It's finally time to relax and recover from a long year of hard work. For many, the holidays are a reason to celebrate relationships, exchange heartfelt gifts and eat delicious foods... lots and lots of delicious homemade foods. Ham, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and then there's the desserts. Oh, the desserts!
The problem for many comes after all the eating, when they look down at the scale and realize they are a lot less healthy than they remember. Unfortunately, those bad effects of unhealthy eating can be much bigger than just the numbers on the scale! Beyond physical problems, unhealthy eating has been shown to have dramatic effects on mental health. Research by Prince et al. has shown that obesity, along with many other health conditions, increases the risk for mental disorders like anxiety or depression. Interestingly, the researchers also found that mental disorders increase risk for diseases like the flu or infections (2007). Similar research has demonstrated that obesity can have very negative effects body image, self-esteem, and personal relationships (Devlin, Yanovski & Wilson, 2000). This means that the type of food you are eating, and how much you eat, can affect much more than just your weight.
What’s even more troubling is that this problem is even bigger for those with developmental disabilities. Individuals with developmental disabilities have been shown to be at greater risk for obesity and physical health complications than the general public (Rubin, Rimmer, Chicoine, Braddock. & McGuire, 1998). To make things more complicated, these individuals often struggle with food allergies meaning severe dietary restrictions and strict eating schedules… And we all know how hard it can be to stick to an eating schedule around the holidays!
Fortunately, there is hope.
A few big meals at a festive time of year are not likely to do significant damage to your mental health (even though the planning for them might). What matters is the overall picture of what, and how, we eat. Research has shown that making improvements in diet has benefits in mental health (Jacka et al., 2011) on top of the well-known physical benefits. By eating more vegetables, less desserts, and overall smaller portions, you can help keep both your body and mind healthy.
Devlin, M., Yanovski, S., & Wilson, T. (2000). Obesity: What Mental Health Professionals Need to Know. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157(6), 854-866. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.157.6.854
Jacka FN, Kremer PJ, Berk M, de Silva-Sanigorski AM, Moodie M, et al. (2011) A Prospective Study of Diet Quality and Mental Health in Adolescents. PLoS ONE 6(9): e24805. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024805
Prince, M., Patel, V., Saxena, S., Maj, M., Maselko, J., Phillips, M., & Rahman, A. (2007). No Health Without Physical Health. The Lancet, 37(9590), 859-877.
Stephen S. Rubin, James H. Rimmer, Brian Chicoine, David Braddock, and Dennis E. McGuire (1998) Overweight Prevalence in Persons With Down Syndrome. Mental Retardation, 36(3), 175-181.