How does the food we eat affect our mood?

A special event for UNSW’s mental health month will explore the links between diet and mental health.

Two women looking at each other and eating

We all know the role that diet play in our physical health, but is there a connection with our mood and overall well being? Photo: UNSW Health Promotions Unit

What drives our food behaviours? How does the food we eat affect our mood and how much choice do we have over our food habits?

These are the questions that will be addressed in the online event Food. Mood. Free Choice? on 21 October that will take place as part of UNSW’s Mental Health Month.

The discussion will be led by founder and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, Professor Felice Jacka, along with Research Fellow in Food Policy and Law at The George Institute for Global Health Dr Alexandra Jones.

UNSW Health Promotions Team Lead Belinda Meggitt says this event will provoke a number of interesting discussion points.

“It will show how our diet affects our mental health and also challenge us to think about some of the factors that influence our food behaviours,” she says.

“Forces that are not under the individual’s control but are influenced by the media, legislation and the food environment.”

Ms Meggitt says the importance of focusing on mental health during this unprecedented global health crisis cannot be overstated.

“Australia traditionally has an attitude of “you’ll be right” but in 2020 we haven’t been,” she says.

“We’ve experienced the worst bushfires in our country’s history and are living through a pandemic with significant financial and health implications.

“The increased anxiety, job insecurity and financial pressure increase the prevalence of anxiety and depression.”

Ms Meggitt highlights the fact that one in five Australians experience mental illness each year and says it is important to acknowledge that poor mental health is widespread.

“We need to get better at talking about the tough stuff and that’s what we’re doing this Mental Health Month at UNSW,” she says.

“We’re not shying away from the challenging conversations but leaning into the factors that influence our wellbeing.

“These are the conversations we need to be having in our living rooms, while going for a walk or with a health professional – it needs to be OK to say ‘I’m not OK’ and that’s what Mental Health Month is about.”

UNSW’s Mental Health Month has been highly successful in addressing a whole range of important issues, but the highlight for Ms Meggitt is the way imposter syndrome is being spoken about.

“It’s such an important conversation for students and staff – we’re in a high achieving university and so many people don’t feel adequate,” she says.

“The very nature of impostor syndrome means people don’t speak about it for fear of others realising they’re not up to the task.  

“Hearing from a panel of high achievers speaking so openly about their own experience, their underlying issues of self-worth and self-doubt and their strategies to work with these feelings will hopefully start a lot of important conversations.”

With a wide-ranging program of events that have encouraged discussions among students, staff and the wider community, Mental Health Month aims to open the door to more of these important conversations.

Register for your free ticket to Food. Mood. Free Choice? on Wednesday 21 October on Eventbrite or find out more about Mental Health Month on the Current Students website.