Contrary to popular belief, your brain is the most powerful “muscle” in your body. It’s always working. It never turns off. Everything that your body does is controlled by it, even when you’re asleep. Have you ever thought about how your brain continues to work? Let’s think about the brain like a car for just a second. Like a Ferrari, your brain works best when it gets the finest fuel and it can be damaged by “low premium” fuel. Processed foods and refined sugars are just like low premium fuel. They are detrimental to the brain and affect so many different parts of your body – your liver, your stomach, and your intestines just to name a few. What most people don’t know, however, is that these types of foods can also impact your mental health and can worsen symptoms of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life. It may be nerves before a big first date, worrying about your next rent payment, or presenting your newest pitch in front of your company’s president. These feelings of anxiety, nervousness, or worry are all controlled by our brain. And better yet, they can also be highly influenced by our nutrition. As a mental health professional, I make it a point to ask my potential patients (or my patients’ parents if they are children) what their diet is like. Do they follow a certain “diet? Do they incorporate “healthy eating” into their daily lives? Do they have any food sensitivities or food allergies? Now, it may seem silly for a psychologist to ask someone about their diet. My job is to provide therapy and a warm, supportive environment for people to dish out their deepest and darkest secrets, worries, and thoughts, right? But what most people don’t always realize is how their diet affects their mental health.
Let’s take a little dive into human biology for a minute. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is emitted by the brain and controls your appetite, sleep cycle, mood, and memory. Better yet, 95% of your serotonin comes from your stomach! What?! That’s right, your stomach is full of neurotransmitters that send signals to your brain and also regulate your stomach and intestinal health. Therefore, when you’re putting absolute CRAP into your body, such as refined sugars and processed foods, your stomach basically hates you and may cause you to have decreased levels of serotonin in the brain.
In the mental health field, we often see individuals who binge eat and also turn to food due to anxiety and stress. What they don’t realize is that the foods they’re consuming may result in greater fatigue, stress, and mood imbalances. While therapy and medication may help with mental health disorders, many don’t realize the impact of changing their eating habits can have. Complex carbohydrates, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are often recommended by mental health professionals to remediate anxiety symptoms if the person has wacky eating habits. These help to maintain health levels of bacteria in your gut, which increases serotonin, and regulates your mood and so many other functions.
In the end, if you’re feeling as though you’re being taken on a mental rollercoaster or like you’ve been feeling on edge, moody, or irritable lately, take a look at what you’re putting in your body. Are you filling up on the low premium fuel or treating your body like a Ferrari?
Written by Dr. Melissa R. Koniver, PsyD, NCSP