How did you come to see the importance of nutritional intervention in mental health? How did it become a core principle in your work?
Nutrition and diet are important to me personally. I’m a vegetarian, an athlete, and I’m interested in wellness and health. It struck me through my training that we focused on treating disease, but we weren’t talking much about the role of food. And at the time, I was seeing more research about omega 3 fats and their importance in brain health. But I didn’t know what foods they came from, or what foods many basic nutrients came from. So my interest in omega 3 fats opened up a broader interest in what patients were eating. About this time, too, there was a new class of medications coming out that helped treat schizophrenia, but it caused patients to gain a lot of weight.
So I was confronted with this side effect. I was helping people on the one hand, but also harming their health in some way. And I felt that my skills in discussing food were limited. I wasn’t giving good advice that was interesting or actionable. I started talking to patients more about food and had more aha moments. I’d hear about panic attacks that followed missing a meal and then having caffeine, for example. Or a patient would inadvertently take an essential nutrient out of their diet, and their anxiety would go up.
When did you start talking about this more broadly, beyond your close colleagues?
We held our first workshop at the American Psychiatric Institute gathering in 2014. [The same year as Groundwork’s first Farms, Food & Health Conference.] It was a packed room. People were sitting in the hallways. The next year we held another workshop and the audience doubled. Then in New York City we had a room that could hold 600 people. It was filled and they turned away a hundred more people. So often the medical world gets framed as not embracing this, but that’s not true.
The big question right now is where does food and nutrition fit into medicine? I feel patients like their doctors talking about food and sharing recipes, encouraging a Crockpot for those who are too b