This is your brain on junk
Food: a necessity, a people-pleaser and a common interest. But if an individual is suffering from a mental-health disorder, food can contribute too.
As a university student who suffers from test anxiety and practices a vegetarian lifestyle, food typically isn’t on my list of priorities.
While I am studying and stressed, I typically eat potatoes, heavy on the ketchup. (Fortunately, I don’t have a sweet tooth.) Once my anxiety subsides, I return to my regular “eat-to-live” philosophy that has sustained me throughout college.
On some college campuses, mental illness is a well-versed subject, but the intersection of anxiety or depression and eating disorders is rarely discussed.
There may be a stigma attached to the idea of eating your cares away — perhaps due to pop culture, or consumerist images of people stuffing their faces with sweets or fatty foods when they feel down, anxious or depressed. But research has been ongoing for years, and neglecting to eat or binge-eating during bouts of anxiety or depression can damage one’s physical health.
Having a mood disorder can lead to a chemical imbalance in the brain, resulting in an appetite increase or decrease. Food, in turn, can have adverse effects on a person’s physical and mental health, which ties into nutritional psychology, the science of how nutrients affect mood and behavior.
A diet that consists of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish and low-fat dairy products is associated with a decreased risk of depression. Comparatively, a diet that consists of processed foods and high-fat dairy products is associated with an increased risk of depression.
By glancing into the Trabant Food Court or the P.O.D.s, one can quickly discern which diet is more readily available to university students.
Anne Glerum, a junior music education major at the university — who does not have depression — notices the effect junk food has on her mood.
“When I’m upset, I definitely eat chocolate or something salty, I don’t go for a salad,” Glerum says. “I don’t feel better after eating; I honestly feel worse. I think, ‘Why did I eat all of this?’”
Eating processed foods can give you a high in the beginning, but, in the end, your energy levels are unchanged, if not lower.
Michelle Ruiz, a sophomore elementary education major at the university, thinks having healthier options on campus would benefit university students’ mental health.
“If I am upset, I [will] most likely eat sweets, cookies, cake, etc., and it definitely makes me feel bad after consuming a large amount,” Ruiz says. “I think having healthier options on campus would be helpful. I love to eat healthy and am all for healthier options.”
Rachel Sawicki, a sophomore studying communications and English, doesn’t gorge sweets when she is faced with a tough week.
“I never crave chocolate,” Sawicki says. “I always eat chicken wings because they’re my favorite food. After a crappy day … I want to eat something heavy in order to feel full.”
In today’s society, junk food is shown in a seductive light through commercials, television shows and movies: images of attractive, relatable people consuming cakes, candy or processed foods are constantly visible on our phones, computers and television screens.
But these advertisements seldom tell the post-consumption story, one that may veer away from enjoying, and more toward neglecting to eat or binge-eating.