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Could diet changes give mental health sufferers a reason to SMILE?

In the wake of COVID, concerns about mental health have increased. From public service announcements, to covid-related Lifeline billboards, and increased “R U OK” campaigns, we are rightfully being asked to check in with ourselves and those around us.

Dietitians have understood a link between diet and mental health for some time now. It makes sense that those who suffer depression may have poorer diet quality. Many people without depression or anxiety find it difficult to make healthy choices, so of course being overly stressed, anxious, or depressed could impact our desire and ability to choose nourishing foods.

Okay, so we know there’s a link between diet and mental health. But if you improve your diet, can this improve your mental health? Yes! A landslide study published in 2017 by Felice Jacka and her team at Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre showed some remarkable outcomes using diet to decrease symptoms of depression.

The SMILEs trial divided people with depression into two groups. Those in the “diet” intervention group met with a dietitian to decrease junk food and increase whole foods associated with the modified mediterranean diet. The control “befriending” group met with a clinician for talk sessions about things they enjoyed doing.

After three months, 33% of participants in the diet group experienced remission from major depression symptoms. The befriending group only saw remission in only 8% of participants. Wow! This is big! One third of participants, just through changing their diet, saw improvements in their mental health.

My personal favourite part of the study?Jacka says participants reported working with a dietitian specifically was “highly valuable” in helping them make sustained changes. They received not only education about what to eat, but support and help in translating this new knowledge into sustained action.

I don’t want to oversimplify. Mental health is complex; successful treatments vary from medication, to therapies, to self-help and self-care. Isn’t it great news though that working with a dietitian can be part of one’s recovery?

If you think diet may be impacting your mental health, or your mental health has been impacting your diet, we can help! If you’re not struggling yourself, consider how you can kindly approach the topic with friends and family when you asked them “R U Okay?”

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