Dieting is more often than not undertaken by those looking to improve their physical health. Losing weight and eating healthy has a plethora of well-known physical benefits, including reducing the risk of deadly diseases like heart disease and strokes, but how does it affect your mental health?
It’s well known that exercising releases endorphins which boosts mood and reduces the chances of a person suffering from anxiety and/or depression, but what you eat can also have an impact on your mood, too. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that poor diets may worsen a person’s mood, whilst healthy diets may counteract some of the effects of anxiety and depression, therefore bettering a person’s mood.
People who eat a diet lacking in vitamin B12 are likely to suffer from fatigue and memory loss, but they may also be more susceptible to suffering from depression. Vegetables and olive oil-based diets like the Mediterranean diet were also found to ward off mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. That being said, eating chocolate has been found to release endorphins.
A poor diet typically leads to obesity, and whilst this may seem like purely a physical health issue, it’s uniquely intertwined with mental health. Studies have shown that people who are clinically obese are 55% more likely to suffer with and be diagnosed with depression at some point in their life. It’s also thought that people who are diagnosed as depressed are 58% more likely to be clinically obese further down the line. The reasons for this are largely unknown, although many people who are depressed cite comfort eating and staying indoors as calming factors. Overeating and lack of physical activity can lead to obesity. On the flip side, those who are obese may experience fatphobia and feel insecure about their appearance, as well as experiencing feelings of being ashamed and blaming themselves which can lead to depression.
This research – stark as it is – indicates that those who eat balanced, moderated meals and who undertake regular physical activity are less likely to become depressed and/or obese, or vice versa.
Dieting can have an impact on a person’s mental health beyond avoiding a clinical diagnosis. For many people, it’s a way to improve their cognitive function and then some. A good example of this comes in the form of the Muslim custom of Ramadan. There are many religious reasons behind observing Ramadan (click here to find out more), but one of the other reasons is that those who successfully complete the fast show great will power and self-discipline. The benefits of this extend far beyond just food; self-control and discipline can be applied to almost every aspect of your life, be it at home or at work.
Sticking to a healthy diet, no matter how hard, will allow you to prove to yourself that you can do what you set your mind to, and this can result in greater self-esteem, confidence and belief in yourself. This, in turn, betters your emotional wellbeing and sets you up for habitually making better decisions about your health which will, inevitably, serve your physical health further down the line.
It’s important to note that whilst many people can and do diet freely, the urge to be in control may arise and an unhealthy attitude towards food may develop, in which case a person may be diagnosed with an eating disorder, so whilst dieting generally has a positive effect on your mental health, it can have a negative impact, too.
That being said eating well through dieting can enhance your mental health and set you up for positive lifestyle changes in the future.