Please note; none of the below is a replacement for medical advice. Bipolar UK always advises you consult with a GP, psychiatrist or member of your mental health team before making any changes to your diet or engaging in any complementary or alternative treatments.

In his book David Hillman provides strategies, hints and tips that he has found useful to manage his condition over the years. Over the coming weeks we will be featuring key chapters from his book. This week we are sharing his advice on food and the importance of nutrition. 


Doctors and researchers have established good evidence for the link between mood and food, and what we eat has a big impact on the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Patrick Holford’s Institute of Optimum Nutrition has carried out extensive research into diet and mental health and I highly recommend his book Optimum Nutrition for the Mind

If someone is experiencing mania, they may be awake and engaged in activities for 22 hours a day. It stands to reason that they will need more food that usual to sustain this activity. In a state of hypomania or mania, I tend to eat five meals a day: early breakfast, late breakfast, lunch, high tea and dinner. If I don’t get enough food, my blood sugar level drops and this has an effect on my ability to concentrate and my brain’s ability to function normally.

One of the key considerations is eating foods that burn slowly, making sure to have an element of protein at every meal. A typical day for me might be: 

  1. early breakfast – mixed fruit and nut oat porridge
  2. late breakfast – a fried egg with black pudding
  3. lunch – roast chicken with roast vegetables
  4. high tea – chicken sandwich
  5. dinner – lamb chop with potatoes and vegetables 

I also supplement with fruit, nuts, yoghurt and chocolate between these meals! Needless to say, I focus a lot of my manic energy into cooking and producing food from scratch, an activity I find therapeutic in itself.

One approach that has worked for me is considering the Glycemic Index of foods. The index out of 100 ranks foods according to the speed the body metabolises them and how they affect blood glucose levels. Foods with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised. If I am really short on food and need something from a corner shop quickly I sometimes buy a Snickers, as that contains peanuts which have a low GI value.

In the depressive phase, food can be tricky to manage for different reasons. Someone in depression will struggle to get out of bed and provide for themselves. Going to the shops seems like an odyssey that simply can’t be faced. To help someone in this condition, buy them food they can make with minimum effort, ideally just needing to be heated up or microwaved. It’s kind to bring them a bag of ingredients but they may not have the creative energy to turn that into food. Keep things as simple as possible.


*David has kindly made his book available free of charge in the hope that if you find something useful in its pages, you will make a donation or regular giving to Bipolar UK to help other people affected by the condition. 


You may also like: how nutrition can influence mood

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Please see these other blog articles:

# Life hack one Advice on preventing mania

# Life hack three Navigating life triggers

# Life hack four Tools to manage your condition

Apps for managing moods