For the past decade, there has been an outburst in the amount of attention dedicated to mental health and nutrition…separately! There are millions of YouTube videos and articles describing diets and encouraging new outlooks on nutrition. We’ve had the same attentiveness given to mental health, especially through social media platforms with celebrities and influential figures posting long captions; raising awareness on the importance of mental health.
Yet we have a fundamental missing link between these two key factors incorporated into our everyday lifestyle that should not be overlooked. Mental health is quite frequently observed as a strictly biochemical or psychologically-rooted concept, however, through many medical studies and observed experiments, there is a forgotten link between mental health and our physical everyday choices, with the most eminent one being our food.
Got tons of responses to this. Thank you. We all go thru the sludge/shit and depression never discriminates. Took me a long time to realize it but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it in. You’re not alone
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) April 2, 2018
Defining a “healthy” diet:
Before delving into the Do’s and Don’ts of nutrition we need to define the concept of a healthy diet, since there are many common misconceptions. There is no universal set list of meals that a person needs to eat to fall under the “healthy” label. Typically every individual will have different preferences and a different response to various meal plans, thus in order to generalize the concept of healthiness when it comes to food we will use benchmarks, that take form in a variety of ways for every individual:
Weight remains “normal” & stabilized:
Now the word “normal” is quite vague and we are aware of that! That is because what is “normal” is different for everyone. This normality can be defined through BMI (body-mass Index) for example or by many other calculations, and best by a professional. The more important aspect is the stability.
Frequent fluctuations of one’s weight are an indicator of extreme diets and health imbalances.
All foods and Vitamins are included (or in other words NO EXCLUSION OF MAIN FOOD GROUPS)
Ensuring that food is and remains an overall enjoyable experience.
Finding the Link: Food & Mood
There are many correlations that have been found between mental health and nutrition, however, the first and most basic one concerns our brain function. When we make certain food choices we could be indirectly affecting our mood, through certain brain functions that are being nourished or damaged depending on our food. Nutritious foods containing minerals and vitamins will promote healthy brain function, which directly enhances our mood. That being said, since we have a variety of brain functions we need to ingest a variety of foods, i.e. all the food groups (no exclusions)! Carbs for example, commonly misunderstood as the enemy in “healthy” diets, increase serotonin, a chemical that has a calming-happy effect on us.
Another strong link that has been found and increasingly worked on by psychologists recently is the link between mental illnesses and nutrition. A wide variety of mental illness starts out by brain inflammation which initially starts in our gut as a result of a deficiency in certain nutrients such as omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The lack of these healthy fats has also been found to have a direct correlation with depression.
A Growing Field & Individual Experimentation:
As a result of this strong positive connection that simply can’t be ignored, the discipline of Nutritional Psychiatry has been a growing field with more and more studies and experiments being done. The field focuses on evidence on a nutritional approach to treating and improving mental health; highlighting an undermined link between the two. As for the individual and what could be done in the meantime as the field is still developing, it is advised to follow a healthy diet (explained above), while listening to your body’s response to certain foods and how they better or worsen your mood.
While it is advised to stay away from processed and refined foods, excessively prohibiting yourself from a certain treat or obsessively counting calories is never advised and could lead to body-image issues, worsening your mental health state. The idea of personal experimentation is one that allows the individual to get familiar with one’s body and form a relaxed, healthy relationship between the physical: Food & Body and the mental: Brain & Mental Health.
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