By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Jessica Patterson
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 20.6% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019.
Registered Dietitian and Assistant Director of Health Education and Nutrition Services at the University of Alabama Sheena Gregg said that someone might use their nutrition to cope with their mental health.
A study by Karen Mitchell in 2012 shows a correlation between post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders. Approximately one-third of women with bulimia, 20% with binge eating disorder and 11.8% with other eating disorders met the criteria for lifetime PTSD.
Gregg said many of her clients have experienced trauma in their lives.
“They’re emotionally eating. People want to numb themselves with the use of food. Food does have the ability to release endorphins, and it sometimes increases our serotonin levels. You can see that connection between mental health and someone’s subsequent dietary habits,” said Gregg.
According to Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, approximately seven in 10 women and girls report a decline in body confidence driven by the pressure for perfection and unrealistic beauty standards.
Gregg said that the media tends to address bulimia and even glamorizes anorexia as the “pretty eating disorder,” but does not always include binge eating under the same umbrella.
“The reason we don’t hear about it as much is that many times someone with binge eating disorder can present an overweight or obese status. Their physician might label it as general overeating but not make the mental health connection there. They may not realize that this person is engaging in certain types of eating behaviors, such as the bingeing due to some mental health distress,” added Gregg.
There are mental health tendencies that indicate nutritional struggles. Avoiding social situations, losing energy, or having dramatic weight changes are signs of disordered eating. Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report found that 79% of girls and 85% of women admit to opting out of events when they don’t feel they look their best.
Gregg said that there is an underlying pressure that contributes to mental health when you are in a social setting and constantly comparing yourself to your peers. She recommends finding a social support group to find comfort and talk about struggles.
Meeting with a registered dietitian or licensed professional is the most critical step that someone needs to take when facing disordered eating.
You can learn more information on mental health and nutrition at National Eating Disorder Association.