Figuring out how to fight depression by changing what food you consume can be much like Alice falling into the rabbit hole. Once fallen, Alice constantly sees delicious foods with fancy notes: “EAT ME.” She eats them, regardless of not knowing if the appealing pastry will cause her to grow to the size of a giant or shrink to the size of a pebble.
Our world of food today is much like the food in Alice’s wonderland, eating what looks and is delicious, not really knowing the side effects it will have on our body.
This can be even more confusing because of the abundance choices on grocery store shelves.
But what if I told you it’s really not confusing at all?
I am proof that consuming the right foods in your daily life can fight depression so much so you no longer have to take prescribed medication.
How would this change your life?
Here is the simplicity: If you put good food in your body such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and lean meats your mind & body thrives.
Here is the complexity: We are addicted to “bad” food. There are so many delicious processed foods, additives, and junk marketing on the store shelves that is takes a very strong willed person to stop from buying them.
I am telling you right now, if you are willing to learn, I can teach you how to be that strong willed person.
TRUTH: Junk food releases dopamine in the brain causing an addiction. Our brain then relies on this junk food for the easy production of dopamine to feel good.
When I was a child I was a picky eater and I loved junk food. Chips, oatmeal pies, brownies, soda, candy, fries and the list goes on. By the age of thirteen I began suffering from depression and it has been a roller coaster since (and not the fun kind). My lack of knowledge, back then, is so disheartening (compared to what I know now) and I wish I could go back and give that teenage girl, that struggled with depression (which lead to anxiety, emotional eating, overindulging in alcohol and constant dieting), the simple and smart solution I have today. That, picky eating, teenage girl wouldn’t have liked the solutions but would have had the tools and able to apply them a lot sooner in life.
TRUTH: Depression is caused by the lack of serotonin in the brain. Low doses of dopamine effect the serotonin levels of the brain. This is why emotional eating occurs – your brain needs the junk food to release the dopamine to give you the feel good feeling since your brain isn’t creating enough serotonin.
Here’s what you are going to do: Cut processed food out of your meals, add fighting spices and at least thirty minutes of activity to your daily routine. That’s it.
It’s not always easy but let me explain how this will give your brain the boost it needs to fight depression and anxiety. You will feel so good when you accomplish it and there will be no stopping you to continue.
Remember, I’m living proof it can be done, among other people that have been actively involved in scientific experiments to prove the effects of certain spices and daily activity assist in fighting depression.
This life change for me has taken almost a year, with so many monthly slip ups over the years before, but I can genuinely tell you I’ve got it down (and figured out) and the reward out weighs every sacrifice and struggle. I have been off medication for a little over eight months, during some of the hardest days, a pandemic among other personal life challenges, and though there have been times I’ve felt sad or angry over a situation (s), not one time have I fallen into depression. This is a BIG deal for me; And it can be for you too. Not only will the brain start to produce the chemicals it needs on its own, but you will have more energy and feel sharper mentally. You will no longer crave or want overly processed food because it won’t be appealing. You’re brain will also no longer associate these types of foods with feeling good. Ifyou do fault to an emotional eating moment, you will find yourself craving things like nuts, fish, carrots and bananas. Wild, right? (Is your mind blown? Mine is and I’m living it.)
This doesn’t mean you won’t ever be able to have things like pizza again… but when you get to a certain point of your lifestyle change, if you don’t refrain for at least three months, you are likely to fall back into old habits quickly, giving the brain a quick fix before it figures out it can make dopamine and serotonin all by its little squishy self.
Now I’m going to give you the tools to make this lifestyle change and feed your mind and body, which works as a unit by the way, and I promise you, if applied you will become mentally (and physically) healthier (than you ever known possible.)
1. Healthy Changes: “You are never on a diet.”
You know how all those calorie counting, carb cutting, protein only diets tell you it’s not a diet but a lifestyle change? Well, this really is. I’ll tell you why – because you are teaching your brain to make the chemicals it needs, keeping your body on a regulated metabolism schedule and feeding your body vitamins and minerals it needs to properly function.
Your body needs good protein, good carbs, good grains and vitamins and minerals to thrive and function as a whole. You can lose weight quick using those not diets but this isn’t about losing weight, though you most likely will shed some pounds, it’s about being healthy. It’s about getting sick less, having more energy, great skin, thinking clearly and feeling better mentally and physically in your everyday life. Since your body works as a unit, it needs the right nutrients, activity and sleep to collaborate in keeping each organ, bone, and muscle working properly. To sum it up, when your body thrives, your brain will thrive.
TRUTH: Some spices have been scientifically proven to fight depression, anxiety, and/or sometimes bi-polar. Some of them working even to battle high blood pressure, Alzheimers, dementia, regulate blood sugar levels and the list goes on….
Question: How easy is it to add fighting spices to any recipe or meal you enjoy?
2. Brain Food: Don’t think about not being able to eat food you love, that is overly processed, out of your daily life… for now. Start by simply adding more brain food in every meal and snack.
After reading the blog on spices (link above in the Truth) figure out which ones you can add into your daily routine of food/drink intake. For example, in the morning I add cinnamon and cloves to my coffee as well as my daily brain boosting smoothie (recipe here). I add thyme and saffron to my eggs. (Brain boosting eggs recipe here). When you make dinner at night is there one of these spices you can throw in the recipe, even if it didn’t originally call for it? Start by committing to one or two spice(s) daily for a week and then add in another one for the next week… keep this pattern until you at least are consistent with four different spices which should take two to four weeks to accomplish.
Next, think OMEGA3. Omega3’s are the BEST brain food (that’s my opinion due to the amount of information on brain food I’ve taken in over the last five years). These types of foods are going to be things such as healthy nuts (more about Brazilian nuts here), fish (salmon has highest omega-3 value), flax seed, hemp seed and avocados, and the list goes on. (To find some foods containing the highest omega-3 click here). Print the list if you need to. Hang your list on your fridge! You’ve got this!
As above, with the spices, start adding an Omega3 food everyday. Rather it be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Keep a list of your add ins and reward yourself with something when you complete a week of having daily Omega 3’s. Well done friend!
TRUTH: Low ferritin levels (a protein that stores Iron) has showed up significantly lower in depressed people. Low ferritin levels indicate iron deficiency.
Again, our body works as a unit and when one thing starts crashing other things follow. Your body needs regular doses of vitamin C to store iron which in turn keeps ferritin levels average… low iron levels are linked to fatigue, depression, shortened of breath, anxiety and the list goes on.
You are going to make sure you are getting enough Vitamin C, naturally, to ensure you are able to store iron.
Though there are some juices claiming to be packed with Vitamin C don’t make this your first go to on trying to up your Vitamin C. Most juices are packed with sugar and other artificial ingredients. In addition, don’t always trust “sugar free” labels… fruit has natural sugar and if it’s “free” then it makes you wonder what is in the processed drink to replace sugar. Check labels!
Fortunately, Vitamin C is found in tons of fruit and vegetables, which makes consuming it, naturally, easy. (click here for ideas and print it out if you need to) I make sure to intake my daily by throwing lemon and/or lime in my water and green tea. I also love clementine and my smoothie recipe has lots of fruits packed with the vitamins. Start your vitamin C intake with an easy, daily commitment.
Truth: Women need more than twice as much iron than men and triple that if they’re pregnant.
There are two different types of iron. One is the type you get from meat (heme-iron) and the other type of iron is from vegetables (non-heme-iron). When it comes to getting iron it doesn’t matter which route you go. Studies show vegetarians get just as much iron as meat eaters. As a meat eater, you are going to start finding meats that aren’t made with antibodies and other additives while upping natural greenery and nuts in your daily life (read meat packaging labels and make sure you know what is added or what the label isn’t saying.). As a vegetarian your are going to start weening yourself off the processed meatless products (a lot of it is packed with sodium and other additives your body doesn’t need) and intake more natural plant based options. (Find the iron list here)
3. Saying Good-bye to Processed Food: Give up a new junk food you love every week.
Have you ever heard of those pretzels filled with peanut butter? I could eat at least half the container in a sitting. Add a few drinks in me, I’d almost finish off the big plastic container. Yikes! It was my first go to of emotional eating and my first hardest to give up (Especially when I see them on sale!). I don’t think about them anymore, unless I see them at the grocery, and now I smile, “Oh, I use to love those.” In my head I know they’re good on my taste buds and a quick dopamine fix for my brain… but I also know they make me gain weight and lose control so I avoid them as if they were a rattle snake.
Do not buy your favorite processed snacks. Don’t buy them. Really, even if the grocery has them marked down 90% off…. walk away.
If you have them you will eat them.
If you live in a multiple household this can be even more of a challenge. So, here’s what you are going to do. Begin weaning yourself from not buying your favorites but also putting things in the pantry, like nuts, bananas, natural popcorn etc. in front of and around the “junk food” snacks.
When you are doing step two and step three you will slowly wean the “bad” out and the “good” in.
I’m not going to tell you this easy, it’s not. (And after five months, Twizzlers are back in my life on occasion – but occasion is the key word. I have control) You’re brain will insist it needs those bad foods for survival. You will feel like an addict and your moods will be all over the place sometimes. STAY STRONG.
It took me almost three weeks off and adding the good stuff before my brain finally computed it didn’t need the bad stuff to feel good. I can’t tell you the amount of times I opened my pantry and just stared, willing my peanut butter pretzels to transpire. How many times, I almost said, “Screw this, and grabbed my keys and ran to the grocery.” So. Many. Times.
4. Retraining the Brain: You’re brain needs a re-boot.
Going off bad carbs is going to be hard, but remember this doesn’t mean you are ditching all carbs and your body, brain and skin are going to flourish under it’s new makeover.
But going off bad carbs is difficult. Like the bad processed foods, most of them usually packed with bad carbs, we are adding them (things like pasta, pizza, garlic bread, and more) in our daily meals. These are easy fixes, especially when you have kids, but our brains start relying on the over-processed carb packed meals that only make us feel tired anyway. (Whoosh, I’m out of breath from that ramble)
So, why do you look forward to them?
How many times have you sat down at an Italian Eatery and they have all you can eat bread… then at the end of the meal they ask you if you have room for dessert? I mean, do these places really sell dessert because I don’t see who could have room to try it…. as funny as it sounds, but a wonderful idea, what if they gave you carrots and celery to munch on before your meal? Well, I’d say “Yes, I’d love to try a sliver of that cheese cake after dinner.”
We need to retrain our brains not to say, “Oh bread!” (Before heavy pasta). You don’t need the pasta and bread – unless you want to go in a coma for the rest of the night, then by all means, go for it! BUT not before you retrained you’re brain. (I personally skip the bread if cheesecake is on the desert menu. Who wants to share!?!)
As you apply 1, 2 and 3 in your daily life, there comes a point when you have to pull the plug on all bad carbs and start your three month plan. On the three month plan you will eat all natural, unprocessed foods, more fruits and vegetables, fighting spices, and absolutely no carbs except what is found in your fruits and vegetables. (If you have to ask yourself if it’s processed, then it probably is)
Here is how you are going to start weaning from your carbs (don’t give yourself more than a week with each carb): Switch white pasta to wheat pasta, wheat pasta to white rice, white rice to brown rice and then none until the three months is over.
After three months allow yourself portion control of healthy grains on occasion, such as quinoa, couscous, multi-grain bread and brown rice. Try to only eat these proteins and carbs before activity. Give yourself about five to six months before you allow yourself to have a slice of pizza, white bread or cheesecake. These type of foods can be triggers and cause you to lose control. (You will feel a dopamine rush in the brain when you have them again after the five-six months, so always keep portions small and controlled).
There is healthy pizza options you might want to try, before going on the hard stuff, that are made with cauliflower and/or almond flour (it’s easy to add Thyme to your homemade pizza).
To this day, I’m still in control of my carb intake, while enjoying the healthier carbs in moderation and guess, what? You will be too!
Truth: Physical activity releases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain.
5. The Brain Needs Help from the Body: If you don’t like to “exercise” be positive here and work with me.
Small, daily doses of low intensity exercise actually keep your brain regulalated in producing the chemicals needed to ward of depression.
In a quote from, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard, Dr. Michael Craig Miller, he explains, “In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression.” (From Harvard Health Publishing)
To simplify all this, if you can commit to fifteen to thirty minutes of brisk-walking a day, you will be giving your brain the boost of exercise it needs to release healthy proteins and natural chemicals, such as serotonin, to ward off depression.
There are so many simple ways to do this: neighborhood, treadmill, around the house, hiking etc. If you can up this routine… you are on another depression buster path.
Being a mother and nanny I had a very hard time getting this time to myself and while I often incorporate physical activity through the day it’s exhausting and sometimes stressful. By the end of the day I was too tired to take my walks. So, even though it’s a struggle most mornings, I wake up earlier than I have to so I get my walking time in. I’ve literally been out the door and beginning my walk still thinking, “I just want to go back to bed…” but I’m telling you, once the blood gets flowing, you are going to feel so awesome completing your daily activity. It feels like a great accomplishment, and for me it’s an awesome way for me to start out a weekday morning!
Start off with about fifteen minutes a day. After a week, add on five more minutes a day… aim for at least five of the seven days a week. (with lots of water drinking, btw. At least an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, a day.)
You’ve got this!
6. Keep the Mind Sharp with New Information on Self-Growth: Read books (or audio), attend seminars, and /or listen to Podcast that are inspirational. Commit random acts of kindness.
Continuing self growth and keeping inspiration in your ear (or front of your eyes) boost your confidence and encourages you to continue to make positive changes in your life. It’s important to find what works for you. Feeling good about yourself and learning to love yourself, if you don’t already, are a big part in keeping you on the right track when fighting depression.
Feeding the soul, feeds the brain.
TRUTH: When do you things that make you feel good and grow your spiritual and soulful feelings you release happy chemicals in your brain such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. (Don’t get stressed, do something kind instead or pick up that favorite podcast that reminds you ‘You. Are. Awesome!’ – Thank you Jen Sincero, I’ve listened to your book ‘You Are A Bad Ass’ thirteen times. And I’m sure 14 will be around the corner one day.)
If you don’t continue to give yourself the love and attention you need, you will sink toward negative fillers and derail from eating healthy and retaining daily activity.
7. Stress & the Brain: Stress is your enemy.
Teach yourself healthy ways to deal with stress. Stress is a dangerous enemy of depression fighters, lowering serotonin and dopamine levels… not to mention the other damage it does on your body (remember your body is a unit, I can’t stress this enough – pun intended).
I prefer kicking the stink out of the boxing bag, yoga breathing exercises and Mozart. So rather if relaxation music in a dark, quiet room with candles, bubble bath or finding a smash room to work out your anger and stress – do it. It’s another way to show yourself some love and appreciation while monitoring those brain chemicals you’ve been working so hard to regulate with food.
8. Sleep & The Effects on Your Brain and Body: Can you really get seven to nine hours of sleep at night…. asked every mom, ever.
We all know sleep is important, but don’t enforce this to a new mom that is waking up to a crying baby every three hours, unless you are offering to take the baby so she can get eight hours of sleep…. she will cry (I promise new moms, one day you will have a romantic meet acute with sleep again. Just take care of you and baby the best you can.)
Not, getting enough sleep causes the brain and body to fall out of balance. When you don’t set a schedule to assure you get the right rest it begins to throw your whole unit in whack. You are more tired, in turn you might wonder why your super food lifestyle change isn’t working, which will add frustration, then stress, and this will lower serotonin levels… which will lead to food cravings that will set off your dopamine levels… and you will be Alice back in the rabbit hole. Sound extreme? Maybe. But trust me, it’s true and I’m throwing red flags all over this truth. If you don’t get the rest your unit needs to work… well, your unit is going to start shutting down.
If you struggle with insomnia try going on a brisk walk two hours before bed time, a natural sleepy tea, lemon balm leaves, breathing exercises and/or melatonin. I use to rely on wine but then I’d wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep. In addition, when retraining your brain it’s important to refrain from alcohol or severely lower your intake. (My body didn’t know how to shut off without alcohol after the day so I had to retrain my brain in this area too. P.S. All of the things above have worked for me to shut off my brain and get good sleep).
If you continue to suffer from insomnia, there are specialist to help you figure out a solution. There are relaxation and meditation apps to try as well… Stay Strong. You got this.
In the flop of things, don’t sleep too much. This also throws your body off. Set an alarm on rotation if you have a struggle with getting out of bed. Try an activity, like walking, as soon as you wake up to get your blood flowing. This will wake your body and mind up. (of course there is coffee…)
Alice escaped Wonderland with new growth and beginnings and you will too.