Woman is in the fridge for a late night snack looking sad.

Junk Food & Mental Health: What’s the Link?

To someone struggling with mental health issues, it can sometimes feel like there isn’t any link with the physical body whatsoever.

Either on a conscious or subconscious level, many people believe that the mind is totally separate from the body and taking care of one’s body can have little impact on mental grievance.

Mental & Physical Health

There is a link between the mind and body, and it is a shame that more emphasis is not placed on this when we talk about mental health issues.

Mental health problems are very real and debilitating with many varieties of manifestation in our bodies like headaches, body aches, fatigue and so many more. Physical injuries or illness also have mental side effects such as depression and anxiety. Essentially, the food we put into our bodies has a far more powerful effect on us than we realize.

There are a number of different factors that contribute towards mental illnesses, whether it be life experiences, genetics, low self-worth, our environments, our circumstances or our relationships. We are living in an era that is not natural to us; Though we are living longer, the demands placed on us in this modern age are incredibly taxing on the human mind and body.

Rarely are people given the chance to stop and relax; The system of the modern world demands that we are constantly on the go and, as a result, our health suffers for it.

The Temptations of Junk Food

The cycle only gets worse when we feed our bodies with fast, easy, and ‘tasty’ foods – aka junk foods. This is anything processed, high in sugar, and anything else that was not meant for our bodies.

An average person who is constantly on the go needs a quick fix will often turn to junk food, not only because they may not have time to prepare a healthy dish but because junk food provides instantaneous, though temporary, pleasure.

The average person sees about four or five fast-food restaurants on their way to work every morning. Additionally, we are bombarded with cheap deals in supermarkets for pizzas, burgers, French fries, and endless sugary snacks. To top it off, they tend to taste great. It’s a quick, easy fix and it’s one that many people fall victim to, but at the expense of their health, both on a mental and physical level.

Mindy, Body, Processed Foods

Educate Yourself

Information about foods which are good for us is not readily available, at least not in the way that it ought to be. The internet is full of useful information about healthy eating, but consumerism and greed have led to large corporations taking advantage of us on this level. They may not be forcing junk food down our throats, but they manipulate it to such a degree that we feel compelled to put what is bad for us into our bodies.

Fast-food restaurants are littered all over the place; supermarkets often have massive signs with apparently excellent deals for junk foods, compelling you to chuck a few sugary snacks into your basket, even if you hadn’t planned on buying them in the first place; adverts appear on television promoting junk foods. The list goes on.

The Link

Numerous studies have made the link between food and mental health. This study confirms that junk food raises the risk of depression. While depression may have many factors contributing to it, a healthy diet and good exercise regime can help improve the condition. It may not get rid of it entirely, but it can make it more manageable.

This is something that big governments and corporations alike should be tackling with greater zest. Obesity, stress and mental illnesses are heavily affected by what we put into our bodies. The human body is not much different from any one of our appliances that we regularly use in the home in this sense.

If you have a washing machine and you decide to stick a bar of soap in there to wash your clothes, your washing machine isn’t going to run properly and your clothes aren’t going to get washed! If, however, you use liquid detergent which is specific to your washing machine, you’ll have fresh, clean clothes in no time.

The Damage

What difference is there with the human body? Our bodies were not designed to tolerate man-made, processed foods or snacks high in sugar, just as a washing machine was not designed to handle a bar of soap. One of the greatest tragedies is to know that, every day, people slowly kill themselves by feasting on foods that are incompatible with their bodies.

gt; stressful, hectic lives, we seek things that bring us temporary pleasure in order to keep ourselves functioning. Junk food is something that falls into this category. This is why it is so important we see junk food for what it truly is – a slow killer and one that each of us can break free from if we choose to, leading to happier, less stressful lives and a better mental state all-around.

What Foods Can Help Us?

Cutting Out Junk Food

The transition from a junk-food diet to a healthy one can be difficult, but it is doable.

For anyone who struggles with mental illnesses, it must be stressed by professionals and peers alike that diet and exercise can play a profound role in helping them manage them. It is important to remember that junk food may not create mental illness, but it can make mental illness more difficult to deal with than it already is.

The battle with the mind is already challenging enough and anything that can help ease this struggle is certainly worth taking on board.

Cutting out or cutting down on all processed foods and foods high in sugar is key. Berries of all kinds ought to be included in the diet; leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, foods high in fiber such as oats and potatoes with skin on them; lean, organic meats and oily fish for protein and omega-3 fatty acids that have a huge impact on memory loss and depression; nuts, seeds, grains, and quinoa are also highly recommended.

Related Article: Healthy Replacements for Your Favorite Junk Foods

Introducing Probiotics

Probiotics are one type of food that everyone struggling with mental illnesses should incorporate into their diet. Probiotics are live bacteria that help keep your digestive tract happy and healthy, tackling the ‘bad bacteria’ in the body and flushing them out of your system. But probiotics are not only good for the gut system; it is estimated that 90% of serotonin – the happiness chemical - is made in the digestive tract.

By keeping our digestive tract happy, we can then keep our minds happy too. Probiotics can be consumed in the form of kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, live yogurt, miso soup, kombucha, gouda cheese, and green peas. Many of these you may have difficulty finding on your supermarket shelves, but all health and wellness or wholefood stores sell them.

Treat Yourself to Superfoods

Superfoods of all kinds, whether it’s raw cacao nibs or mulberries, likewise contribute to a happier, healthier mind and body. In terms of drinks, alcohol and coffee are advised against – instead, herbal teas, green teas, white teas, yellow teas and at least eight glasses of spring water are recommended.

Of course, changing the diet is only one factor when tackling mental health. We need love on all levels, not just love for our bodies – love from others and for others, love for ourselves, love for the world around us. But loving our bodies so they can help us function and become the best of ourselves is crucial to our overall well-being. Yes, you can treat yourself to the odd ‘sugary’ snack every now and again, but don’t let it dictate your entire diet.

Learn more about superfoods here: 5 Best Superfoods to Promote Peaceful Inner Energy

Making a Change

Making little changes here and there can make an enormous change in the long term; over time, the effects of a positive diet can be seen clearly both on a mental and physical level. There is no reason why we cannot make these changes for ourselves, nor why we need to be slaves to consumerism.

Taking our diets into our own hands and making decisions that are best for our mental and physical well-being will eventually result in greater mental and physical health. Hopefully, with time and greater education on the subject, society will prioritize health and well-being over mass consumerism and we will see the effects of healthy eating on our societies, not just on an individual level.

Do you connect eating to stress? More of us do this than you think! Try reading Emotional Eating: Why You Do It & How To Stop.
Sarah Brownlee

Sarah Brownlee

Having worked as a teacher, a bartender, and even a private investigator, writing was something Sarah Brownlee just fell into, even though it had been her passion since she was a little girl. To date, she has written and published 3 Children and Young Adult fiction novels, ghostwritten for others, and... Read More

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