Diet and depression

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IF you often experience feelings of prolonged sadness, despair, anxiety, worry, or believe you are suffering from depression, don’t stop at uncertainty or self-diagnosis — speak with your family doctor regarding counselling options.

People have weight issues for a range of reasons, including upbringing, society, habituation, genetics, friends, the effects of advertising, and stress, but we are looking at weight issues due to depression. It is an entirely unique, emotionally connected state, and as such, it has its own unique connection with eating.

For most people emotions are varied — times of happiness or sadness, elation or misery, lasting for a reasonable period then returning to a comfortable, functional, emotional baseline. But for millions of people suffering from depression their baseline is anything but comfortable, regardless of their circumstances in life.

Their baseline sits in a seemingly uncontrollable, deep, sustained sadness, their worst feelings of despair and angst gripping and enveloping their reality with no apparent means of escape.

Fortunately, new research is revealing that this pandemic of depression can be abated by something as manageable as dietary choices. However, you will have to consciously decide to actively and consistently self-care, regardless of your ups and downs.

Whether you have overweight issues or not, depression often impacts eating choices by:

• causing overeating;

• warping perceptions of what portion sizes of foods should be;

• causing undereating;

• causing unhealthy eating


• resulting in unhealthy eating times;

• creating cravings for fattening foods;

• craving for unhealthy foods;

• increasing the use of

alcoholic substances in general,

wines — liquors, beer, spirits.

These choices often result from defaulting to one, or both, of two main patterns of handling foods: apathy or/and addiction.



Under an emotional drain, the energy to care about preparing and finding healthy foods, to even believing that it is worth the trouble, is difficult to find. This can result in not eating at all, which can cause undernutrition, malnutrition, anaemia, and even anorexia. It can alco make one simply grab whatever food is culturally or socially familiar and most readily available.

In this society these foods are usually cheap and common, over-enriched, processed foods, often with injurious or deadly levels of processed flour and sugar. These foods, although giving momentary comfort, have been proven to worsen depressive conditions.


Addictive foods create a self-perpetuating problem, causing potentially severe damage, worsening the depressive state, while making it feel as if the indulgence was worth it, Justifying the choice to go in the opposite direction of the real solutions with, “I felt much better after.”

But this never has to be you or anyone you know.

There is support, there is help, there is the knowledge of which foods to avoid, and there are healthy natural foods which are known to go a far way in creating improvements.

Eventually, they may realise the damage…problems as most aware people do, then they may realise the damage and the potential for critical problems, then they may attempt to seek a solution. But the solution can be challenging, leaving you to believe that you can’t “get a grip” or don’t think you are ready to change for the better. Before you fall into that trap, understand the following:

• Seeking comfort is, similar to seeking drugs. Processed foods are unnatural, that is they do not exist in that form in nature, and the low-fibre, unbound materials create higher than usual endorphins and serotonin spikes in your brain, similar to some hard drugs and often eventually with more deadly results.

• Self-image is often spoken about in relation to overweight appearance, but this is compounded by an internal self-image — self-worth. You must label your own self-worth, and in your better moments, confirm it. Compartmentalise it and keep it there for future you.

• Don’t justify giving up because of business or obligations. Many people hide behind what they have learned and believe is worthy. Family, children, work, career, meetings, travel, vacations are a means of escape, a way to shift focus from themselves to what they believe are solid walls to hide behind.

• Too often they talk themselves out of knowing that they are due for a change. Ignoring all solutions and defaulting into giving up, entrenching work, causes, habits etc, ignoring deeper issues, and justifying old patterns. The irony is, the solutions live in the challenges of change.

Studies on depression and foods

Among several studies highlighting a link between nutrition and mental health is a 10-year study published in BMC Medicine of more than 15,000 participants titled A longitudinal analysis of diet quality scores and the risk of incident depression in the SUN Project, which found that participants with a diet low in junk foods but rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts and fish had a substantially lower risk of depression.

Foods known to worsen depression

• Refined grains/carbohydrates, flour, sugars (corn syrup, high- fructose corn syrup, dextrose etc), pastas, breads, pastries, sodas etc. Like drugs, they lift you up, drop you down, then set you up for wanting more, creating and maintaining a deadly cycle.

• Processed and/or red meats.

• Margarines and fake butters.

• Meats high in antibiotics and hormones.

• Foods which damage your healthy brain, influencing gut microbiome such as sugars, sugar substitutes.

• Alcohol, is not a mood booster, it is a depressant, inhibitor and a relaxant which is often mistaken for anti-depression. The type of alcohol does not matter. Whatever you are drinking, the alcohol content is the active ingredient.

• Caffeine, yes, it can give you a boost but the crash is known not to help depression, and continuously ingesting enough caffeine to avoid the crash is in itself a health risk. Green tea is a better choice.

Foods great for mental health

Generally, foods rich in vitamin B6, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, brain-healthy fats/oils, natural complex carbohydrates, anti-oxidants, microbiota (good gut bacteria) healthy probiotic, and high-fibre foods are good. These include:

• Whole grain carbohydrates;

• Ground provisions such as sweet potatoes, serotonin-(a mood-elevating hormone) inducing, plus carotenoids (which give them their colour) — a type of antioxidant known for fighting depression;

• Dark green leafy vegetables, collard greens, spinach, callaloo, broccoli;

• Colourful vegetables;

• Fresh fruit and berries, all fruits, the more colours the better;

• Dark chocolate filled with flavonoids. If it does not say 70%, 75%, 80% or more on the label, then it is just dark-coloured, almost regular candy;

• Free range poultry including turkey, rich in the amino acid tryptophan which is used by your body to make serotonin;

• Legumes, nuts, seeds, and beans;

• Avocados;

• Turmeric;

• Fish, including deep-sea salmon;

• Fermented foods, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, natural yoghurt;

• Many other healthy natural foods including mushrooms, walnuts, and flaxseed.

The potential solutions are simple, but getting an individual suffering from depression, whether they know they are or not, to adhere to them is supremely challenging.

• Seeking counselling is highly recommended and remember, therapy takes time, and if one therapist doesn’t do the job for you, find another. There is a good one out there for you.

• For your nutritional challenges, find a coach or a system which offers coaching.

• Recruit friends and family in supporting your goals. People are often surprising, and most will understand that you have special dietary requirements.

• All forms of exercise — aerobic, a sport/game, weight lifting — have equal levels of success in alleviating depression in men and slightly more in women.

• Most of all, adhere. be honest and open with your own plans. do not cage up and cut communication; understand that the depression is real but the indulgences are a choice — an unnecessary, compounding, devaluing choice.

Depression is a mega trigger for those of us who will turn to comfort foods or drinks. This can make healthy, depression-fighting change a long and challenging path, which often feels impossible. Take that first step, keep progressing and hold the fort day by day.

Initially you may not even recognise a change, but with consistency, change certainly can come. Make change work for you and introduce yourself to a life you only hoped for before now.


Fitz-George Rattray is the director of Intekai Academy, which is focused on helping people live a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and weight management. If you are interested in losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle, give them a call at 968-8238, or visit their website at

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