We are not taught to eat for mental health. As young children, we eat intuitively and naturally. As we leave infancy, we learn from our parents and others how to eat. Later, we get our nutrition education from our friends, relatives, peers, the media, food manufacturers and the diet industry. From all of this input, we often end of internalizing a confusing combination of nutritional information that may or may not help us feed our bodies (and brains) in a helpful way.
The Standard American Diet ("SAD") is largely the creation of food manufacturers. Studies show that people who eat primarily the SAD are 60% more likely to suffer from mood disorders. And highly processed, nutrient deficient foods, the staples of the SAD, dominate grocery shelves and our kitchen cupboards. Many of us even become "hooked" on these colorfully packaged, appealing foods. The diet industry thrives on our desire to lose weight fast, while food manufacturers thrive on our seemingly insatiable cravings for the foods they make. Together, these billion-dollar industries have hijacked our natural, intuitive eating and body knowledge for decades. And for the most part, we have been unaware of this phenomenon.
For some, ingrained beliefs about food, eating and weight lead to chronic dieting and restricting, which harms brain health. Stress, emotional struggles or life experiences often lead to compulsive overeating, binge eating or food addiction, which also prevents the brain from functioning well. Some vacillate between restricting and overeating for years, even decades. But many people simply develop a pattern of unconscious "quick fix" eating involving fast, processed, nutrient deficient food. And this impairs the brain as well.
Eating well helps the brain function at its best, and improves learning and thinking. But eating well does not mean eating perfectly or eating "clean" at all times. Rather, the brain and body work best together when food and eating are balanced, mostly healthy, and enjoyable. No foods are "bad," but this doesn't mean that all foods work for all people in all amounts. Learning what helps our bodies and brains thrive, and then introducing these actions in small, manageable ways, can be empowering and life changing. By making small changes that nourish physically AND mentally, anyone can improve their brain health and lead a happier, more joyful life.