A factor that greatly impacts our well-being is the food we eat, and not only the food we eat, but the mental conversation we have with ourselves before, during, and after eating it.
It’s obvious how eating healthy foods affects our physical health but maybe less obvious how it impacts our mental health.
Let me give you an example: Laney is at her best friend’s birthday party, and everyone is eating a delicious-looking chocolate cake. As Laney reaches for a piece of the decadent cake she thinks, “I shouldn’t eat this.” She takes her first bite and immediately falls into the inevitable dopamine rush that you’re probably feeling just by reading about chocolate cake. She finishes and thinks, “I’ve gotta go extra hard in the gym tomorrow to burn all this off, but man that cake was so yummy.”
Meanwhile, her best friend had opened the thoughtful gift that Laney had brought for her. And was now up and dancing to 22 by Taylor Swift, celebrating her birthday with her girlfriends. Laney had missed it. She was lost in her guilt and couldn’t fully appreciate the special moment. She danced hard, but mostly to burn off her cake, not out of joy for her best friend.
Laney could’ve made a different choice. When she thought, “I shouldn’t eat this” a choice is presented, she could choose to believe that thought or challenge it. If she would’ve challenged it, she could’ve thought, “No, that’s a lie, there is nothing inherently bad about this cake. I am not a better or worse person for choosing to eat this. I’m going to enjoy this moment, and not punish myself for celebrating.”
In this scenario, the thoughts had no power anymore. She gave her best friend a big hug after she opened her gift and when 22 came up Laney was the first one on her feet–laughing and smiling, because she was free.
Over the past three years, the conversation around mental health has grown exponentially. The pandemic was a hard time for many as we experienced isolation and realized through the lack of it how important social interactions are for a healthy mind. A study done by a group of doctors found ties between quality of life and the likelihood of contracting diseases.  We know how important our mental health is to experience a fulfilling life. It’s so easy to justify thoughts that moralize food because, objectively, one food may be more nutrient dense than another. But we must take into account the way those moralizing thoughts affect our mental health. This line is easily blurred in the one-ended, silent conversation we have with ourselves.
In reality, the thoughts we think while eating are probably much more subtle and beneath the surface than this example, but they are there. Every single time we eat we have the choice to not only fuel our bodies but also our minds. We are either feeding our minds healthy thoughts or destructive ones.
Mental health is so important when it comes to our quality of life. You have the power to choose your lunch, and maybe more importantly, your thoughts.
Some Helpful resources:
Defar, S., Abraham, Y., Reta, Y., Deribe, B., Jisso, M., Yeheyis, T., Kebede, K. M., Beyene, B., & Ayalew, M. (2023). Health related quality of life among people with mental illness: The role of socio-clinical characteristics and level of functional disability. Frontiers in Public Health, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2023.1134032
Chocolate Cake. Photo by Marcus Spiske on Pexels.
Counseling Talks. Counselors and other mental health professionals can help you take back power over your thoughts. Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.