Raewyn Guerrero and our Food to Boost Mood series
Our new series on Food to Boost Mood, created by Raewyn Guerrero is all about the relationship between food and mental health. We asked her to tell us a little bit more about herself and her work in nutrition.
1. Can you tell us more about your background and the work you do?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fixated on understanding Anxiety, as well as Neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Dementia. My grandfather suffered from both, and back then the standard of care was only about prescribing medications, which unfortunately didn’t really help. I set out to understand non-pharmacological ways to address and, where possible, prevent these two conditions.
Academically, I studied Psychology at University, with a particular focus on Neuropsychology and Psychopharmacology. I ended up in Banking leading a wellness program for 5 years, which was all about improving health awareness, and addressing workplace stress. That was a great training ground for me, as it led me down the path of looking at stress and anxiety through nutrition as well as lifestyle and psychology.
I am now a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, Functional Medicine Health Coach, and a CBT Hypnotherapist. That’s a really fancy way of saying that I can run labs to examine genetics, gut health, food allergies, sex hormones, stress hormones and heavy metal toxicity, to understand the biological component to anxiety, low mood, irritability, low energy, insomnia etc. Once the results are in, then I co-create a program based on Diet, Rest, Exercise, Stress Management and Supplements to help restore health.
Fix the body, the brain will follow. Fix the brain, and the mind will follow.
2. There is a lot of interesting research about the connection between the gut and the brain. What research do you find particularly interesting?
The fact that this relationship is bi-directional is what I find most interesting. For a long time, the brain was thought of as static and formed once we reached a certain age, but now we’re learning that so many things can influence it, which means that no diagnosis is fixed. The fact that we can modulate our internal environment through food, as well as our external environment, through thoughts, relationships and even work, gives me and my clients an enormous amount of hope that they don’t have to be dependent on pharmaceuticals. As a client, this understanding gives you back your power.
3. What advice would you give to someone who doesn't have a lot of time on their hands and/or is on a tight budget to help them follow a diet that supports both their gut health and their mental health?
Reducing sugar, dairy and gluten, and including more poultry and fresh lightly cooked vegetables. Poultry is rich in tryptophan, which is the precursor to serotonin [a chemical linked to better mood]. You can also think about eating more dark, leafy, green vegetables as well, as these are rich in B Vitamins and Magnesium, both of which can stabilise mood.
4. We tend to crave sugary foods when we're feeling stressed or tired. Are there particular healthier snack options or approaches you recommend to your clients to help better manage their energy levels?
Eat little and often to balance blood sugar, so that every 2-3 hours you have something to hand.
Being prepared always safeguards from binge-eating on traditional junk food, so keeping things in your top drawer, your handbag or rucksack and minimising any junk food in your kitchen, are simple ways to make healthier choices.
Always remember to combine protein with your carbohydrate. When you reach for sugary things, opt for low sugar fruit like a green apple with nut butter, or unprocessed protein bars.
Healthier alternatives to crisps are kale chips, or toasted seaweed. Usually, if we’re feeling unbalanced, we crave saltier foods, as salt grounds us.
5. Do you have any thoughts on how we can make positive changes to our diet without becoming too focused on healthy eating to the point of obsession?
You’re human, and you’ll have good days, and not so good days.
Think about including more nutrient-dense food, as opposed to thinking about what you’re depriving yourself of. That’s a simple way to buffer against becoming obsessive - restrictive thinking and being militant is what we want to avoid.
Remember that eating and food should be pleasurable. If you’re beating yourself up, you need to stop and pay attention and ask yourself a couple of questions about what is driving your behaviour.
Remind yourself, it’s okay if you fall off the “healthy-eating wagon” once or twice a week. What’s important is getting back on it.
6. We know there is no "one-size-fits-all" diet. What signs and symptoms can we look out for to give us clues as to which foods work for us and which foods don’t?
If you feel tired, bloated, uncomfortable, have other gastro-intestinal symptoms, or you become congested, or develop a headache or experience joint pain or skin irritation, these are ways of identifying what foods don’t work for you.
7. What is your favourite dish?
This is such a hard one as I love all food. Buckwheat fish tacos are an obsession of mine. But I equally love Thai red chicken curry on brown rice or anything south-east Asian. The flavours of lemongrass, ginger, garlic and coconut just make my mouth water at the thought!