The Importance of Your Gut Health and Mental Health in a Pandemic With Elizabeth Raymond, Co-Founder of NoBull
Warning, this blog discusses mental illnesses and suicide and may be a sensitive subject for some readers.
While the world was forced to remain indoors, we turned to food and our screens for comfort during such difficult and lonely times. We were all in survival mode, and it’s no surprise that depression and anxiety skyrocketed during this time and suicide rates among teens and young adults were among an all-time high. Our country is — no doubt — in a mental health crisis.
Caring for our mental health can look different for so many people, but the good thing about it is there are so many different options that we can keep in our toolbelt to help.
In this blog, we spoke with NoBull Co-founder, Elizabeth Raymond, about the connection between our gut and mental health, her food journey, and why NoBull has bigger missions in mind to help you manage your mental health through food.
NoBull’s Bigger Picture: From Elizabeth
”When I was little, my mom Crissanne, NoBull Burger Creator and Co-founder, packed lunches for five kids everyday, from when we were in Kindergarten to senior year. Wild, I know!
We were the kids with the “weird” homemade lunches who would get looks and questions because our food “looked different or smelled weird”. The closest thing to “junk cereal” we could have was Frosted Mini Wheats. We would beg for Lucky Charms or Lunchables, but it was a hard no from Mom. At the time, we couldn’t understand why, and when we went to friends’ houses, we’d raid their pantries for Fruit Roll Ups, Doritos, and Hostess cupcakes. My mom knew then and now that the food we eat matters internally and externally, and that it has both an immediate and long-term effect on our physical and mental lives.
It was only until much later in life when my food journey came full circle that I started to really understand and live the experience of the saying “You are what you eat” to know what that actually meant. 10 years ago, I found myself diving all in into our family business selling better-for-you veggie burgers and deepening my understanding on how the food we eat matters and using food for medicine and fuel. In July 2020, after losing my sweet, beloved brother, Luke, to his battle with his mental health, did my passion for connecting the food we eat to our mental health became a lifelong mission.
Part of the reason we felt compelled to share NoBull Burgers with the world was because we were appalled by the highly processed diets that our culture consumes. Looking at a society that is ridden with depression and anxiety, we know change has to start with what we put into our bodies.
The REAL food, nutrient dense, high fiber approach NoBull Burger has to plant-based eating can help relieve so many ailments both physically and mentally. Helping people eat as close to the earth without compromising on ingredients or flavor has always been our mission at NoBull Burger. Knowing the role of what we consume and its effect on our bodies and minds makes our mission even more profound.
I sit here with complete gratitude to my Mom for her commitment to raising us on her real food philosophy, knowing she was so ahead of her time and not with the popular American diet. Digging deeper and deeper into my food journey, it becomes more and more evident that the food we eat matters.”
Why Gut Health is Mental Health
Most of us are familiar with serotonin. We know it as a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, emotions, sleep, appetite, digestion, and much more. But what most people don’t know is that 95% of that serotonin in our body is found in the gut.
The gut has a direct connection to our brains. There’s even a communication network called the gut-brain axis that is both a physical and biochemical connection directly linking the two, telling our body and mind how to act. That’s why we have sayings like, “go with your gut” or getting “butterflies” in your stomach when you are nervous. It’s your gut and your mind communicating with one another to take care of your health overall.
One of the biggest changes you can make for your gut health and mental health story is to your diet..
Eating nutrient-dense foods can have an almost immediate effect on your mood, energy, and how you feel physically. Fiber in particular is one of the most beneficial resources for your microbiome health because high-fiber foods like fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains encourage the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that reduce inflammation.
NoBull’s veggie burgers are a good source of fiber with lentils, brown rice and whole vegetables being the main ingredients in all of our flavors. These ingredients are easy for our bodies to process and can greatly reduce inflammation in our stomachs.
Do Gastrointestinal (GI) Issues Affect Mental Health?
There is a strong relationship between struggling with your mental health and having gastrointestinal symptoms like heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, bloating, pain, constipation, and/or diarrhea.
Research in animals has shown that changes in the gut microbiome and inflammation in the gut can affect the brain and cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, and depression. Having anxiety and depression can cause changes in the gut microbiome because of the stress response they cause in the body.
In a study by Dr. Robert Sapolsky, we know stress hormones are “brilliantly adapted” to help you survive an unexpected threat. They help you think clearly, run faster, and act accordingly in order to stay alive. But non-life-threatening stressors, such as constantly worrying about money or pleasing your boss, also trigger the release of adrenalin and other stress hormones, which, over time, can have devastating consequences to your health.
Psychology combined with physical factors to cause pain and other bowel symptoms. Psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut, as well as symptoms. In other words, stress (or depression or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract. Stress can make the existing pain seem even worse.
Change Your Diet to Change Your Mind
Research shows how much diet affects our overall mental health. When we put focus on our health, there are so many useful tools that can help us live healthier, more positive lives.
Making sure you get adequate sleep so your brain can recharge and your body can rest and will help immensely. Movement is another huge tool in your kit, whether it’s going for a walk with a friend, taking a hike and connecting with nature, or playing sports with a group of people. Even taking a few moments to do some intentional breathing can all make a world of difference for your mental health.
One of the most important and helpful things you can do is ask for help. Know that you don’t have to go through this tough time alone and whether it’s a good listening friend or a therapist, seeking help when times are hard is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Eating a whole food diet can also change your life for the better, pandemic or not. There’s nothing like taking care of yourself or a loved one with a home-cooked, nutritious meal. Food can be a love language too! Personally, we recommend a NoBull grain bowl with roasted veggies and your favorite sauce or dressing like a lemon-tahini aioli. You can also try a NoBull Burger crumbled over a bed of mixed greens, or use NoBull in tacos. Who doesn’t cheer up a little with tacos?!
The point is, eating whole-food ingredients close to the earth that are high in fiber can help you help yourself, too. Making the commitment with your health journey is an act of self love and YOU are worth it!
If you or someone you know needs help or is in crisis please reach out to a trusted person, or call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.