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Kate Brookie is completing a Postgraduate Diploma of Clinical Psychology and a PhD under the supervision of Dr Tamlin Conner in the Daily Experiences Lab. As a clinical psychology student her training has predominantly focussed on the negative effects of ill-health and the factors that contribute to mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, health is not merely the absence of illness, but the presence of wellbeing. Kate’s PhD research has allowed her to explore just that – the lifestyle factors that lead to psychological wellbeing.

“Specifically, I research the link between what we eat and it’s potential to influence how we feel. Much like the way fruit and vegetables protect our bodies from physical ailment, their consumption is becoming increasingly linked to indicators of positive well-being, including greater happiness and life satisfaction, optimism, vigour, and improved self-esteem and self-efficacy. Most importantly, these associations remain significant after controlling for extensive factors – suggesting that something about these foods is directly influencing our emotional wellbeing.”

“Our lab has found that the positive effects of fruit and vegetables go beyond simply being in a good mood. We carry out intensive studies which follow young adults as they navigate their daily lives and we have found some interesting patterns. Days characterised by high fruit and vegetable consumption are not only associated with greater happiness, but are also linked to a greater sense of what we call ‘eudaimonia’ – a type of wellbeing which taps into curiosity, exploration and engagement, and experiencing life as ultimately meaningful. The mechanism of action here remains unknown although it’s possible that the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants abundant in these foods may directly influence the neurochemistry of mood in the brain.”

The majority of research is correlational which cannot establish cause and effect. By conducting a well-designed randomised control trial in 2015, the Daily Experiences lab will be one of the first to investigate whether the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and various aspects of psychological wellbeing is causal. They aim to explore these relationships using ecological momentary assessment and intervention (EMA and EMI) methods which utilise mobile phone technology to assess and promote fruit and vegetable consumption in naturalistic environments over time.

“Ultimately, I love the idea of helping people to help themselves – and simple dietary change offers a promising route of self improvement. As of today, we are one of the most overfed and undernourished cohorts in history and the way we view food has gone awry. More than ever, what we eat is of absolute importance to how we feel both physically and mentally. I am hoping that my research, and research overall, will provide confirmation of a much needed policy change surrounding the health and nutrition of future generations.”

Working with a young adult population (18-25), is something Kate sees as very important.

“This period of time in an individual’s life can be seen as reasonably tumultuous. In a matter of weeks we go from having to ask permission to go to the bathroom, to making life changing decisions about what to dedicate our time to at university. As a young adult my research is immediately relatable to me and most of those around me. The potential to uncover useful and practical ways to help improve the daily experiences of emerging adults is extremely rewarding. I feel privileged to dedicate the time to researching something I love.”