When we talk about the general health of our psyche, food is not the first thing that appears in the conversation. Pop culture and social media frame things like childhood trauma, toxic relationships, and problematic personalities as the face of mental illness. As such, the most common causes such as consistently poor diet and lifestyle choices often go unnoticed.
Yes, you read that correctly. Food, hunger, and diet play a much bigger role when it comes to our mental health than we think. Here are two research-backed examples of how our eating habits affect our mental health.
#1. Food choices can lead to social isolation
There are as many types of diets and dietary restrictions in the world today as there are types of food. There are vegan, vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free diets, to name a few.
It’s hard to tell whether this abundance of options is good or bad for our mental health. However, there is research to show that diets with very specific dietary restrictions can have the unintended consequence of increased loneliness and social isolation.
“Food consumption is an inherently social activity – where people often acquire, prepare and eat food in social contexts,” state researchers Kaitlin Woolley, Ayelet Fishbach and Rongham Michael Wang. “We found that food restrictions are predictive of loneliness. People who are unable to eat what others eat are, to some extent, less able to relate to others during a meal.”
The researchers report that the relationship between food restriction and loneliness is as large as the relationship between being unmarried and lonely, which they also measured in the study.
“Both food restrictions and loneliness are increasing societal problems; and this research has found that they may be related epidemics,” they suggest.
If you think that restrictions on your food are hindering your social life and making you more lonely, it may be time to have a conversation with your loved ones to ask them to make room for it in their lives. This could mean asking them to stock up on things to eat or plan social gatherings at restaurants that have multiple diet options on the menu.
Alternatively, there may be areas where you can make nutritional compromises that make it easy to coordinate a communal meal that everyone can enjoy. Certainly, many parents reading this will have experience in this regard, perhaps in the form of mac and cheese, a carton of juice on dinner night or some other questionable child-approved food.
#2. Excessive healthy eating can be unhealthy
Weight loss and body thinness are the characteristics of a healthy person in our society. Keep in mind that this is a somewhat reductive way of viewing health and wellness in general. Furthermore, the pursuit of a lean body can lead to many mental health conditions, including eating disorders.
Orthorexia is a condition associated with significant dietary restrictions including the omission of entire food groups. Orthotics tend not to eat foods that have been treated with pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic materials, and they are very concerned about the techniques and materials used to prepare the food. looks familiar?
Simply put, orthorexia is an extreme form of healthy eating, it’s unhealthy.
“Neuro-orthorexia is a type of eating disorder that can easily hide behind the premise of clean eating or healthy eating,” explains Dr. Wendy Oliver Byatt, chief medical officer of Inside Health.
According to Oliver Byatt, the pursuit of orthopedic health is somewhat of a mechanistic experience.
“The social aspect of eating and enjoying food is irrelevant to the patient, who will forgo social interactions and important and useful aspects of life to pursue healthy eating,” she says. “Excessive focus on ingredients in foods deprives a person of the real, lived, and enjoyable dining experience.”
For people at risk for this condition, Oliver Pyatt suggests focusing on repairing one’s relationship with food by practicing what she calls “internal regulation.”
“When our eating becomes endogenously regulated (what we call mindful eating), our eating patterns change in such a way that we neither overeat nor undereat,” she says. “The orchestra of neurotransmitters and hormones that connect the brain, gut, and body can all interact and direct us toward eating according to our biological and even psychological needs.”
conclusion: Although it may sound cliched, you are really what you eat – even when it comes to your mental health. Research on diet and its effects on our minds points to an often overlooked fact: Mental health isn’t just about addressing your feelings in therapy, it’s also about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.