6 In mental health

Can you cure depression by eating ‘right’?

As I sat down with my coffee yesterday morning and opened up the Weekend section of The Times, I first read a running article on page 2 by Mo Farrah. He offered some solid and sensible advice to anyone thinking about starting to run. 10 points to Mo, he’s a top bloke.

A few pages later I was greeted by this:

Rachel Kelly is writing about how cleaning up her eating cured her depression and anxiety.

The general information that she shares is all good – eat fruit and veg, eggs, meat & nuts, take probiotics and get enough sleep. Yes, all of these things help your body and your brain feel better. However, after a brief mention that for severe mental illness medication might be needed, the article goes on to basically prove that depression is beatable by eating ‘right’.

I’m putting the word ‘right’ into quotation marks because there actually isn’t one right way to eat. Humans are all made differently and while some things are true – like don’t drink Coke or Diet Coke because it’s a chemical sh*tstorm in a can and don’t eat cake on a daily basis – other things are much more grey.

I learnt what to eat and when – a handful of pumpkin seeds if I’m low, green broth if anxious.

Nice for Rachel Kelly to have found a solution to her mental health issues that is that simple.

Four years ago when I ended my parenting blog and started this one, I was on the same road. I was going to cure my depression by eating right and exercising. I was convinced that it would be doable, after all it was (still is?) the age of all kinds of ‘Wellness Warriors’ who proclaim that  ‘clean eating’ can cure anything from mental illness to autoimmune diseases to cancer.

Slippery slope.

What I found out in my little experiment is that while nutrition plays a huge part in me feeling well both physically and mentally – health and in my case mental health, is much, much more complicated than pumpkin seeds and green broth.

That doesn’t mean that you should not make changes in your diet or exercise regime if changes are needed. I myself exercise 6 times a week and 90% of the time I stay away from sugar, alcohol, gluten (not because of gluten per say but because gluten products often have sugar and other additives) and processed foods.

I notice how sugar especially affects my mood very quickly, but it also affects my digestion (hello bloating) and my blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemic episode while running – not nice).

However, however, however – sometimes as much as you do everything ‘right’, mental health is complicated and you need to be kind to yourself.

Eat well, sleep well, exercise well (enjoyably, not punishing yourself) but recognise that if you are struggling with low mood / anxiety / etc. there’s no shame in talking to somebody about it and/or taking medication for it.  Food is medicine, I fully agree with that, but keep in mind that there is a spectrum to every illness.

Somebody who is borderline type II diabetic can reverse that by eating better, but somebody with type I diabetes can eat all the right things but not reverse the diabetes.

The same goes for mental health – there scale of depression and anxiety is large and while eating a handful of pumpkin seeds works for Rachel Kelly, it doesn’t work for me and it might not for you.

Be kind to yourself. You are unique. Learn what works for you. Email me if you need to talk or ask me questions.

And if you do want to get in touch with somebody who’s fighting anxiety without medication and with exercise and food right now, talk to Sabrina @ Anxiously Active.

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  • Reply
    Katie Groome
    January 9, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    Now, I haven’t read the article but here’s my two cents..
    We don’t need people making us feel bad for our food choices, honestly we just don’t. In my opinion it’s okay to have a chocolate bar or bag of crisps, if that’s what suits you at that time. I think a lot of young women feel more worried/pressured/stressed by trying to keep up with everything…it’s even harder if you’re struggling with mental illness.
    However, the better I eat (by better, I mean just real food, with good chocolate, some red wine, you know…) and the harder I work out, the more I feel able to ‘handle life’.
    Regardless of all this, someday’s I just don’t want to get out of bed or face the world at all. Sadly, no super-food smoothie will change that.

    • Reply
      January 10, 2017 at 9:18 am

      I totally agree, while the intentions are good behind this article (and the cookbook it promotes), to put ‘Good mood food’ into the title it comes across as if it would hold recipes to some funky superfood meals that would take care of all your low mood periods – when in fact all food that is fresh is good for your mood AND so is ice cream sometimes!

  • Reply
    Anna @AnnaTheApple
    January 9, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Yeah it is pretty irresponsible to make such claims. I can understand what she’s getting at but she’s worded it in the wrong way. Mood can definitely be improved, as can quality of life and general health feelings but something as complex and as pervasive as mental health? No.

    • Reply
      January 10, 2017 at 9:21 am

      So true. I’m a bit tired of all these ‘health and wellbeing’ cookbooks these days – I’d much prefer a cookbook of salads or soups, etc. Most food that is prepared from scratch is healthy, even baked goods as you’re not adding industrial preservatives.

  • Reply
    January 8, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    I genuinely hate articles like that because it seriously undermines those who do have depression and anxiety by insinuating that it’s all their fault for feeling like XYZ because they’re just not eating clean enough and it’s bullshit. Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, not a shortage of fucking pumpkin seeds.

    • Reply
      January 10, 2017 at 9:21 am

      Exactly. I felt quite upset when I went back on medication after having ‘failed’ to cure my issues with eating and exercise…

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