For those of you who don’t know, I’m a certified health coach, but certifications aside, I’ve also been a long time informal learner on the topic of nutrition. Nutrition is one of the big building blocks of overall health and over the years I have become more and more aware of how this particularly influences aspects of our lives that may seem unrelated, but are directly affected by our food choices.
In this series I will explore some of the steps you can take to help your body and mind work in your favor through nutrition.
Healing/recovering from narcissistic abuse involves a combination of things and looks different for every person. However, every single person going through this process can benefit from proper, and even targeted nutrition, as it is fundamental for everything else you may choose to explore and pursue as part of your healing.
Why? Because the processes in the body, including the brain, are dependent on the availability of certain nutrients. When they are lacking, the brain won’t process information the same way, our mood is affected, our energy levels and productivity sink, or cognitive function and decision making ability decline, we may experience weight loss or gain, difficulty sleeping or often feeling sluggish, requiring more sleep than usual, getting sick more often, among other things. Nutrient-specific deficiencies can become a real issue as well.
In other words, poor nutrition greatly diminishes (and sometimes even impairs) our ability to recover from an abusive situation, causing something that is already quite a challenge to be unnecessarily harder to accomplish.
That’s all fine and dandy in theory, but sometimes life circumstances and our overall already beaten up emotional state make it very difficult for us to even think about proper nutrition, let alone take the steps to create and keep healthy eating habits. Trust me, I’ve been there. I slip back in there still, every once in a while – and that’s fine.
The important thing is to be good and compassionate towards yourself no matter what: if you’re taking steps forward, pat yourself on the back; if you slip and take a step back, treat it as if you’re watching a baby learn how to walk. Would you ever tell a baby who falls when attempting to walk: “You really suck at this, you might as well stop trying”? No, of course not, because there’s an implied understanding that it’s a process, there’s a learning curve and with each additional step, they get closer and closer to walking without falling.
It’s the same thing with eating habits (and healing, for that matter) and I wanted to point this out right up front, before you feel overwhelmed by the suggestions you’ll find in this series.
Most of us are aware that emotional and psychological abuse can cause detectable brain damage. That sounds like an extreme, but it isn’t actually that uncommon. However, extended chronic abuse causes a lot of other issues that may run under the radar, but are actively affecting our physical and mental wellness on a daily basis.
A lot of these issues happen because we experience repeated discharges of hormonal cocktails, including adrenaline and cortisol, in response to stress and fear. Those two alone will affect how your body functions, causing things like increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased blood sugar, weakened immune system, mood changes, unstable energy levels and more. (Source: here)
This, in turn, puts people in greater risk for different types of health problems, such as anxiety, depression, digestive problems, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, memory and concentration impairment – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Personally, I’ve experienced hypothyroidism (check this link for an explanation on the link between stress/cortisol release and hypothyroidism), high glucose blood levels (as a result of the underactive thyroid), acute and chronic anxiety, among other things.
Frequent stress hormone release, when paired with the absence of proper nutrition, is a toxic combination for the body and likely to produce very negative effects on the brain and the body as a whole. So it’s imperative to become aware and mindful of what you eat when you’re trying to heal from abuse and, even more so, if you are still in the abusive relationship. Because your mental/cognitive functioning needs to be as sharp as possible for you to even remove yourself from the abusive situation. You may not be able to control the narcissist’s abuse, but you can start gaining control over what you eat in order to empower yourself physically and mentally.
So, let’s start slow, with changes you can make right now to start empowering yourself through nutrition:
One of the most overlooked nutritional necessities, Omega-3s are fatty acids the brain needs to perform communication between cells, to include the transmission of neuro-chemicals such as serotonin, for example. All the processes in the brain are going to be only as healthy and effective as its cells. So, when the brain lacks Omega-3s, we experience different levels and types of impairment, especially in our cognitive and mood functions. Omega-3s are also important for other functions in the body, but for now, I’d like to focus on the importance of these fatty acids in aiding in emotional and psychological balance, as well as clarity of thought, which are essential for healing.
So, my first tip is for people to be mindful of their Omega-3 intake. It comes in three different types: EPA, DHA and ALA. ALA is considered “essential” because our bodies don’t naturally produce it. EPA and DHA are produced in the body, but not in sufficient amounts. So, each of the 3 different types of Omega-3s need to either come from our diet or from supplements.
EPA and DHA are found in marine sources, such as cold water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring), shellfish, fish oil and algae. Notice that the DHA and EPA levels in farmed fish depend on what the fish is fed, so wild-caught fish is always a better alternative.
ALA is sourced from plants (walnuts, chia and flax seeds, certain vegetable oils and soy products). We need all three, but while EPA and DHA are longer fatty acid chains, and thus more bioavailable, ALA is a shorter, incomplete chain, with a very low conversion rate, causing its absorption to often be only between 1% and 3%.
All three types of Omega-3 can also be found in supplement form and certain fortified foods. To find the Recommended Dietary Allowance (DRA), please refer to this link.
As a health coach and a survivor of narcissistic abuse, I know that a lot of times we need to take things one step at a time. Each step adds up. Making sure you’re meeting your daily requirements of Omega-3s isn’t going to be a magic pill, however, it is among those simple steps that can go a long way in creating more balance in our mental and emotional states. This can be as simple as choosing a good quality supplement, eating fish/seafood more often or adding flax and chia seeds to a smoothie.
The other simple step I’d like for you to strongly consider is your water intake. Water is at the basis of all life forms and we tend to underestimate the effects of not drinking enough of it. Additionally, we also end up consuming way too many sugary and artificial drinks in place of water, filled with harmful ingredients, including Aspartame – a neurotoxin that affects your brain functioning and kills brain cells.
I’ll tell you how water intake works, if you find it challenging to drink enough: it’s a habit like any other. You may have to become intentional about it at first, but once your body starts getting what it needs, it will crave water, like it’s designed to do. We get in the way of this natural process through the consumption of other beverages, that eventually cause us to crave them instead because of sugar addiction and stimulants, like caffeine, for example. This throws the body functions off significantly.
I have struggled with this myself, so I can speak from personal experience. Breaking a soda habit is no joke, especially when water tastes so bland in comparison and your body bombards you with cravings for the unhealthy toxins we’ve been putting in it. However, if you want to give yourself a good platform to spring back from narcissistic abuse, then drinking soda and sugary, artificial drinks isn’t going to do you any favors.
So, what are your options if you can’t stand to drink plain water? Here are a few things to consider:
- You feel this way about water now, but trust me, that will change if you stick with it. Within a matter of one week, you’ll start to crave water. Keep it up and a month into it you’ll find you don’t even need to consciously think about it anymore.
- If the sparkles in soda float your boat so much that you feel you can’t give it up, then at least give up the other ingredients and stick to sparkling water only – preferably the mineral type that is naturally carbonated and has the added benefits of minerals, though that’s up to you. This is a good compromise and you can even flavor the sparkling water with lime, lemon or other infusions (7 other recipes here to get you started) for added taste while you transition. Just be mindful of the type of sparking water you choose, since there are many types in the market. But as long as you stick to plain sparkling water with no added ingredients, apart from the healthy infusions, not only will you be much better off than drinking soda and artificial juices, but you’ll be receiving the same gains of drinking plain water, with added benefits – believe it or not.
- To ease the transition, you may want to combine the need for omega-3s and water in one single solution: chia drinks. Here’s an example of how to prepare a chia fresca to get you started (although you may want to skip the honey to get your taste buds accustomed back to non sugary beverages). Add fruits of your choice for vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, sip on it intermittently with plain water, and you’ll be well on your way to staying hydrated and doing your body and brain a big favor.
We’ll be exploring other simple and positive steps to help you heal through nutrition in other blog posts, but for now, I hope you’ll consider making these two small changes if they apply to you and start setting yourself up for empowerment, recovering and healing.
If you’d like to explore one on one health coaching with me, I currently offer this service through email and over Skype. Please get in touch for details. I offer discounted prices for victims and survivors.