From weight loss and weight maintenance (1;2) to chronic disease prevention and management (3-9), what we put into our bodies plays a role in “shaping” our physical health. The benefits of eating a healthy and well-balanced diet for physical wellness are widely recognized (1-9). Sticking to a healthy diet, however, can be challenging even under the most normal of circumstances. Add an unexpected pandemic into the mix and this goal may seem even farther away!
Think about it like this: when we’re happy, we often gather around food to celebrate; when we’re sad or worried, we sometimes turn to food for comfort; and when we’re bored, eating or cooking can give us something to do to pass the time. These are just a few examples to highlight how our eating behaviours can be influenced by our emotions.
Given that boredom, feelings of sadness, worry, and stress are trademarks in times of crisis, like the current global pandemic (10), it should come as no surprise that along with mental well-being, diet may also be impacted. That brings us to the big question…should folks be paying attention to their diet in this already difficult time? We can look to a recent systematic review, which delved deeper into whether improving diet can impact mental well-being, for insight (11).
What the research tells us
The review examined a variety of different dietary strategies that focused on cutting down on fat intake and increasing healthy nutrients, for example. The studies within the review mostly included people who reported a low mood but didn’t have a diagnosis of depression or anxiety. Overall, it appears that dietary strategies may result in small improvements in mental well-being, and in particular, mood. However, no effect is seen on anxiety. Although the findings are an encouraging first step, there were large differences between the studies included within the review. As a result, more research is needed to establish which dietary components and features are best for enhancing mental well-being, and to inform the development of effective strategies (11).
Given the established physical health benefits (1-9) and emerging evidence around mental well-being (11), it doesn’t hurt to reflect on your diet and perhaps how it has changed over the past several months in response to the pandemic. Remember to not be too hard on yourself, these are trying times and it’s never too late to start focusing on your well-being. This self-reflection exercise may increase your awareness of areas where adjustments can be made or where support can be sought. Reaching out to a health professional, such as a registered dietitian, is always a good place to start. Together you can collaborate on an individualized plan that works best for you.
Don’t know how to connect with a dietitian? Here are some tips:
Reach out to your primary health care provider for help with a referral.
Visit the Dietitians of Canada website for a list of helpful resources.
Do some research into services offered by grocery store chains or pharmacies in your area. Some are now providing dietitian services online or by phone.