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Mental Health Awareness Month: From a Dietician’s Point of View

Dietician holding orange and barbell in clinic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive effect on people of all ages from around the world. Now, more than ever, it’s important to show compassion so that no one feels like they are alone in their struggles. Mental health awareness month is the time to focus on healing and finding connection. You may not think that mental health and nutrition go hand-in-hand. But mental barriers often get in the way of reaching your goals. Working with a registered dietician (RD) can not only help achieve your goals but allow you to start a conversation you didn’t know you needed.

Mental Health Awareness Month

Nearly one in five US adults live with a mental illness. A mental illness can vary massively from mild to severe. Statistics show that only 44.8% of US adults with mental illness received treatment in 2019.

Since 1949, May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States by organizations like Mental Health America and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). The aim is to raise the awareness of mental health and stop the stigma associated with mental health issues and disorders.

How Mental Health Issues Get in the Way of Reaching Your Goals

Your mental health is essential for your physical health and plays a significant role in your diet and nutrition. When you work with a registered dietitian, there needs to be a trustworthy relationship. Trust gives clients the ability to open up and share barriers that stop them from reaching their goals.

Man shirtless holding weighing machine and fried potatoes winking during mental health awareness month.
Mental Health That Stands In The Way And It Is The Key To Unlocking Your Potential (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Often, these conversations and sessions turn into a long talk that has nothing to do with food or diet. Most of the time, it’s mental health that stands in the way of a client reaching their goals. Whether you’re trying to develop a positive relationship with food, lose weight, or live a healthier and active lifestyle, mental health is key to unlocking your potential.

The Relationship Between Nutrition and Mental Health

Research shows that there is a link between nutrition and mental health. A growing body of evidence suggests that poor diet can worsen disorders such as depression and anxiety. What you eat is closely tied to your mental wellness.

Woman depressed eating chocolate ice cream.
People Struggle With Food Because They Are Struggling With Mental Health Issues (Image Source: Shutterstock)

One review of twenty-one studies found that a healthful diet of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish was linked to a lower risk of depression. On the other hand, a Western-style diet with high consumption of red meat, processed food, and sugar may lead to a higher risk of depression.

The relationship between nutrition and mental health is complex. But many times, people struggle with food because they are struggling with mental health issues, especially when it comes to emotional eating. 

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating means that you find comfort in food to cope with your emotions. So, when you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, you eat to make yourself feel better. Not all of us eat to satisfy physical hunger. It’s common to turn to food for comfort, stress, or reward. Too often, emotional eating involves sugary foods, junk food, and other unhealthy options. It’s easier to reach for some ice cream when you feel stressed or order a pizza if you’re feeling lonely. 

A Nutritionist’s Guide to Understanding – and Stopping – Emotional Eating

When you’re using food to fill your emotional needs, it doesn’t fix the emotional problem. Afterward, not only does your emotional problem remain, but you often feel guilty for overindulging. If you’re eating to feel better, you can end up in a cycle where eating is your primary coping mechanism.

It’s not a problem to occasionally indulge. But when food is your way of coping, it can lead to a whole host of weight-related problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and fatigue. 

By working with an RD you trust, you can have eye-opening conversations that lead to real changes. It’s easy to think that you’re not hitting your goals because of your diet. But without talking about mental health and the barriers that stand in your way, it will always be a struggle. This is because you haven’t addressed the real problem.

How to Manage and Overcome Emotional Eating

When you stop binge eating and using food as a coping mechanism, you can start to feel more in control of what you’re eating. Mental health issues such as depression can significantly suppress hunger in some people. Yet, in others, that constant feeling of sadness can trigger binge eating.

Woman eating breakfast holding croissant depressed.
Mental Health Issues Such As Depression Can Significantly Suppress Hunger In Some People (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Your relationship with food and your mental health can influence eating behaviors. It can turn you into your own worst enemy. To achieve your goals, you need to start having open conversations about mental health. It’s important to understand how mental health barriers can get in the way of eating a healthy diet.

If you struggle to manage your emotions without food, you won’t be able to control your eating habits and choices. Developing healthy lifestyle habits like getting plenty of sleep, regular exercise, and social connections can put you in a stronger position to deal with your emotions positively. You can enjoy food without overindulging and still hit your goals. 

Final Thoughts: Show Compassion and Listen

Whether you are a mental health professional, parent, friend, or boss, you should always consider that people are going through their own struggles. Many people have mental health issues that you don’t know about. The right thing to do is always show compassion and make yourself available to listen to those who need it.

Mental health awareness month is about raising awareness of mental health issues, having conversations, and removing the stigma around getting help. As many people who struggle with nutrition also coexist with mental health issues, having an open and honest conversation with your RD can help you move forward and hit your goals.