What is Nutritional Psychology?

Nutritional Psychology is the area of study that examines the relationship between our dietary intake patterns and our mood, behavior, and mental health. Mental health professionals already address the psychological, cognitive, psychosocial, and behavioral knowledge that contribute to positive mental health, but our current model is not considering dietary intake patterns as a contributor to the rise in mental health issues around the globe.

Facilitating psychological skills and intrinsic motivation, not prescribing diets

Nutritional Psychology involves guiding individuals through a process that develops their perceptual, cognitive, and psychological skills to better understand how their dietary intake patterns may be contributing to the way they feel. The aim of this process is to shift their awareness towards the importance of making food choices supportive of their mental health. Should the need for intervention or diagnosis arise during this process, individuals can be directed to seek help from a qualified healthcare provider.

Nutritional Psychology is interdisciplinary and applied

The field of Nutritional Psychology is interdisciplinary and draws from the disciplines of psychology, nutrition, and education to develop a conceptualized framework for understanding the diet-mental health relationship (DMHR). This framework not only provides a lens through which we can view this relationship, but allows for the creation of a methodology needed to support the development of the field.

NP is applied and uses findings from research, combined with innovative education, to increase awareness of the psychological, behavioral, cognitive, perceptual, and psychosocial aspects of diet related to mental health. To develop a better understanding of how these elements relate to our dietary intake patterns, place your mouse over each term in the diagram below.


Examining the role that family, culture, community, society, and socioeconomic status play in determining our dietary intake patterns


Examining the relationship between our dietary intake patterns and our feelings, moods, and emotions


Developing an awareness of the relatively predictable dietary behaviors we present in response to consuming a western dietary pattern, i.e., ‘cabinet surfing' at night


Developing awareness of the physical and mental sensations we experience in response to our dietary intake patterns (discomfort, fatigue, energy, and calm)


Using our mental processes (attention, problem solving, and memory) to gain insight into how the foods we eat affect our mental health

Nutritional Psychology meets a growing need...

Evidence for a link between diet and mental health is emerging. Research is demonstrating that diet is playing an increasingly important role in the mental health of individuals and societies around the globe. The essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients found in whole, unprocessed foods play a significant role in supporting the body's internal biochemical and physiological processes. These processes have changed little over time, yet our dietary intake patterns have changed considerably towards a Westernized “Standard American Diet”.

As the gap widens between our body’s physiological needs and our Western dietary intake patterns, the importance of considering diet as a piece of the puzzle in the world's mental health crisis continues to grow. CNP exists to address this need through unifying research efforts relating to the diet-mental health relationship, developing formalized curriculum to support individuals in understanding this relationship, and advocating for the training of students and professionals in the field of NP.

The CNP Global and Parent Resource Libraries house hundreds of peer-reviewed research studies that collectively demonstrate the far-reaching effects our dietary intake patterns have on all aspects of our mental health. These studies illustrate that not only can dietary intake patterns play a role in our psychological, cognitive, perceptual, and psychosocial functioning, but that improvements in dietary intake can support well-being and lead to more positive mental health outcomes.

The field of Nutritional Psychology seeks to unify efforts in these areas by constructing a singular lens through which we view the diet mental health relationship (DMHR), and in doing so, better preparing mental health professionals to accommodate the world’s evolving mental healthcare needs.


Nutritional Psychology is aligned with principles of Integrative Health

Nutritional Psychology is aligned with the principles of integrative health, and is an avenue for mental health providers to further participate in the integrative health movement.

Integrative health is the movement in healthcare towards a holistic, patient-centered approach. This movement’s primary objective involves treating the patient as a whole person, rather than just a constellation of symptoms. The principle philosophy of this movement is that each patient represents a unique, complex and interwoven set of influences that affect the intrinsic functionality of that individual. Thus, each of these influences must be addressed to achieve wellness.

Nutritional Psychology Curriculum

Self-education tools to empower mental health professionals

Nutritional Psychology FAQ

Is there a difference between the fields Nutritional Psychology and Nutritional Psychiatry?

Yes. While the research informing these two fields often overlaps, Nutritional Psychology and Nutritional Psychiatry are different but complimentary (as are the fields of Psychology and Psychiatry). Nutritional Psychology examines the relationship between our daily dietary intake patterns and their relationship to our psychological, behavioral, cognitive, perceptual and psychosocial experience. We refer to this relationship as the “diet mental health relationship” and believe that this relationship is an important contributor to our mental health and sense of well-being.

Is NP part of the discipline of psychology or nutrition?

NP is an interdisciplinary field that spans the fields of psychology, nutrition, and education. NP is aligned with principles of integrative health, and the newly emerging healthcare approach referred to as ‘whole health’.

Is Nutritional Psychology evidence-based?

Nutritional psychology uses evidence-based research to inform and guide the development of the field, but the specific tools, methods and concepts used in Nutritional Psychology education have not yet been validated through research. The APA approved continuing education courses in Nutritional psychology have been taught to mental health professionals, nurses, educators, counselors, and veterans with positive feedback and results.

Does Nutritional Psychology involve treatment or intervention?

NP does not involve treatment, intervention, or cure. Rather, it combines information in nutrition science with psycho-educational tools to build an individual’s internalized awareness of how the foods they are consuming contribute to the way they feel. This process advocates for an internalized shift in one’s understanding of the benefits of eating for nutritive value, rather than for convenience and impulse. In doing so, NP aims to bypass some of the failure-prone demands associated with navigating the western diet (i.e., willpower and control). Nutritional Psychology is designed to be complimentary and in addition to standard medical interventions and treatments supportive of mental health.

Can Nutritional Psychology cure illness and mental disorders?

NP is not designed to treat or cure mental illness, nor is it designed to replace therapeutic interventions by professionals trained to intervene in mental health disorders, illness or mental crises. NP is designed to guide individuals through an educational process that increases their awareness of the effects that their daily dietary intake patterns are having on their mood, sense of well-being, and mental health. This educational process provides a piece of the puzzle for supporting mental health, but is never to be used as a substitute for psychiatric or medical interventions. If you or someone you know are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please seek medical attention immediately. Nutritional Psychology cannot be used to cure or treat mental illness and clinical disorders.

How can I become a “Nutritional Psychologist”?

There is no formal title of “Nutritional Psychologist” in existence today. CNP has been working to develop the specialty of Nutritional Psychology, and advocate for its use in the future of mental healthcare. We have been developing the educational curriculum for students and mental health professionals, methods, concepts and tools to inform the field, and practice guidelines and standards for certification and licensure in Nutritional Psychology Education.

Can I contribute to the development of the field of NP?

CNP welcomes contributors with professional education and/or experience in NP-related areas to contribute to the development of the field. If you are interested in a volunteer position, write us at info@nutritional-psychology.org.

Where can I get formal education in Nutritional psychology?

CNP developed the first university-based curriculum in Nutritional Psychology for the Continuing Education (CE) program at John F. Kennedy University in 2008. This program evolved over the last 12 years to include a 7-course, online certificate program provided to mental health professionals, educators, dietitians, health coaches, and interested individuals.

In 2020, the authors of the JFK certificate elected to remove this long-standing program to make way for vastly updated course content and evolved methodology in the field of Nutritional Psychology. CNP is working to provide mental health professionals, interested individuals, and other allied health professionals with updated courses in Nutritional Psychology beginning in early 2021.

Is a Certificate in Nutritional Psychology available for mental health professionals?

Yes, however, the current JFKU certificate in Nutritional Psychology is currently being ‘taught out’. This means the authors of the program have decided to phase out the certificate in lieu of developing new and updated curriculum. Only students currently enrolled in the program will be allowed to complete it. The certificate will continue to be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) for psychologists, The California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) for MFT’s, LCSWs, LPCCs & LEPs, and the California Board of Registered Nursing for RNs, until the last student has completed the certificate.

CNP’s new curriculum will be out sometime in early 2021. Check back for updates!