Personal narratives connecting nutrition with psychological well-being.
The Faces of Nutritional Psychology is a collection of personal stories written by individuals who have experienced positive shifts in their psychological well-being and mental health in response to improving their dietary intake patterns. Collectively, these written stories inspire and encourage others to improve their own dietary patterns, and their Diet-Mental Health Relationship. We invite you to share with the CNP Community how improvements in your own dietary intake have transformed your mood, behavior, and mental health. Your story will be folded into the ongoing development of the field of Nutritional Psychology; it will help us advocate for future education and policy change, and deepen our collective understanding of how diet can be used to transform the way we feel.
This information is not to be used as medical advice, nor is it to be used as treatment for mental health disorders. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of clinical depression or another mental health disorder, please seek professional help from a licensed mental health professional or physician.
I could drive myself crazy trying to understand the underlying mechanisms of my eating disorder. Whether my unhealthy relationship with food was a symptom or a cause of something greater, I’ll never quite be sure. To be honest, the distinction doesn’t really matter anymore. I’ve come to understand that life isn’t so much about digging into the past as it is about taking responsibility for the present. Still, it blows my mind that as it all began, when I was just a teenager, doctors kept trying to provide me with antidepressants instead of giving me an option that made me feel as if I was in control.
Bulimia inhibited me in every way. It made me not trust myself. It made me isolate myself. It became an identity for me, and yet no one else knew the immense guilt and shame I was struggling with. My mood was all over the place. I think there’s a very odd relationship between bulimia and the reward circuits in the brain that no one really talks about. I started feeling as if my brain must be wired differently from others.
Eventually, I realized I needed help. And while I can’t deny the importance of social support, I ultimately knew that this was something I was going to have to do on my own. That’s when research on meditation emerged, and I was attracted to how it could be used to rewire and support my brain. I wanted to fix my problems from the inside out. Eventually in my search for research-backed answers, I came across the field of Nutritional Psychology. I was automatically intrigued, because this field intuitively made sense to me. I didn’t understand why no one was talking about something as foundational as nutrition when it came to mental health. I wanted to fix the root cause of my mental health, and what better way to do that than by learning about what was actually happening in my body as I ate food?
As I began to understand the mechanisms and metabolic processes underlying how food affects our neurotransmitters, I gained a sense of peace knowing that the food I ate could improve how I was feeling. I mean, it’s science. Learning about the importance of good nutrition has greatly impacted my ability to adapt and evolve. NP developed within me an intrinsic sense of purpose, and really helped me to change my behaviors and cement my recovery. Not only do the foods I consume now help me to live a happier, more fulfilled life, but eating this way — taking responsibility for my mental health in a way that I can control — has given me a greater respect for myself. I respect my brain and body more, I respect food more, I even respect my relationships more — because I know they matter. And as my energy isn’t sapped by the depression and anxiety that accompanied my eating disorder, I feel more connected in every sense — to myself, my purpose, and the world around me. I’m not saying I eat perfectly all of the time — far from it. But I am saying that through NP, I’ve learned to really understand the true value of food. Good nutrition elevates the human experience, and when you take control of your relationship with food, more than anything, you gain quality of life.
My relationship with food has been complicated. I’ve seen food as my reward, enemy, guilty pleasure, fuel, addiction and nourishment. My story highlights that healing involves both the nutritional and psychological aspects of eating.
Beginning in high school, I became really insecure about my body. In my efforts to feel thin, confident and in control, I developed disordered eating thoughts and habits. I deluded myself into thinking that I was trying to be healthy when these patterns were actually very unhealthy. As I fought a mental struggle with food, my body was also fighting a physical struggle with food. The fight was simultaneously in both my head and my gut. I was eventually diagnosed with Celiac disease (an autoimmune reaction triggered by gluten) and a long list of allergies. I had to eliminate gluten, dairy, eggs, corn and several other foods from my diet. Adopting these dietary changes was the crucial first step to experiencing physical healing.
In addition, I still needed healing from a psychological perspective. As necessary as it was for me to adopt a gluten-free/allergen-free lifestyle for my physical health, my mental health issues were somewhat exacerbated by this new diet. At first, the restrictions made me feel deprived and obsessive. Because I couldn’t eat normal cookies, I had no control when given gluten-free cookies. I’d binge to compensate for all the times I couldn’t enjoy what everyone else was eating. Consequently, I’d feel horrible physically and mentally.
The guilt, regret, and self-contempt that surrounded eating also impacted how I saw myself. I never had much confidence in my body, but my restrictive diet reinforced the idea that there was something wrong with it. I believed that I was broken and saw food as the instigator of my illness. I struggled with the thought that if I were normal, healthy and whole, I wouldn’t be getting sick from something that should be nourishing me.
My story climaxed when I finally admitted to myself and others that I struggled with disordered eating. My mental relationship with food was flipped on its head when I began to see my diet as a way to heal my body. I focused on filling my plate with nourishing foods and flooded my body with the nutrients it needed to heal. I also brought my brokenness to prayer, which opened the door to the most transformative healing.
I’m still in the midst of my healing journey, but the more I recognize my psychological issues with eating, the more I experience healing in my relationship with food. The more I learn about honoring my nutritional needs through establishing a healthy daily dietary intake pattern, the more I experience psychological healing in my relationship with food. I’ve learned that health and wholeness is found by honoring this relationship. Yes, my relationship with food is complicated, but that’s because it involves supporting both my physical and psychological being in order to achieve wellness.
Hi there! My name is Danielle and I have learned through personal experience that my food choices greatly impact my mood, behavior, and mental health. When I was younger, I was very overweight. I felt depressed, sad, and grumpy most of my middle school years. Being 200 pounds at just 13 years of age, what I ate was never a concern of mine. However, when I started high school, I knew I wanted to wear a gorgeous dress to prom. This vision motivated me to change the way I ate. I researched and evaluated food labels to see what worked best for me, and after about two years of hard work, I lost about 80 pounds! Not only did my mood change, but I felt more energized and confident than ever before. I continued to eat healthy and have maintained my goal weight over the years. The self-efficacy I gained from changing my diet and losing the weight bled into other areas of my life as well. I never would have thought I would fall in love with running, but I’ve now grown to appreciate all aspects of health — including physical activity. Everyone always asks me where I get my endurance from, and I tell them that the answer is simple. It’s eating the right foods — those high in nutrients — that helps me to not only have the physical stamina, but the mental stamina as well. It really is so simple, but with the toxic food culture and marketing that bombard us everyday, I ended up being misinformed. My entire mindset has greatly improved from changing my diet, and it is because of these improvements in my mental health that I am so passionate about this field.
My experience with how nutrition has impacted my mood and mental health includes not only myself, but my hanai son as well. Throughout my life, I suffered with mental health issues, some of which were treated with various types of therapy modalities — including electroconvulsive therapy. However, when I started to pay attention to how my diet impacted my mood, I made changes to the foods I was consuming, and as a result, my mental health issues improved tremendously. When I informally adopted my son, he was also suffering from mental health issues (he was diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, and Conduct Disorder), and he was prescribed three different psychotropic medications — all at the young age of five years old. While I was in the process of changing both of our diets I was also completing my thesis on ADHD and nutrition. It was during this time that I heard of the Feingold Diet. By eliminating artificial colors, flavorings, sweeteners, preservatives, and some salicylates, his symptoms began to greatly improve. Because of these miraculous changes, we have both continued to follow a healthy meal plan. My son also sees a natural doctor who prescribes him a lot of specific nutrients, and has gotten him off of psychotropic medications. I am amazed at how both of our lives have changed over the past several years as a result of nutrition.