Nutrition and mental health
Andres Carrion | June 2023
Many times, therapists hear clients say that they don’t have time to eat throughout the day. Sometimes it’s because they are tired and want to sleep in and other times it is because they are too busy at work to eat lunch. We may not even realize that we missed a meal, but before we know it, it is dinner time and we have not eaten anything all day. Missing a meal or two may not seem like a big deal, but without any changes, it can create (or exacerbate) an unhealthy relationship with food and a pattern of poor eating habits.
Skipping meals or going excessive periods of time without eating can have many effects on the body. When we skip a meal, our metabolism is lowered. When our metabolism is lowered, our body burns fewer calories which can lead to weight gain. Moreover, skipping meals and poor nutrition can leave people feeling tired and sluggish, and can even cause headaches and poor sleep issues. In addition to these effects of poor nutrition on the body, not eating can also have several effects on our mental health. Research has suggested that poor nutrition and skipping meals can increase our stress levels, aggravate anxious and depressive symptoms, and can even lead to concentration and attention impairments.
There are many steps you can take to improve your energy and mood through nutrition and exercise. The first thing is to make sure that you are eating enough nutritious foods. It is recommended that our meals include:
- a lean protein (e.g., chicken, tofu, beans, Greek yogurt, lean beef)
- a complex carbohydrate (e.g., whole grains, fruits, vegetables)
- a healthy fat (e.g., avocado, hummus, nuts, and fish)
- Healthy snacks (e.g., hummus and peppers or fruit and cottage cheese) in between meals also ensures that we have a sustainable level of energy.
Finally, adopting an “add, don’t restrict” eating mentality can help you maintain healthy nutrition while enjoying the foods that make you happy. For example, if you want to eat a cookie, rather than restricting and not eating the cookie, try incorporating Greek yogurt and fruit along with it.
The second thing to try doing is to incorporate mindful eating practices throughout your meals. Mindful eating includes listening to your body when you are hungry (or full), eating with others at a set time (e.g., having dinner with your partner or roommate at the same time), eating and not multitasking — take time to enjoy your food! Thirdly, incorporating physical activity throughout your week can help you exert energy and relieve stress. Physical activity does not have to be rigorous, it can be a light walk outside, household chores (e.g., sweeping, mopping, washing dishes, and doing laundry), or yoga. The goal of physical exercise is to incorporate more activity in your day which can help you gain energy, decrease stress, and increase mood.
Finally, understanding that physical activity and nutrition are long-term lifestyle changes is one of the most important aspects to consider. These changes involve commitment and dedication to your health and wellbeing. The goal is to make sustainable changes. Start off small, and continue to incorporate things as you become comfortable with them.
While our physical offices are located in South Loop and Lakeview neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois for in-person sessions, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more.