What do Fish Cakes have to do with mental health?

Posted on May 16, 2012


Have you ever had one of those days where nothing goes right and you can’t even imagine opening the refrigerator door to start preparing dinner? Have you ever gorged on frozen carboard pizza, cut into a greasy fast food burger, or finished off every last cookie in the house while brooding over a bad day? Have you ever labored over a particularly special dish with utmost concentration only to find at first taste that it is as salty as the ocean and your hopes are as much dissolved?  

I have had all of these days. Just read about my jumble with strawberry-rhubarb jam or my unfortunate angel food cake flop for reference. Those were bad days, and while yes, it’s true that everybody has bad days, nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes, moving on comforted only by the knowledge that I am not alone has not necessarily led me to happier days.

What seems to distinguish my bad days from everyone else’s is pessimism.

A pessimist sees the world in a unique way. As positive psychologist Dr. Martin E.P. Seliman descibes in his national best-seling book Learned Optimism, a pessimist is someone who sees bad events as personal ones that affect every area of life and cause damage for a long time. To a pessimist, bad events are  personal, pervasive, and permanent. On top of that, when good things happen, a pessimist does not think they did anything to deserve them or that the good event will affect other areas of life or extend for some period of time. Good events are impersonal, limited, and temporary.

Mental health declines as pessimists become more depressed, and in turn so does physical health where low mental health status leads to poorer eating decisions and fewer nutrition goals met. Both the physical and mental energy needed to make positive behavior change is depleted. Dieting is a challenge. Learning to cook is a conundrum. Enjoying kitchen successes is easier said than done. These are all road blocks that I have sought to overcome, and in this way, I have learned how closely nutrition is linked to mental health.  

The month of May is dedicated in the United States to mental health awareness. I believe that focusing on mental health is important simply because it is connected to so many other aspects of health, and that is why today I am participating in the American Psychological Association’s Mental Health Month Blog Party.

Mental Health Blog Party Badge

There are many aspects of your own experience that may impact how you experience food. Think about them for a minute and consider what changes you would like to make, and if you would like, think about whether seeking professional advice from a counselor or nutritionist would be beneficial to you. Seeking mental health treatment is a positive step and need not carry any stigma.

I personally am making progress in combating my negative thinking and pessimistic habits using the tips from Dr. Seligman’s book. I made these fish cakes for myself on an evening when my husband was away on a business trip. I was lonely and really felt like just eating ice cream from out of the container, but instead I found myself inspired by a recipe I stumbled on over at Food for my Family, and had some fun making a simple dinner for one, using up leftovers from the fridge and sauteeing a bunch of asparagus, cut just that morning, from the farm down the road. 

And in contrast to those anxiety-ridden days where pessimism ran the kitchen, this dish was perfectly salted.

Fish Cakes
with red onions, arugula, and rice

3/4 cup cooked fish, flaked (I had red snapper.)
1 cup cooked white rice (also try quinoa!)
1 large handful arugula, chopped
1/2 small red onion, small diced
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 large egg
dash of paprika
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Spray a large skillet with a light coating of olive oil and place over medium-high heat. In a bowl, combine fish, rice, arugula, red onions, and bread crumbs. In a separate small bowl, beat sour cream into egg. Stir in the paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, then mix to combine.

Divide batter into six even servings. Shape each into a small ball, and roll in panko bread crumbs.

Place each ball in heated skillet, then gently flatten into a patty with a fork.

Cook until underside is browned, about 7 minutes, then flip cook until underside is browned. Makes six medium fish cakes. Serve with sauteed asparagus and a dose of spicy Sriracha sauce.

 To read other great posts related to mental health, follow #mhblogday on Twitter or check out the APA Mental Health Blog Party page.