• Robb G. Best

Change Your Food, Change Your Mood?

If you’re looking to bring a change in your psychological state, the answer may be as simple as adjusting your eating habits. So, which diet are we promoting today? Any of them, basically.

Dr Joseph Firth, an Honorary Research fellow at The University of Manchester and Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University, led a recent meta-study. It checked 16 randomized studies encompassing 45,826 people, most of whom had non-clinical depression. In other words, they were bummed out, but not in a way that had been diagnosed as medical.

Each of the 16 studies examined the effects of making various positive dietary changes—less fat, more nutrients, and so on—combined with physical exercise. The surprising thing was that diet-wise, there was no clear winner. Each eating system resulted in improved mental health, even for people who weren’t starting out with diagnosed depression—and this held especially true for women.

It’s heartening news, even if it presents a challenge for individual diet marketers. <<Which healthy eating approach you buy into has less effect than that you buy into one. The bottom line is that, for whatever reason, cutting out the fast food and refined sugars leads to increased happiness.

However, food and emotion are tied together in myriad ways, and while it’s tempting to draw a tidy conclusion from this meta-analysis, even the researchers involved say that further study is needed.

Does loading up on junk food directly affect your brain chemistry, or does the social stigma surrounding “pigging out” result in lowered mood? (Does the nutrition change affect women more because of how their brains are set up, or simply how much more they are taught to value healthy eating and physical appearance?)

Does taking the time to eat a diet of nutrient-rich foods simply lead to a slower, more contemplative lifestyle?

For that matter, one of the causes of depression can be feelings of reduced control. Would following through on any self-improvement plan produce similar results?

Still, while we wait for all the data to come in, it wouldn’t hurt. So the next time you’re feeling low, consider some alternative to eating your feelings: listening to your favorite song, rewatching your favorite movie, partaking in some activity you enjoy, or even putting on headphones and going out for a walk.

Just something to chew on…

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