diet and exercise links to mental health

Blog Post No. 173

By Dr Jim Byrne

8th September 2018


Dr Jim’s Blog: Understanding the links between anger, anxiety and depression – on the one hand – and nutrition and physical activity – on the other…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, September 2018



drjim-counsellor9Renata and I did a lot of research and reflection on the subject of the impact of diet and exercise upon mental health and emotional wellbeing. Nata-Lifestyle-coach92

We did this work because we wanted to consolidate and expand our pre-existing level of understanding of the part that nutrition and exercise play in the emotional well-being of our coaching and counselling clients, so that we can help them as much as possible; and also to inform a wider audience of a range of helpful research studies.

Our overall aim is to put an end to the false assumption that the body and mind are separate entities, which can be treated in isolation from each other (by medicine, on the one hand, and by psychotherapy on the other).

The complexity of human body-minds

Human beings are very complex; indeed the most complex entities in the known universe.  But that does not mean we cannot hope to come to understand ourselves better than we currently do.

There are, for example, some identifiable factors which contribute to the makeup of human personality; and there is now a good deal of research which needs to be added to the psychological model of the human being.

Holistic SOR model

We can learn to better understand our body-brain-mind interactions with our social environments, and this can enable us to understand ourselves and our clients, and to help them, and ourselves, more effectively.

For examples:

– we are affected (emotionally and physically) by our diets;

– the amount of exercise we do;

– our self-talk (or ‘inner dialogue’);

– our sleep patterns;

– our family of origin;

– and all the patterns of behaviour we observed and experienced in our development;

– plus our current relationships, and environmental circumstances: e.g. our housing accommodation; the educational opportunities we had; our social class position; and our opportunities for employment (or earning a living).


Diet,exercise book coverSince expanding our understanding of this complexity of human functioning, we have developed new approaches to perceiving our clients; and assessing the complex nature of their presenting problems in the consulting room.

We have also produced a page of information on this research, and the book that resulted from it: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression: Using nutrition and physical activity.

You can find our page of information about this book and this research by clicking the following link:


A Kindle dBooks imagePS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,



Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629


Self discipline and therapeutic writing

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Diary of a counsellor – Self-discipline and Writing Daily Pages

by Jim Byrne (c) 2014-2016

Posted on Friday 2nd December 2016 (Originally posted on Saturday 12th April 2014)

Man-writing3I am currently (2nd December 2016) working my way through a three month course in ‘creative recovery’, based on Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.

For this reason, I thought it would be instructive to re-post a piece I wrote about this process a couple of years ago.


What I wrote…

Today I want to share with you some insights into my own life; my own struggles with self-discipline; in order to help you to think about your own life, your own self-discipline; and to help you to become your own counsellor in this area.

In the past, I have posted about Julia Cameron’s wonderful system of Morning Pages (from her book, The Artist’s Way) – a writing activity involving stream of consciousness writing, designed to clear the clutter out of your mind, and to improve your creativity.

Of course, I have tended to advocate this system as a form of writing therapy, or being your own counsellor, using a process of self-reflection and emotional processing.

The problem is that we all have busy lives, and it is very easy to lose good habits, and to form bad habits.  So, even though I know the value of my daily pages as a writing activity (whereby I write two to three pages about whatever is on my mind) I do have a tendency to let this habit slip, especially when I am very busy.

CoverBut that is probably the time I need it most; being a counsellor who has to do a lot of very challenging emotional labour with my clients.

So sometimes I skip my pages; sometimes for days, or weeks, or even months.  This is like Popeye failing to eat his spinach!  Or Superman playing with Kryptonite.  It’s a good way to weaken myself; and to fail to take advantage of a good way to strengthen myself!

When I notice that I have let my pages slip, or drop completely, I sometimes try using ‘lines’ as punishment for skipping the writing of my pages.  Lines which include:

“I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages”.


Why is the writing of pages so important?

But why not?  Why must I not skip the writing of my Daily Pages?

Because, as shown by the quote I recently put on my homepage:

Writing about your problems, in a diary or journal, can help you to process them and resolve them: “Diarists reported better moods and fewer moments of distress than non-diarists.  Those, in the same study, who kept a journal following trauma or bereavement also reported fewer flashbacks, nightmares and unexpected difficult memories.  Writing can itself be an act of emotional processing so it can help in many situations of danger, extremity and loss of control.  People who keep diaries are admitted to hospital less often and spend fewer days there than those who do not (keep a journal)…”

Philippa Perry, How to Stay Sane (2012). (3b)


So, if I return to writing my Daily Pages:

I will get better moods – automatically!  I will have fewer moments of distress than non-diarists (including about my business indicators, income, health, etc.!!!)

I will have fewer unexpected difficult memories, when I run into traumatic events.  By writing my pages every morning, I will be engaging in emotional processing, which will help me to stay emotionally healthy; to be happier; and to enjoy my work and my leisure; rest time, etc.

It will also help my physical health – thereby avoiding the GP and the hospital.


the-artists-way“I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages”.


How to use penalties to keep up your good habits

Given what I know about the value of daily pages, of journaling, of keeping a diary, it would be a stupid act of self-sabotage to skip my daily pages.

So therefore, I must apply the “£2 down the drain” penalty to:

  1. My daily physical exercise (5 days per week);
  2. My daily meditation (5 days per week);
  3. AND MY DAILY PAGES WRITING (5 days per week).

If I fail to do any of these activities, by bedtime (on Monday to Friday), then I will either make up the deficit before retiring, or I will go outside, right there and then, and drop two £1 coins down the nearest drain.

That is to say:

£2 for my physical exercise (if I have not done it that day); and/or:

£2 for my meditation (if I have not done it that day); and/or:

£2 for my Daily Pages (if I have not written them that day).

This is now ‘carved in stone’.  From Monday to Friday each week I will do my meditation; do 20-30 minutes of physical exercise; and also write 2-3 pages of Daily Pages.

Make a commitment and then keep it!

This is my commitment.  I will apply the penalties shown above to keep myself on track.  I will also have a system of rewards.

If I do my meditation and my exercise and my daily pages today, I can go out for lunch in a café tomorrow, and also have a large Americano, and read the Guardian.

If I do not do my meditation and my exercise and my daily pages today, I cannot go out for lunch tomorrow, and I cannot have any coffee either.  Nor can I read the Guardian.

These three processes stand me in good stead.  When I have 3 or 4 clients to see in one day, I find I need to do all four of my exercise systems, in order to feel resilient in the face of my clients’ difficulties.  So this week, which was very busy, I did all four of my exercise systems every morning (taking about 30 minutes each time):

Warm-up exercises;

Zham Zhong (Standing like a tree)[1];

Press-ups and sit-backs; and:

Chi Kung (or Qi Gong).


If you want to learn how to use these kinds of writing therapy approaches, then please see my book on Writing therapy: How to do it.***


That’s all for now.

Best wishes,


[1] See Lam Kam Chuen’s book ‘The Way of Energy’,


A rave review of “Brain Maker: The power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain – for life”

Blog Post No. 30

22nd April 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A rave review of “Brain Maker: The power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain – for life” by Dr. David Perlmutter


brain-maker-coverIn this blog I’m going to review some of the key elements of this book on brain-mind-body health.  In the process, I will explain to you why I think this is such a useful and surprising book, and how it can help all of us to be happier and healthier, and to enjoy our life more. Then I’ll outline a few of Dr Perlmutter’s dietary guidelines – from which we could all benefit – and then explain why it can be very tough to make changes to your diet on our own.

Why is nutrition important?

If we have to get up in the morning for work, school or college, and we have no energy, that’s bad news, isn’t it?  So we need energy to get things done in life.

So where do we primarily get our energy from? Strictly speaking, from our carbohydrate consumption.  But it’s not quite as simple as that; think of the example of the lethargy of depression.

According to Dr Perlmutter, the state of our guts is very important.

He says, “I’ve found that patients report never feeling anxious or depressed until they start having problems with their guts. Coincidence? I think not. Thankfully studies are finally starting to emerge that show the connection.”


Good-b.JPGPerlmutter considers that our mental health and physical wellness are totally affected by the internal systems of bacteria that operate in the gut.

But what happens there? Apparently we’ve all got millions of microbes in our body and most of them live in our digestive tract (10,000 species!). And each of the microbes have their own DNA, and that means that for every human gene in our body, there’s at least 360 microbial ones. These organisms include fungi, bacteria and viruses.

So what do all these microbes do?

These tiny microbes: strongly influence our immune system; affect absorption of nutrients; signal to us whether our stomach is empty or full; and determine our level of inflammation and detoxification (which are directly related to disease and health).

Apparently our guts contain 70-80% of our immune system. They can keep cortisol and adrenalin in check. These are the two major hormones of the stress response that can cause havoc in the body when they are continually triggered and flowing.

Gut-imageAnd our gut microbes influence whether we get: allergies, ADHD, asthma, dementia, cancer and diabetes, a good night’s sleep, or whether we quickly fall prey to disease-causing germs. And there is increasing evidence of a link to anxiety and depression.

Dr Perlmutter makes recommendations for changes in our diet which he says will: treat and prevent brain disorders; alleviate moodiness, anxiety and depression; bolster your immune system and reduce autoimmunity problems; and improve metabolic disorders, including diabetes and obesity, which are all linked to overall brain and body health.

Six essential keys to a healthy gut


Perlmutter’s recommendations are very practical and there are six essential keys, which are:

  1. Only eating gluten-free foods;
  2. Consuming healthy fats;
  3. Taking prebiotics (which are functional foods, high in fibre, that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria, helping produce digestive enzymes);
  4. Probiotics (like acidophilus), which stimulate the growth of micro-organisms, especially those with beneficial properties (such as those of the intestinal flora);
  5. Fermented foods (like sauerkraut);
  6. And low-carb foods (such as: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, high-fat dairy, fats, healthy oils and maybe even some tubers and non-gluten grains).

What’s wrong with gluten?


I’ll briefly look at his first recommendation, which was “eat gluten-free foods”.

Why does he say that?

Apparently gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and what it does is damages the lining of our guts, because it causes the release of a protein called gliadin.

What gliadin does is pulls apart the tight junctions that exist between the cells in our guts. The space between the cells start to widen, and the result is that toxins and larger molecules of food (that normally pass through the intestine and are eliminated), begin to leak into the blood circulation system of our bodies.

As a result, you get increased inflammation when your intestinal barrier is compromised. This means that you are susceptible to health challenges such as rheumatoid arthritis, food allergies, asthma, eczema, coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, HIV, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The blood/brain barrier’s integrity is threatened

depression-callourtWhat happens is that the blood-brain barrier (which has been thought of as a “highly protective, fortified portal keeping bad things out of the brain”) is weakened if the gut is leaky, and this lets in molecules that could be really bad for the body, including bacteria, viruses and proteins that would normally have been prevented from crossing the blood/brain barrier.

Dr Perlmutter illustrates in his book how eating gluten harms the gut wall and causes all sorts of problems for the body and brain. I had no idea that gluten was so bad for your guts but I am now more than 80% gluten free, and can report that it is great to be free from having indigestion, which I always used to get after eating bread.

The effects on our mental life of a change of diet is clear to see in the experiments Dr Perlmutter describes, especially in relation to children who have autism.


Perlmutter has presented a lot of case studies in his book.

On his website ( he presents a picture of one of his clients, Martina, who came to him for anxiety and depression.  He advised Martina to change her diet (gluten-free, prebiotics, probiotics, etc.), and he has presented a “before” and “after” picture of her on his website. The contrast is dramatic.  If you go on his website, and click on “Success” and then go to “Older posts”, which is right down at the bottom of the page, at the left hand side, you will see a picture of Martina before and after treatment from Dr P.

IKnsomnia-calloutBy the way, if you suffer from insomnia, then, on page 85 of his book is a section entitled, “Gut bacteria and a good night’s sleep”. What he says is this: “Balance the gut, break through the insomnia”.


This is just a short introduction to some of the ideas in Perlmutter’s book, which gives lots of evidence to show how mood disorders like anxiety, depression; plus insomnia; and brain diseases of different types; are very influenced by the different types of bacteria in our guts.

And these ideas are now becoming more widely supported.  As Dr Perlmutter writes:

Dr-Perlmutter“New, leading-edge science coming from the most well-respected institutions around the world, is discovering that, to an extraordinary degree, brain health, and on the flipside, brain diseases, are dictated by what goes on in the gut.”

The only difficulty with a book like this is that it challenges our ideas about our daily diets, and asks us to change very deep-seated habits, which isn’t easy!

Why is it so difficult?  Because human beings are by definition creatures of habit.  We operate automatically, and we tend to eat today what we have habitually eaten in the past.

That’s where a coach/ counsellor comes in – because changing our habits can be one of the most difficult things we ever do; and a coach-counsellor who understands behaviour change methodologies can be an essential step in the process.

In previous blogs, I have talked about some of the habit-changing techniques and strategies that I have taught over the years.  And when my coachees do the necessary work, the rewards (of better health, more stable moods, more energy, and a stronger immune system) are invaluable to them.

I hope you take a look at Perlmutter’s website – and the feedback from satisfied clients to Dr Perlmutter.  This could really benefit you, or one of your loved ones.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,


Renata Taylor-Byrne


The Coaching/Counselling Division

01422 843629