The link between diet and depression

By Diet, Food, Food for thought, Health, Mental Health
“In Australia, it’s estimated that 45 percent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.”   Beyond Blue


The impact of depression on both a personal and global level is hugely significant and far-reaching. Today, treatment options for depression include various medication prescribed by a doctor, various forms of therapy and self-care.

A recent article from Harvard Medical School detailed an overlooked aspect of self-care – diet. Diet and lifestyle factors have an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, and mental health disorders, including depression, yet we sometimes pay more attention to medications and therapy as the go-to solutions for mental health outcomes [1].



We can see that diet impacts every aspect of our health and in particular, our mental health. So, we need to sit up and take notice! It isn’t merely about recovery but also prevention, and working towards living the best life you possibly can.

The 20th Century has seen our world, and subsequently, our eating habits change rapidly. From the introduction of high fructose corn syrup to processed and sugary foods being more readily available, we can see a sharp decline in the consumption of good-quality, nutrient-dense, natural, whole foods. We are living a fast-life with fast-food becoming a norm. Rushed eating, readily available (cheaper) processed options and an unawareness of the impact of a healthy diet have led to this growing reliance on fast-food.



Several recent research analyses examining multiple studies support this link between diet and the risk of depression.


“A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.” [2]


The impact of diet can impact more than just the individual. A recent study of more than 20,000 mothers and their children found that the children of mothers who ate an unhealthier diet during their pregnancy had a higher level of behaviours that are linked to mental disorders.

It is essential to view diet as a key element in the prevention of mental illness.


Remember to:


–  Eat an abundance of fruits, veggies, whole grains (in unprocessed form), seeds and nuts.

–  Add in some lean proteins like fish and unsweetened yoghurt.

–  Avoid added sugars or flours (like bread, baked goods, cereals, and pasta).

–  Minimise animal fats and processed meats.


Remember moderation and quality are essential!



Check out Harvard ‘Health Dietary Styles‘ for further reading.

Make small changes – Get big results

By Food, Health, Meditation, movement


“People can achieve remarkable changes in their lives one small step at a time. The day-to-day choices you make influence whether you maintain vitality as you age or develop life-shortening illnesses and disabling conditions like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke.”
Edward M. Phillips, Director of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine, Harvard Medical School.

With small changes to your daily routine, you can achieve lasting, dramatic results. Some of us know what we have to do to improve our health… but still, we don’t take action. Why is this? A special health report from Harvard Medical School explains why.

The study showed that it took on average 66 days for an action to become automatic (a habit). This is a good point to remember when adopting a new behaviour – it doesn’t happen overnight.



Below are the 7 tips from Edward Phillip’s article ‘Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A Practical, Easy Guide for Healthy, Happy Living’ (2010):


–  Dream BIG: this is inspiring to those around you!

–  Break big dreams into smaller steps towards success: bite off manageable chunks

–  Understand why you should or shouldn’t make a change: what is holding you back?

–  Commit yourself: make written/verbal promises to friends/family or publicly (there’s nothing like a public Facebook declaration to help you stick to your goals!)

–  Give yourself a medal: health changes are often incremental so celebrate your small successes along the way! * Tip: download the app ‘attaboy!!’ for a little confidence boost.

–  Learn from the past: when things don’t work as planned take a moment to think about why… then congratulate yourself for having taken that step in the first place.

–  Be thankful for what you’ve done: even if you don’t quite reach your goal – give yourself a pat on the back because you attempted it and that means you’re on the road to change.



What happens when you hit a wall, run off course, fall off that wagon?


 These suggestions will point you in the right direction:

–  Always have a plan: don’t rely on ‘winging it’, have an action plan and stick to it.

–  Set off at a reasonable pace: Avoid injuries by going at a careful pace and slowly implementing new exercise.

–  Envision a happy outcome: rather than a mantra of “I must meditate everyday” (which, lets face it, could lead to disappointment if you fall off course). Instead, look at things through a positive frame:  “meditating everyday makes me feel calmer”

–  Expect lapses: embrace them as part of the process!

–  Live in the grey zone: Throw away ‘all or nothing’ thinking – don’t let little slip ups snowball. So, if you  eat that piece of chocolate cake, or forget to pack a healthy lunch, just reframe your thinking to simply ‘begin again’ right away, don’t view it as a hall pass to overeat for the rest of the day.

–  Accept full responsibility for making the change: remember that you are the only one who can really motivate ‘you’, so be your own cheerleader… it’s up to you.


Enjoy the process and stay positive. Focus on the things you’ve achieved and the progress you make along the way.



You’ve got this!