Dr. James Bender, DCoE psychologist on February 28, 2012
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Army Spc. Logan Burnett picks out eggplant during a recent shopping trip in an effort to follow nutrition advice from his dietitians. (U.S. Army photo by Patricia Deal, CRDAMC Public Affairs)
Dr. James Bender is a former Army psychologist who deployed to Iraq as the brigade psychologist for the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on psychological health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.
Hello. Athletes looking for a performance edge, soldiers wanting to get through combat leadership training, people coping with mental health concerns, and those wanting an energy boost, can all benefit from the same thing: good nutrition.
Nutrition is important for everyone, not just people trying to lose weight. There’s a well-established link between nutrition and mental health. Neurotransmitters, chemicals inside the brain that are crucial for brain functioning, are derived from food. Also, there’s a relationship between nutrition and several psychological conditions like insomnia, depression and anxiety. This does not necessarily mean that poor nutrition causes these problems; it does mean the two are related. For example, while most obese people are not depressed, obesity is associated with higher levels of depression. Therefore, eating well is often a useful adjunct to mental health treatment.
The military is taking note of the value of nutrition. Earlier this month, the Defense Department launched a nutrition campaign consisting of updates to the menus at military dining facilities, the first such updates in almost 20 years. Healthy options will now be the “only” option. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson describes obesity as a national security concern because there’s a smaller pool of potential candidates available for military service. Nearly 30 percent of potential military candidates between the ages of 17-24 can’t meet entrance requirements because they’re overweight. Additionally, about 1,200 entry-level service members are discharged annually for weight-related issues.
Here are a few nutrition tips to get you started:
- You don’t need nutritional supplements; you can meet all your nutritional needs through healthy food choices.
- A lot of research is being conducted on omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish oil supplements and the chemical substance S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe). While not yet conclusive, research shows a positive relationship between these substances and improved mental health.
- Physically-active people need more nutritionally dense food, not just more calories.
- Here are two websites for more information about nutrition: www.nutrition.gov and the Defense Department’s Human Performance Resource Center.
There is no “magic wand” when it comes to performance enhancement. Sleep, nutrition, exercise and social support all play important roles in your physical and mental performance. Think of nutrition as one tool in your toolbox.
Stay safe and I’ll write again next month.