“New Year, New You”: a mantra many of us try to live by as January rolls around and our vacation indulgences finally catch up with us. When we look back in shame at all those Christmas pudding calories we’ve over-consumed and hastily enrolling for a variety of fitness classes online, one crucial thing is often overlooked: our mental balance.
2020 was a year of Herculean Challenges, some of which have undeniably left their mark on our psyche. In addition to the very tangible COVID-19 pandemic, another pandemic has raised its ugly – but much less visible – head: Depression and anxiety rates have increased worldwide, regardless of variables such as age, location or socio-economic background.
So how can we use our newfound appreciation for improved nutrition to promote our mental health? Vogue spoke to UK Chef Robert Irvine, whose approach to cooking is inspired by the mission to normalize mental health conversations and promote our mental wellbeing.
Many of us have mental health issues, especially after last year’s events. Why are we still not speaking openly about the subject?
“It depends on the fear. Mental illness is still often viewed as shameful or not “real”. The pandemic really brought this double standard to a standstill. Only recently have we started watching movies and TV shows that depict the reality of mental illness. The more we share information, the easier it is to see the signs. The stigma will remain until we begin to really understand the problem. “
How Can Eating Help Our Mental Health?
“Our happiest memories are inextricably linked with food. It’s not so much about what we eat, but who we eat it with. When I ask people about their favorite food memories, they tend to mention who they were with at the time. For me it was sitting at the table with my mother, my sister and my brother for the Sunday roast. Food is the ultimate connector. “
How can we maintain this sense of community in a socially distant world?
“That’s it [points at screen]. It’s about reaching someone. The point is to take this step even if you think they are okay because they may not be. Last year a friend of mine – a Marine – committed suicide and no one saw it coming. It’s about looking for signs and understanding behaviors. It’s always better to say something. Communicating without COVID is difficult enough so we need to take that extra step now to make sure those closest to us get along. “
Your cookbook Family table includes your thoughts on food and family. What is the key to a happy home?
“We’re all so busy tweeting and texting that there is no longer any real communication at the dining table. At home, we put our phones in a basket and focus on cooking together as a family. It all comes down to having a good time together without getting distracted. “
Today we feel pressured to present a perfect life on Instagram which you talked about. How do we turn this off?
“We keep feeling not good enough because we are constantly comparing ourselves to others and social media make it worse. Focus on what makes you feel good and think about what you can do for others. “
You impress people of the importance of improving their interpersonal relationships before fixing the problem. Why is that important?
“Most of the problems that arise in a person’s life can be traced back to dysfunctional interpersonal relationships – mothers, fathers, siblings. Perhaps someone once told them they were worthless, and here we are dealing with what remains of that trauma 40 years later. For me, it’s about listening first and then doing. “
When you were in the Navy, you were approached by a suicide soldier. The experience has led you to become committed to the mental health of soldiers and women. What happened?
“People keep coming up to me to this day. Most recently, I was contacted by a Navy lifeguard who had jumped out of helicopters for six years trying to rescue people. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and had attempted suicide. Now he devotes his life to helping others. I’m making a documentary about his life that sheds light on the realities of PTSD. It’s about all of these things that we as a society don’t talk about enough. “
You have two daughters. Does the new generation have a different approach to mental health and wellbeing?
“It’s a difficult generation to be in. In addition to the huge debt most children will face, will you even find a job after you graduate from school? Perhaps the benefit of all this pressure is that this generation is more sensitive to the needs of others. You see it all over the world – whether it’s the #MeToo movement or civil unrest, people care. There has been a seismic shift. It is wonderful.”
As someone who is committed to staying fit, where do you stand on the subject of body positivity?
“You have to feel comfortable in your own body. If you like the person you see in the mirror, you never change. If you don’t like something, change it – but do it slowly. It’s not necessarily about food or exercise. It’s about what makes you feel good regardless of what someone is saying. Body positivity is more mental than physical. “
Finally, what would you like to share with? Fashion Reader?
“We’re only on this planet for one thing: to help the less fortunate. It can help someone across the street or open the car door for them. Or they may meddle in their food when they have problems. If everyone did something for someone else, our world would be a better place. “
Further information on the Robert Irvine Foundation can be found here. For anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts, please click here for a list of charities
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