by Aimee Wojtowecz
Binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression, these are all branches of the same tree, our mental health. Now when you think about taking care of your mental health you might not automatically think about nutrition. It’s ok, most people don’t. But what most people also don’t realize is just how strong the connection is between what we are eating and how we are feeling.
Did you know that studies have shown that a high compliance with the Mediteranean diet can reduce the risk of depression by up to 32%; 21 studies of 10 different countries found that a healthful dietary pattern (high intakes of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, nuts and more) was associated with a reduced risk of depression while conversely a Standard American Diet (think high intake of processed meats, refined grains, sweets etc…) was linked to a significantly increased risk of depression; studies in adults over the age of 50 have shown a connection between diets high in saturated fats and added sugars and an increased levels of anxiety; similar results have also been seen in teenagers (1).
This doesn’t even begin to touch on the connection between our gut (the second brain!) health and our mental health. Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach when nervous or decided to go with “your gut feeling” when making a decision? Chances are that you were receiving signals from your second brain that you weren’t even aware of. The ENS or enteric nervous system is located in the walls of our gastrointestinal tract and consists of two layers and more than 100 million nerve cells. Irritations to the ENS system (IBS, constipation, diarrhea) send signals to the CNS, central nervous system, that can then trigger mood changes, rather than the other way around, mood changes and emotions triggering IBS, constipation, or diarrhea (2).
By better understanding the connection between our foods and our emotions we can take greater control of our health. This is not to say that foods can replace medications. Mental illness should always be taken seriously while working with your physician to find the best possible treatment for you.
But it is to say that small changes can really add up when it comes to our health, and studies have shown that you really are what you eat.