How you eat affects your mental health

In this podcast (episode #576) and blog, I talk about the relationship between what and how we eat and our mental health. This is a replay of a Neurolive webinar I did on my app. For the full webinar ad-free, please see

We all know what we eat affects our ability to think and our mood. Thinking and eating are intricately connected; what and how we eat affects our mental health, and our mental health affects what and how we eat. Our mind and what we eat are so intertwined that what we are thinking about before, during and after eating can even affect the 75-100 trillion cells of our brain and body! Eating is a highly emotional and cognitive event. 

This is why it is really important we focus not just on what we eat, but also HOW we eat. Why? Our gastrointestinal (GI) tract is very sensitive to our emotions since it is connected to the brain’s hypothalamus, which controls feelings of satiety and hunger AND deals with our emotional state of mind. Our large and small intestines are also lined with neurons, neuropeptides, and receptors (the “doorways” into cells), which are all rapidly exchanging information laden with emotional content. I am sure we have all experienced this—the gurgling emotional activity in our guts, colloquially known as being “sick to your stomach,” having a “gut feeling,” or having “butterflies in your stomach” when we feel emotional. Additionally, the pancreas releases at least twenty different emotion-laden peptides, which regulate the assimilation and storage of nutrients and carry information about satiety and hunger.

In fact, the gut microbiome - the world of bacteria living in our digestive system - doesn’t just exist to help us break down food. There is a constant conversation going on between the brain and gut, which also has its own amazing neurons, just like the spinal cord! This relationship is incredibly important when it comes to our mental health, which is both directly and indirectly affected by what and how we eat. Our mind and gut are so acutely interconnected that our emotions, like happiness, joy, and pleasure, as well as anger, anxiety, sadness, and bitterness, can trigger physical reactions in our digestive system and throughout the brain and body!

All of this means that our state of mind can have a major effect on our gastrointestinal health. If we eat when we are angry or upset, or we eat to to bury an unpleasant emotion, this will impact the way the brain and body digest and assimilate nutrients from our food. Eating when we are in a distressed emotional state, or not hungry, is like adding every spice and herb in the cupboard to the meal. All these seasonings will destroy the balance of flavors among the meal’s components. Emotion-driven food consumption adds a flood of chemical, emotional “seasonings” to our food; our digestive system, like our palate, will not know how to interpret such a conflicting range of signals.

This is especially the case when we are in a state of toxic stress. This keeps our “fight or flight” response activated, which inhibits gastrointestinal secretion and reduces blood flow to the gut, thereby decreasing metabolism and affecting our body’s ability to digest food. This state of mind also affects the heart and immune system function, which can make us feel pretty unwell and can further exacerbate our state of mind. 

In fact, toxic thinking and emotions, which lead to toxic stress, can affect the movement and contractions of the GI tract, cause inflammation, make us more susceptible to infection, decrease nutrient absorption and enzymatic output, upset the regenerative capacity of gastrointestinal mucosa and mucosal blood flow, irritate intestinal microflora, cause our esophagus to go into spasms, give us indigestion and heartburn by increasing the acid in our stomach, make us feel nauseous, cause existing digestive issues such as stomach ulcers to worsen, and agitate our colon in a way that gives us diarrhea, constipation, and/or extreme bloating!

This is not to say that thinking good thoughts can excuse an unhealthy diet. As mentioned above, what we eat can also impact our mental state. The digestive system is a rich source of neurotransmitters, which carry signals inside the brain and body. In fact, it is estimated that 95 percent of the serotonin and half the dopamine in the body are produced in the gut. Considering these neurotransmitters are famous for their mood-calming and reward effects, learning and neuroplasticity, we should be paying a lot more attention to what we are eating, which can impact how they function, as well as our mindset is when we eat. A healthy gut promotes a calm, satisfied, and happy mind, and vice versa!

So, what can you do? Here are some easy, simple tips you can incorporate into your daily life to help you focus on eating well and improving your mental health: 

  1. Eat meals together. Where possible, try to eat meals with your loved ones, which can be incredibly therapeutic. Regular family meals are associated with a decreased risk for addictive behavior and depression and higher self-esteem! Indeed, being around people who love and support you is one of the best ways to heal an unhealthy relationship with food.
  1. Try to avoid eating when you are upset, angry or very emotional. This is not always possible, as we need to eat to survive, and sometimes life can be incredibly challenging. However, try to, as much as possible, be aware of your state of mind before you reach for that snack, go shopping for food, order a meal online or sit down to eat. This can really save you a lot of mental and gastrointestinal distress in the short and long term! 
  1. Make mealtimes a happy affair. Have fun cooking and enjoying your meal! Be strict about conversations you have with loved ones or friends over meals. Keep the contentious stuff for another time, so that you don’t upset yourself or others.
  1. Eat for you, not for others. Learn about your bio-individuality and what foods and ways of eating work best for you rather than just following wellness trends or fads. 

For more on meals and mental wellness, listen to my podcast (episode #576). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).       

This podcast is sponsored by:

Ketone IQ. We all need more mental and physical energy in our lives, to not only do the things we need to do, but also to make more time for the things and people we love. This is why I love the high-performance energy shot Ketone-IQ. It has no sugar or caffeine, is FDA and WADA Compliant, and all you have to do is take 1 dose daily in the morning to support your energy levels and cognition, and 2-3 doses before workouts for better performance and recovery! After its first release in 2017, Ketone-IQ fueled 60% of the teams on the Tour De France, and landed a $6M Contract with the U.S. Special Operations Command—it was that good! In fact, a network of universities are currently using this product to fuel research on neurodegenerative diseases, TBI, glucose management, and longevity. Now made more affordable and accessible, Ketone-IQ, which taps into nature's superfuel, can help you stay more focused throughout the day, ready to take on any challenge! I love that it also comes with free U.S. shipping and a 60-day money back guarantee. And, for a limited time only, you can save 30% off your first subscription order of Ketone-IQ at

Mushroom Breakthrough by BiOptimzer. Do you have trouble recalling names, dates, or where you left things? Are you finding it difficult to focus during the day or notice yourself zoning out when you’re trying to complete a task? Wouldn’t it be nice to feel clear-minded and energized? If you answered YES to any of these questions, then you should listen to this! BIOptimizers has created a one-of-a-kind product called Mushroom Breakthrough that can support your brain power. It's packed with highly concentrated mushroom extracts that science shows can enhance memory, focus, processing speed, and more. Just one serving contains 5 potent superfoods: collagen and 1.2 pounds of four concentrated mushrooms, including Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Cordyceps And Chaga. This cutting-edge blend is a powerful way to help support your brain health and rewire it for maximum energy, focus, and performance. And with Mushroom Breakthrough you’ll get a hefty dose of antioxidants for immune support! On top of these incredible benefits, it’s also delicious - it tastes like a rich chocolate elixir. I love having it has night as an alternative to hot chocolate—it is delicious. Simply mix it with water or milk and enjoy. Or, for a more potent blend, you can mix it with your morning coffee to transform it into a delicious mood-boosting mocha! For an exclusive offer for my listeners, go to and use code DRLEAF10 during checkout. And the great thing about BIOptimizers is that you can try it risk-free with their 365-day money-back guarantee! 

Podcast Highlights

0:24 Eating is an emotional & cognitive event 

2:05 The mindset behind the meal 

10:00 The connected nature of the mind, brain & body

18:40 How eating is connected to our brain & gut 

38:37 Good thinking doesn’t excuse a bad diet

39:04 How to eat for better mental & physical wellbeing

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.

Comments 0

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published