To the outside world Diane* had it together. She was happily married, had two wonderful kids, a great social life and she was very active in the local expat community.
The first time we spoke Diane mentioned that after the initial relocation adjustment period she now loved her life but that all was not well. All the social engagements that came with her busy expat lifestyle also came with unhealthy eating and drinking patterns. She had noticed weight creeping on, her skin issues flaring up and what really drove her to reach out to me were the mood swings.
“None of my friends see this side of me but literally every afternoon I get this mental crash and I feel anxious, stressed and cranky” she told me. “As a result of this I end up raiding the pantry which makes me feel worse. I feel like I am caught in this vicious cycle where I eat the wrong things which causes me to feel worse which makes me eat even more!” Diane was so ready to feel healthier and mentally more balanced.
Boy could I relate… When I was at the height of my health crisis about 12 years ago I was mentally all over the place. I could easily move from feeling weepy or cranky to having big anger outbursts, all of it in a matter of hours with my poor kids and husband bearing the brunt of these extreme mood swings. For a long time I blamed it on hormonal imbalances, and even took some bio identical hormones for a while to try to smooth things out.
But, and this is what I told Diane as well, hormones don’t get out of balance in a vacuum. Your brain doesn’t start bouncing from happy to depressed to angry on its own either. It is a result of internal imbalances that slowly grow into a range of symptoms, which can look like anything, depending on what your weak link is.
In Diane’s case (and in mine) these symptoms turned up in the form of mood swings (along with a bunch of other things!) When you have had enough of these symptoms and you summon up the courage to do something about it, you essentially have two ways When the expat social scene to go: take medication to manage them or embark on a diet and lifestyle overhaul to rebalance your body and brain at a foundational level.
I am a fan of the latter. And fortunately, Diane was too. Because, I am not kidding you, it took just 3 weeks for her to even out her moods once we revamped her diet. She reported having more energy, losing weight, and NO more cranky afternoons! That is how powerful nutrition is.
While the process looks a bit different for every person, depending on their health history,complaints, and their bio individual needs, here’s how I approached it with Diane:
We cleared out the sugar and refined carbs and then some. Sometimes eliminating sugar and refined carbs are all it takes to feel better fast. However, since Diane had an autoimmune condition we took her elimination list to the next level.
And if that thought scares you: it’s never forever. A period of eating real, clean, non-inflammatory, and nutrient dense foods as part of a healing programme usually does the trick. After Diane was feeling a whole lot better we tested putting individual foods back into her diet in a balanced and ideal way for her.
We healed and sealed leaks in her gut. This step is critical, especially in brain health. When the lining of your digestive tract is compromised there is a continuous underlying level of inflammation in the gut, which equals ongoing stress on the body. And continuous stress interferes with hormone balance, neurotransmitters, immune function and your general ability to feel sound and sane.
We nourished her microbiome. These are the trillions of microorganisms that are housed in our digestive tract and that literally form the control centre of your biology, including your mental frame of mind. These critters control your life! It’s truly mind blowing when you start digging into the science behind this. So in order to support the health and
diversity of the bacteria in Diane’s gut we added in probiotic and prebiotic rich foods.
We worked on her lifestyle factors, including sleep and exercise and stress management. As part of this step we addressed the social pressure that she felt as part of a vibrant and fun loving expat community. It can be hard sometimes to turn down a drink or a particular food without feeling like a partypooper, but once you get your priorities straight and know how to handle these situations, you will choose your health and wellbeing over peer pressure and find some balance in this arena as well.
So, to summarise: if you feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster ride most of the time, there are things you can do to address that. Just focus on the 4 steps I mentioned. Be well.
*Name changed for privacy purposes.
Monique Jhingon is a Functional Nutrition & Lifestyle Practitioner who offers select private coaching to expats whose health and digestion has been compromised as a result of transitioning into new environments, cultures, climates and foods.
You can read more on her website and sign up for a free
Nutrition Breakthrough Session here: