The field of psychology helps us to explore our inner workings as individuals, including our emotions, feelings, motivations, values, culture, and experience. The field of nutrition helps us explore the effects of diet and nutrients on our physical health. In relation to psychology, nutrition helps us to understand how what we eat influences how we feel – including our emotions, moods, sensations, motivations, and experiences.
Mental health professionals already address the psychological, cognitive, and behavioral components leading to positive mental health. Nutritionists already address the effects of diet leading to positive physical health. Nutritional Psychology is the field of study examining the interdependent relationship between dietary intake and psychological experiences and informs our understanding of the Diet-Mental Health Relationship (DMHR).
A plethora of research exhibits the interconnections between dietary intake and all aspects of psychological functioning, yet these findings lack a unified, evidence-based home. Professionals including psychologists, therapists, nutritionists, psychiatrists, physicians, and allied health professionals, as well as students majoring in the psychological and nutrition sciences, have limited access to education and awareness in this evidence base. Accordingly, today’s mental healthcare system is ill-equipped to apply these findings to effect positive change in the global mental health landscape.
CNP exists to fill this void. We are consolidating the world’s research in all aspects of the DMHR and using it to inform the development of concepts, methods, language, and tools for placement within the education and training system for mental health and nutrition professionals. We are working towards advancing the establishment of a nutritional component within mental healthcare by 2030.
Advancing our understanding of the Diet-Mental Health Relationship (DMHR)
The field of Nutritional Psychology is interdisciplinary and draws from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, nutrition, physiology, food science, and education to build a framework for developing a more comprehensive understanding of the Diet-Mental Health Relationship (DMHR). This framework allows us to gain awareness of the complex and interrelated role that food, nutrients, and dietary intake patterns play in shaping our psychological experiences, processes, and functions.
The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction
Connecting what we eat with how we feel
Examining the role that family, culture, community, society, and socioeconomic status play in relationship to our dietary-nutrient intake patterns
The relationship between our dietary-nutrient intake patterns and our psychological moods, emotions and affect (e.g., resilience, flourishing, creativity, negativity)
The relationship between our dietary intake patterns and resulting thoughts, emotions, and interoceptive experiences that influence our behaviors, reactions, and choices (e.g., increased reactive behavior or changed dietary behavior patterns)
NP is applied and uses findings from research, combined with innovative education, to increase awareness of the psychological, behavioral, cognitive, sensory-perceptual, interoceptive, and psychosocial aspects of nutrition as they relate to mental 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 core 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. Each of these influences must be addressed to achieve wellness.
NP is also aligned with principles of whole health — the emerging transformational approach to health and wellbeing that empowers and equips people to take charge of their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, and live their lives to the fullest.
Evidence for a link between diet and mental health is consistently growing. Research demonstrates that diet plays an important role in the mental health of individuals and societies around the globe. The essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients found in whole, unprocessed foods support the body’s biochemical and physiological processes. These processes have changed little over time, yet our dietary intake patterns have shifted considerably towards a Westernized “Standard American Diet.”
As the gap between our body’s physiological needs and our dietary intake patterns widens, the importance of considering nutrition as a piece of the puzzle in the world’s mental health crisis continues to grow. The Center for Nutritional Psychology (CNP) exists to address this need through unifying research efforts related to the Diet-Mental Health Relationship, developing formal curriculum to support individuals in understanding this relationship, and advocating for the training of students and professionals in the field of Nutritional Psychology.
Our five Nutritional Psychology research libraries house links to nearly 3,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies and publications informing the Diet-Mental Health Relationship (DMHR). This multidisciplinary research demonstrates the far-reaching effects our dietary intake has on all aspects of our psychological health and well-being. It illustrates that not only can nutrition play a role in our psychological, cognitive, sensory-perceptual, interoceptive, and psychosocial health, but that improvements in dietary intake can result in positive mental health outcomes.
Using Nutritional Psychology research, we are working towards a singular lens through which we can all view the Diet-Mental Health Relationship (DMHR) and in doing so, better prepare our health professionals to accommodate the world’s evolving needs.