Update from Amy Jan 13, 2017: I wrote this post when I was in an unhealthy place with my eating. While some of this information might serve you, please know that there is triggering language and philosophies I no longer stand by within (specifically around food and movement). Language and links have been edited to align with my current philosophies. Links to posts that no longer exist are crossed out. xo Amy
Hi boys and girls! Let’s talk about food that makes you happy. :)
I’ve realized that I am starting to become more connected to actual hunger cues (over habitual trigger-induced ones). I eat when I am hungry, instead of eating when I’m bored, anxious or depressed.
Much of my habits of nighttime eating come from my past: I used to eat to feel better when I was in the depths of my depression.
When you’re feeling down, there’s nothing like a bowl of sugary cereal to munch on while watching Heroes… and the subsequent energy spike/drain and chubby midsection.
As I’ve started feeling stronger for giving up this “coping mechanism” in favor of healthier ones, I’ve started considering the relationship between diet and depression.
So I started doing some actual research and have come across some extraordinary findings. Researchers are discovering that [*gasp!*] what we eat is related to how we feel.
The way we eat could help make us feel better, or drive us deeper into darkness.
A lot of SIO readers struggle with depression, stress and anxiety. Since these issues are strongly related (the same or similar parts of the brain are effected for all three), it’s my hope that today’s post can help some of you start feeling better from the inside out.
Depression is not caused by just one thing. There are often times many factors that go into the condition, but for today’s sake, we’re going to concentrate on the causes that can be bettered by diet.
These are the elements of your diet that could be triggers for depression, or make it much worse.
If you’re lacking in B vitamins, you could have the cause of your depression solved right there. I know that, when I was B-deficient, I felt worse than I did when I started eating meat again because I am so active.
Make sure you get a well-rounded diet full of varying whole foods.
B vitamins are higher in meat products such as beef, pork, and chicken, but can also be found in eggs, citrus fruits, leafy greens, and rice.
Oh my Omega-3s
Researchers have started to deem depression as an inflammatory condition. There are many steps you can take to eat your way into a more neutral state (as we’ll talk about below), but one of the hardest hitters for anti-inflammation nutrients is Omega-3s.
Omega-3s (specifically DHA and EPA) are all the rage right now, and for just cause.
They promote brain health, prevent heart disease, improve insulin sensitivity, and give you super magic power to shoot lasers out of your eyeballs.
…well, not exactly lasers, but the list of benefits is so extensive that I thought that would be the natural place to go with this.
You’ll find Omega-3s in fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Because you’re never really sure what you’re going to get nowadays, I like to purchase wild salmon whenever possible to limit ingestion of antibiotics and pesticides.
Not a fish fan? Try a fish oil supplement; it’s the only supplement I take daily and as a personal trainer, that should say a lot. I take Carlson Lab’s lemon flavor liquid fish oil. (it really doesn’t taste fishy!)
Foods to practice mindfulness around
Processed Foods- A diet rich in processed and fatty foods has been linked with a higher instance of depression. Intentionally fill your diet with nutritious foods and give yourself permission to eat processed foods when you crave them.
Coffee- Now now. Not everyone metabolizes coffee in the same way as I talked about in The 6 Rules I Live By when I confessed my addiction to coffee. For some, it acts as the best anti-depressant that’s not full of chemical nonsense. For others, it can leave you jittery and feeling even more stressed/anxious. Go by how YOUR body feels, not by what other people tell you you should feel.
Alcohol- ALCOHOL IS A DEPRESSANT. I REPEAT: ALCOHOL IS A DEPRESSANT. As much as it may help you feel better in the moment because of its calming qualities, it can lead to a lower mood all the time. Moderate your alcohol consumption by drinking mindfully, and try not to drink to the point of wasted.
Eating Habits Proven to Lift
There are a couple different diets at the forefront of depression research. Here are the most promising ones in my mind.
Research came about after scientists found that there is a significantly lower instance of depression in Mediterranean countries than here in America and in other countries that rely on heavily-processed foods.
A group of scientists in Spain studied 10,094 individuals over a span of 4 years and found that those following a Mediterranean diet were 30% less likely to develop depression. Another group of researchers in London had the same results with a smaller group of people at five years (30% of 3,486).
It’s hard to ignore such promising results, right? So let’s get down to it: What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet consists of plenty of fish, veggies, fruits, olive oil, whole grains and nuts, and is usually whole in nature (rather than refined or processed). To help you remember, I’ve drafted up this image for your pinning pleasure:
The Anti-Inflammation Diet
Since depression is now viewed as an inflammatory condition, it makes a lot of sense to treat it with diet. After all, our diet can actually put us in an inflamed state!
In fact, I would recommend an anti-inflammatory diet for almost everyone. Unless you have severely low blood pressure and poor healing response, anti-inflammatory could very well be beneficial for you!
So what goes into an anti-inflammatory diet? Well, it’s a lot like the Mediterranean Diet, actually.
The standout stars of the anti-inflammatory diet are fatty fish and fish oils, nuts, healthy monounsaturated fats, vegetables, fruits and little to no carbohydrates.
In fact, the anti-inflammatory diet is more about what’s NOT in it: dairy, soy, corn, processed or refined foods, simple sugars, trans fats, and grains… yep, even the whole kind.
When choosing a diet, be lenient with its contents. Making certain foods off-limits often backfires on us later. Instead, allow yourself to eat any food as long as you do so mindfully. This is perhaps the best diet for any predisposition!
Of course, there are a lot of other factors that go into depression, stress and anxiety, and you should always listen to your body when it comes to diet because every one of us reacts differently to foods. Hopefully now you have at least one action to check off your get-happy list:
Start Eating Happy!
As always, feel free to leave me any comments or questions here and I’ll get back to them as soon as I can!