There isn’t a specific diet that will cure bipolar disorder, but that doesn’t mean what we eat has no impact on how we feel. In fact, our diet can directly affect how we feel, which can drive the symptoms of bipolar disorder in a myriad of ways.
Join us as Gabe and Dr. Nicole share specific tips on ways to eat better — even when depressed. They also work to unpack all the reasons we believe what we do about food and how it ties together with a bipolar diagnosis.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
He is also the host of Healthline Media’s Inside Mental Health podcast available on your favorite podcast player. To learn more about Gabe, or book him for your next event, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Dr. Nicole Washington is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she attended Southern University and A&M College. After receiving her BS degree, she moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to enroll in the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed a residency in psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa. Since completing her residency training, Washington has spent most of her career caring for and being an advocate for those who are not typically consumers of mental health services, namely underserved communities, those with severe mental health conditions, and high performing professionals. Through her private practice, podcast, speaking, and writing, she seeks to provide education to decrease the stigma associated with psychiatric conditions.
Find out more at DrNicolePsych.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Bipolar, a Healthline Media Podcast, where we tackle bipolar disorder using real-world examples and the latest research.
Gabe: Hey everyone! My name is Gabe Howard and I live with bipolar disorder.
Dr. Nicole: I’m Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist.
Gabe: I am super excited about this episode because we get to talk about food. But first, a little context. So, whenever you live with bipolar disorder, there’s always these alternative treatments. There’s these ideas that people give you, like taking supplements which we’ve already covered, or marijuana, THC, CBD oil, which we’ve already covered. But one of the things that we never covered is if you change your diet, if you eat better, can you manage bipolar disorder with the use of food? And surprisingly, the answer is not exactly as simple as you may believe.
Dr. Nicole: All right? Because I can’t give you a yes or no. I can give you a maybe. I can give you a little hemming and hawing, but I can’t give you an absolute yes or an absolute no when it comes to this topic. So, this should be fun.
Gabe: I want everybody to hear that your mental health can absolutely be improved by eating better. I don’t think it’s really a controversial statement to say that if you’re eating cheese sticks, pizza, fast food, and Doritos every single meal, every single day, that you’re going to feel poorly. And if you feel poorly, that’s going to drive things like depression or feelings of worthlessness and all of the things that we want to avoid with bipolar disorder, which of course means the opposite is true. If you’re eating healthy fruits, vegetables, lean meats, you are going to feel better, which of course is going to drive things like happiness and feeling content, etc. So, I think it’s important, Dr. Nicole, to point out that yes, yes, eating better makes you feel better. But of course, that doesn’t actually answer the question of is there a specific diet that you can be on that will manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and then make it so that all the Dr. Nicole’s and all the pharmaceutical companies no longer need to help you? And that’s really the crux, I think, of these conversations. People don’t want to know if eating healthy will make them feel better. I think that’s well understood. They want to know if there’s a special diet out there that will make it so they no longer need to take their medication. Dr. Nicole is there?
Dr. Nicole: No, no. No, not that we are aware of as of yet. So, people, you’re right, they want to know, can I avoid taking your evil medications and can I just manage my bipolar illness on my own through diet? We don’t have that information yet. We have information that there are certain nutrients, like we talked about in the supplement episode, that there are certain diets that people follow that can help with mood in general and can help with mental health in general. But we have zero data to say that if you follow this particular diet, you’ll never have to take another medication again for your bipolar disorder.
Gabe: Well, I got to tell you, I don’t think I believe you because I did my own research, and I found out that if you are vegan, that all mental health problems are resolved and that you no longer ever, ever. I mean, vegan, is it. See, it’s animal fats that cause all of our problems. Mental illness is caused by drinking milk or eating cheese or eating animals. And if you stop doing that within 2 to 4 weeks, you will absolutely have clear skin. It’s always clear skin too. The, I, one of the reasons that it’s so difficult for me to do an episode like this, Dr. Nicole, is because, again, I, I don’t want people to hear that just eat junk food and you’ll be fine. But you just said there’s no diet that will cure bipolar disorder. So, I want to throw a question back at you, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth eating healthy, right?
Dr. Nicole: Absolutely. I mean, we talked about earlier how everyone can benefit from having a diet, that that is a healthier diet. I mean, I love a good little bag of Doritos as much as the next person, but I can’t eat Doritos every day, right? Or I won’t feel well. And I don’t have bipolar disorder. So, everybody breathing. If you’re breathing, if you’re listening to this, you could benefit from having a diet that is lower in those saturated fats that we’re always talking about, those animal fats. We all know that I love a good steak, but I also have the reality sitting on my other shoulder that I know that too much red meat can be a problem. We all know that we can benefit from eating healthier, and this is one of those times where we have to kind of push on you a little bit and say, your bipolar disorder does not preclude you from being just a regular old person with regular old person problems, and having a decent diet is going to benefit us all.
Gabe: When we did the marriage episode, one of the things that I kept insisting upon was that the rules of marriage do not change because you have bipolar disorder. And I want to change that over a little bit and say, now that we’re doing a food and nutrition episode, the rules of nutrition do not change because you have bipolar disorder. You just have to decide for you how it’s going to impact. In your example, Dr. Nicole, you said, listen, nobody’s saying you can’t have a little bag of Doritos. It just can’t be your primary diet. I think for many people experiencing bipolar disorder, we get ourselves stuck in this little loop, which is I’m hungry. Right. That’s fair. Or I’m bored. Which again, Americans eat a lot of food because they’re bored. Or food drives a benefit for me when I eat a certain food, right? Comfort food is an entire category in America. So, all of these are the things that are driving our food choices. And many of those drivers don’t make us feel very good when we’re done. But the pushback that I always get when I say, look, eat healthy is like, okay, Gabe, so let me get this straight.
Gabe: I’ve just told you that I’m depressed. I just told you that I have bipolar disorder. I just told you that I’m feeling bad and I want to cheer up. And your solution to that is to go buy fresh vegetables. Go buy fresh fruit. It’s not something you can just buy in the house a month ago and keep because it doesn’t keep, it only lasts a few days. So, you want me to get dressed, go to the store, buy lean meats, then cook. Right. You got you got to cook this stuff. You want me to like grill the zucchini after I cut it. So, you want me to do this thing that’s going to take me a half an hour, an hour? An hour and a half, two hours? When I’ve got a bag of chips right there that will elevate my mood for four minutes? I think that’s a very, very fair question. Are we asking people to do the impossible when we ask them to eat better while they’re depressed?
Dr. Nicole: Not impossible. Difficult but not impossible. So is it, is it easy? No. Is it really easy to just run into the convenience store and grab a bag of Doritos? We’re not going to keep picking on Doritos. Cheetos. Is it easy
Dr. Nicole: To just go grab a big bag.
Gabe: They’re both Frito-Lay. We’re getting sued no matter what, Dr. Nicole.
Dr. Nicole: [Laughter] A big bag of Cheetos, hot fries, whatever. Whatever your guilty pleasure, Funyuns, whatever your guilty pleasure is. It’s easy. It’s easy to grab those things. It is so easy to grab those things. But this is where we always go back to the plan. Like, what is the plan? If you know that during your depression episodes, you are likely to eat whatever junk you can get your hands on, then what’s the plan? Is the plan that I just don’t keep the junk in the house? Because let’s face it, when you’re depressed, you also don’t have a ton of motivation, so you’re more likely to eat what’s in front of you than to actually get up and go to the store and get those things. So, what’s the plan? Do I, do I not keep those things around? That may not be a bad idea if you know that that those things make you feel worse when you’re already in a low state and your energy’s already low and you’re already foggy in the brain, and you’re already not thinking well. If having bags and bags of chips and Doritos is not your thing, or not the healthy thing for you, then let’s not have them around. Personally, I, you know, am always on a weight loss struggle.
Dr. Nicole: And you know what? There are certain things I do not keep in my house. I do not keep those Little Debbie little chocolate things. I don’t keep them in the house because I know I can’t be trusted around those things. So, I think you have to know what your weaknesses are and you just don’t keep them around. The other thing is keep the things around that you actually want to consume. Most of us, we’re just not that motivated to go out and get stuff, but if it’s there, we’ll absolutely eat it. So, make the option of what’s there be an option that you can feel better about. Meal prepping when you do feel better. Soups are a great way to do that. Soups can be very healthy, very comforting, very, you know, calorically pleasing and they can be very helpful. So prepping soups when you’re feeling better, prepping things like that when you’re feeling better, that you can just pop in the microwave. It’s a lot easier than having other things hanging around that you don’t want to fill your system with when you’re already feeling bad.
Gabe: I know that what I’m suffering from bipolar disorder when I’m already feeling bad, when I’m already depressed, when I can’t get out of bed, when I’m just feeling like complete garbage and I eat the food and I get that momentary uptick. That’s fantastic. Right? But then I drop right back to garbage. So, I feel like garbage. But here’s the here’s the thing, Dr. Nicole. I already felt like garbage. So, eating the food that makes me feel like garbage that I didn’t really lose anything. I think a lot of times these things are tabled and you feel good, you eat bad food and now you feel bad. But for people with bipolar disorder, you already feel bad. You get a momentary uptick while eating the food, enjoying the food, whatever. And then you go right back to bad so you haven’t actually lost anything. You started off feeling bad. You ended up feeling bad. So why? Why would I not enjoy the momentary uptick? What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Nicole: The. You’re accurate. That’s 100% right. You felt bad. You still feel bad. No love lost. Right. And for a moment, for a moment I had that that rush from having that one thing that brings me a little bit of joy. But we have talked about this. It is not about the right now. It is about the long term. And then also I would push you a little bit because do you feel the same level of bad? Or is your bad now accompanied with guilt about having eaten that thing that you knew wasn’t going to be the right thing for you, or isn’t going to help you long term? Like what all comes with that? I just, I would push you a little bit to say it may not even be the same level of bad. And, you know, if you’re already doing poorly, why would we continue to weigh ourselves down with other problems that are going to make us feel even worse?
Gabe: When you said surround yourself with foods you want to eat. I was like, oh well, I want to eat the junk food. So, I will take that piece of advice from the Inside Bipolar podcast, and I would write.
Dr. Nicole: Uh, no, no. The things you want to put in your body, the things that you know will improve your overall.
Gabe: Make you feel better.
Dr. Nicole: Yes. Make you feel better, but also won’t tell you that you can’t have those comfort things. I won’t tell you that you should never keep or never have a Dorito ever again in your life. But maybe for you, instead of buying a big bag, you pay a little bit more and you buy the box with the little tiny bags and you limit yourself to one bag as opposed to the whole big bag. Because when they say you can’t eat just one, they mean it. Like you will down a bag before you know it. But if it’s a little bag, you eat it, you throw it away. That’s a little bit easier way to manage your portions for when you do have those moments when you say no, I think I really do want a Dorito today. Like I’m not saying never allow yourself to have those things, but just in moderation and to be mindful of what you’re putting in your body.
Gabe: One of the things for me is this sort of tactile feeling. So, for example, I’m drawn to the Doritos or the chips because I just like this feeling of like reaching into the bag, hearing the crinkle, the mouthfeel. Mouthfeel is super, super important to me, especially when I’m using it to manage mental health. Now, the first thing that I want to say is obviously using food to manage bipolar disorder, you’re already not at your best. But if we’re doing an Eat This, Not That thing going for fat free pretzels, it gives me a lot of those feels that I want. Or if we’re really, really on board, going for things like carrot sticks can really give me just more of that feel of picking things up and putting them in my mouth. So, one of the things that I ask myself is, are there just certain routines that I like around certain foods, and how can I mimic them in healthier choices? And that made a real big difference for me.
Gabe: Again, replacing higher calorie, higher fat foods with lower calorie, lower fat foods. I don’t want anybody to hear that I replaced a bad food with a good food. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m just simply saying that sometimes the routine around a certain food gave me a comfort level or a boost, and I liked it. And if at the end of that I can have that routine, I can have that comfort and maybe not so much junk. That’s a really, really, really, really big boon for me. This helped me in a really profound way. And I want you to know, Dr. Nicole, I learned that from vegans. There’s a reason that it’s called Tofurky, because they have this memory of eating turkey when they were younger, before they were vegans or what are those faux hot dogs? Right? So, all of these things are ways that they can get the mouthfeel of eating the foods they remember from childhood while still maintaining veganism. So, this is a well-respected thing, and it works for a lot of people outside of bipolar disorder. And it absolutely worked for me, managing bipolar disorder and my diet.
Dr. Nicole: Yeah. I mean, I’m a foodie and we’ve talked about that. And I could do a whole episode on just my foodie lifestyle, and y’all would be amazed at some of the things I’ve eaten. But one of the tactics that I’ve taken or strategies I’ve taken to address my personal relationship with food. One I really try very hard not to classify foods as good and bad. And I think we need to work on getting away from the whole good food, bad food. It makes you feel guilty when you eat the things in the bad category. And it just it just brings with it like this, this connotation and this place where you just feel just terrible about yourself when you do eat something in the bad category. So, if we can get out of that. That would be a first step in the right direction. But for me personally, and when I talk to patients, I ask them, what is it about those comfort foods that you like so much? Like, what is it about it? For me, I’m a big, chippy, dippy kind of person. Like, I love a, I’ve never met a chip and dip I did not like and did not want to become well acquainted with, but for me it’s the crunch. So, then I may substitute, you know, a cucumber with the hummus instead of the chip. I may substitute a carrot, you know, instead of a chip. I still get the crunch, but not necessarily from the chip or the thing I’m trying to avoid. So, I think you figure out what is it about that that you like so much and figure is there something else that I can sub? It may not taste the same. I’m not going to sit here and tell you eating a cucumber chip is the same as eating a tortilla chip. I’m not about to pee on your leg and tell you it’s raining, but I will tell you it is a reasonable alternative when my long-term goal does not align with me eating chips today.
Gabe: There is no doubt that unhealthy food is easier to acquire than healthy food. There’s also no doubt that unhealthy food is less expensive than healthier foods, and I do want to be mindful of that. But I want to remind people that, like you said, Dr. Nicole, make the plan. Many of us aren’t even trying. We’re just sort of repeating these, oh, well, this is all I can do. I’m depressed. This is the best I can do. This is what I’ve always bought. This is what I can easily get. This is what? The corner store. That’s just what I’m going to do. And you’re right. I can’t keep salad around. I can’t, you know, fruits are going to expire, so there’s nothing that I can do. I want to push back against that hard. This is why making the plan is important. This is why thinking about it now, or thinking about it when you’re well is important because there are, in fact, things that you can do. And one of the things that I love about people with bipolar disorder is our inability to see the forest through the trees. When I, when I sit in support groups and people say things like, well, all I have in my freezer is frozen pizza, all I have is frozen pizza.
Gabe: And that’s what I eat when I’m depressed because it’s super easy. I can just take it, throw it in the freezer and that’s done. There’s nothing else that I can do. And I’m like, you know, there’s like a whole industry that makes like lean frozen foods, lean foods that you can put in your oven, microwave. Et cetera. There’s literally just all of these options. And I get sort of blank stares and like, well, but it doesn’t taste good. And I’m like, okay, but by show of hands, how many folks have tried it? Okay, so now people are being honest and then I say, okay, but hang on, let’s go with that. Let’s talk about your frozen pizza. Right. There are frozen pizzas out there that have thousands of calories, and there are frozen pizzas that have less calories. I’m never going to say that eating an entire frozen pizza is your best option, but just go to your freezer section and you will see a wide caloric range of options. Pizzas with meat, for example, have more fat, saturated fats, etc. than maybe just a cheese pizza. So even in our frozen pizza example, there’s still choices that you can make. And that’s where I want people’s mind going.
Dr. Nicole: I think the problem, though, is. When people are trying to make these decisions, when you’re in that depression that your brain is not thinking like, oh, I’m going to critically review all the labels on these frozen pizzas up and down the aisle. That is an activity for a non-depressed day. That is not an activity for a depressed day.
Gabe: And we’re back discussing the effects of our diets on bipolar disorder.
Dr. Nicole: Depressed you is just going to walk into that grocery store and pick the first thing they see and walk out the door. They are not going to take the time to compare. You know, when you feel good, you have like three of them spread out in your basket. You’re looking at the labels, you’re looking comparing fat content and protein and carbs. You are not doing all that when you’re depressed. So, it still goes back to it has to be something that you think very carefully about when you’re in a good space to think about that. And again, this is not just people with bipolar disorder. Busy people are the worst. I have lots of patients who do not have bipolar disorder, who I cannot get to plan ahead for meals to save their lives, and they end up sitting in front of me upset because they made a choice that they’re not proud of. But really, it’s just poor planning. So, it still always goes back to planning. When you have the time, when you have the mental capacity, like when it’s the right time, because in the moment it’s just too much.
Gabe: Long time listeners of this podcast have heard me say before, the worst time to have a fire drill is when the building is on fire, and this applies here as well. When you are feeling well, many people say, well, I don’t want to think about my next depression episode. I don’t want to think about the next time that I can’t get out of bed. I don’t want to think about the next time that I. I just want to live in the moment and be happy. I understand that. I want to tell you that I see you, I understand that, but
Dr. Nicole: Okay.
Gabe: I also want to tell you that the worst time to have a fire drill is when the house is on fire. Nobody wants to think about their home burning up. I mean, isn’t that incredibly depressing?
Dr. Nicole: Yeah, yeah.
Gabe: Hey, you need to get smoke alarms, fire extinguishers,
Dr. Nicole: Yes, yes.
Gabe: And decide what you’re going to do if your house catches on fire and you lose everything and you’re homeless. All right, who wants to think about that?
Dr. Nicole: Yeah, but I’m still changing that. I’m still changing that battery every six months, even though I don’t
Dr. Nicole: Want to think about it happening. I’m still changing my smoke alarm battery every six months.
Gabe: Exactly. And to keep on the fire drill analogy, nobody’s asking you to have a fire drill on your birthday. Nobody’s asking you to have a fire drill at Christmas. Nobody’s asking you to have a fire drill when you have all your friends come over to watch the game, watch the movie. We’re just saying that there’s a lot of downtime in between those very special moments. And, and between those very special moments, give a little thought to the future and decide how you’re going to handle this. And I want to be like, super clear. There are all kinds of things that you can do to make sure that you have healthier options that are going to make you feel better, ready in in weeks or even months. You can buy canned vegetables, you can buy frozen vegetables, and a lot of these frozen vegetables, they come in a steam bag. You literally chuck the thing in the microwave and boom, you got broccoli. Now people are saying, But, Gabe, broccoli doesn’t make me feel better. It’s not a comfort food, right? When I’m depressed, I want mom’s meatloaf. It’s always mom’s meatloaf. I want cake because it reminds me of a birthday. I get that, I really, really do. But you got to ask yourself, is it worth it? Over on the addiction side, people, people beating addiction, they always talk about all the time, like I’m going through withdrawal. I’m sad, I’m depressed. It’s horrible.
Gabe: These feelings, and I know that all I have to do is turn to that substance and that will go away. But they also learn that it will only go away very temporarily, and they’ll be right back where they started except with regret. So arguably further back. But I want to bring this back to us people living with bipolar disorder, and that we have a little bit of an advantage. We don’t have to go completely abstinent from all of these foods. In many cases, we can sort of mix mom’s meatloaf, but instead of pairing it with the high calorie sides, we can swap out the mashed potatoes for green beans. And this can fill in whatever you want. So, for example, instead of eating the entire frozen pizza and a bag of chips, maybe you can eat the more diet. I’m making air quotes. The lower calorie, the healthier frozen pizza, or the even the smaller frozen pizza, the personal size versus the 15 inch, or the 16 inch or the 18 inch. And we could then pair that lower calorie pizza with maybe the smaller bag of chips. Now, is that the, is that perfection? No, no, of course not. But it’s a vast improvement over binge eating an entire giant meat pizza and an entire bag of Doritos.
Dr. Nicole: Most people I see who have bipolar disorder have difficulty thinking about the long game versus the short game. So, one of the issues that always comes up in sessions with me is like, we need to think about the right now because that’s important. But we also need to think about the long game, like the benefits of today’s actions on months from now, years from now. Like what, the long game. So, the long game for you as it relates to thinking about diet in general, what do you want to do to feel better? What are your health goals? So, I think focusing on your health goals is the best way to do this and to focus less on what it is that you’re eating. I mean, personally, that is how I manage my relationship with food. I am a foodie, I love flavors, I like to try to guess what’s in something when I eat. Like, I am all in. I like to cook. I like cuisines from just all over the world, like I am all in, but I can’t eat that way on a regular basis. So, I have to think about what are my health goals and what do I need to do to accomplish them? Does it mean that I won’t have that thing that’s supposedly so unhealthy that, oh, you should never eat this? No, it doesn’t mean I won’t. It just means that I’m going to have a very, very good conversation, mindful conversation with myself about it before I do.
Dr. Nicole: And I’m going to have long term goals that are sustainable. And so, I think it’s more important for you that your goals are sustainable. Maybe never having those things, it’s just going to make you want them even more. I mean, I know it does for me when I say I’m going to cut all carbs out of my diet, then guess what? I’m craving carbs like a fool over here. I mean, I am wanting everything that I haven’t wanted in years, but if I know that, oh, I’m going to give myself, you know, this time and I’m going to have this amount or this little packet of two cookies instead of the whole sleeve. If I know that I can make those kind of adjustments, I can still feel proud of the decisions I’ve made in the short term, and I can still frame them in a sense of let’s focus on the long game. This is about your long-term survivability with bipolar disorder. Because this is a life long illness. We do not want to just focus on the you of right now at 25, we want to focus on what is 65-year-old you going to look like with bipolar disorder? And I think we could both agree, you want 65-year-old you to feel physically well and to feel healthy. And we have to work on accomplishing those things today.
Gabe: I agree with that 100%. And as someone who lives with bipolar disorder, I am constantly looking for ways to take my power back. Bipolar disorder, it’s controlled my moods. It’s controlled my relationships. It’s caused me problems. It is hurt me. And I’m in constant fear that it’s going to hurt me again. And here I have this opportunity to take some control. And the fact that it also just helps me in other areas of my life is sort of a bonus. Bipolar disorder loves to make us feel bad and worthless and helpless. And I really see this as an opportunity to say, you know what? I’m not playing into your hand. I am going to do this not only for myself, but forget that I’m going to do that to defeat bipolar disorder. This is an active stance that we can take to help decide our future, control our future, make our future better. And I love those little empowering moments. So, when I’m eating healthy, yeah, it’s not mom’s meatloaf and it’s not great and it doesn’t have that instant feel. But I try to remind myself, you know what? I’m not playing to bipolar disorder’s hands. I’m proud of myself for making these decisions. And yeah, I’m not trying to convince anybody that eating healthy is the most exciting thing ever. It’s not. We all picked the junk food for a reason. But I do think that if we miss the opportunity to congratulate ourselves and be proud of ourselves and to acknowledge that we are fighting as hard as we can, we’re really missing an opportunity to give ourselves a lot of credit.
Dr. Nicole: And we all know that foods have the ability to make you feel pretty crappy if you consistently eat certain foods as a as a main part of your diet. We know that if you have a diet high in fatty foods, high in carbs, you will not feel well. You will not feel physically well, your energy will not be where you need it to be. You will not feel like you’re firing on all cylinders. Cognitively, you won’t feel as mentally sharp. That is just a reality. So, if you have bipolar disorder and you feel like those things are impaired at your baseline and you feel like that is because of your bipolar disorder, then yeah, I say absolutely. Then having a diet that is a little healthier could benefit your bipolar symptoms. If those are the things that you’re dealing with. Because why would you then do something that you know is going to make those things even worse? So, we started this conversation off talking about, you know, can I use my diet to treat my bipolar disorder and never have to take meds again? Well, my answer to that is very unlikely not.
Dr. Nicole: Right? Somebody out there though, and I say it very unlikely. I didn’t get you a blanket. No, because somebody out there is going to say that I’ve been following the keto diet for ten years, and I haven’t had a mood episode in ten years. And to you, I say, fantastic. But for all those people that I see who come into the hospital who have bipolar disorder, who says, I stopped my medicine because I was following the keto diet, or I all of a sudden changed my diet and I start taking supplements and I quit all my meds. Those people, this is not their story. It’s not their testimony. This isn’t true for them. This this will not serve true for everybody. So, I will not give you a blanket no, but I will say it is very unlikely that you can completely treat your bipolar disorder with a particular diet. But you can’t 100% affect how you feel. And some of those symptoms you have that are chronic, that are just ongoing and nagging and lingering can be positively affected by a change in your diet.
Gabe: You know, Dr. Nicole, the US military cannot give you a blanket no that if you jump out of an airplane and your parachute doesn’t open, that you will die. Right? Because, hey, somebody lives. But I think most people listening want their parachute to open. I would argue, especially since there’s no definitive test for bipolar disorder, that we also have to look into the possibility that somebody who is saying, hey, I am managing bipolar disorder with diet and exercise or any alternative treatment, that it’s certainly possible that they were misdiagnosed or that they’re selling that alternative treatment, and that that’s why they’re so happy. There are all kinds of scams. And I just, I, I really feel the need to say that because I personally have seen it turn out so poorly. Bipolar disorder is a cyclical illness, which means if you go off your medication tomorrow and you do absolutely nothing, there are better than average odds that you will cycle into a stereotypical, a normal or a positive state of mind. And because of the cyclical nature of bipolar disorder, you could stay there for three, six, nine, 12 months, even a couple of years. But bipolar disorder, again being cyclical, you will swing into those symptoms and that becomes really, really problematic because by that point you’ve put all of your eggs in one basket. I see all of these YouTube videos of people who have found some alternative treatment to bipolar disorder. And all I can think of is, how do we know how you’re doing now? We know how you were doing when you made the video, right? You were doing great. In fact, you could have been manic, you could have been hypomanic.
Gabe: You could have had grandiose thoughts that you invented a treatment for bipolar disorder, and you made this great video. But if anything, bad happens to you, anything. Who’s there to take the video down? Who’s there to recant that statement? So, there are plenty of examples of people who made these videos, died by suicide, and their YouTube channel lives on, and they are unfortunately still inspiring people in the wrong direction years later. It’s difficult to think about it this way, but I think that we need to be fair and ask ourselves is the reason we’re asking this question because we don’t want to take the medicine? And has nothing to do with food, and has nothing to do with treatment? It’s only because we don’t like the treatment, not because we feel the treatment isn’t working, or that we aren’t living our best selves. And that leads me to this, this beautiful point that I’ve been waiting till towards the end to bring up. I am fascinated even the most med compliant person in the world feels at some sort of way about their meds, myself included, right? I love my medication. It allows me to lead my best life. But yeah, it’s a bummer. I hate taking it. I don’t want to take it. And I’m always fascinated with this idea that, oh, I don’t want to put medication into my system every day. What’s it doing to me? I don’t know, I don’t know if I like this, but I will grab a bag of the junkiest junk food and not even care that there is plenty of information out there that it is hurting me and my body and my physical and mental health. And I’m just like, what?
Dr. Nicole: That is a really great point, and I think discernment is important when you see these experts or so-called experts out here putting out information about their lived experiences, they’re just that, their lived experiences. And you’re right, we have to question things. But just like we have to question people who tell us about their home remedies, their, you know, fail proof plans to treat their bipolar disorder without medication. We also have to be realistic and consistent because we know that consistency is key, but we’re not very consistent. We hate pharmaceutical companies. We are terrified about the meds we put into our bodies. You question every single recommendation I make because you question, is it the right thing to do? Is that safe? Yet, the great majority of foods, processed foods for sure, that we eat are likely banned in certain countries because of how dangerous they are. Yet we don’t think twice about eating those hot dogs.
Gabe: As someone living with bipolar disorder, I completely understand this concern about putting the medications into our bodies and the long-term impact. I like that line of thinking. I just I can’t help but notice that I don’t have that same line of thinking for the food that I put in my body, even though the food, some of the foods that I eat make me feel bad almost instantly. I mean, I get a sore stomach, I, diarrhea, stomach cramps, etc., and I’m going to eat it again. So, I would just say no to all of my bipolar friends, right? Just because something tastes good doesn’t mean that it is good for you. And I think that often we miss that. We’re like, well, I enjoyed eating it and I’m just going to ignore these negative consequences. And can you imagine if your Dr. Nicole ignored the negative consequences of taking your medication? If every time you took the medication that that your Dr. Nicole prescribed and you had a very bad reaction and you took that reaction to your Dr. Nicole and they were like, well, you’re fine. What? Well, yeah, it makes you feel bad. Who cares? And they wouldn’t even address it. And they just encourage you to keep taking it over and over again. I can already hear it. I can I can already hear it. And yet we all have these foods, especially when we’re symptomatic, that we just keep taking over and over and over again. And that is what I want you to think about, how our food really is impacting our bipolar disorder, and whether or not we’re setting ourselves up to get better, or if we’re inadvertently making it worse.
Dr. Nicole: Yeah. I love that you brought you started that particular conversation with, why are you so resistant to the meds but not resistant to the other things? Is it control? Like what is it? Is it the stigma? And that’s where you figure out, oh, this is an area I need to work on because I’m not being consistent, I am, I am giving all the smoke to Dr. Nicole when she brings up medicine. But I have zero smoke for the fast-food places that I pick up food from. I have zero care about that kind of stuff. So, I think areas in our lives where we feel inconsistent, those are areas to hone in on and figure out. Why am I so passionate about this one phase of putting stuff in my body, but not in this other area? And I think that is a good place to look at where you can do some growth work to just help you manage your illness overall much, much better.
Gabe: And I am terrible at this. I have been managing bipolar disorder for 20 years and I just, I, everybody heard me on this podcast and they think, all right, if we go to Gabe’s freezer right now, he’s got some healthy options. He’s got some good food in his pantry. And that’s half true. That’s half true. But even with all of that, I also have the bad foods in my pantry. And I am positive that I will reach for it sometimes. Remember, we’re not striving for perfection here. We’re just making sure that we understand the reason that we do these things and see where we as individual, can make better choices. And I hope that we shared some great tips for you to try. I hope that we gave you a little bit of an insight into why we do these things, and I hope that we gave you some encouragement that, hey, know better, do better. It’s just all about, for me, having more control over bipolar disorder, over my body, over my future, over my choices and knowledge is definite power when it comes to that. Thank you all so much for listening. My name is Gabe Howard and I wrote the book “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” which you can get on Amazon, or you can get a signed copy with free swag by heading over to my website gabehoward.com.
Gabe: Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe. It is absolutely free and you don’t want to miss a thing and listen. Can you do us a favor? Recommend this podcast to everyone you know. Bring it up in a support group. Bring it up on social media. Hell, send somebody a text because sharing the show is how we grow. We will see everybody next time on Inside Bipolar.
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