Teresa Gleason is a fitness instructor and mental health advocate based in New Jersey. She is known in her community for leaving encouraging and motivational signs in front of her house. Join Tangible Movement in discovering Gleason’s story.
TM: What are your personal experiences with mental illness?
TG: I always was an active, athletic, and relatively healthy kid. I started noticing something off back in middle school where I'd get bouts of sadness for "no reason." More than just the average blahs. Fast forward to the end of high school I fell into the poor body image trap and developed an eating disorder (bulimia) that lasted 7 years. Also, chronic fatigue would come and go more so in my 20s.
TM: What are your coping mechanisms?
TG: Back then I felt like I tried everything to cope! And although what I tried may not have worked every time it was worth it to give it a shot. I remember I made myself a jar with "things to do instead of bingeing." I wrote things on a piece of paper like "take a walk, call a friend, do a craft.." It sounds a little silly now but it came in handy once in a while. Also, a lot of therapy - I was lucky enough to have a fantastic therapist in my life during my struggle. I also attended group sessions in which it was super helpful to be with others with similar struggles. I even found an online support group. Other than that a lot of family support and self talk!!
TM: Do you take medication and/or are you in therapy?
TG: I LOVE this question! So I used to take medications prescribed by doctors who would just hear about 10 minutes of my symptoms and decided medication was the way to go. I complied thinking that was the best option. Fast forward to NOW, I've changed to a whole food plant based diet and I feel like I have pretty much cured a lot of things I used to be put on medication for.. depression, excessive fatigue, and anxiety around food. Learning that food is medicine and giving it a try has truly changed my life.
TM: What advice would you give a person struggling with the same mental illness(es) that you have?
TG: I would one thousand million billion percent recommend adopting a plant based diet. It may not "cure" everything and there's no shame being on medication when truly needed but I feel it's the least we can do to allow our body and minds to be the healthiest they can possibly be. We can't control external and environmental factors for the most part but we can control what's on the end of our fork. And those daily decisions can make a world of difference! Also, exercise! Aerobic exercise in particular. Food and movement is medicine!
It's important to mention I overcame my eating disorder about 5/6 years ago (before I transitioned to a plant based diet) and actually eating junk food in moderation was truly an accomplishment! I joined a sports league so I started exercising more for fun rather than to burn calories. Although my distorted eating behaviors finally stopped and I was exercising more something was still off - still feeling depressed and tired all the time. It wasn't until I truly adopted a plant based diet did I feel like a new person!
TM: What do you hope to achieve by posting positive signs on your lawn?
TG: I truly hope to just brighten someone’s day or give them the "sign" they were looking for! I'm a believer in "signs." I never know who's going to see what quote so I leave it up to the universe to have the right person see the right quote at the right time!
TM: What do you believe is the correlation between mental health and physical activity?
TG: Physical activity has a HUGE impact on mental health. And it's not only my belief. Studies show aerobic exercise interventions found comparable to antidepressant medication in the treatment of patients with major depressive disorder. I know exercising is the last thing I want to do when I'm feeling depressed but incorporating it on a regular basis can truly change your life! I always thought, how cool would it be if a patient walked on a treadmill or rode a stationary bike during a therapy session?? Not such a crazy idea! Also, it's the reason I am a group fitness instructor. Sometimes when we don't want to exercise getting a little positive peer pressure from others to show up can make a huge difference!
TM: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite workouts?
TG: Anything in a group! Groups always add a little extra motivation and fun! I love getting creative and using my own body while incorporating something like a set of stairs or a picnic table or a watermelon! (Check out my watermelon workout on my YouTube page!)
TM: Do you have any favorite healthy meals or snacks that you would like to share with us?
TG: Although I am MUCH better now I'm still a pretty lousy cook. So I love easy recipes like smoothies, chilis, and soups packed with veggies! Here's one of my favorite smoothies. Also, my favorite cookbook is "How Not To Die Cookbook" By Dr. Michael Greger.
TM: Why did you chose to dedicate your professional life to physical health?
TG: I've seen the negative impact of not getting enough exercise or enough physical activity had on my own mental health and I've then seen the positive impact incorporating it does! I've also experienced the negative impact of thinking exercise is just used to lose weight and be thin. When I finally switched my reasons why I move it was a whole new ballgame and I want to share that with everyone and anyone! I heard a quote somewhere that I absolutely love- "Exercise should be a celebration of what your body can do. NOT a punishment for what your ate."
TM: Is there anything else about yourself, your story, or mental health that you would like to share with us?
TG: Another big event in my life that pushed me to seek a healthier life was losing my father to cancer. It was pretty traumatic to see someone so strong and healthy get taken down by a disease so quickly. I truly wish I knew then that I know now about the power of food and movement as medicine. It might have made a difference, it might not have. The more I learn about what incorporating a plant based diet can do for the health of our minds and our bodies (and our earth) the more I'm making it my mission to spread this information.
I reference a plant based diet a few times in my answers. Basically meaning focusing on consuming whole plant foods - fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds while avoiding/limiting as much as possible meat, dairy, oil, and refined sugar.
By: Jessica Hutt