This article will look at some of the connections between food, anxiety and depression. The field of nutritional psychiatry is exploring the connections between depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions with the food we eat. New discoveries are being made every week especially in the area of the gut biome>
What do we already know ?
The Mediterranean diet is protective against depression and anxiety as well as obesity an obesity related conditions such as diabetes.
The Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes (peas, beans) and includes moderate amounts of poultry, eggs and dairy plus occasional red meat.
Conversely, food that is high in refined carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour can spike a response in the body wherein cortisol, adrenalin and growth hormone are released into the blood leading to fluctuations in mood and energy as sugar levels soar and plummet.
With depression and anxiety, the immediate "high" of eating comfort food becomes a habit. Eating toast, biscuits, sweets, coffee, chips, sugary drinks are an easy option when motivation to cook is low and a quick escape from a low mood is wanted. High glycemic index foods (the above) can make us feel better, briefly but then much worse.
To make worse, these heavily processed food, high in trans fats, lead to oxidative stress in the body which leads to inflammation to the blood vessels of the brain and many other structures, further reducing resilience and further impacting on mood an cognitive functions such as memory.
When working with a person living with depression or anxiety I will ask. ............On a 10 point mood scale where is your mood today ?
zero = not being able to get out of bed and
10 = mostly happy and coping well)
Recovery is about getting that mood score up, week by week. From 3 to 4 to 5 etc.
Often, in recovery from anxiety and depression, (despite all the other factors involved) the right food can get you up 2 or 3 points towards 10 and wellness.
I recall William* whose mood was consistently 2/10. His food consisted of toast, biscuits, coffee and takeaways. He was not motivated to make any other changes but thought that he could begin to change his food.
He began to start every day with a fruit smoothy (blueberry), with yogurt and no sugar (with low fat milk or soy milk). A week later his mood was 4/10 and he felt motivated enough to begin walking and answering the phone. Food was not the whole answer in getting rid of the depression but it raised his motivation and mood enough to make other strategies possible and he engaged in his counselling. Within 8 weeks he had turned a corner. Mood 7/10.
Keep the changes simple. think live food, unprocessed food, low in trans fats and sugars ..... the Mediterranean diet. Notice your change in mood and your increase in motivation to take other positive steps.
- * not his real name.