Dietary Choices impact Physical and Mental Health

  • Published
  • By Laura Diamond RDN IBCLC, Dietitian and Sarah Kennedy PhD, Psychologist
  • 355th Medical Group

Diet plays a significant role in our physical and mental health.  Both overconsumption and malnutrition contribute to a number of health problems in developed countries including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and premature mortality.  Not surprisingly, poor diet is also associated with increased risk for mental health problems including depression and anxiety.  People with unhealthy diets often suffer problems with mood, energy, sleep, and concentration, and are at higher risk for developing mood disorders. 

Dietary habits are often cyclical in nature, including healthy and unhealthy habits.  These patterns are explained by a number of physiological responses including changes in hormones and body composition that perpetuate healthy or unhealthy patterns.  For example, consuming large amounts of refined carbohydrates (such as sugars and flours) depletes necessary vitamins and minerals in the body, drives blood sugar imbalance, and can contribute to irritability and further cravings.  Binge eating is associated with increased stress hormones such as cortisol that can drive stress-eating behaviors.  Insufficient calorie consumption depletes energy, motivation, and problem-solving abilities, and can put people at risk for further weight loss.  These patterns over time contribute to dangerous changes in weight and development of chronic disease.   

There are so many fad diets and resources out there that tell you different things that it is sometimes hard to know the real truth.  Yet the food choices we make can have a significant impact on how we feel day to day.  Perhaps you’ve heard that sticking to aisles at the perimeter of the grocery store (e.g., produce and frozen foods) is one strategy for increasing consumption of whole foods and decreasing processed foods in our diet.  Look at your grocery cart and what it contains before checking out with the cashier. What does it contain? Is it mostly fruits and vegetables with a few lean meats?  Will your choices contribute to a happy gut or increased sluggishness and unhealthy cravings? 

One method for resetting an unhealthy gut is to increase consumption of probiotics such as fermented foods or probiotic supplements (often located in stores’ refrigerated section among vitamins and supplements).   This helps to increased healthy bacteria in the gut and reduce craving for unhealthy foods.  

Modern medicine is increasingly recognizing the importance of diet in promoting mental and physical health for individuals of all ages and backgrounds.  Returning to a diet of whole foods and decreased processed foods helps us to feel better and lower risk for chronic disease.  Making conscious decisions to improve food choices is a habit that pays dividends over days, years, and generations to come.

If you would like more information about preparing healthy meals, contact the Health and Wellness Center at 228-2294.    For mental health matters, consider stopping into Family Health and asking about BHOP, or you can call the Mental Health Clinic at 228-4926.