Amazingly, people often don’t seem to understand the connection between nutrition and mental health. Time and again people struggling with their mental health don’t eat breakfast, skip lunch, or don’t bother to eat until later in the day. Sometimes people simply forget to eat because they’re busy. Some people lose their appetite because of emotional distress, and others just can’t be bothered to eat properly. Whatever the reason, it’s imperative to understand the connection between poor eating habits and mood and anxiety, as this will underscore the importance of eating properly.
Everybody has heard the cliché you are what you eat, but for some reason many people don’t connect that adage with how they feel mentally and emotionally. What you eat doesn’t affect just physical health; it can also affect general mood on a day-to-day basis. In order for the brain to communicate with the rest of the body, it needs neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which are made from the nutrients in the foods we eat. Not eating enough, or not eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet, prevents the body from being able to create enough of these chemicals, and depression and anxiety can result.
Skipping meals can make blood sugar levels fall too low, and that eating starchy, sugary foods or simple carbohydrates can cause blood sugar levels to increase too much. These fluctuations in blood sugar levels can make a person irritable, forgetful, or sad. In addition, not eating enough can lead to emotional reactivity, higher stress levels, and an overall sense of reduced well-being. Research in children has shown that skipping breakfast has negative consequences on problem solving, short-term memory, and concentration, and that eating breakfast increases positive mood, contentment, and alertness.
Of course, if a person has anorexia or bulimia, this must be addressed in therapy, either by your therapist or by someone who has experience with eating disorders—and sooner rather than later due to the health risks these disorders present. Besides treating the eating disorder, make sure to see a medical doctor and declared physically healthy enough to do this kind of work.
Sources: DBT Made Easy