When I started this blog, my mission was to help mothers, fathers, siblings and grandparents heal emotionally, physically and spiritually from the death of a baby, either in pregnancy, delivery, or soon after birth; and to help friends and family walk alongside parents who have suffered this kind of pain.
I didn’t just want to tell my story, which many of you can relate to, but give you tangible ways to heal in every area of your life, to look forward to the future with hope.
Last week’s post embarked more fully on the physical recovery process, (so if you’re just joining me, check the previous post to get learn the first five nutrition tips). I can’t reiterate enough just how important what you eat is related to how well your brain functions.
So, whatever stage you’re in: post-loss grief and depression, general depression, recovering from an emergency C-section, hysterectomy (like I am now), thinking (and worrying) about trying to have another baby, or struggling through a dangerous high-risk pregnancy (like I did and will begin to tell you about in December), this advice is for you. I guarantee you’ll benefit from it!
So, let’s get to the second half of nutrition for depression or post-delivery recovery, or just a healthier physical and psychological life.
Remember, your body and brain are connected!
6. Chocolate Lovers, Rejoice!
A study where participants ate 1.4 ounces (39.69 grams) of dark chocolate daily for two weeks showed stress hormone reduction in highly stressed people. (Grief is #1 on the highly stressed people list!) Other ingredients in the chocolate may have also contributed to the feeling of well-being. (The pleasant, satisfied feeling you get when you’re rewarding yourself with the indulgence may do it too!)
Choose your chocolate carefully and eat it in small amounts! Avoid heavily processed, sugar-loaded, regular grocery store-variety chocolate (sorry Hershey and Nestle). They’re poisonous to your body. Head to a health food store, or a place like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market or Sprouts here in the United States (or internet shop) to locate good chocolate, like Belgian or Swiss. Fewer ingredients; great taste; better for you!
7. Reduce Your Cooked Meat Consumption and eat more of a Mediterranean diet: fresh vegetables and fruits (THE major component of this diet), fish, olive oil, garlic, legumes (beans), whole grains and cereals, small amounts of cheese and dairy, (mostly plain yogurt), and added nuts (like walnuts). These are all anti-inflammatories, meaning they reduce internal inflammation and irritation and help repair damaged cells. If you choose red meat, make sure it’s grass fed meat, not meat from cows stuffed with corn feed, fillers (read: fatteners), and growth hormones! And consume it only 1-2 times a week.
For you poultry lovers, grass-fed or kosher chicken is best since other types are laden with hormones and subjected to deplorable, illness-producing living conditions. Turkey is an even better choice because no hormones are added to turkeys! (I keep the grains to a minimum, since finding healthful, old world-style grains in any product or store is hard. See last week’s post for alternative-to-regular-bread grains and grasses to consume.)
When you’re physically healing, consuming protein is a must! Choose your protein sources wisely. Fish is much easier to digest than red meat. Rare to medium rare-cooked red meat is easier to digest than well-done meat. Good, natural peanut butter (no sugar added) slathered on a piece of bread is one of the most complete sources of protein available. It was always one of the first choices of my highly competitive and world-class-level athletes I trained.
For those of you who like to read research and have more detailed information, here are two good links:
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mediterranean-diet/CL00011 (Easy to read and shows a great Mediterranean diet food pyramid!)
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean diet (Longer, more detailed research.)
Warning: Bell peppers, tomatoes and eggplant are in the “nightshade”
food group that can increase inflammation.
8. Stay Away From Flavor Enhancers, Especially Glutamate. It’s Toxic! Flavor enhancers, especially monosodium glutamate, cause the brain to “go bonkers,” as a neuroscientist said in a recent class I took. Check your food labels. You’ll be surprised what you find in your food! (Especially boxed, prepared food.) It’s also found in some whey proteins. It disrupts the brain’s delicate chemical balance and can cause serious problems, including psychological problems and brain cell death!
9. How Often Should you Eat, and in What Amounts?
Some research indicates that eating small meals every two hours reduces blood sugar spikes and keeps your energy levels at a more constant level. (This helps avoid those extreme energy drops and sleepiness following lunch or a large meal.)
Don’t stuff yourself! Always leave a little vacancy in your tummy so you don’t bog down the system, and eat slowly. It takes fifteen minutes for your brain to receive the signal that you’re eating and reaching a state of fullness and satisfaction. Eating slowly, concentrating on your foods’ flavor and texture, helps improve your mood too. When you’re depressed, not too many activities excite you, so enjoy your meal! It doesn’t have to be fancy to reap the emotional benefits.
Chew your food thoroughly! It reduces digestive tract stress by allowing the digestion process to start sooner—in your mouth. That means less stomach acid needs to be produced, and the digestive process is shortened. And that means less stress on your healing body!
10. Keep a Daily Food Journal.
This might seem time-consuming, but it’s important. It’ll help you determine just what kind of foods trigger problems, including mood swings, aches, pains, depression and migraine headaches! Make detailed notes of the foods you consume and how you feel physically and mentally when you wake up and throughout the day. You’ll begin to see a pattern emerge within a month.
Keeping a detailed food journal of what I ate at what times, and how I felt physically and mentally throughout the day, helped me identify allergies and sensitivities to a variety of foods. Years of physical agony evaporated within days of eliminating all corn from my diet. And my bladder and bones did happy cartwheels when I stopped drinking any carbonated drinks, including the now-popular fizzy water with gas.
You may have to eliminate foods and then slowly re-add them to your diet to see how you respond to them. Some people get into trouble because they eat too much of the same foods. A varied, seasonal diet can help you avoid developing sensitivities and allergies.
What About Supplements for Depression?
I’m a proponent—of some supplements—if they’re high-quality and taken in moderation. Those recommended for depression are:
~ B complex vitamins (some studies show that people suffering from depression have below-normal amounts of B vitamins in their blood) B vitamins keep the nerves functioning well.
~ Vitamin D—A large study of women found that those who had the highest intake of Vitamin D from food sources had a significantly lower prevalence of depression due to the effect it may have on two critical brain chemicals. And research indicates that depressed people tend to have higher levels of brain inflammation, which Vitamin D reduces.
Studies also show that solar UVB rays trigger the production of Vitamin D in your skin oils, which reduces inflammation in the vessels and body.
While getting your Vitamin D from sun exposure (15 minutes a day) is by far the best way, if you are unable to do that, then take a good Vitamin D supplement. (Sunscreen blocks the body’s ability to produce Vitamin D. But if you’re going to be outside longer than 15 minutes, slather up with the sunscreen after you’ve gotten your dose!)
~ Fish Oil is a major component of good brain chemistry and function. (Remember: the brain is connected to the body!) I prefer Krill oil. It’s toxin-free and doesn’t give me that burpy fish oil taste feedback.
~ 5-HTP is an amino acid (protein building block) that can increase serotonin, the mood enhancer chemical.
~ Theanine, found in green tea, causes the release of a brain chemical that triggers the release of the brain’s major nerve-calming transmitters. This decreases anxiety and increases relaxation.
I purchase my supplements through www.vitacost.com. Their prices are great, and the product quality is high. Shipping is free for orders over $49 (US), and you don’t pay sales tax. They even sell natural food from around the world, including vegan and gluten-free products. I’ve been buying from them for years and can’t speak highly enough about this online company. Their customer service is fabulous!
For more information on the top five natural supplements for depression click on this link: http://www.thebetterhealthstore.com/newsletter/012910_top-5-anti-depression_04.html
What About Diet Soda and Diet Drinks?
Avoid them like the plague! Researchers and doctors now think diet soda is more dangerous than regular soda. I heard a kidney specialist say it increases your risk of kidney failure and cancer by more than 50%! And the aspartame in it is NOT harmless! That’s another chemical that’s toxic to the brain and body and research is proving that.
A Word About Fasting
Don’t let the word “fasting” scare you. When most people hear that word they say either, “Why would I do that?” or “I could never fast!” If you’re doubtful, reconsider.
Fasting increases the burning of body fat, which helps reduce toxins in the body. A modified fast of not eating until 11:00 in the morning and then eating your last meal by 7:00 PM one day a week has been shown to increase metabolism and energy levels. It also seems to help the body run more efficiently as it burns fat for fuel.
Warning: Fasting during pregnancy is NOT recommended! Always check with your doctor if you have special medical considerations that fasting would aggravate!
Just How Well Will All of This Work For You?
Two anecdotal stories might encourage you.
My dear friend, Mary, (who decided to eliminate bread and sugar from her diet and start working out on the treadmill for 45 minutes daily), texted me last month to gleefully relay the following news: “The results are in. My cholesterol went from 288 to 227. 30 days of no sugar has paid off! What really surprised me was that I lost 10 pounds and the doctor is reducing my thyroid meds. That was a shocker.”
She texted me again on October 16 to add more, “Since I gave up bread and sugar I function better at work (she has a highly visible, stressful job) and don’t go home drained.”
Now who wouldn’t want to arrive home from a long workday with more energy!?
Then there’s this 18 year-old’s story.
This young man—a relative—started showing signs of depression in his freshman year of college. (Depression is common in about 15% of college students, and, unfortunately, it runs on both sides of his family tree.) By late summer things had gotten pretty bad, and he asked me for advice. After doing some intense research, I suggested the following supplements:
Vitamin B12 and Folic acid
Vitamin C and D
A daily serving of Organic Flax Seed Oil
Within a week of starting this regimen, he called me excitedly to say, “Wow, this is great! This B12 is like speed!” (Not exactly the result I expected, but he had been so lethargic and down that any improvement in energy and mood was profoundly noticeable to him. And he was thrilled! “I’m doing so much better!” he continued. And he kept at it for the rest of the next semester.
It took him several months to really turn the corner and make serious headway against his depression. (Two things he was in short supply of were sleep and exercise, two major components of healing that I’ll cover next week.) But the supplements helped, and he was able to avoid taking any prescription medicine which might have exacerbated his symptoms and caused him to entertain suicidal thoughts. (The latter is a sad side-effect for many teens taking anti-depressants.)
How long will it take you to adjust to your new food and nutrition regimen? A new habit takes 30 days to solidify, so your first 30 days will take concentrated, intentional effort and self-discipline. You may feel uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms—like fatigue and headache—as your body rids itself of the junk you’ve been feeding it. Hang in there! This will be a lifestyle change you’ll want to continue. When you start feeling so good you won’t want to go back to feeling so bad!
If you’re really depressed, take things slowly. You may only be able to make one food change at a time. Don’t be hard on yourself. Keep making intentional changes and journey forward.
NEXT WEEK: Steps 2 and 3: The important of exercise and sleep in combatting depression.
Thanks for joining me.
Until next week!
PS I’ll be adding a special post this Thursday, October 31. If you’re interested in thoughts on recognizing or celebrating Halloween, join me again that day!
(My healing continues to progress nicely. I’m following all this advice I’m giving you!)