How a Holistic Nutrition Diet Can Help Your Mental Health
At Native, we believe in a 360-degree approach to improving mental health, and that includes taking care of our bodies with the right nutrients. It’s no secret that science has studied the connection between food and mental health, but what is the impact of a holistic nutrition diet on our mental well-being?
Here, we explore a holistic nutrition diet, how it can be beneficial, and everything else you need to know about this approach.
What is a Holistic Nutrition Diet?
According to the American College of Healthcare Sciences, holistic nutrition can be defined as “the process of taking food into the body and absorbing the nutrients in those foods based on the principle that everything is connected in some way.”
In a nutshell, a holistic nutrition diet requires a whole-life approach. It’s not just about what kinds of foods you eat (though that is important). But there are other areas to focus on like:
When you eat
Where you eat
Where your food comes from
What food you eat
What your relationship with food is like
How stressed are you in the moment
This approach to eating can be tailored to the individual. Whether you’re taking the cultural, philosophical approach or a more specific dietary approach, there are several ways to adopt this practice to help improve your mental health. But the main components to focus on are how there’s a connection between the physical and emotional parts of our bodies and minds.
Eat Whole Foods to Reduce Inflammation
Regardless of how deep you’re going into the mind-body aspect of a holistic nutrition diet, one thing remains the same — it is essential to improve the quality of your food and increase your intake of whole foods.
Multiple studies corroborate the connection between mental health disorders and inflammation in the body. One review of eleven studies concluded that there is “a significant association between a pro-inflammatory diet and increased risk of depression diagnosis or symptoms, relative to those on an anti-inflammatory diet.”
Depression is the central area of focus in these studies, though others have connected to other diagnoses like bipolar disorder and more. Some scientists have even suggested that inflammation in the body triggers depressive symptoms almost as if it's an allergic reaction. Many researchers have said that “nutritional psychiatry approaches” need to be focused on more as the mental health crisis becomes an increasing issue in modern society.
So what should you eat if you’re focusing on anti-inflammatory foods in your holistic nutrition diet? Here are a few go-to items to eat often and regularly:
Green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale, and collards)
Nuts (e.g., almonds and walnuts)
Fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines)
Fruits high in antioxidants (e.g., strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges)
Focus on Your Relationship With Food
Since the holistic nutrition diet also focuses on the whole person and not just the food, it’s essential to take inventory of yourself and your relationship with food. While not everyone suffers from an eating disorder diagnosis specifically, studies show that three out of four American women struggle with some form of disordered eating.
If you’ve struggled with demonizing certain foods, restricting calories as a way to diet or associated guilt or fear with eating, these could be signs that you’ve battled with disordered eating.
These harmful practices can severely affect your mental health, even if you don’t realize it. It is challenging to decipher since mainstream media takes disordered eating practices and normalizes them as viable options.
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you enjoy.
Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.
No foods are off-limits. You can still enrich your diet with anti-inflammatory foods while enjoying other foods in moderation.
Do not obsess over the number on the scale. Eat for wellness. Not for a number.
Do not let other people’s comments or opinions dictate which foods you eat.
Do not feel the need to justify food choices to others. It’s honestly none of their business.
Accept that you are never defined by the foods you eat.
Pay attention to what foods make you feel better and eat more of those.
Calories are never the reason for or focus of your food choices.
Taming stress is a crucial element in the holistic nutrition diet approach. Study after study has found stress to be the culprit of struggles with mental health for so many people. But stress can impact your body physically as well. According to NPR, if you’re dealing with too much pressure, it can quite literally counteract the good that healthy food is trying to do for your body.
One study published in Molecular Psychiatry found that stress caused the same amount of inflammation as eating an inflammatory meal. The study evaluated 58 women to better understand the interaction between diet and anxiety. Participants completed a survey about their current stress levels and then were given two different meals to eat on various days: one was high in saturated fat, and the other was high in plant-based oil.
“If a woman was stressed on a day when she got the healthy meal, she looked like she was eating the saturated fat meal in terms of her [inflammation] responses," said study author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at the Ohio State University. "The stress seemed to boost inflammation.”
When it comes to the causes for gut imbalance, stress is high on the list of factors.
One way to combat stress around mealtimes is to adopt mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is another critical element in the holistic nutrition diet approach.
Here are some simple tips to start practicing mindfulness at your mealtimes to help combat stress:
Eat slowly, so you can taste each bite. Don’t be rushed.
Eliminate distractions like TV shows or mindless phone scrolling.
Pay attention to physical hunger cues and only eat until you’re full
Eat with all your senses and notice your meal’s colors, smells, sounds, textures, and flavors
Find appreciation for the quality of healthy food you’re choosing
Reducing stress overall is essential as well. Practices like yoga, workouts, time with friends, mediation, etc. are great ways to ground yourself throughout the day or before a meal to help.
Need Help Getting Started on Your Holistic Nutrition Diet?
Overhauling your eating habits and lifestyle can seem overwhelming, but the benefits can bring significant improvements to your life and mental health. If it feels confusing and you don’t know where to start, you don’t have to create a holistic nutrition diet alone. There are licensed professionals qualified to help you find the tools you need to get the results you deserve.
If you live in Pennsylvania, Native is here to help. Our team of licensed and experienced professionals offers holistic nutrition diet services to help you tackle your mental health through food and whole-body wellness. Depending on your needs, we also provide other mental health services that can go hand-in-hand with this approach.