The Mental Diet: What Is It and How Can It Help You?

Discard those toxic thoughts and promote the ones that nourish and enrich you. That's the basis of the mental diet, an exercise that can transform your life. Find out how.
The Mental Diet: What Is It and How Can It Help You?
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

You’ve probably been on many diets during your life. Those times when, in order to take care of your body, you deliberately chose what to eat, restricted the unhealthy foods, and increased the healthy ones. However, have you ever considered taking care of your mind in the same way? Do you care about what you feed it? If not, you should try the mental diet.

Your mental processes are largely responsible for how you feel, the successes you achieve, and the opportunities you miss. Therefore, if you feel sad, frustrated, or hopeless, and if you don’t like your current life, reviewing your mental content should be the first step you take.

The mental diet

Woman thinking about solutions
What you think, you’ve learned, so you can change it.

The term diet can be defined as the control or regulation of the food that an individual eats in order to achieve a specific goal. There are diets to lose weight, gain muscle mass, or improve health status. However, in all of them, conscious and deliberate decisions are made about what’s introduced into the body.

Along similar lines, the mental diet consists of establishing the type of cognitive content that you want to sustain. You then promote it and discard any content that isn’t aligned with your objective. In simpler terms, it means taking charge of what you think.

You may think that this is something you’ve no control over. That your thoughts just come and go, motivated by your circumstances at the time, and that there’s nothing you can do about them. Nevertheless, in reality, your thought patterns are nothing more than habits. Consequently, you’ve become accustomed (or programmed) to thinking in a certain way. However, you can make changes.

How can the mental diet help?

Perhaps you’re wondering why you would need to go on a mental diet. After all, why invest effort in changing the thought patterns that you’ve used for years?

Nonetheless, you’ll be able to experience deep and extremely positive transformations if you start putting the mental diet into practice. Among the main ones are the following:

1. Improving your relationship with yourself

The relationship you have with yourself is the most important of all. Bear in mind that you’re by your side 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Therefore, when this relationship isn’t positive, you find yourself living with a voice that’s constantly telling you that you’re unworthy and undeserving. It reminds you of how many mistakes you make and how many times you’ve failed. It convinces you that you won’t achieve anything. Ultimately, it makes you miserable.

The mental diet creates the habit of speaking to yourself with love, respect, and compassion. It shapes the image you have of yourself by increasing your self-esteem and improving your self-concept. Hence, you become your own best friend.

2. Promoting positive emotional states

Anxiety, fear, sadness, frustration, hopelessness. All of your emotional states are the direct result of your thoughts. If you do a mental cleanse and begin to select what kinds of beliefs you accept and promote and which you don’t, the way you feel will change drastically.

3. Helping you cope with adversity

Every time you face adversity or obstacles, you start an internal dialogue. This helps you interpret and process what’s happening and to decide what kind of action you’ll take.

With the mental diet, you can make this dialogue motivating and empowering. It’ll help you to relativize, maintain an optimistic attitude, and consider yourself as being capable of getting ahead.

With this type of mental content, you’re able to foster your resilience and regulate your emotions at the most difficult moments.

4. Bringing you closer to achieving your goals

man thinking
Training the mind toward your goals facilitates their achievement.

To reach a goal, you have to become your own personal trainer. You have to motivate yourself and believe in yourself. You must guide yourself during the process, and redirect yourself if a change of direction becomes necessary.

These guidelines are essential. However, as a rule, you don’t tend to carry them out. That’s because your mind wanders, is unclear, and often reminds you how complicated your goal is or how far you are from achieving it.

With the mental diet, you educate this style of thinking so that it works for you in the best way. This makes you feel capable and provides you with the stimulus you need to continue.

How to apply the mental diet

Applying the mental diet is simple, although not necessarily easy. You need to take a series of steps:

  • Identify your predominant thoughts, the ones that are most often on your mind. These generally take the form of statements about yourself, others, and the world, and are presented in absolute terms. For example, “I’m shy and cowardly”, “Life means suffering” or “People are cruel”. Check what kind of thoughts appear when you face specific circumstances and what you say to yourself in various everyday situations. Write them down and you’ll find clear patterns.
  • Establish appropriate thoughts. These are the kinds with which you’re going to feed your mind from now on. They should be the positive counterpart to your predominant negative thoughts. They must be pleasant, friendly, and respectful, as well as motivating and optimistic. For instance, “I’m a valuable and capable person”, “Life is good”, or “I’m surrounded by people who love me”.
  • Implement your mental diet. Now’s the time to make the decision to start promoting those positive, nutritious, and functional thoughts. You might want to get into the habit of repeating them every morning before leaving home or every night before going to sleep. The most important thing is that you remember to apply them on a day-to-day basis. In fact, in those situations where unpleasant thoughts usually assault you, make the decision not to give them space and replace them with your new beliefs. Be firm and persevering.
  • Try for a while. If you stay consistent for seven days, allowing only (or mostly) positive and constructive thoughts, you’ll start to notice a big difference. Your mood will improve, your relationships will be more fulfilling, and you’ll feel more motivated and capable of achieving your goals.

Be constant and you’ll see great changes

In short, the mental diet is an exercise in self-care, a measure you take to ensure that your mental space is clean and free of toxicities.

In this regard, you must also take care of what you listen to, what you see, and the people you surround yourself with. In fact, ensure that all the elements of your life are in tune with this new mental diet that you are starting. You’ll soon see how everything will transform.

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  • Germer, C. (2009). The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions. Guilford Press.
  • Kaufman, G., & Raphael, L. (1984). Relating to the self: Changing inner dialogue. Psychological Reports54(1), 239-250.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.