Most people have heard the phrase “you are what you eat.” However, we often associate that with how food relates to our physical health. Let’s face it, if you eat nothing but cheeseburgers all day every day, it’s going to affect everything from your weight to your heart health.
However, there’s a unique relationship between what you eat and your mental health, as well.
Food is used as fuel for your body. While it can power you through everything from a tough workout to a long day at the office, it can also cause you to feel sluggish and worn down – physically and mentally.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how food can impact your mental health and how you can change your nutritional habits to fight fatigue.
What Does Food Have to Do With Mental Health?
When you think about your daily diet, you probably think about how it impacts you from a physical standpoint. If you eat a large ice cream sundae, you’re probably not going to be able to run a mile immediately afterward. However, have you ever thought about how that same sundae could be affecting your mental well-being?
Certain foods can cause major fluctuations in everything, from your mood to your ability to focus. Some foods can even have an impact on your mental well-being and may fuel symptoms of depression or anxiety. When you aren’t able to focus, and your energy is being used on anxious thoughts or feelings of hopelessness, it’s easy to feel both mentally and physically fatigued. Some of the worst foods for your mental health include
- Refined sugar
- Trans fats
- Highly-processed foods
Alternatively, eating a consistently healthy diet can improve your mental well-being. Studies have shown that eating healthy can reduce your risk of depression by 25-35% compared to diets high in sugar and highly processed foods.
The Food-Fatigue Connection
Now that you know food can affect your mental health, it’s likely easier to see why it might cause you to feel fatigued. One of the most common symptoms of depression is fatigue, and if you’re not fueling your body with the right things, it won’t run as efficiently as it should. Think about filling your car’s gas tank up with mud rather than gasoline. Chances are, it wouldn’t run at all, but even if it did for a while, it would be sluggish and slowly start to break down from the inside out.
The same can be said for the kind of fuel you put in your body.
You might not even realize which foods are specifically causing fatigue, so something like a food journal to track what you eat each day can make a big difference. Some of the common culprits typically include
- White bread
- Baked goods
- Potato chips or other processed “snack” foods
Even if you’re eating relatively healthy, your chronic fatigue could be caused by food sensitivities. Some people are just as fatigued by fruits and vegetables as they are by foods high in sugar. If you feel like you’re eating healthily and you’re still mentally and physically exhausted each day, consider talking to your doctor about food allergies or sensitivities.
Additionally, consider talking to your doctor or a mental health professional if you feel you have an unhealthy relationship with food. Disordered eating, including anorexia nervosa, not only leads to fatigue but can cause insomnia, making it hard to perform daily physical activities, and causing problems with your mental health, focus, and concentration.
How to Have a Healthier Relationship With Food
So, if you “are what you eat,” what can you do to ensure both your body and mind are getting what they need from your daily diet?
Start by focusing on a healthier diet, overall, rather than restricting yourself from things you love or only eating certain foods. When you look at the big picture of your health, it’s easier to create a well-rounded diet plan that allows you to get the nutrients you need to properly fuel your mind and body.
If you’re not sure where to get started, use the USDA’s updated food pyramid as a guideline. However, keep in mind that everyone’s nutritional needs are different. Talking to your doctor or a nutritionist can help you come up with a personalized diet plan and is a great preventative health practice. Taking charge of your health, including what you eat, can help to improve your bone and joint health, decrease the likelihood of chronic conditions, and even boost your life expectancy while giving you more energy and improving your mental well-being.
You don’t have to deprive yourself of foods you love to beat mental fatigue. However, if you’ve noticed that you’re physically and mentally exhausted each day and you’re not sure why, it’s time to take a look at how you’re fueling your body. With a few simple changes, you can help to fight fatigue by giving your body and brain what they need to run efficiently and effectively.