This month we connected with mental health superstar Stephanie Minchin. Steph is a practicing clinical psychologist and yoga therapist as well as being a yoga teacher, a trainer and an author. Steph shares with us some of her expertise on the importance of being kind to your body and your mind...
Tell us a little about yourself and your background
Hi I’m Stephanie, I am a Clinical Psychologist, Yoga Therapist, Trainer and Author. My aim is to support you in nurturing a happier mind, healthier body and a more fulfilled life, through psychological therapy and yoga therapy.
Through writing, workshops and trainings and working with public health & social care services, charities and corporations, I aim to raise awareness of mental health as a core part of our human experience.
We know nourishment from the inside out is fundamental to you. How do you practice this?
Personally, I don't identify as having specific dietary requirements, and I am fortunate not to have any major food intolerances; but I do practice listening to my body in regards to nutrition. This means being mindful about what I eat and when, how my body is processing the food and the impact on my energy levels. Nutrition has a powerful effect on our physiological (body) and psychological (mind) well being, and knowing how to fuel our system is an integral part of living well.
In the past I've succumbed to so many fad diets and detoxes, and whilst I do still connect with regular cleanses and periods of fasting, I have become much more nutrition conscious. When I was younger I subscribed to different rules and 'good/bad' beliefs about different foods which at times led to an unhealthy relationship with eating and distorted ideas about body image, the foundations for self-sabotaging behaviours, poor eating habits and negative self image. It has taken years of re-establishing my relationship with food and my body through nutrition education, body awareness, and mindful eating.
Can you tell us a bit about the benefits of eating well from a mental health perspective?
I find it helpful to think of fuelling your body in the way you would fuel a car - with premium fuel, no toxins. Our nutrition has a direct impact on our mental health and emotional wellbeing. Research shows that over 95% of serotonin (a neurotransmitter which regulates our mood, sleep and appetite) is made in a gastro-intestinal tract. There is an axis between the gut and the brain, meaning they are in constant communication with one another; so an under or over-fuelled gut, in a state of stress, has a direct impact on how we feel.
Lifestyle factors also impact how, what and when we eat. For example, eating to numb or soothe oneself when in a state of stress (emotional eating) or eating without awareness (mindless eating e.g. whilst multitasking in front of a screen) can lead to unhealthy habits, poor bodily awareness and ineffective and stressed digestion. Addictions to e.g. sugar can create a constant state of longing and craving; this can also be linked back to the gut environment during our childhood and the contexts around us at the time. Maintaining healthy patterns and routines around eating, including mealtimes around waking and sleeping, eating when hungry and being attuned to one's appetite promote a healthier and more efficient gut-brain relationship.
So a healthy gut means a happy mind! I try to follow the recommended healthy eating of a nutrition high in fibre, fruit, vegetables, protein and quality fats, and include in my daily meals herbs and spices (e.g. cinnamon, turmeric, ginger), peppermint tea before eating to encourage gut mobility and digestion, stay hydrated and minimise sugar with no processed food. Every morning I make a zesty concoction (my partner refers to it as a 'witches potion') of warm lemon water, ginger and a mixed blend of spices (cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne pepper, nutmeg). I quit caffeine after time in a yoga ashram in 2013, but I still love a large white glass of wine and I have a sweet tooth, so.... that's my vices!
How do you experiment with mental health/ wellbeing practices?
My own wellbeing practices have become an essential part of my life; I have integrated daily practices into my morning routines... I now feel a little lost without them. Every morning I meditate for 30 minutes, journal 3 pages of unconscious processing, write 10 things I am grateful for and then engage in some movement, from yoga to running or a HIIT class. This takes about 2.5 hrs, and didn’t happen overnight! The more I commit to these practices, the clearer it is they have transformative and grounding effects on my mental health, and are the perfect way to start the day. Of course, all therapists need their own therapists too, so I make sure I am tending to my own mind as well as supporting others. Every month, I create a 'Pamper Pot' out of my salary, and commit to all the wellbeing goodness.... This includes having my own Yoga Therapy session, Reiki, a massage, and some beauty pampering too. This is such an important investment and has become a wellbeing non-negotiable.
Ingredients-wise, what are your three non-negotiables in the kitchen?
They are all cold ingredients! I think that shows that my culinary skills are all about minimum time and maximum taste.
I love beetroot and add it to my morning smoothie (Triple B - Banana, Berries, Beetroot!)...Beetroot is packed with essential nutrients including potassium, iron, vitamin C, manganese, and has lots of health benefits such as lowering blood pressure; it is also said to be good for the skin. Beetroot hummus, beetroot juice, beetroot salad, all of it, I love it!
Avocado is another daily must! Avocado is a heart-healthy mono-saturated fat which can help to lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar levels and lower blood pressure; it is a good fatty acid and helps to aid digestive processes.
All the greens - every meal I have kale, spinach and rocket, a green medley as a side salad or under the main dish. It's just the essential foundation of all my plates, the bed of the platter. High in iron, with anti-cancer properties and anti-inflammatory.
What is your favourite way to cook with seaweed?
Seaweed salad, green on green and more green! I love a classic combination of wakame and hijiki seaweed with cucumber and ginger with a touch of miso, soy sauce, rice oil and sesame oil, sprinkled with a variety of seeds and a pinch of chill for a hint of spice. It is so light and refreshing, and all the ingredients are so flavoursome to dress it up on any dish.
Wakame, Dulse or Sea Spaghetti?
Steph runs regular talks and course both in person and online as well as working with clients on a one on one level. To connect with Steph follow her Instagram @theyogapsychologist or check out her website www.theyogapsychologist.uk