Is My Diet Affecting My Mental Health?

November 04, 2019

Have you experienced what is commonly termed as a “food coma” (i.e feeling full, tired, sluggish) after eating a really great meal, and were unmotivated to do anything afterwards? Have you ever experienced feeling so sad or depressed that you ate a pint of ice cream to make you feel better, but actually ended up feeling worse? If this sounds like you, I think it would be a great idea to consider how the foods we eat impact how we feel.

How Does Your Diet Impact Your Mental Health?

Let’s just focus on THREE important ways diet and nutrition impact mental health.

1. Your Eating Patterns Fuel You.
As you may be aware, there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy eating patterns. Healthy dietary patterns are characterized by having a food intake that is high in nutrient filled foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins, fats, etc. The nutrients in these food groups consist of unrefined carbohydrates, Omega-3 fatty acids, specific vitamins and minerals that are needed to fuel our bodies and our brains. Unhealthy dietary patterns are characterized by having food intake that is processed and/or high in refined carbohydrates (i.e. white rice, pasta, pastries, etc.) and saturated fats. This dietary pattern often lacks the nutrients needed to fuel our bodies and our brains.

2. Your Eating Patterns Can Increase or Decrease Your Depression.
There are research studies that link healthier eating patterns to improved mental health outcomes. In a large study, emerging data linked healthy eating patterns to a decrease in depression (Jacka, Mykletun, & Berk, 2012). A study with 1000 adult women participants found that adult women with unhealthy dietary patterns were more likely to have clinical depression, while the adult women with healthy dietary patterns were less likely to have clinical depression (Jacka, Pasco, Mykletun,Williams, Hodge, O’Reilly, Nicholson, Kotowicz, & Berk, 2010). This finding was supported by a study with 5,000 adult participants that associated healthier dietary patterns with lower likelihood of experiencing depression (Jacka, Mykletun, Berk, Bjelland, & Tell, 2011).

3. Your Eating Patterns Can Increase or Decrease Your Mood and Anxiety.
Research has further supported that healthy eating patterns contribute to a decrease in mood and anxiety disorders. According to Emerson and Carbert (2018), their research demonstrated that those with increased intake of fruits and vegetables were less likely to develop mood and anxiety disorders. Whereas the Jacka et. al (2011) study linked unhealthy dietary patterns with increased anxiety.

Strategies to Manage My Diet and Mental Health
Recent studies suggest and advocate for helping manage mental health by way of managing one’s diet. Here are some ways that you can be proactive:
• Begin to Develop Healthier Eating Patterns: Review your own dietary patterns, and make small achievable changes until it becomes a newly formed pattern, such as choosing to eat whole grain bread versus white flour bread.
• Seek Professional Mental Health Support: Talk to your therapist and/or psychiatrist about how your diet and nutrition may be impacting your mental health.
• Seek Professional Nutritional Support: Talk to a dietitian to get assistance with improving your dietary patterns. Playa Vista Mental Health Medical Group has a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Dahlia Rimmon, to educate and guide our patients on dietary patterns, needs, and goals.

Emerson, S. and Carbert, N. (2018). An apple a day: Protective associations between nutrition and the mental health of immigrants in Canada. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 54(5), pp.567-578.
Jacka, F., Pasco, J., Mykletun, A., Williams, L., Hodge, A., O’Reilly, S., Nicholson, G., Kotowicz, M. and Berk, M. (2010). Association of Western and Traditional Diets With Depression and Anxiety in Women. American Journal of Psychiatry, 167(3), pp.305-311.
Jacka, F. N., Mykletun, A., Berk, M., Bjelland, I., & Tell, G. S. (2011). The Association Between Habitual Diet Quality and the Common Mental Disorders in Community-Dwelling Adults. Psychosomatic Medicine, 73(6), 483–490. doi: 10.1097/psy.0b013e318222831a
Jacka, F., Mykletun, A. and Berk, M. (2012). Moving towards a population health approach to the primary prevention of common mental disorders. BMC Medicine, 10(1).

About the Author
Dr. Fein is a psychiatrist in Los Angeles specializing in general adult and women's mental health.