The Depression & Diet Connection

Something I’ve been thinking of quite a bit lately is the connection between diet and depression. As many friends and readers know, I quietly suffered from depression for nearly 4 years. Apart from immediate family this was well hidden and I never discussed it with my doctor. Perhaps I should have. At the time I had a family doctor that I adored and trusted. I fully imagine he would have told me to read up on diet and depression and change my eating habits accordingly to see if that helped.

Instead I fought my way through the fog. Smiled as best I could. And ate my way through sorrows.

As any woman will attest to the fact that when you take depression and add weight gain to it, you end up with a bigger mess. Deeper depression. It is an endless spiral downward.

Initially I wasn’t a junk food addict. I wasn’t attempting to mask my sadness with expensive processed foods and other junk. I actually ate relatively healthy foods by government standards, I just ate too much of the wrong type of foods.

So while it is documented that depression can be offset by a diet of nutritional and healthy foods, indeed it is the imbalance of some these foods that easily create weight gain and stymie our natural ability to remain optimistic and mentally strong.

When I finally got my head around the fact that food can be medicine as well as it can be poison, I started to heal. Foods in the poison category were largely starches and sugars, but also the grocery store staples that were labelled as “low fat”, “heart wise”, or “whole grains”. Turns out nearly all of these things are loaded with sugar and if they aren’t, our bodies convert them to sugar in our digestive system.

On a deeper level, scientists are now calling our digestive system our “second brain” – but that’s a topic for another day…

To consider food to be fuel for the body and not a moment of sweetness or something that fills our emptiness, we find ourselves on the right path. It stands to reason that if our physical health is affected by diet, so is our brain and emotional health.

Have you ever heard the term “more color on the plate, lessens the weight?” True for the brain as well. While I don’t believe in the innane silliness of the “no white foods” diet, I do trust the research on sugar (or glucose) and what it does to our brains, our hearts, and our waistlines.

So let’s talk about what I used to eat versus how I eat today. I used to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner like most people with very little snacking in between and only one unhealthy meal or snack per week. Toast with peanut butter, soup and salad or a sandwich with leafy greens, and dinner was the standard vegetable, starch, protein. I kept my fats low and my grains high – just like the Canada Food Guide suggested. I ate ample vegetables and fruit.

Today I eat bacon and eggs, home made soup instead of canned, 2 cups of leafy greens per day, ample cheese, cream in my coffee instead of milk, and a protein with vegetables for dinner. I eat mayonnaise, coconut oil, butter, avocado oil and olive oil. I eat berries. I don’t eat the same every day and I never get bored. By doing so I managed to lose 50 pounds at 50 years of age. I’m currently down 63 pounds.

What I won’t eat are wheat and sugar or fake sugars – this knocks most processed or packaged foods off my list as they are largely full of chemicals and sugar. I only occasionally eat potatoes or sweet potatoes. I seldom eat fruit or high carb vegetables like carrots.

Between nuts, berries, good meats, full fat cream, and a wide variety of vegetables, I have managed to give my body exactly what it needs. It shows in my skin and in my hair and nails. Evidently, the healthier the diet, the lower the incidences of mood swings or depressive episodes because I can’t remember the last time I moped. I certainly no longer plan out a suicide. While that statement may seem trite, I promise you I spent many consecutive days doing just that – not too many years ago.

Nutrients, vitamins and minerals all have an effect on hormonal functions throughout the body – one of the first to learn about if you’re battling depression is serotonin.

As far as I know, serotonin is a neurotransmitter as well as a mood stabilizer. It is invaluable in alleviating stress, anxiety, and depression.

Selenium (a nutrient) is said to help with serotonin production. Nuts are said to boost the assimilation of selenium, which is found lacking in many people suffering from depression. Lean meats and legumes contain selenium too.

Some fruits help with production of serotonin. Sour cherries and pineapple might help here, as do plums. Cherries also contain melatonin, which is a natural relaxer and sleep aid.

Foods containing tryptophan increase the manufacture of serotonin in your brain. Fresh caught seafood, farm fresh eggs, and grass fed beef are three of the most common. Selection is of utmost importance here because animals that have been raised improperly (factory-farming) are going to upset your hormonal balance. You need grass fed or pasture raised, organic, natural food sources.

Finally, sugar inhibits the production of serotonin. Yet another reason to get off the sugar train. For that matter, get right off the carbohydrate train! Most carbs turn to glucose in your digestive system – also inhibiting serotonin production.

As for exercise; I never did any, but now I am! Once you start feeling better, looking better, and have more energy due to better food choice you can’t help but want to get out in the sunshine and move your mass! Plus, when you walk or jog your body will produce more of the mood-enhancing hormones – endorphins.

If you have any questions about my depression or weight loss, the food I ate or will not eat, feel free to ask in the comments below. I’m here to help!