Holly and Erin
As Registered Dietitians, Holly Dickinson (L) and Erin Rudolph support patients in the Eating Disorder Program and Inpatient Mental Health Unit. (Photo: Courtesy Erin Rudolph)

In addition to supporting physical well-being, good nutrition can play a significant role in improving mental health.

Nutrition may sometimes be overlooked as part of treatment in mental health conditions, according to Erin Rudolph and Holly Dickinson, Registered Dietitians in the Eating Disorder Program and Inpatient Mental Health Unit at Toronto General Hospital (TG).

World Mental Health Day is Oct. 10. To mark the occasion, Erin and Holly emphasize the importance of understanding how good nutrition can improve mental health, especially for people living with mental illness.

"It's important for those working with patients who struggle with mental illness to understand the nutritional needs of those struggling with altered thought processes, unstable moods, learning disabilities, dangerous food habits and who also may be at risk of harming themselves or others," Erin says.

"I truly believe food is our medicine," Holly says. "It's always rewarding to see patients put this philosophy into practice on the road to their physical and mental health recovery."

What is the relationship between food and mental health?

Erin and Holly lead nutrition-related groups for patients such as nutrition education, meal planning, eating skills, meal support and individual nutrition counselling.

Providing nutrition support to those who suffer from mental health conditions is a complex task, Erin says.

Often times people are managing a major mental health illness while also managing a physical medical condition. For example, those who suffer from schizophrenia might also struggle with diabetes, and those who struggle with an eating disorder might also struggle with an addiction.

Here are some things to remember when considering the relationship between food and mental health:

  • Psychiatric medications may work better with proper, adequate nutrition that includes a balanced diet comprised of all food groups.
  • Side effects of psychiatric medications, such as weight gain and increased hunger can be managed with proper education on the importance of a balanced diet and regular exercise.
  • It's important to foster a healthy relationship between food, body image and self-esteem. For example, refraining from labelling food as "good" or "bad" and encouraging intuitive eating.
  • Fuel your body and brain by including three meals and two to three snacks per day. Start the day off with a wholesome breakfast and include all food groups throughout the day to ensure balance and variety.
  • Aim to drink two to three litres of water a day and limit alcohol consumption, which can affect mood.
  • Create a calm meal time environment for yourself when possible. Remove distractions like your phone or television and practice mindful eating by paying attention to the textures, flavours and aromas of the food you are eating. Take your time eating your meal and pay attention to and follow your hunger and satiety cues.

More resources for World Mental Health Day

If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please go to your nearest Emergency Department or call 9-1-1.

If you need mental health support over the phone, call the Mental Health Helpline: 1-866-531-2600.

  • Click here for more information about how you can promote mental health through healthy eating and nutritional care [Editor's Note: Link is no longer available]

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