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“For the past five years my daily fare has been a key tool in my battle to stay calm and well after a long struggle with anxiety and depression for which I have spent time in hospital,” says writer, journalist and mental health campaigner, Rachel Kelly.

Writing in The Times, she explains how her diet is not about losing weight, but rather for her food is about medicine, saying “Being lean in 15 is not for me, nor do I practise ‘clean eating’. It’s not that what I eat doesn’t matter to me. It does, very much.”

Mental health and well-being is essential to our overall health, yet sadly the subject is often surrounded by stigma and many who live with depression suffer in silence.

Like Rachel, I too spent a number of years battling depression and low self-esteem – although, afraid of the stigma I tried hard to hide it from all but my immediate family and a small number of close friends.

Many people comfort eat when they are feeling down or depressed, but did you know eating fast food may increase the risk of clinical depression?

1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health issues each year, with anxiety and depression the most common problems.

The old me used to eat rubbish food, feel terrible, then eat more to feel better. I’d also drink a lot of alcohol to try and forget about the feelings of depression. Drinking often made me eat even more rubbish food, then I’d wake up with a hangover and the cycle would start again.

Even if I had known the impact my diet was having on my mental health, it may still have been hard to quit junk food.

In 2010, American researchers found burgers, chips and sausages programmed a human brain into craving even more sugar, salt and fat laden food.

The researchers found laboratory rats became addicted to a bad diet just like people who became dependent on cocaine and heroin, suggesting that our brains may react in the same way to junk food as they do to drugs.

If some foods can increase the risk of mental illness, are there others that can help to reverse it?

Did you know that 95% of your serotonin (the feel good hormone) is made in the gut? As result, healing your gut may also help to heal your mood.

Serotonin is a brain chemical that promotes relaxation and is responsible for maintaining mood balance and there is a growing body of research that shows a healthy gut is key to having a healthy mind.

I am often asked ‘how juicing and diet changes can help conditions like IBS’?. Many people are surprised when I ask if they have also been suffering from depression, not realising that the two are often linked.

Rachel Kelly explains how she first became intrigued by food’s medicinal power when her son saw nutritionist about his persistent eczema. and his scaly red skin healed within a few weeks of reducing his intake of wheat and dairy.

Happy foods

Several years later she wondered if nutrition could help her with her mental health and she began to experiment, noting which foods made her feel calm, which helped her sleep and which cheered her up.

Some ideas came from her doctor, who told her there was compelling evidence about the links between mood and food and gave her a list of “happy foods”, including green, leafy vegetables, dark chocolate and oily fish.

Over time, Rachel overhauled her diet to focus on “real foods” and became conscious of the way she was eating, taking time to enjoy food instead of scoffing on autopilot.

Like me, it appears that Rachel believes that a healthy lifestyle is about achieving balance.

She says: “if I do eat a mince pie, I do so consciously and with enjoyment and I don’t beat myself up about it. If I follow my good mood food rules 80 per cent of the time, that’s good enough. And good enough is what I’m aiming for this new year; it’s certainly an attitude that’s at the heart of my own happy kitchen, and I hope it will be at the heart of yours too.”

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