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E#199 How Does Diet Impact Mental Health

This episode is about how does diet impact mental health

In the 20th Century, we have seen global shifts in dietary intakes, with people eating more sugary, fatty, high-energy food and snack foods, and a decrease in fibre-rich and nutrient-dense foods, especially in younger generations and those who are ‘busy’ and looking for convenience.

But what impact does diet have on mental health?

Today I want to explore the latest research that links diet and mental health, and to discuss some opportunities for health coaching in this space.


In this episode, I’ll talk about 
* Global Research from Nutritional Psychiatry
* What the Research Means for Mental Health
* How Employers Can Support Better Nutritional Health

Nutrition and Mental Health – Global Research from Nutritional Psychiatry

We know that many ‘common’ mental health disorders are associated with chronic health conditions. We also know that lifestyle behaviours including eating habits are intrinsically linked to physical health. Recent research is defining these relationships and revealing opportunities to improve mental health through diet.

Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging field that recognises the consistent link between better quality diets and a reduced risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.

Most of us are familiar with the longevity and good mental health associations with Blue Zone diets – think the centenarians from Ikaria and Okinawa – and this association is supported by research. Here are some examples.

A study of Norwegian men and women who followed a traditional Norwegian diet reported more favourable mental health compared to those on a typical Western diet, even after adjustment for variables including age, education, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption (1).

An Australian study of 8,660 healthy men and women showed that a Mediterranean-style diet was associated with lower psychological distress as measured by a K10 score (2).

A systematic review of both observational and interventional studies of nutrition and bipolar disorder found that the intake of certain nutrients is associated with a reduction of bipolar disorder

symptoms. Those nutrients include omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid and zinc. Promising results were also indicated for coenzyme Q10 and probiotics (3).

Many studies show that lower socioeconomic circumstances partly explain poor eating habits and depressive symptoms, but there is also evidence that depression is directly associated with long-term exposure to an unhealthy diet, independent of socioeconomic status (4).

What Does This Mean for Mental Health?

Medication, exercise and psychological intervention are well-known approaches that play an important role in treating and managing mental health disorders.

The research findings from nutritional psychiatry show that healthy eating is another impactful ingredient in maintaining brain health and mental health. It is important that we recognise these links with the rise in mental health disorders and body weight during the Covid 19 pandemic, and, that we apply these learnings in practice.

To that end, it is promising to see that the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry guidelines (2020) and the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (UK) guidelines (2022) now recommend dietary improvement and other lifestyle modifications as a foundational treatment for mood disorders.

This is a positive starting point to augment the existing approaches to mental health. Yet there is still more that can be done on a day-to-day basis to improve eating habits and food choices toward better health, lifestyle and productivity.

Can Employers Play a Role in Better Eating Habits?

Dietary changes typically happen in our own households or via a medical setting, but there are also opportunities for workplaces to be involved in improving eating habits of the workforce for better mental wellbeing, productivity, focus, concentration and general health.

These days, it is an employee’s market with thousands of job vacancies on the market. This means that employees are looking for workplace benefits to entice them into a workplace, or to make it worth their while staying in an existing workplace.

Any opportunity to improve health could be seen as a value add, and a sign that the employer cares about their workforce.

What might this look like in a workplace?

Well, assuming you would do a needs assessment first and find out what sort of service is desired, there are a few ways you can package up your services for a corporate market. In other words, there are a variety of ways you can add value to workplaces in terms of employee nutrition.

Firstly, educational and coaching programs can be offered to any employees to help them understand the benefits of healthy eating and to empower employees to develop of healthier eating habits. If you don’t have a dietetics or nutrition qualification, education can be based around published government guidelines in an interactive, workshop style arrangement.

If you’re working with a rural or remote workplaces where the workplace provides meal, one offering you could make is to help them develop a strategy to improve the nutritional quality of foods on offer at the workplace and reduce the availability of unhealthy options. This is an important consideration where employees don’t have access to healthy food other than at the workplace.

Routine medical clearance and fitness for work checks can monitor body weight and waist-to-hip ratio as one indicator of nutritional health and can facilitate referral to a dietician or health coach to support behaviour change. Partnering with the EAP or medical service that the employer uses is another way to add value to the company.

In some cases, running workplace challenges can also offer individuals the chance to improve their nutrition in a supportive team environment.

Of course, individual coaching is also appropriate as an on-sell from or adjunct to any of these types of initiatives.

The evidence is clear – eating habits play a significant role in brain health and mental health.

And aside from medical and psychological support programs, there are many other opportunities for coaches to help organisations to improve the eating habits of their workforce, and consequently, improve their quality of life, health and work performance.

The Opportunity for Coaches

If you are a coach running a business that focuses on either nutrition, mental health or both, there are opportunities for you to approach workplaces to implement education and coaching strategies that will boost employee health, wellbeing, focus, productivity and performance.

Citing the statistics and research is a great way to position your services to employers and gain their buy in. It answers the ‘what’s in it for me’ question – why should I invest in your services?


Today we covered some of the groundbreaking research in nutritional psychiatry that demonstrates the links between nutrition and mental health.

I also talked about some opportunities for employers to have an impact on employee wellbeing – especially important in times when employers are trying desperately to retain their talent.

By presenting the facts and figures on the impact of nutrition on mental health and performance, and by outlining affordable opportunities for employers to offer a value add, you can position your coaching business to enter the corporate space more easily.

If you have questions on this episode, hit me up on my contact page.

(1) Jacka, F.N et. al (2011). The association between habitual diet quality and the common mental disorders in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health study.

(2) Hodge, A. et al (2013) Patterns of dietary intake and psychological distress in older Australians: benefits not just from a Mediterranean diet.

(3) Fernanda, C Gabriel et al. (2022). Nutrition and bipolar disorder: a systematic review.

(4) Jacka, F.N et al. (2014) Dietary patterns and depressive symptoms over time: examining the relationships with socioeconomic position, health behaviours and cardiovascular risk.

Ready to get clarity on your pathway to success?

Understanding who you are and what you need will allow your business to thrive! If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.

Learn more here:

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Episode 62: Intuitive Eating 101

You might have heard recently about intuitive eating. If you’re wondering what it is and what the benefits are, stay tuned, because that’s what this episode is all about.

Before you listen to this, I recommend you listen to the previous episode #61, where I discussed Body Intelligence or BQ.

Intuitive eating is a type of Body Awareness, which is the first pillar of BQ (body intelligence).

Intuitive eating is a concept that was developed by Evelyn Tribole, a dietician and counsellor, and Elyse Resche, a nutritionist.

They define intuitive eating as:

“a personal process of honoring health by listening and responding to the direct messages of the body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs.”

It is a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought, and the authors of this approach call it ‘weight neutral’. 

The idea is to trust and use your inner signals, both mental and physical, as a guide for what to eat, how much to eat, and when.

I wanted to speak about this because it’s so close to my heart and it’s a big part of the Metabolic Typing process that I was trained in and use with many hundreds of my clients.

An End to Dieting Mentality

Intuitive Eating proposes an end to the dieting mentality – but what does this actually mean?

I had a bit of internal conflict around the idea of dieting and not dieting for some time, and after some reflection I got clear on my position around this.

Firstly, I believe that there are circumstances where it makes sense for some people to follow specific diets.

Here are some examples of this:

  1. Many overweight people have fatty liver and dysregulated insulin. In this case, a short period of low carb eating might be required to regain insulin sensitivity and to get rid of cravings sooner.
  2. Some people develop temporary intolerances to certain foods – and this can happen in periods of intense stress or if you eat too much of a certain food, or if your immune system is triggered – so in this case it makes sense to follow a low-stress diet for a short period to allow the body to recover from its inflammatory/reactive state.
  3. People with gut health issues might need to temporarily or permanently be on a specific ‘diet’, such as a FODMAPS diet, or a high fibre diet or a diet for Crohn’s or celiac disease, for example.
  4. People with a chronic lifestyle disease may need to follow a specific type of diet to manage their symptoms or condition, such as diabetes, heart disease etc.

The idea is to trust and use your inner signals, both mental and physical, as a guide for what to eat, how much to eat, and when.

What I’m saying is this – in certain situations, some people DO need to have a certain mentality around what they do or don’t eat, because it may affect their wellbeing.

That aside, if we look at what the word diet means, it’s simply the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.

So to be clear, what we’re talking about with Intuitive Eating is that we are aiming to stop being obsessed by food and eating habits, to stop unnecessarily restricting ourselves, and to stop having negative or harmful thoughts around food or our bodies.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Let’s explore the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating.

1. Reject the diet mentality

This principle is about ignoring the quick fix marketing and solutions we are sold, and the promise that the next diet will work and solve all your problems.

The truth is, when we rely on someone else for the answer, we give them our power. And in actual fact, your body is designed to give you all the signals you need to eat  in a way that nourishes and supports good health. It’s our in-built survival mechanism

2. Honour your hunger

Leading on from the first point, we must learn to recognise true hunger and to give your body enough of the right kinds of food.  

Our bodies use carbs and fat for fuel, and can also use protein if the other fuel sources are not available. We need to trust that our bodies will tell us when we are truly hungry and give them a balanced die.

3. Make peace with food

Food is not a reward or a punishment. Restricting is a sure fire recipe for creating guilt, binges and uncontrollable cravings. 

It’s important that we allow ourselves to eat healthily in a way that supports our bodies and minds and to use self-compassion when we feel urges.

4. Challenge the food police

There is no good or bad food. There is no forbidden food or treat food. There is no need to do calorie accounting. Applying these labels and this intense scrutiny creates guilt, judgement and self-loathing.

In actual fact, there is just food, and it is a fuel. Thinking this way about food, without any labels can help you to make peace and eliminate the negative thoughts and feelings about it.

5. Respect your fullness

Our bodies tell us when we’ve had enough to eat. When we make the time and space to notice these signals, we will naturally stop eating.

Mindfulness is a tool that can help us observe this simple and powerful signal.

6. Discover the satisfaction factor

Rather than busily scoffing our meal or feeling wanting for something else, we can enjoy eating and feel satisfied with our eating by simply paying attention to our food and the experience of eating it.

When you truly experience the process of eating – the texture, colours, flavours and smells – then it’s much easier to feel satisfied.

7. Honour your feelings without using food

Some of us have been conditioned to reach for food when we’re anxious, lonely, bored, stressed, angry or sad.  

But food won’t solve the problem and may make things words, by throwing feelings of guilt into the mix. 

There are healthier ways to manage your mind and your emotions and you can use those processes to replace food and honour your feelings, so that you can sit with them and let them go in a healthy way.

8. Respect your body

A lot of people think that a healthy body must look a certain way. The reality is, as I learned in my Metabolic Typing qualification, we are all different sizes and shapes and, we are biochemically unique on the inside.

Our physical bodies are adapted to different climates – cold climates, mountainous climates, hot climates.

Our biochemistry is adapted to the available food sources that are in those local environments. 

Respecting your body starts with recognising that your natural shape and size gives you unique strengths and skills, and by fueling your body with the right foods for YOUR body type.

9. Exercise and feel the difference

Further to this, each person does best with a different type of exercise. Your physiology gives clues as to which exercise might work better for you – but also consider your levels of stress, your stage of life and what you like to do.

If you’re only exercising to lose weight then you’re missing out on a wealth of other benefits like stress management, endorphins, strength, flexibility, agility, stamina and mobility.

Look for other motivators or goals around exercise and you’ll quickly learn to love it. 

10. Honour your health

Finally, nobody has a perfect diet. One meal won’t throw your entire life off track. Rather, choose foods that help your body to feel strong, clear, capable and well.

If you choose foods that create these feelings most of the time, it will make healthy eating so much easier, and you’ll be able to turn it into a habit that you love.


To wrap things up, you can see that the principles of intuitive eating are about body awareness, body knowledge and then body engagement – they are intrinsically tied with the principles of BQ, as discussed in episode 60 of this podcast.

Choose foods that help your body to feel strong, clear, capable and well.

The skills and tools that help you become an intuitive eating are mindfulness, thought watching and thought change modelling.

Changing your relationship with food is about more than just making a plan and doing it – it also means unravelling your old mental patterns and beliefs so that you can let go of past behaviours, and start taking positive actions in the right direction.

For assistance with intuitive eating, visit page.

Ready to learn more about intuitive eating?

Changing your relationship with food can be the start of a whole new relationship with yourself. If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.

Learn more here: