There is a connection between mental health and what we eat. Food can be a surrogate for our emotional needs-and it goes both ways. We could say that you are what you eat, but the truth is more complicated than that. Our food habits often mirror how we’re doing emotionally-whether it’s as simple as eating when we’re hungry or tired, or using food to respond to stress in our lives.

We should “trust our gut” when it comes to food. We have a connection with what we eat, and this is not only about physiological needs but emotional ones as well. Food has been used historically in many cultures for social bonding, magic rituals, ceremonies of celebration or mourning-all within the context of spirituality. Food plays a huge part in our life, and it helps us bring meaning to our experiences. In order to study the connection with mental health and food, it’s important that we ask patients about their relationship with food. Food habits can often mirror how one is doing emotionally.

Eating disorders can be a result of multiple factors, including cultural pressures and social expectations. One study found that many people with eating disorders have an underlying personality disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder or borderline personality traits. Eating disorders typically begin in adolescence but are also being recognized more often among older adults as well. Of the up to 90% cases diagnosed each year, most sufferers are female – though men account for 10%. In this article, I’ll explore some of the connections between mental health and diet, with an emphasis on how these relationships affect people who struggle with eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

On the surface level, both anorexia nervosa and bulimia are very different. An individual with anorexia appears to starve themselves from food, and the individual with bulimenia, tends to go through binge eating and subsequent purging. Anorexia nervosa is a deadly eating disorder that often results in the individual’s life being impeded by their behavior around food restriction, constant obsession over body image and negative feelings associated with these matters. The disorder affects roughly 1% of women in America but because there are underreporting among marginalized communities including larger women who may be misdiagnosed it can fluctuate from time to time.

Anorexia nervosa is also usually diagnosed alongside other mood disorders. Like any other condition, its really important to take a holistic approach to treatment, so the care provider can get a global understanding of this individuals challenges. In my clinical practice, I have had great success with treating patients with anorexia, because I was able to connect with the patient, on a personal level; let them know that I want to understand them and help them. My approach to treatment was based on providing a safe and supportive environment, where I could help the patient work through their thoughts about food.

For many people with bulimia, food is a way of coping with distressing emotions and feelings. Many people report triggers or negative emotions occurring before binges. For some people, their eating disorder becomes a way to deal with difficult emotional issues such as low self-esteem or perfectionism. Counselling can be a great help for people who are struggling with their mental health. There are different types of counselling, including cognitive-behavioural therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy and interpersonal therapy. It is often best that the entire family attends these sessions, as these eating disorders typically do not stem from thoughts and beviours of the individual suffereing from the eating disorder.

It may also be helpful to connect with support groups where individuals suffering with eating disorders can share experiences and recovery strategies. They can find support from other people experiencing similar situations; or simply feel less alone through connecting with those who understand what it’s like being without hope.

Taking a detailed food history can be an important tool in identifying and understanding eating disorders. Food is such a powerful medium that we all use to express our feelings. I hope you take this article as advice when thinking about your own health–take note of how much sugar you’re consuming; do any foods make you feel good ? Do certain ones seem more satisfying than others ? These kinds of questions could help identify if there may be deeper issues going on underneath the surface like mental wellness .


  • Dr. Tomi Mitchell

    M.D | Leadership Coach| Wellness & Productivity Coach

    Dr. Tomi Mitchell Holistic Wellness Strategies

    Dr. Tomi Mitchell, MD, empowers executives, lawyers, doctors, business owners, and other leaders to eliminate burnout and increase workplace productivity and relationships.  She uses her three-step framework, Embrace, Evaluate & Energize, to empower her clients to have clarity. 

    As a public speaker and trainer, she brings energy to the crowd, captures their attention, and gives them clear, actionable steps to apply immediately to their life. Dr. Tomi Mitchell believes in getting to the root causes of life's challenges, instead of taking a temporary BandAid approach to life. She is a writer, with a book coming out in Summer 2023. She is also the host of The Mental Health & Wellness Show.  To learn more about her framework, check out the following link: Learn More.