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How You Can Be More Mindful At Meals And Improve Your Mental Health

Eating well allows us to look and feel our best. What we’re not always taught is that good nutrition is linked to our mental health. Nourishing our bodies with a healthy, well-balanced diet can assist us in thinking clearly and feeling more alert in our day-to-day lives.

On the other hand, an inadequate diet can lead to tiredness, impaired decision-making, and may lead to stress and low mood.

Why The Eating Competence Model Boosts Your Mental Health

white bowl on table filled with avocado, cherry tomatoes, yellow pepper, lettuce, sweet potato, chickpeas, cress

The way we eat is individual yet rooted in beliefs and attitudes we have learned throughout the life cycle. The Eating Competence model is a new paradigm that introduces nutrition education and dietary guidance that considers four components: eating attitude, food acceptance, regulation of food intake, and eating context (1). Eating attitudes explore the notion we create a relationship with our food and creates harmony with what we eat and food desires and needs. Food acceptance is that enjoyment acts as a primary motivator in food selection; thus nutritional excellence is supported by a variety of food (2). Regulation of food intake emphasizes the importance of nurturing our relationship with food, listening to our hunger cues. Eating context gives us the authority to structure and meal plan, it builds on our ability to be intentional with our mental health. Eating well can boost our mental health.

How Can You Stop Stress And Depression By Eating Balanced Meals?

Highly processed foods can lead to inflammation throughout the body and brain, which may contribute to mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. In times when we are most stressed or depressed, we often reach for processed foods (3). We tend to eat either too much or too little during the difficult seasons of life and this cycle is dangerous, but it can be overcome.

To boost your mental health, focus on eating fruits and vegetables with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, for example, salmon. Dark leafy greens have brain-protective qualities. Nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans and lentils) nourish our brain health. It is well established that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can be effective in fighting depression (4). Our diet and nutrition can be used as a part to strategically manage the prevention of mood disorders.

How To Eat Your Way to A Healthy Gut

The age-old saying “you are what you eat” rings true as researchers have been following the connection between our intestinal tract and brain. The vagus nerve is what links our gut to our brain and the two communicate. The gut can influence emotional behaviour in the brain and the brain can also alter the type of bacteria living in the gut (5).

According to the American Psychological Association, gut bacteria produce an array of neurochemicals that the brain uses for the regulation of physiological and mental processes, including mood (6). Serotonin, a mood stabilizer is produced by gut bacteria, and to keep our guts happy we can improve poor dietary habits.

How Mindful Eating Is Helpful To Add Into Your Routine

How you feel when you eat, and what you eat is an important first step to creating well-balanced meals and snacks. If you find that overeating or undereating happens when stressed, it may be helpful to stop what you’re doing when the sensation to eat arises and assess the emotion attached to the feeling. By pausing you may discover what bothers you. If you tend to under-eat, it might help to schedule five or six smaller meals as opposed to three larger ones.

Nutrition Is Important For Your Body - But Even More For Your Brain

famers market with boxes of artichokes, carrots, spinach, cabbage

Your brain and nervous system have high metabolic and nutrient needs. The brain consumes about 20% of a person’s daily intake, approximately 400 calories per day (7). In addition to the balance of fat intake, your body requires a variety of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals (8). The top foods you should incorporate into your diet should include complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and fatty acids. Complex carbohydrates include brown rice and starchy vegetables. They allow you to feel satisfied longer and add nutritional value to your diet. Lean proteins give us the fuel for thinking and reacting, good sources are chicken, meat, fish eggs, soybeans, nuts, and seeds. Fatty acids are crucial for brain and nervous system function, they are found in fish, meat, eggs, nuts, and flaxseeds. Registered dietitian nutritionists suggest eating meals and snacks that include a variety of foods to support your mental health.

Healthy Eating Made Practical For Your Daily Routine

  • Develop a healthy shopping list and stick to it (9).

  • Don’t shop while hungry, since you’ll be more apt to make unhealthy impulse purchases.

  • Think about where and when you eat. Don’t eat in front of the television, which can be distracting and cause you to overeat. Instead, find a place to sit, relax and notice what you’re eating. Chew slowly. Savour the taste and texture.

  • Consume plenty of healthy fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado. This will support your brain function (10).

  • Have a healthy snack when hunger strikes, such as fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, baked sweet potatoes, or edamame. This will give you more energy than packaged products.

This article was written by Mia Moorehead Ramdon, MCN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Licensed Dietitian and edited by Mei Wan ​FdSc, BSc (Hons), RD, MBDA, an HCPC Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist.

Mia is based in Dallas, Texas, U.S.A. and is part of Mei Wan's Nutrition and Health Writer Volunteer Team.

Contact Mia on LinkedIn.

Would you like to find out more about mindful eating? Still trying to fight emotional eating on your own? Book your free 15 minute discovery call with Mei to find out how she can help!


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  2. Satter E. Eating competence: nutrition education with the Satter Eating Competence Model. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007;39(5 Suppl): S189-94. [accessed January 2021 via]

  3. M, P C-B, Mb S. Inflammatory dietary pattern and risk of depression among women [published correction appears in Brain Behav Immun [Internet]. Vol. 36. 2015. p. 09 014. [accessed January 2021 via]

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  8. Gómez-Pinilla F. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008;9(7):568–78. [accessed January 2021]

  9. Skerrett PJ, Willett WC. Essentials of healthy eating: a guide. J Midwifery Women's Health. 2010;55(6):492–501 [accessed January 2021 via]

  10. Chianese R, Coccurello R, Viggiano A, Scafuro M, Fiore M, Coppola G, et al. Impact of dietary fats on brain functions. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2018;16(7):1059–85. [accessed January 2021 via]


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