Gut feelings: How food affects your mood

When we consider the connection between the brain and the gut, it’s important to know that 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut. There’s a relatively new field of nutritional psychiatry that helps patients understand how gut health and diet can positively or negatively affect their mood.

My Role
  • Personal project/idea
  • UX/UI Design
  • User interviews
  • Illustrations
  • Art direction
Context

I started this project just thinking about food delivery apps and how I could make the experience better for users.

But, when I started interviewing users with surveys (with both close-ended and open-ended questions) I realised that some users had more food-related issues than others. They couldn’t be considered part of the “average users”: they had health conditions (ie: IBS), allergies or intolerances (ie: celiacs) as well as specific diet requirements (ie: vegan/vegetarian). Some of them found difficult to have dinner with their friends and, long term, in some case, it would influence their social behaviour and ultimately leave them “depressed and sad”.

At the same time I was reading more and more about how the guts health could influence your mood. According to recent studies there is anatomical and physiologic two-way communication between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve. The gut-brain axis offers us a greater understanding of the connection between diet and disease, including depression and anxiety.

Research

I started by interviewing users of existing food apps/services and found out that:
–  50% feels like these apps don’t do enough to take care of their needs
– 100% of users agreed that the food you eat can change your mood
– 50% thinks that more could be done on both onboarding journeys and filters: most of the existing apps don’t consider specific dietary requirements when suggesting food or recipes

I then also interviewed users of “food tracking” apps
– 90% agreed that tracking their food help them stay committed to their goals and they enjoy to see the results
– 70% think they would be interested in tracking their mood and health responses in relation to the food they eat
– 50% said they would be interested in knowing more about the link between guts and mind

The pivot

I went into the project thinking that something was missing in the food app field but I couldn’t imagine what I would have found. I thought it was the case to focus my attention on the insights that surfaced during the interviews and link them to what was trending in the scientific community to see if there was a connection and if a new idea could sparkle.

Insights
  • Most people have a pretty busy life and sometimes it leave very little time to think about what they’re eating
  • When under stress or when feeling sad some people would go for the food that actually is going to end up to make them feel worse
  • Some people have either allergies, intolerances or health conditions that reduce their choices when it comes to decide what to eat (with increasing difficulties if they order food or eat at a restaurant)
  • There’s a total lack of awareness and education on the impact of the gut-brain connection
  • A lot of people with anxiety and depression have also other long-terms conditions
Declarative statement

People can get stressed around food for many different reasons: lack of time, health issues, scarcity of choices. And they might also not know that some food would make them feel good or bad. So overall, their relationship with food can make them feel: embarrassed, stressed, depressed, tired.

Product constraint

There should be a way for everyone to enjoy food in a conscious way, to see how it could change their mood and help managing mental and physical issues.

The audience

The users interviewed belong to mainly 2 different groups

Group 1
  • Lazy (by they own definition!) but want to improve
  • Busy
  • “Bad at cooking”
  • Would order a lot or go to restaurants but try to keep it “healthy”
  • Feeling guilty for their food choices
  • Very stressed
Group 2
  • Can and want make time for cooking because it’s the best way to eat for them
  • Would bring their own food to work
  • “Cooking is fun”
  • Strong-willed/consistent
  • Interested in healthy choices
  • Some of them might have intolerances, allergies or specific dietary req
Different output under the same umbrella

MVP
Track what you eat to improve wellbeing and mood
Personalised  onboarding to give ad hoc tips and be able to develop future offers based on the data collected

Future developments

  • Service that allows you to receive frozen mono-portion of good mood food
  • They can track their mood depending on the food they eat. They’ll have to simply scan the food barcode.

Future developments

  • Service that gives you recipes that you can follow whenever you want
  • They can track their mood depending on the food thy eat. They’ll have to manually enter the food into the app or scan the bar code of each food they put in their recipes

Satellite features
Read articles about food, scientific facts etc, all selected from different magazines/websites
Notifications “fact of the day”: short interesting fact about foods and drink and habits

Sign Up

As first thing I decided to concentrate on the Sign Up/Onboarding  journey. This can be considered a crucial phase to convince the user to trust you with their data and time. Including references to scientific studies, reassurance on the results and clarity on the goals are key to the success.