Monday, October 21, 2013

12 Steps to Defeat Depression (Food and Diet, Part 1)

After years of research, scientists have discovered that what you think, see, eat, hear, and do with your time and life does matter to your brain and, consequently, your mental and physical health! The body is connected to the brain. So this first post in my 12 Steps to Defeat Depression will give you tips to manage your brain and body’s health, specifically as it relates to depression, a common problem in grief.

The bad news is that if you’ve had a major depressive episode, you’re more likely to have another one. That means it’ll take you longer to recover the second time around. So, if you’re in this category, be kind to yourself; don’t expect to move along at a fast pace in your recovery. And don’t let any well-meaning family or friends rush you along. If they aren’t getting it, stop trying to explain yourself. Have them talk to a doctor or psychologist about the facts and the reality of your situation. I know that each time I experience depression, it seems to drag on longer and longer. Frustrating, but that's reality. Each time I need to give myself a little extra time, a little more leeway with how I deal with life and get back into the swing of things. 

But you’ll need to focus much of your recovery on taking care of the rest of your body while you heal, and keeping yourself strong enough to resist a setback. Eating, sleeping and exercising right are critical to any recovery—physical or psychological.

So let’s get started!

Eating right is one of the most important things you can do for your brain. There are some basics to know.

1. Water, water and more water!
Water is the most critical element in the body. For starters, it bathes the tissues, is the transport medium for getting things into and out of the cells, and keeps cells and tissues supple and functioning well. 6-8 cups of water a day (64 oz or 1.89 liters total) is considered minimum, but if you live in a dry climate like I do, or exercise regularly, you’ll need more than that. 

It should be the first thing you consume in the morning, BEFORE you sip on that coffee or tea! It bathes the bladder and prepares it for other liquids. There is also some indication that consuming water an hour prior to eating in the morning increases the absorption of nutrients from the foods you consume at breakfast and later meals.
So get yourself some good spring or filtered water—NOT carbonated, which is tough on the bladder and draws calcium out of your bones—and slurp away! (I avoid our local tap water due to the its high chlorine content.)

2. Say NO! to processed sugar!
At the very least, keep it to a minimum. Why? Sugar is an inflammatory and wreaks havoc on your immune system, effectively shutting it down for a couple of hours after consumption. It stresses your pancreas and—over time—can weaken its ability to produce insulin. That means you’re at risk of developing diabetes and a host of other physical illnesses. And while honey and agave syrup don’t cause your blood sugar to go up as quickly, they are inflammatory foods too. Be careful. You don’t want your healing system inflamed. And if your blood sugar spikes quickly then plummets, you’re setting yourself up for fatigue, depression and lethargy.

Avoid high fructose corn syrup and added fructose in beverages. Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices. 

Yes, sugar does raise your serotonin levels, a feel-good brain chemical, but sugar inflames. Keep your sugar intake to a minimum and choose foods that contain the types of sugar and carbohydrates that won’t cause your insulin to spike. That'll keep your brain happy and running smoothly.  

3. Eat fresh vegetables, whole fruit, wild fish and other whole foods.
British researchers found that people who consumed whole foods were less likely to feel depressed than those who frequently ate desserts, (read: fats and sugar), fried foods, processed (deli) meats, refined grains and high-fat dairy products. The antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids in fish are associated with a lower risk of depression. The B vitamin Folate, found in dark green veggies has a positive affect on the brain’s mood.

4. Eat good carbs.
Research has shown that people who consume few carbohydrates (20-40 grams daily, which is like a ½ cup of rice plus one measly bread slice) experienced more depression, anxiety and anger than those who ate a low-fat, high-carb diet that was heavy on low-fat dairy, whole grains, fruit and beans. The longer your low-carb diet goes on, the more negative the impact on your mood. As a former competitive athlete who practiced carb depletion and loading, I can attest to that. I became a royal grump.

Simple sugars also slow down your gastric system. That can increase constipation and allow toxins to build up in the digestive track. That definitely contributes to your depressive mood! You want things humming along nicely, not getting clogged up in the pipe. 

But what do you do if you’re sensitive or allergic to gluten and wheat, like a majority of women are? I’m sensitive to whole wheat, so I use flax meal with applesauce (a recipe given to me by my physical therapist). Combining that with lots of nearly raw fibrous veggies and good whole grains like quinoa, millet and buckwheat (a grass), and chickpeas (garbanzos) has made a tremendous difference for me. I also eat oatmeal, which doesn’t seem to give me a problem. Berries and raw fruits (NOT fruit juice which causes blood sugar to spike) are also great. The brain runs entirely on sugar and always gets first dibs on that nutrient when it enters the body. You must keep your brain fed. Make sure you feed it “good” carbohydrate sugars like grains, veggies and fruits that are the source of the sugar. 
Beware: Junk carb binges lead to not wanting good food!

5. Easy on the Coffee!
If you must, one cup in the morning is the limit. And not a big calorie and sugar-laden candy bar-like coffee! (Sorry, Starbucks!) Coffee is a stimulant drug that affects the brain. And consuming caffeinated coffee after 3:00 PM contributes to sleep disturbances, something you definitely don’t want if you’re battling depression. The acid in coffee is also tough on the bladder.


For the sake of your reading time, I’ll cover the last 5 food and diet points next week.

Eating well is just the first step in the healing process. In future blog posts, I’ll cover exercise, the positive, healing effects of laughter, practicing mindfulness, alternative therapies like massage and acupuncture, behavior-cognitive counseling, taking a retreat from life, anti-depressant drugs, the importance of sleep, the importance of Sabbath (rest), benefits of sunlight, and the all-important meditation and prayer.

As always, thanks for joining me! We’re in this healing process together.

Make it a great week!



NOTE: Let me just add that if you need anti-depressant drugs, use them. I found a small dosage, six-month treatment of Paxil immensely helpful during the bout of anxiety I suffered during my father’s cancer battle, which happened concurrently with a serious illness I struggled to overcome. But experts say anti-depressants should only be used in conjunction with good cognitive-behavioral therapy. The drugs can help you get over that hump, but cognitive-behavioral therapies are a more effective treatment.

PS Surgery went well, and it appears that they located my problems. I'm in recovery mode at home, enjoying being spoiled by Chris!