February 28, 2019
Everyone experiences gloomy days, stressful days and those where anxiety can make it hard to focus. As a dietitian, food is always on my mind and I use it not only for the physiological need it serves, but also for its psychological pleasure or as a distraction from my long days (mindful eating? I wish!). Many people are conscious of the potential damage that a poor diet can do to their physical health (diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and fatty liver to say the least) but what is rarely considered is the psychological issues that can be exacerbated. Our food choices can actually impact our mental health with links to increasing anxiety, depression and reducing our self-esteem.
Recently I have had the pleasure to work with the incredible team at the world renown ‘Food and Mood Centre’ at Deakin University, who have spent many years researching this complex relationship between how we feel and what we eat, but surprising to most of us is that the reverse is true too. Our poor food choices can actually impact our physical and mental health, both in the short and long term. In Australia alone, around 1 in 5 women will experience depression and 1 in 3 women will experience anxiety during their lifetime. And women in particular require a nutrient-rich diet to support positive mental and emotional wellbeing.
Whilst sweet and salty can bring us ‘moments’ of happiness by reacting with the pleasure centre in our brain, the long-term effects of a poor diet can result in serious mental health concerns. Another Australian study suggested that a ‘junk’ food diet may actually shrink the hippocampus, the section of your brain that plays a key role in learning and linking emotions to memories. What’s interesting is that the shrinking of the hippocampus is also something that happens in sufferers of depression and also dementia.
Salad may not be the first option on your menu when you are feeling low, but reaching for something sweet can cause our blood sugar levels to crash and even increase feelings of anxiety later on. So here are my three stress-busting diet tips;