Our minds and are bodies are interconnected. What we put into one affects the other. Therefore, it’s important to consider diet for mental health.
However, it’s dangerous to assume that there is one “best” diet for everyone. If you’re interested in eating right for your mental health, then there are some key basics that you can follow. Then you must adapt those basics to fit your own specific needs.
Is There an Optimal Diet for Mental Health?
There are so many different diets out there that it would be impossible to even list them all.
Oftentimes, diets are restrictive. They tell you very strict rules about things such as:
- What to eat
- What never to eat
- How much to eat of each specific item
- What time of day to eat
- How to supplement your diet to improve brain function
For example, there are diets that stress eating low carbs and high amounts of protein. There are diets that say to eat almost entirely a meat-based diet and others that say to eat a meat-free diet. Are any of these diets really the best diet for mental health?
Restrictive Diets Are Too Limiting
Most research indicates that very restrictive diets don’t work. They aren’t useful for weight management, and they aren’t helpful for mental health.
First of all, they tend to be shame-based. If you don’t follow the rules exactly then you’ve done “wrong.” Feeling bad about what you eat isn’t healthy.
Moreoever, these kinds of diets aren’t usually sustainable over the long haul. Giving up certain foods or only eating a very selective diet just doesn’t last. It’s a diet, not a lifestyle change.
The best diet for mental health is one that you can adapt to over a lifetime and feel good about each day.
Generally speaking, the healthiest diet seems to be a plant-based diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables. You want to incorporate a lot of whole foods while limiting processed products. The right amount of grains, meat, and dairy may vary from person to person but getting balanced nutrition from fruits and vegetables is always a good place to start.
The Belief in a “Best” Diet Might be Harmful?
Moreover, it can be harmful to believe that there is one best diet for everyone. In addition to feeling like a failure if it doesn’t work for you, choosing to follow a diet that’s not right for you can lead to negative health repercussions.
We are all different. We are each unique. Therefore, we have to eat differently from each other as well.
If you try to adapt your body and mind to the needs of another person then you aren’t doing what’s right for your own mental health. This includes when you try to adopt a one-size-fits-all diet for mental health.
Imagine, for example, that you have a severe allergy to dairy products. However, let’s say that a doctor tells you that the only good diet for mental health is one that is rich in dairy. Clearly, that’s not the right diet for you.
Although that’s an extreme example, it’s an exaggerated version of what often happens when people believe that there’s a “best” diet out there.
The answer isn’t out there. The answer is within you.
The most important thing that you can do for yourself is to pay attention to what your own body tells you when it comes to figuring out the right diet for your mental health.
How Do You Find the Best Diet for Yourself?
It isn’t easy to find the best diet for yourself. There are many different approaches to doing so. You can work with nutritionists, dieticians, general practitioners, holistic healers, and/or nutrition-minded psychologists.
Ultimately, however, you have to learn to tune in to your own gut and figure out what’s going to be best for you. The first step is to just start paying close attention to how different foods affect your mental health. Then you can start tweaking your diet to incorporate more of the foods that make you feel good and fewer of the foods that make you feel suboptimal.
Does Your Diet Affect Your Depression?
For example, if you have depression, then it’s important to track your symptoms along with your diet. Keeping a food journal alongside a mood tracker is a great way to get glimpses into the way that specific foods affect your mental health.
In addition to tracking your mood and food, you might want to track the following things:
- Energy levels
- Sleep cycles and duration
- Quality of sleep
- Any changes in medication
- Behavioral, emotional, and physical symptoms
- Fitness / exercise and any changes it may cause
There are a few things that typically hold true about diet and mental health.
Generally speaking, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar can have a negative impact on mental health. In particular, they may affect sleep, which is a critical component to overall mental health.
That said, new studies emerge all of the time to say that one of these things is or isn’t true. That’s why you should always track your own experience to get the best sense of what is the right diet for mental health for you.