Healthy eating habits are habits that one develops in order to increase and maintain the well-being and longevity of their body. But did you know that what you eat has the ability to also impact your mental health?
Human beings began as hunters and gatherers foraging for food in the wilderness that would provide us sustenance, as well as propel us through the next physically and mentally rigorous challenge. During that time we were focused on ingesting things that existed naturally in the environment and had no means of being processed, or manipulated for taste or pleasure. We had a diet that centered around fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, which allowed us to be responsive to our environment and think more clearly.
So how does food impact mental health and stability? First and foremost, it is important to explore how an unhealthy diet can affect the human body, and ultimately, the mind. In an article by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, it was stated that, “Diets high in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates are associated with greater incidences of depression, depressive symptoms, and anxiety” (2015). The article went on to note that an unhealthy diet can reduce the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain associated with learning and mood regulation. Western society is heavily affected by processed foods and a lack of importance placed on consumption and its impact on an individual’s quality of life. One’s relationship with food, not only impacts the internal health of your body, but it is also heavily related to your emotional wellbeing and how you perceive yourself. An unhealthy diet can lead to issues with one’s weight and your ability to navigate through physical challenges. This can directly impact your self-esteem, which can ultimately lead to poor mental health and an internalized hatred for your body.
Western society currently faces a plethora of health-related issues that can be traced back to diet and its relationship with food. This includes, but is not limited to diabetes, asthma, and even cancer (CDC). Regardless of how the culture moves, it is always important to think and plan for the future, and in this case, take a stance against the harmful nature of the status quo. The more that you interact with life and develop a personal definition of what a full life means to you, the more you focus on the ways that you interact with your body, both internally and externally that provide you with the highest quality of living. One of the things that begins to take on an increased importance, is what you are ingesting and feeding to your body. Why? How does food impact your mental health?
- Bodily Health: According to the Centers for Disease Control, the benefits for healthy eating include, the “potential to live longer, healthy skin, teeth, and eyes; support for muscles, boosts in immunity, strengthening of bones, lowers risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers; assisting with digestive system function, and helping to achieve and maintain a healthy weight” (2021).
- Cause and effect: Developing a healthier relationship with food can ultimately lead to you making healthier choices in other aspects of your life. You may develop higher levels of energy, which could elevate your relationship with working out and/or moving your body. You may also develop a sense of discipline that carries over into other areas of your life.
- Autonomy and control: When you are able to develop healthy and consistent eating habits, you begin to feel more in control of your life. In Western society–and especially for marginalized communities, healthy eating options are not as plentiful as fast and processed foods. Taking the time to develop a grocery list and a shopping routine helps to reduce the likelihood of needing to eat out, and/or rely on American society to help sustain your needs.
- Increased knowledge: Learning what to eat, when, and for what reasons often feels like the most taxing part of developing a healthier diet and lifestyle. However, once you take the time to research and learn what works for you, you develop an increased sense of self and what works for you and your body. A major way to kickstart and increase your knowledge base may be to outsource with a nutritionist or even consult with your primary care physician.