Food and Mental Health

Mental health in times of Covid

How to stay healthy in times of Covid, with millions of workers around the globe loosing their jobs and income. Some countries & regions have started to come out of isolation, some on the other hand are at the brink of going under some form of lock down again.

I own a small hotel in Buenos Aires. We have been closed since March 20th 2020. Like most other hotels, bars, restaurants, musea, milongas … we have no hope for when we can reopen. Estimates are that 50% of the Argentine population will be stuck in poverty, more than 50% of all commerces will never reopen again.

No Income & Bills to Pay

My monthly bills continue to land: gas, electricity, water, internet (my lifeline with the world ), fumigation, property taxes, insurances, my daughter’s school tuition, food ( we eat very little )… and the worst, I have a loan to pay.

With foreign tourism totally absent, entrance of foreigners forbidden, my access to the euro and/or dollar has come to a halt. I have very few savings in euro. Inflation in Argentina is high, but the gradual devaluation of the peso is even higher: today’s Western Union rate ( August 25th 2020 ) is 157.5 pesos to the euro; on February 6th of this year I would get 92.2 pesos for one euro, and even that was considered high !

I posted a Facebook message on my wall asking for financial aid. To my biggest surprise, I received positive reactions from people I expected least. With 5 months in lock down and no possibility to work or generate an income, my mental health is in danger. When talking to friends, colleagues, I realize I am not the only one. All of us here in Argentina are struggling to survive.

WW memories

My father was born on the eve of World War II. That being said, he is now 80 years old. My mom is 77. Both of my parents were born in the same village, Baal, a rural place where most inhabitants made a living from agriculture. My grandparents on both sides were also born in the same village. They were still toddlers when WW I broke out.

soap was scarce

Baal ( now fusioned with a larger commune called Tremelo ) is in the heart of Belgium, the core of the battlefield during both wars. Belgium was occupied by the Germans.

Even before the occupation, a distribution system existed in Belgium and the Netherlands for the fair distribution of scarce, difficult to obtain foodstuffs. The standard of living fell during the occupation.

Import by sea was impossible, production declining and many Belgian & Dutch goods were shipped to Germany.

Real coffee, tea and tobacco were almost impossible to obtain and were replaced by substitute products of inferior quality. People would get a voucher card: a sheet of vouchers with which to buy everything. Receipts for potatoes, general goods, butter, milk were very common. More and more products were “on the receipt” and could only be purchased by handing in receipts issued by the government. Rations were getting smaller and the distribution system grew more complicated.

Products that were on the receipt became also sometimes difficult to obtain. There were often long lines in front of the shops. Distribution inevitably involved combating black trade and a system of price control. Scarcity tends to create a black trade in hard-to-get goods. It is inevitably so that black markets lead to big profits.

The world war years and the years thereafter were complicated.

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

The difference between then and now and here and there is that I can still put decent food on the table. No matter the hardship we are going through, a healthy diet is the essential basis of my mental well-being.

My daughter has not been able to go to school nor socialize with her friends. The other day her crisis came out of the blue. She mentioned she had suicide thoughts, she could not bear the isolation any longer. I sat with her, we ordered some Cadore ice, and her mood grew better.

We eat fresh fruit and vegetables every day. I once went for a treat and ordered the Aramburu limited edition box. I have a glass of red wine during dinner. Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice in the morning, coconut yogurt with chia, cocoa, oatmeal for breakfast and one or more cups of espresso coffee with it.

I know for a fact my healthy eating habits are the foundation of my mental health. So far. Is Argentina becoming the next Venezuela? Are we heading for another military coup? No one knows.

The problem is cultural

Argentines claim that healthy food is expensive. Most lack the knowledge on how to prepare a proper meal. The staple diet here consists of meat and wheat based products: bread, pizza, empanadas …

Given the current exchange rate being in my favor, fruit and vegetables, in my opinion, are fairly priced. Nerjis, my daughter, and I eat on a daily budget of 700 to 800 pesos, the equivalent of 5 € ( 6 USD ). We allow ourselves, only once in a while, a ‘derivation’ from the rigid food budget I impose.

Food is culture

Look at the Italians ! The Italian cuisine is the perfect balance of fruits, vegetables, meat & wheat, nuts & cereals.

Fatty acids, like omega-3 and omega-6, are essential for our brains to function well. Healthy fats can be found in nuts, seeds, oily fish, poultry, avocados, dairy products and eggs. Our focus on low-fat diets may have also inadvertently affected our mental well-being. The Mediterranean diet strikes the perfect balance between all ingredients of a mental-friendly regime.

Food and mood

How do diet and nutrition affect mental well being? There are two books I call my bibles, 2 books I follow by the rule. Both elaborate the relation between the gut microbiome and mental health . I have mentioned these two books in an earlier article.

Brain Maker

The first one is ‘ Brain Maker‘ by Perlmutter. Debilitating brain disorders are on the rise – from children diagnosed with autism and ADHD to adults developing dementia at younger ages than ever before. But a medical revolution is underway that can solve this problem. Astonishing new research sheds light on the influence of the human microbiome in every aspect of health, including your nervous system. In BRAIN MAKER, Dr Perlmutter explains the connection between intestinal microbes and the brain, describing how the microbiome develops from birth and evolves based on the environment, how it can become ‘sick’, and how nurturing gut health through a few easy strategies can alter your brain’s destiny for the better.

With simple dietary recommendations and a highly practical program of six steps to improving gut ecology, BRAIN MAKER opens the door to unprecedented brain health potential.

The second one is

The End of Alzheimer’s : The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline

Both are pioneers in claiming mental health and diet are intertwined. I can only confirm. Since I was diagnosed with celiaquia eight years ago, I found my self reading a lot. The change in my diet brought back my concentration I had lost for too long a time.

When I stopped eating wheat based products all together, not only did my mental health return, my sudden outbursts disappeared. My skin healed, my swollen belly and bad breath are a memory of the past.

Food is not something to be taken for granted ! Food deserves to be given serious thought !

And in these tough corona times when mankind, you and me, is facing unprecedented challenges, our health matters more than ever before.

4 thoughts on “Mental health in times of Covid”

  1. Hello there Karin, thank you for sharing this wonderful and profound personal article. I really enjoyed reading it and learning about your story. It is true that this lockdown has affected a lot of people not just physically but mentally in the sense that there is financial and social stagnation and as such our lives feel like its been put on hold. 

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  2. One of the most precious things we should take proper care as humans is our mental health, it affects virtually every other part of the senses of the body and mind. I like how you’ve developed this article about keeping a healthy mental health during Covid. What are the things we can do to help those whose minds are already shattered? 

    Reply
    • Hi,

      As an answer to your question: first, never give up hope. While part of the body or brain might be damaged, often that damage, when taken well care of, might be reversed. Clue is accepting to change one’s eating and living habits. We are too often to do precisely that : CHANGE. Change over the years has come with a negative connotation. But change means so much good. Less does not have to mean less in quality, comfort. Hence , often LESS = MORE. I plan to share more on the topic in the future.

      Reply
  3. I can totally resonate with you on this list and exactly what the country has left us to be.  Being able to ensure we stayed sane was the battle most of us felt. How can we actually be able to do other things while Nigerians are dying almost everytime. This is really massive to see and I would ensure I can take to the next level

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