Food and Mood


Most people reading this will recognise that our state of mind and food are inextricably linked. Just as devouring a whole packet of biscuits or demolishing a chocolate bar is something many people crave when feeling tired or fed up, so too, using food to express their mental anguish is a common phenomenon.

These days, thanks to global media coverage, the awareness of conditions like obesity and eating disorders such as anorexia and binge eating are much better understood. Having said that, neither condition is more accepted in our society; however, with the diet and food industry seemingly bombarding us with subliminal messages telling us to eat this, or cut out that, it is no wonder many opt simply for denial.

The food and diet industry have a lot to answer for. Many will remember the advice to avoid butter, eggs and animal protein in meat and dairy, with spreads and low fat alternatives on every supermarket shelf. Yet today, “going to work on an egg” is once again acceptable and many shun spreads and the harmful trans fats they contain in favour of butter once again. Saturated fats are no longer seen as enemy number one. The years of confusing messages have literally turned us all off. Perhaps, Granny was right all along…”a little of what you fancy does you good.”

Diets too have come to be seen as fads that do not work. Remember these: the grapefruit diet, the cabbage diet, the Beverley Hills diet, the Atkins diet, the F-plan? I could go on.  There are the substitutes, too, where liquid meal replacements, biscuits, bars and all manner of alternatives take the place of food.

No wonder we are all confused. Look at the way the supplements industry pedal vitamins, minerals, capsules and powders of every description. All being heralded for their great health benefits. Elixir of life or youth capsules, take your pick, hand over your money and the choice is yours. Who said that snake oil remedies do not exist!

Whichever way we look at it, one thing is certain and that is, eating problems are psychological. With the very rare exception of a metabolic disorder, perhaps;  obesity, anorexia and many other food related conditions have nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with meeting an emotional need. Food is used as a “medicine” to dull down emotional pain, to soothe or to mask an emotional discomfort. Food is a comfort and we all seek to push away discomfort. Food is used to fill up, cover up, and build up a protective barrier.

Quite literally, food (and alcohol) is to the adult, the surrogate breast or bottle. Smoking too, while technically more of an obvious drug than food per se,often serves the same purpose. Yes, food can become addictive as can the hormones released when starving, or the soothing pain felt by an anorexic when they seek to feel “in control.”

To get to the bottom of our emotional discomfort and the role food plays in this really is the domain of the psychological health professional. We need someone to hold up the mirror and tell us what is really going on. We need to understand why it is that our search for the “magic potion” and a “quick fix” will bring us nothing but more suffering. Furthermore, changing eating habits is not easy, after all, making changes means altering our comfort level and most people naturally balk at that.

If you have a food issue seek out a health professional with expertise on eating disorders who has no emotional ties to you. Someone who will hold the mirror up and help you see the real picture and help you to make changes to the way you eat and your relationship to food.

Until next time, best wishes Steve.

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                   Please contact us through our website @

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Steve Clifford                                                                                                                       Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                 Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

Primary Ref: Sullivan, R (2009) “Reclaim your youth, growing younger after 40.” Montgomery Ewing Publishers.

Image: “Supreme pizza” by Scott Bauer – Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Get yourself a few rays of Sunshine – Beat #Depression


Tip 29 – Extract from “50 Tips to Beat Depression” available on Amazon

It is not just Morecombe and Wise who extol the benefits of sunshine.  Boosting the supply of vitamin D in the body serves to maintain optimum levels of serotonin to assist the activity of cells throughout the body, regulating mood, sleep and our ability to process information.  In the summer months go out for a few minutes every day, soak up the sun and ensure supplies of vitamin D are topped up.  Meet friends for a picnic, take a stroll before nightfall and watch the sunset.  In the winter, consider hiring or purchasing a light box, (see tip 40), as serotonin levels change with the seasons and are at their lowest in the winter months.

Until next time.

With best wishes, Steve.

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to

Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime @                                                                  Tweet us @ cbt4you


Make a Comfort Box – Beat #Depression


Tip 3 – Extract from “50 Tips to Beat Depression” available on Amazon

It’s often hard to remember the good things in life when you are feeling low in mood.  At such times happiness and positive memories can seem far away.  Stimulating positive memories and associations can be invaluable in helping to keep us grounded in the real world and help lift the spirit.  Creating a “capsule” containing mementoes from the past can help to evoke feelings of comfort, warmth and personal security during difficult times.

A shoebox, biscuit tin or similar can be used to house objects to inspire hope.  I have a comfort box and mine includes a variety of objects: photographs and even “thank you cards” which I can use as “evidence” to support my being a worthwhile person.  I recommend any of the following:

CD, LP, MP3 of favourite music, chill-out, relaxation, etc.

DVD of favourite film with uplifting, or feel good theme, etc.

Photograph of a loved one or of something or somewhere of importance

Memento of a holiday, postcard, seashell, souvenir, foreign money, flight ticket stubs, booklet or programme from places visited

A note, card or letter from a loved one or write a letter to yourself when feeling well, offering encouragement and re-assurance that you will come through this difficult time

A favourite poem, statement, prayer or article that inspires hope

A favourite book, magazine or colourful picture

A favourite object, i.e. a small stone, crystal, lucky charm or something that is tactile

A sketchpad with crayons or watercolour paints

Aromatic oils for massage, scented candles, bath bombs or bath oils/salts

Herbal teas such as Chamomile, known for its calming properties

Favourite item of clothing, warm jumper or a blanket

A hot water bottle

Vouchers for a massage or beauty treatment

A list of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses of family or friends to whom you can turn for support (try to look for support from more than one person).

A list of national help lines e.g. Samaritans, Sane, MIND, etc. .

Any object associated with feeling happy and well.

With best wishes, Steve

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to                                                                                                Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime at:                                                                  Tweet us @ cbt4you

It’s good to talk

Sometimes life can seem very overwhelming,  especially if you’re suffering with a mental health problem. For years I have suffered with anxiety and depression. It has affected every aspect of my life from my relationships with partners, friends and family, to my work and even my physical health. My chronic low self esteem has led me to walk with my head down for so many years that my neck and back have slowly deformed and I now have a small hunch. It’s just one more thing to hate about myself, and another reason why I felt I couldn’t live anymore, why I felt I didn’t deserve life.
When I planned my suicide the first time I was at an all time low, but strangely I didn’t recognise that. I felt calm and in control. I made meticulous plans and took my time stockpiling prescription and over the counter drugs. I cheerfully strolled into the supermarket and purchased alcohol. The checkout girl could be forgiven for thinking I was having a party, because in my head I was. I was finally going to be free of all the agonising feelings, the torturous thoughts and the confused state my mind was in. I had been looking forward to this day for weeks and had all my affairs in order. I went home, made sure I left the door unlocked, fed my cat, put on my favourite album and poured myself a large glass.
When I woke up in hospital initially I was devastated, how could it have gone wrong? But as I looked around at the tear stained worried faces I began to realise that maybe people did care about me. Maybe their lack of warmth and comfort towards me was really lack of knowledge and understanding. The question I was continually asked was “why didn’t you tell us that you felt so bad?” Well I thought it was obvious! But apparently it’s not obvious.
When you suffer from depression for a long time you can get very good at keeping your brave face on in public and the inner turmoil you’re feeling may not show on the outside. It’s only once you express that turmoil that people can begin to understand and maybe even help.
Unfortunately this revelation was not the end of my depression and I did wake up in hospital on another 3 occasions. However it did start my journey onto talking, writing and expressing the pent up feelings I had inside of me, which helped other people understand more. I am still suffering with my mental health but I am on the road to recovery. Letting the thoughts and feelings out rather than keeping them hidden in my head has taken the weight off and I feel a little freer of my illness every day.

Thank you anonymous

With all good wishes


Please email your submission posts to                                Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime at:                                                                        Tweet us @ cbt4you

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How to improve psychological well-being # WorldMentalHealthDay


We all have times when we don’t feel so great, perhaps experiencing periods of stress, low mood or worry.  Episodes like this are a completely normal and natural response to negative life events.

Whether we are talking about low depressed mood or anxious episodes, it is really helpful to normalise such emotional states.  Doing so helps greatly in reducing stigma and helps work towards improving mental health literacy.  The key to improving well-being is in recognising that emotional responses of all kinds are natural evolutionary responses dating back to our ancestors 80,000 years ago.  According to Dr Brian Marien, founder and director of Positive Health Strategies, (www., we are “hardwired to emotions that helped our ancestors survive”.  “The evidence,” he says, “linking physical health to psychological well-being has accumulated rapidly over the past decade.  Stress, anxiety and depression exert a powerful impact on the central nervous system, the immune system, hormone levels and a range of important metabolic pathways.”

One very exciting and recent discovery is of a chemical known as cytokine, an immune system messenger.  This has opened the way to a greater understanding of the mind/body connection and communication between the two.  A biodirectional relationship exists whereby positive and negative emotional states alter the levels of cytokines circulating, whereby positive and negative emotional states impact directly on sleep, mood, memory function, appetite, energy and motivation levels.  The discovery of cytokines enables us to see clearly the powerful link between mood states, psychological well-being and the risk of developing physical and mental health problems.

From a CBT perspective we know that thoughts can trigger chemical changes in the brain.  This occurs rapidly, in milliseconds. For example, we are walking alone at night down a dark alley and hear a noise behind us.  We might instantly feel afraid with a rapid shot of adrenalin coursing the body and our heart beats rapidly.  On the other hand, if we hear a noise in front of us and see a fluffy kitten our emotional response is likely to be very different.

Understanding risk factors that may influence negative mood states can be very useful.

Typical risk factors include:

  • Genetic family history of mood disorder
  • Difficult or “negative” early life experiences
  • Low self-esteem
  • Cognitive vulnerability (negative thinking style)
  • Perfectionism
  • Chronic stress
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty tolerating uncertainty
  • Worry and rumination on negative thoughts
  • Tendency towards withdrawal or avoidance 

Fortunately, all these areas can be addressed.  Naturally, we cannot change negative early life experiences, but we can change our perception of them.  Healing, if possible,Identifying these traits and changing our outlook is possible.  CBT enables people to change their thinking and to develop resilience and develop patterns of behaviour that help build a positive physical, mental and emotional outlook.  Learning techniques derived from the emergence of a new field of science known as “positive psychology” (informed by medicine, neuroscience, cognitive and behavioural psychology) helps individuals to develop the skills and attributes to help them thrive and flourish.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Adapted from an article by Dr Brian Marien – “An upstream approach to improving psychological well-being” published in the Newsletter of the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust – Issue 28, September 2013, pp 9 -13

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Living with the death of a loved one

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The death of a loved one is probably one of the most distressing events we ever have to experience. For anyone who has suffered loss, whether recent or past, the pain can seem unbearable. A great big empty space, a chasm so deep that it seems never ending.

If you have lost someone you love, a parent, partner, lover, a pet or a dear friend, or if you have been forced to re-evaluate your life with the loss of a job, illness or divorce, the feelings you experience will be those of grief.

It is a shame that even those close to us do not always know what to say. Sometimes it can feel as if people are avoiding us. The problem is that people find it very difficult to know just what to say to someone who has experienced a deep personal loss. It’s not that they don’t care, but it’s because they feel uncomfortable and think it’s easier to say nothing. Sadly, in doing so, this deprives the person who is grieving of human contact which could actually serve to make their lives less painful.

Here in the western world we are not very good at grief. Organisations will generally grant a day off when somebody dies and another day for the funeral. Compassionate leave is generally unpaid and at the discretion of the employer, particularly with small or medium sized companies in these difficult financial times. After as little as a couple of months people are expected to have “moved on.” Often the ink is yet dry on probate or whatever. But that’s it, that’s your lot mate, time to move on! We are simply not a nation of mourners, unless you count public grief for members of Royalty such as princess Diana. Today, cremations are little more than sanitised affairs, 20 minutes then the curtain comes round and it’s a walk in the garden of remembrance, with a cursory look at the flowers. In countries like Italy, Spain or Greece they have a different take on death. Womenfolk wear black, maybe for twenty years  or more, so that people will know that even in their everyday lives and occupation they are still grieving.

If we are locked in grief, unable to overcome our pain, we are destined to a life of inner sadness. Avoiding all reminders and memories simply serves to fuel a deep sense of sadness and pain. The legacy of our sadness may be passed on and our families may suffer in a myriad of ways. We may indeed hurt those we love as we struggle to rise above the painful memories by avoiding. It need not be like this… grief is both normal and healthy. Often working through the stages of grief can take a long time. In my opinion, we need to come through every anniversary and only then can we begin to let go.

The first stage of grief is often denial; the bereaved person will often go through a very painful time of searching. Next there may be anger, sadness and fear; often guilt may surface and “if only” questions arise. Finally, with time and support we begin to reconcile ourselves to the loss, and begin to come to terms and accept it. This may still be a dark, grey and oppressive time but occasional flashes of good humour and well-being will begin to emerge. There may be guilt at first at experiencing happiness again, but with brief windows of light, life may slowly begin again.

Whether seemingly simple and uncomplicated loss, or more complex grief, sometimes people struggle to move forward. Friends, families and local groups such as Cruse are invaluable in helping people through this difficult time. Counselling and psychotherapy can play an important role in helping the grieving person to come to terms with their loss. Feeling depressed, unhappy and even hopeless after a personal loss is usually a transient phenomenon. Sometimes, particularly in the case of traumatic grief, feelings of hopelessness may be engulfed in despair. This is often a sign of unresolved grief and professional help should be sought. (See earlier post – Coping with trauma).

The following signs may indicate that further assistance may be needed:

  • Relatively minor events serve to trigger an intense emotional grief.
  • Just talking about the loss can provoke feelings of anguish and intense pain.
  • Themes of loss appear everywhere and in everyday conversation.
  • Nothing is allowed to be changed and the environment has to remain lust as it was when the loss occurred
  • The bereaved person experiences physical symptoms similar to those the deceased person experienced.
  • The bereaved person undertakes radical lifestyle changes from which friends and family are excluded.
  • Whether consciously or unconsciously the bereaved person imitates the dead person.
  • Complete lack of emotional responses to grief, as if nothing happened.
  • Rapid changes of mood, with euphoria replacing sadness and low mood.

From a psychotherapeutic perspective Grief has a quality of healing in it that is very deep because we are forced to a depth of emotion that is usually below the threshold of our awareness. (Stephen Levine).

Do you agree with the statement made by Stephen Levine above?

Until next time, Steve Clifford. Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

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