Can psychotherapy help me stay on keto to improve my mental health?
Sometimes I am asked why someone might need a therapist to help them transition to a ketogenic diet and to stay consistent. I teach them how to do a ketogenic diet specifically to help treat mental health and neurological issues. Often it is about me supporting mood stabilization and helping them monitor symptoms around medication adjustments. But a lot of my clients need help adopting or being consistent with a ketogenic diet. And that is when we use psychotherapy to explore how they see themselves and what a change to a ketogenic diet might mean to who they are.
Unlike a lot of my blog posts that discuss how a ketogenic diet influences pathological mechanisms involved in mental illness, such as anxiety and depression, this blog post will be about therapy. And how therapy can help people be consistent on keto and address the obstacles they encounter when making a lifestyle change that would be helpful to them, but they find they are experiencing resistance to.
How your approach to food is a reflection of your personal values
Many people have not thought about how a big dietary change can be a threat to their very sense of self. They have not examined how their behaviors, over many years, have shaped who they believe they are and the narratives (stories) they tell themselves about what kind of person they are. Habits are extremely powerful tools that we use to give us information about who we are. Human beings are walking, meaning-making machines! We extrapolate and make meaning from the smallest things and use that to build our egos and our sense of self.
And this is not a bad thing. This is a very wonderful part of being a human being, and it is a big part of our ability to be resilient creatures. But when we need to make a big behavioral change for our own well-being, such as to treat a mental illness or a neurological disorder, a thorough examination of past meaning-making can be very helpful in evaluating our resistance.
Eating whatever you want, when you want it, regardless of the ramifications to health or well-being may be part of how you identify as a rebel or a societal nonconformist. It can be a behavioral manifestation of your refusal to conform to society’s values telling you to not eat tasty things and to instead consume vegetables that you may not enjoy. Being rebellious against societal norms is certainly not a bad thing. You just need to be aware that changing your eating habits to improve or treat an illness or a neurological disorder means that you will likely have to find alternative ways to rebel. The concept of alternative rebellion is used in Dialectical-Behavior Therapy (DBT). Some great options for alternative rebellion (taken from this great post) in place of eating behaviors that do not support your treatment goals can include:
- answer honestly instead of politely
- speak out about something instead of staying quiet
- stop doing things you are supposed to do that are not effective
- practice saying no to a family member when they want something
- listen to different music than usual
- leave things out of place
- get a tattoo
- buy a controversial bumper sticker
You get the idea. Alternative ways to rebel will allow you to behaviorally express this value in such a way that you can still meet your important health goals.
Don’t Tell Me What To Do
Sometimes our eating behaviors are not connected to rebellion against societal values but are in response to feeling controlled or criticized by others. Is there a spouse, friend, or family member trying to influence you to lose weight or change your diet? This can inadvertently set up a power dynamic in which you feel compelled to resist in order to get to be who you are.
You may really want to change your dietary habits to help treat a mental illness, neurological, or other health condition (e.g., diabetes) but your personal value of not allowing yourself to be coerced or controlled manifests in this dynamic. Being someone who stands their ground and doesn’t let others bully them is a wonderful value.
One that I admire very much.
When we use psychotherapy for this behavioral manifestation of this value, we use techniques that help you take back your own power and restore or change the meaning of this type of interaction. Sometimes we will use interpersonal skills, like what is taught in DBT skills training. Sometimes we will use CBT to change the meaning of these interactions. Other times we will use mindfulness practices as a tool to notice our emotional response to these prodding by others and to be able to take control around how we react (or don’t).
“I Deserve This”
Another way behaviors manifest as a personal value can be choosing comfort foods that may not be consistent with your treatment goals. This behavior was the manifestation of your belief that you deserve to be comforted when you are upset or that the eating behavior was to reward yourself for a job well done. You do this not because you are actively attempting to sabotage yourself and your dietary treatment for your condition. You do this behavior because it is a manifestation of your value of self-love. Which is a really beautiful thing. And you can continue to practice acts of self-love and still meet your treatment goals using a dietary intervention like the ketogenic diet. We just have to help you find alternative ways to practice this important aspect of who you are. And often we will use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to restructure your definition of self-love in a way that helps you meet your goals.
The above quote is a great example of how the definition of self-love can move from indulgence in something that harms or sabotages us to a concept that drives us towards our goals. We get confused about self-love. We think self-love is about feeling good. But self-love is an action, or behavior, that shows appreciation for who we are. It is so much more than the temporary moment of feeling good that an indulgence may provide. And so it becomes helpful, in my work with clients, to work with them to change their interpretation of this concept and help them continue to find ways to live this important value.
You Only Live Once (YOLO)
Sometimes my clients see their eating patterns as a manifestation of their value to live life to the fullest and to celebrate their existence! The behavior demonstrates to themselves and others that they are a person who celebrates abundance. Eating without inhibition also shows that you view life as a kind of celebration of our existence and amazing resources. This is another possible target in therapy for people who are needing to implement a dietary change to treat a mental illness or neurological issue.
During therapy, we take time to think about how it is difficult to truly celebrate when we are unable to feel well because of our condition and we examine how the behavioral manifestation of celebration and abundance may actually be undermining our ability to do those very things. We will often come up with other ways to celebrate and practice abundance. Celebrating our newfound energy, improved mood with friends and family, and celebrating what our bodies can now do because they are feeling well are some alternative ways to live this very important and very positive personal value.
How do I get past this?
You can find a therapist, like me and work directly on these goals. I love to help people with these issues. But I am aware that not everyone can afford a therapist, and there are so many really good self-help resources that you might not even need a therapist.
Affiliate Link Notice
Some of the links below are affiliate links I use to help me pay for this blog. Please do not feel pressured to use them.
There are also many excellent mindfulness techniques and behavioral change skills described in Marsha Linehan’s books.
- DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition
- DBT® Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition
These books are geared to therapists, but they can be mined for great mindfulness practices, and a host of other skills that you will find useful in implementing positive behavior changes around your diet and wellness. You may find them at your local library or used online. I use DBT skills all the time with my clients. DBT skills can help you stay consistent on keto.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Perhaps the most powerful self-help resource are those which are CBT-based. My go-to for clients trying to make dietary changes to improve their mental health and neurological issues (or other health concerns) tends to be the book Feeling Great by David Burns. His sections on Habits and Addictions are particularly helpful. And there is also a great podcast you can listen to and learn how the techniques are used to make powerful changes. They will sometimes have book club groups that I am told are very helpful and that I will sometimes assign as homework for clients. These CBT techniques can help you stay consistent on keto.
- Feeling Great book can be bought here.
- Feeling Good podcast can be found here. You can also easily find it where you find your other podcasts.
- Feeling Great Book Club can be found here. Don’t hesitate to sign up for the mailing list so you can be notified when new groups are happening.
I Need More Support and Help
If you get stuck on these resources, don’t give up. You might just need one therapy session to help you figure it out or to fine-tune a technique. If that is the case you can contact me here. I am also very active on several social media platforms trying to spread the good news about ketogenic diets as a treatment option for mental illness and neurological disorders. So don’t be shy and reach out. Keto is truly sustainable and people deserve support. You too, can be consistent on keto and see great benefits in your mental health.
If you found this blog post helpful, you may also enjoy prior blog posts discussing why having a therapist while making nutritional or dietary therapy changes may be of benefit.
You may also find people talking about using the ketogenic diet as a treatment for or complementary to therapy helpful on my Ketogenic Diet Case Study page. If you are curious as to how a ketogenic diet can treat the underlying pathologies associated with mental illness and neurological disorders then exploring the Mental Health Keto Blog will provide the most information.
And remember, you deserve to know all the ways you can feel better.
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