Here’s a chicken-and-egg for you: Which came first, the lazy prefrontal cortex signaling classical signs of depression or the low-energy body that must be dragged about from room to room without a seeming will to even exist? If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent many an hour kicking the tires of this brain tickler.
For many years I assumed I was one of those unfortunates born with a vitamin Prozac deficiency. It was a conclusion backed up by, if not originating with, the lab coats who I ran to for answers. But what if my mood is actually based in my body? (As if the brain weren’t of the body, but that’s for another day.) What if my brain merely interprets an illness originating in the gut, for instance, as depression and is making up stories to back up its conclusion?
What if my food is making me “crazy”?
Disclaimer One: It’s damn hard to write about diets like veganism or paleo or gluten free and not sound pretentious. I do so grudgingly and will not be telling any individual how they should eat. Our bodies are highly individualized, some digest milk no sweat, others don’t do so good on that front. What I aspire to do is present the state of current research at the nexus of what we eat and how we feel. Food and mood. From my imperfect perspective.
Disclaimer Two: I’m newly on this nutrition hunt. I don’t know but a small fraction of everything that’s in play here. However, I have resolved to put my energy deeply into this chase. If I find anything that’s useful to you, great. If you have something that may help me, consider me interested (but please don’t hound incessantly; new converts and true believers of every stripe turn me off).
Most of us are familiar with documentaries like Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation, which have shown us in exhausting detail how the apparent food wealth around us is also one of the architects of our demise.
But if our diets are making us sick, shouldn’t we be dead already at 35, 43, 50? A life expectancy in the upper 70’s sounds pretty good before one realizes that not only is the U.S. lagging at least 40 other countries, according to the CIA World Fact Book, but that–for poor white folk, at least–the average lifespan is already starting to reverse.
The obesity epidemic is partly to blame for that. While that’s a big dietary red flag in and of itself, it’s not the only epidemic in play. Prescription drug ODs cut into those numbers too, according to The New York Times, a situation with its own ties to depression and economic despair.
There’s a lot more popping on the food and health front. Chronic fatigue, for instance, marked by lethargy, joint pain, and difficulty concentrating, is frequently indistinguishable from depression.
Why none of my doctors ever asked me about my diet over these past decades is confounding. But was I really up to overturning my diet in an attempt to weed out the offending foods? With no guarantees of success, I’d resisted the suggestions that I cross gluten off my shopping list for a trial period.
Psych Central lists processed foods and refined sugars high in a recent roundup of foods that may cause depression.
Yet I resisted for reasons that are beyond me. Perhaps because of the depression itself. Sometimes one more thing is just one thing too many. I resisted, that is, until my last medical checkup when it was (again) suggested that the link between gluten and depression is very real for some people (check here).
I’ve now been gluten free for just shy of a week. The goal is to go six weeks and assess the mood anew.
I’ve made other changes too. I’m eating my largest meal in the morning and eating small meals every couple of hours throughout the day rather than gorging three times per day. More whole foods and fewer prepared ones. And lots of water.
The change appears to be showing dividends already. Several days this week I’ve woken up close to happy. That is, I wake up with the possibility of happiness within reach, accessible. And you best know that when I can tap into that, I luxuriate in the mutha.
While there are still periods of low mood, low energy, confusion, anger, and all the resulting habitual negativity of all that and more spinkled throughout my days despite my best meditative embrace, there is also this other thing stirring.
I can’t say it’s just the gluten. Life is, after all, a state of constant change: social pleasures or anxieties, work successes and failures and indifferences, oversleeping and insomnias, weather shifts, and straight up injury and physical pain. Teasing out cause and effect in this moving picture show takes a doctorate in self awareness. But what choice do we have but to take it one class at a time and apply ourselves?
When shit gets hard, we rest. No apologies.
Long post short, I’m proud to report there’s new life popping at Depression Time (I got this post scratched out, didn’t I?). As of today, I’m expecting more updates to follow. And that feels good.
But wherever you’re at, I’m wishing you all best things and sending you an infinite stream of invisible gelatinous hugs. (Holla!)
Top image from the U.S. FDA’s “Junk Food Jungles” advertising campaign, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.