Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows that food isn't just food. It’s also entertainment. It's a social connection. It’s comfortable. That’s perfectly natural. After all, from the first moments of life, we learn to associate food with love, care, and nurturing.
But the close connection between food and emotions can have a profound downside, leading to eating disorders, an unhealthy body image, and even mental illnesses ranging from depression to anxiety to obsessive-compulsive disorders.
This article examines the link between your mental state and your diet. It also provides strategies for nurturing your mental health and cultivating positive energy as a means to develop a healthier relationship with food.
Negative Mental States and Disordered Eating
Ideally, food should be about nourishment, about feeding ourselves both in the body and in the soul. Your eating habits, after all, are a manifestation of self-care — or lack thereof. When you truly and completely love yourself, then you are going to give yourself the things you need to thrive.
On the other hand, when you are trapped in a negative cycle of fear, envy, self-doubt, and self-criticism, you’re likely to have little interest in nurturing your body. Your focus will be not on wellness but on masking the problem, on using food to find comfort and pleasure, to find an escape from the painful feelings that assail you.
And if you aren’t using food for solace, you may well use it for punishment. You may deprive yourself of the nourishment you need simply to reach some unrealistic target weight that will enable you to finally feel good about yourself and happy in your life. Or you may restrict your intake to assuage your guilt over having been “bad” and overindulgent the night before.
The result of using food as both comfort and punishment is often a pattern of disordered eating
, a habit of alternating between excessive restriction and consumption, combined with an unhealthy fixation on food. Disordered eating can easily lead to a host of serious physical and mental health challenges. You may, for example, begin compulsively binging and purging or you may become dangerously food-avoidant to cope with the anxiety that has developed around food.
Similarly, patterns of food restriction and over-consumption can cause severe damage to organ systems, particularly the gastrointestinal (GI) system. If you’re taking excessive amounts of caffeine to boost your energy when you’re restricting calories and nutrients, you may well be setting yourself up for the development of severe GI disorders, such as
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Cultivating Positive Energy
As significant as the connection between mental distress and disordered eating may be, there’s a flip side. When you cultivate positive energy and spiritual and mental wellbeing, your dietary habits will follow suit.
Best of all, you are establishing a positive, self-perpetuating cycle, because when you feed your body what it needs, you are also, inevitably, feeding your soul. Just as your parents’ feeding you as an infant was your first experience of love and care, when you fill your diet with healthy, clean foods
, you telegraph to your mind and spirit that you matter. You manifest that your health and wellness are goals worth fighting for. You actualize self-love
In addition to the mental and spiritual benefits of eating cleanly, you’re also likely to experience an array of physical and cognitive rewards as well. For example, research has shown that the Keto diet
can not only help you reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol, but it can also significantly improve your focus and boost your energy levels. That means that you’re going to feel better, have more stamina, and think more clearly.
When you combine this with other wellness practices, such as a daily yoga routine
, you’re going to have the tools you need to cope more healthfully with your emotions and the inevitable stressors of the day. Thus, you will be far less likely to turn to food as either a cudgel or a comforter when negative emotions arise. Instead, your diet becomes an instrument, a means to keep you healthy, strong, and resilient, no matter what life throws your way.
Your diet and your mental state are often far more intimately connected than you may realize. Many of us turn to food when we’re feeling stressed, angry, fearful, lonely, or sad. But using food to cope when we’re trapped in a storm of negative energy can readily lead to a range of potentially serious physical and mental illnesses, from disordered eating to GERD. The good news, however, is that it is possible to rehabilitate your relationship with food by nurturing positive energy and mental and spiritual wellness. This would include embracing wellness practices such as daily yoga and clean eating. When you do this, you are developing more effective tools for coping with negative emotions, supporting positive energy, and learning to use food for nourishment and nurturing rather than for escape, solace, or self-punishment.