Believe it or not, food is something that many people struggle to have healthy relationships with. That does not necessarily mean individuals will develop eating disorders; it just means that many of us are working to find a balance, whether eating less, eating more, or just maintaining what some may refer to as a healthy level of sustenance.
The 21st century doesn’t help with these modern-day struggles. Commercials, advertisements, social media posts, or celebrity images all tell us how we’re “supposed to look.” For those already struggling with mental illness, this can be detrimental. It can cause people to experience more feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. They may also begin to form dangerous habits that develop into eating disorders, such as starving oneself or purging.
While maintaining a nutritious regimen is essential for health and preventing disease, it’s also essential for individuals to treat themselves with kindness regarding the food they put into their bodies. Similarly, it is important to be mindful of the substances they put into their body and their consequences.
The National Institue of Mental Health (NIMH) describes eating disorders as “serious, biologically influenced medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to one’s eating behaviors.” An eating disorder goes far beyond a general concern about the appearance of your body; it becomes an obsessive fixation with weight, body image, and controlling their consumption of food. Eating disorders can affect a person’s mental and physical health, often becoming life-threatening.
Some of the most common eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa, where people may avoid food, restrict food consumption, eat alarmingly small portions, and will often weigh themselves obsessively, believing themselves to be significantly overweight. Anorexia nervosa also has a very high mortality rate with a risk of dying “from medical complications” due to starvation or death by suicide.
- Bulimia nervosa, where people may feel a lack of control when eating, causing them to overeat. This leads to a need to “compensate for the overeating to prevent weight gain,” often by vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these unhealthy and dangerous habits.
To learn and understand about other common eating disorders and the dangers they pose, you can visit the NIMH’s website linked above.
The Affect of Food on the Brain and Mental Health
The Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association regards the importance of a diet that is “optimal for brain health” to “promote mental health and recovery from mental illness.” Their article entitled “Food, Mood, and Brain Health: Implications for the Modern Clinician” discusses how food can affect not only our bodies but our mood and brain as well.
One study from the article examined the results of a six-week treatment for depressive symptoms, which significantly improved thanks to a combination of medication and food intervention. By eating foods that are “rich in brain food,” mental health and recovery can be increasingly effective and easy to incorporate into a treatment regiment. Some of the rich brain food they reference include fish and other seafood, beans and legumes, vegetables, olive oil, yogurt, and nuts, to name a few. Many may struggle with the implications of diet on their image, but we sometimes forget to realize its effect on our brain and mental well-being.
Developing a Healthier Relationship with Food
While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers ways to improve eating habits regarding weight management, the tips they offer can be effective in helping anyone improve their eating habits to enhance their overall mental and physical well-being. They recommend:
- Observe and identify your eating habits.
- Highlighting the practices that may be causing you the most distress.
- Identifying any triggers that may be driving these unhealthy eating habits.
- Begin slowly changing these habits in a way that can initiate change to your overall food consumption.
To learn more about improving eating habits, you should feel free to read more on the CDC’s website. However, we encourage you to read with caution. You may have to find what works best for you. If you are currently struggling with your relationship with food and its effect on your mental and emotional well-being, you should consult a medical or psychological professional. Too many changes too fast can also harm any treatment or recovery you have already made.
If developing a better relationship with food is a goal you have set for yourself, the Lakehouse may be able to help thanks to our counselors and the work they will do with you during individual therapy and relapse prevention programs. If you are looking for more resources, we encourage you to reach out.
An unhealthy relationship with food is something that many people struggle with, regardless of their history with mental health. There is a very fine line between living a healthy and nutritious lifestyle and becoming dangerously fixated on what we eat, how much we eat, how much we gain, and how we look. These dangerous fixations can often lead to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and continually increased depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Developing a healthier relationship with food is vital for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. By being mindful of what we put into our bodies, we can make the changes needed to live a healthier life. That doesn’t mean it should control every second of our lives, however. If you are struggling with your relationship with food and mental health, we encourage you to find resources and get help. Reach out to Lakehouse Recovery at (877) 762-3707 today and find hope.