Eating well and mental health 

Food plays a vital role in maintaining your mental and physical health. Following a nourishing, balanced diet can help bring you an overall sense of wellbeing.

It’s not always as easy to eat well. And there’s no one perfect approach that works for everyone. But with the right information, there are ways to establish and maintain a diet that works for you.

Illustration of bowls, a mug and utensils

Factors that can affect how you eat

Sometimes what you choose to eat comes down to your tastes, preferences or motivation at the time. But there are other factors that can influence your eating habits and some are outside of your control. These might include:

  • your financial situation
  • the time that you have available to plan and prepare meals
  • where you live and what’s around you
  • the needs of people you might often eat with or care for
  • ethical choices such as vegetarian or vegan diets
  • your upbringing, culture or religious belief
  • Regardless of your situation, there are steps you can take to achieve a healthy diet.

Benefits of eating well

A good quality diet brings many benefits, such as:

  • more energy
  • better concentration
  • improved self-esteem
  • better quality sleep
  • greater ability to manage stress
  • prevent some illnesses
  • improved physical health.

If you’re looking to improve your diet, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Even making minor improvements can bring positive results.

How to eat well

Knowing how to eat well can be confusing. There is a lot of information available, and it can be hard to know what to take in. 

Know which foods are healthy

The Australian Dietary Guidelines provide the following advice about a healthy diet.

Have plenty of

  • Vegetables

  • Legumes (such as lentils, peas, chickpeas, tofu and beans)

  • Fruit

  • Wholegrain foods (such as breads, breakfast cereals, brown rice, quinoa, and couscous)

  • Water


  • Foods high in saturated fat (such as biscuits, cakes, fried foods, potato chips and other savoury snacks)

  • Foods and drinks containing added salt

  • Foods and drinks containing added sugars (such as confectionary, soft drinks, cordials and energy drinks)

  • Alcohol, or seek non-alcoholic alternatives


  • Lean meats (such as beef, lamb and pork)

  • Fish

  • Poultry

  • Eggs

  • Low or reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese

Vegetarian and vegan diets

You may choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet for ethical or health reasons. When choosing which foods to eat, the Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest it’s important to:

  • Consume a wide variety of plant foods so that your energy needs are met.

  • Be aware of which vitamins and nutrients commonly come from animal sources and take care to get those vitamins and nutrients through the alternatives you choose.

  • Seek further dietary advice from a professional if you feel you need to.

How you can start eating well

Starting something new can be difficult. It can take the body and mind time to adjust to big or sudden changes in diet.  

It helps to start small and take it slowly. Just pausing to consider what you eat can help you choose healthier food options.


Tips to maintain a healthy diet

Establishing and maintaining healthy eating habits will help keep you on track for long-term health. Here are some practical things you might try:

  • plan your meals in advance
  • write a list of healthy meals and snacks which are quick and easy to prepare.
  • make a shopping list or arrange to have groceries delivered
  • pre-cook meals to store in the freezer for a later date.

Learn more about routines and mental health


Go easy on yourself

It's normal to eat for comfort sometimes – it can be an important part of self-care. If you do occasionally indulge, be aware that you’re doing it. And don’t be hard on yourself. 

When it comes to a healthy diet, the goal is to find balance, not perfection.

Eating and mental health conditions

Eating well can help treat some of the symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. It can also help reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.  

If you are struggling with your mental health, eating well can be harder than normal. Loss of appetite, over-eating, or a change in how you view eating can all be symptoms of a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.

Learn more about anxiety

Learn more about depression


Eating disorders

Everyone will eat poorly from time to time. But if you are worried that your eating habits might be becoming a problem, it’s important to seek support. 

Learn more about eating disorders and body image issues at The Butterfly Foundation website

Find a mental health professional

Emily's story - The war in my head

Emily shares their journey of depression, anxiety and ultimately, hope.
Iframe content loading...

Supporting someone else

If you notice a friend or loved one has trouble eating well, it’s worth talking to them about your concerns.

Find tips on talking to someone you're worried about
Illustration of two women embracing
Illustration of two people in a hot air balloon

Subscribe to receive info about mental health, keeping well and stories from our community.

Subscribe to newsletter