Mind-Body Connection: Unpacking The Relationship Between Nutrition and Mental Health
Before drive-thru restaurants, instant delivery apps, and specialty craft beer breweries, we used to gather, prepare, and eat food to survive. In recent decades, food and drinks have transformed from a mere means of fuel into a multi-billion-dollar industry with staggering rates of obesity and health problems to show for it.
How many times have you heard that infamous saying, you are what you eat? Does it hold any real truth? Or is it just an overused cliche designed to force you into consuming more broccoli and apples?
As it turns out, there is an undeniable mind-body connection between nutrition and mental health. The more you nourish your body? The more likely you are to have more energy, confidence, and overall physical and emotional health.
Food and Health: The True Mind-Body Connection
Our minds and bodies are not separate entities. They coexist, which means they work together to keep your body in optimal order. When you gorge on unhealthy food, you take in excess amounts of sugar, salt, and fat. At the same time, if you don’t get enough nutrients, you deprive your body of the much-needed fuel needed to keep you healthy every day.
Your brain works hard to manage your movements, thoughts, breathing, and overall communication with the rest of your body. It needs vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to do its job effectively.
Therefore, when you deprive your brain of excellent nutrition, the rest of the body suffers. And, in addition to being more at risk for preventable diseases, you are also more likely to feel sluggish, irritable, and depressed during the day.
Honoring the mind-body connection may require examining nutrition, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. To improve both your physical and mental health, you’ll want to integrate physical exercise, adequate sleep, and regular stress reduction techniques (meditation, getting out in nature, spending time with supportive friends).
The Problem With Modern Eating
Research shows that traditional “Western diets” have higher rates of depression compared to Mediterranean and Japanese diets. Western nutrition tends to have more of an emphasis on saturated fats and dairy. In other parts of the world, there is far more focus on integrating vegetables, fruits, seafood, and unprocessed grains.
Furthermore, the average American is now consuming a staggering 3,600 calories daily, which represents a 24% increase from 1961. This caloric spike is closely associated with growing rates of obesity and other health-related concerns.
How To Start Focusing On Your Nutrition
You know you should eat well, but most of us struggle with the following excuses:
- Not having enough time
- Believing that healthy eating is too expensive
- Ingrained habits (i.e., you always frequent the same restaurant for lunch)
Fortunately, you don’t need to overhaul your entire diet for effective change. Moreover, dramatic, black-or-white changes rarely work. Rather than focusing on perfectionism, it’s better to make small, reasonable steps towards improvement.
Talk To Your Doctor Or Dietitian
If you don’t know where to start with building a healthy lifestyle, don’t just turn your questions over to Google. It’s best to consult with appropriate medical professionals.
Your doctor can provide you with the necessary screenings to determine your baseline health. It is important to know particular numbers like your blood pressure and cholesterol. Your doctor can also be an essential starting point for discussing any vitamins or supplements that can help improve your well-being.
Registered dietitians provide specialized practice in food and nutrition. They can work with you to create reasonable meal plans that adhere to any dietary needs. If you struggle (or have struggled) with an eating disorder, they are a crucial aspect of ensuring a healthy recovery.
Understand The Gut Connection
Research continues to highlight the impressive relationship between your overall health and your gut bacteria levels. Our guts contain microbes, which impact both body and brain functioning.
These microbes affect how the body responds to hunger cues, stores fat, and balances glucose levels. They also produce crucial neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which impact your mental health. Certain foods, like cruciferous vegetables, fermented foods, unsweetened yogurt, and high-fiber foods can help improve your gut health.
You’ve heard about the importance of drinking water, but dehydration isn’t just detrimental to your physical health. It can wreak havoc on your mental health as well.
That’s because the human brain is composed of about 75% water. Dehydration first impacts the brain, which changes how you think and feel by impacting circulation. More severe dehydration can lead to cognitive problems that include delirium and even unconsciousness.
Ideally, you should be sipping on water throughout the day. Carry a reusable water bottle with you and make sure to fill it frequently.
Harnessing The Power of The Mind-Body Connection
Eating well is one thing. However, if you struggle with depression, anxiety, or another condition that compromises your mental health, focusing on your whole-body health may seem challenging.
You may not feel like you have the energy to take care of your physical health. However, your body and mind work in tandem. Your physical health is a major proponent of your emotional health and vice versa.
The mind-body connection is an essential part of your vitality, and therapy can help you strengthen it. Contact Willow Counseling today to schedule your first session.
Willow Counseling, PLLC, Nashville, TN
Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.