Six Ways Your Diet Contributes to Your Mental Health
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You’ve probably heard the saying “you are what you eat” applied to physical health, but could the same phrase be true when it comes to your mental wellbeing? According to science, the answer is yes.
Recent studies show that one's diet can drastically affect several factors pertaining to your mental health.
Here are a few ways your diet contributes to your mental health:
1. A Healthy Diet is Essential for Brain Development
Maintaining a healthy diet throughout your life is vital for brain development. Eating quality food allows the body to create the necessary building blocks for a healthy brain. Without those building blocks, mental development will likely be stunted.
2. Nutrients Encourage the Brain to Grow
Consistently consuming omega-3s and zinc, essential nutrients in a healthy diet, helps create connections between brain cells. These nutrients allow the brain to improve resilience and cognition.
Conversely, if you pursue a diet with excess refined sugars, it can have a negative effect on essential brain proteins. This hinders your brain’s ability to create connections and improve brain function.
3. Food Influences Your Mood
They say the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, but it is actually the way to their brain.
The brain and the gastrointestinal tract have a close relationship. Essentially, your GI tract is continually sending messages to your mind using neurotransmitters. There are billions of bacteria in your GI tract that influence these neurotransmitters.
If you fill your body with healthy food, then you create “good” bacteria in your GI tract that subsequently sends positive messages to the brain.
However, if you consume unhealthy food, like sugar, it creates "bad" bacteria. This may make you feel good for a moment, but down the line, it will cause a crash that will likely have you feeling fatigued and unhappy.
4. Food Impacts Anxiety & Depression
Dr. Ramsey, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, argues that a poor diet is a significant part of depression, which the World Health Organization reports is one of the biggest causes of disability in Americans.
Research has backed up this statement. In fact, studies show that people who maintain a proper diet feel happier and more satisfied with life. In addition, taking herbal supplements like ashwagandha can help decrease stress and anxiety.
Research has also shown that adapting to a Mediterranean or DASH diet can drastically help those who suffer from anxiety or depression. Some cases have even shown individuals who try these diets no longer need to take antidepressants.
5. Guilt & Eating
Many people have eating problems, which is different than an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a medical illness whereas an eating problem is when you have a difficult relationship with the food you consume.
Feelings of guilt are just one sign of an eating problem. A continued eating problem can cause feelings of depression, anxiety, shame, and other negative feelings.
By pursuing a healthy diet and letting go of guilt when you indulge in moderation will lead to more successful mental health.
6. Appearance, Self-Esteem, & The Mind
Today, how you look plays a significant role in your mental health. Body image and self-esteem directly influence your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
If you have an unhealthy diet that causes you to unsatisfied with your appearance then your mental health may diminish.
By creating a healthy diet, you can not only look better, but feel better too, increasing your overall mental health.
How to Improve Your Diet
Creating a healthy diet may be hard at first, but the rewards are extremely beneficial for your physical and mental health.
You can begin by incorporating healthy foods and products into your daily life. If you are still having trouble maintaining a healthy diet, talk to your primary physician about seeing a nutritionist or taking nutritional supplements such as vitamin D and B12.
Some health insurance plans may even cover vitamins and other over-the-counter supplements.
It would be wise to consult a doctor, nutritionist, or nutritional physiologist to determine which options are best for you.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is the founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at UC Berkeley, she started building online courses, apps, and products to boost well-being—products that have reached more than a million people. Now an author at Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis's expertise on how to boost well-being reaches people all across the world.