seeking fatloss or suffering from a lack of energy, cloudy thoughts or depression, one proposed solution are periodic cheat days in which over eating can raise leptin levels.

Because lepetin levels are directly related to overall bodyfat, a person who is lean will need to re-feed more frequently than someone who has a higher body fat percentage. For those who are below 10%, it is probably a wise idea to in cooperate re-feeds two times per week.

For those people who are in the 10-15% range, re-feeding every 6-12 days will probably be adequate, for those who are above 15%, re-feeding will probably not need to be done more than once every week to two weeks.

Generally, this is done by increasing complex carbs (rice, pasta, potatoes, etc) and calories 50-100% over normal levels and keeping fat very low. An example meal in this scheme would be a several heaping bowls of pasta (or a boxes of donuts) spread throughout the day.

While this technique is certainly useful in long term fatloss and maintenance, I have watched formerly depressed and unstable individuals become more confident and at ease by simply eating for enjoyment.

Getting your head together:

Aside from physical cravings, the other side effect we often face with dieting is the feeling of panic or being ill at ease. Because hormone levels also affect emotional state, this almost always leads to chronic hyperventilation.

One practice which seems to help immensely is simply taking a few moments to breath deeply and relax. Because this can be difficult to accomplish in an upright position (due to the resistance of gravity), this week’s video features a simple breathing progression to teach “belly breathing” for stress relief.

Creative Commons License comic credit: Susie Cagle