healing from depression - nourishing brain and body - nutrition, food, light

{This article is part of my ongoing series Healing from Depression. You can read all the posts here.}

The autumn equinox has come and gone; the days are still bright and sparkly here, but they are a lot shorter, and the dark chilly nights are a reminder that the darker season is coming.

There are so many things to love about Fall and Winter, and I embrace the change of the season, but for those of us who have a higher risk of depression in the dark months, its time to really optimize our self-care. I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk to you about how I have healed my depression by deeply nurturing my body and nutritional needs.

Now, I'm not a nutritionist, doctor, or mental health professional - you know that. But I am a woman who has, over several years and through lots of trial and error, moved from clinical depression to a life of well-being and emotional stability. Also, I have a curious, skeptical, scholarly, and questioning mind and I've done lots and lots of reading and exploring. Of course I recommend that you do the same.

When you embrace your healing journey as a learning process, and begin to take responsibility for your own wellness, you will amaze yourself with how you can transform your experience of life.

I'm going to share with you the particulars of what has worked for me in treating my depression with nutrition. {prepare for a long post!} I put together this protocol for myself over the course of a year or two; I tried lots of things and stuck with what worked for me. An important part of finding what worked for me was learning to listen deeply to my body and its needs. I encourage you to do the same. Don't just follow what I did - it may not work in the same way for you. Take it as a jumping off point for your own exploration of the body-mind connection; invest in your well being by committing to research, exploration and experimentation. Finding what works for you will be worth the investment.

An important part of my own exploration was tracking what was going on with me from day to day. I kept records in the form of a journal where I noted daily both my healing activities, daily environment and events, and my mood. Over time, this helped me to track correlations I might not have noticed without the records, and was tremendously helpful.

So here it is, my fairly simple nutritional protocol for healing depression:
  • Supplement: 4000 mg high quality Omega 3 from Fish Oil daily
  • Supplement: 2 capsules 4-strain Probiotic daily, morning and night
  • Moderate alcohol consumption
  • Eliminate: refined sugar, wheat, gluten, and soy.
  • Eat clean whole organic unrefined food, including lots of veggies, fruits, and wild salmon.
So remember I adopted this slowly over about three years, listening to what worked for my body! You may not need to do all of this, and you may need to do other things that I haven't, for instance eliminate meat or corn or dairy.  So let's look at each of these items.

Omega 3 Supplements
Omega 3's have lately been proven as effective as anti-depressents in clinical trials. You can read more about the research here. Honestly I think everyone should be taking these for general brain health. And certainly if you have mental health issues. If you don't do anything else on my list, do this one, it really will make a difference to your body and brain. That said, do some research and get high quality, standardized potency supplements, that are certified free of heavy metals. YES those ones are more expensive. And they work and they're safe. Here's the brand I use,  and I am sure there are other good brands, just do your research!

Probiotic Supplements
So did you know a big chunk of your brain turns out to be in your gut? Yes it's true. We have a million brain cells in our guts, and the brain and the gut work in unison (hello, listening to your gut!) If you don't believe me, read this article in Medical News Today. So... it's a really good idea to take care of your intestinal health, and one of the best ways to do that (besides a great diet, of course,) is with Probiotic supplementation. Read this. Once again, the quality of the supplement matters. After a lot of research I decided to take this one.

Ok that's it for the supplements. I'm not about taking a ton of supplements just because they might work. I look at the research and choose carefully. There are other things you might consider adding to your supplement regime - one of the best sources I found for solid information regarding the research on supplements and depression is the book The Brain Diet.

Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol and depression go hand in hand. Many depressives find themselves self-medicating with alcohol, and the alcohol in turn depresses your mood the day after consumption. I found as I healed that I had to give up alcohol for a little while to let my body and brain reset, and to break the habit of turning to wine for stress relief or mood elevation. It was much easier to return to more moderate habits after a break from the stuff. "Moderate" is not a vague term as I use it - I stick to Health Canada's recommendations for moderate consumption for women: no more than three 5oz drinks per occasion, with a maximum of nine 5oz drinks per week. That's actually a lot, and I find a max of two drinks per occasion is healthier for me, with only one or two occasions per week being ideal. Mind you, I enjoy my Central Coast Cabernet - but these days I choose to emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to wine - quality of the wine, the food, the occasion, the environment, and the company.  If you need some help thinking about moderating your alcohol consumption, the nonprofit organization Moderation Management is a fantastic resource.

Eliminate Inflammatory Foods
This one is super important for me because I have other inflammatory conditions and tend to  be very sensitive/allergy-prone. I know this is a hard one to take, too, because we turn to food (especially carbs and sugar) for comfort. I can assure you that the transition away from inflammatory foods is difficult. I  can also assure you that the benefits are worth it especially if you are starting in a place of daily struggle with the darkness of depression. The best approach is to track your responses to various foods by eliminating one thing at a time and tracking your moods/well-being. If this is all overwhelming, I think a harm-reduction strategy is great too - just cut down on what you can, when you can. A good starting point for learning about the case against wheat is this interview with the author of Wheat Belly. It's a bit annoying-talk-radioish, but the information is fascinating.  There is so much good information out there right now about the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet - again, I would refer you to  the book The Brain Diet for a really comprehensive no-nonsense exploration of the subject.

Eat Good Stuff
This is common sense, people! As well as being healthy, it's an artful, beautiful, sensual, and caring way to eat. Shop at the farmer's market. Buy stuff that doesn't come in a box. Get a juicer. Experiment. Take sensual pleasure in your food. It's amazing how quickly both your palette and your metabolism will respond.

Okay, that's it - my own personal regime for nutritional healing. And I'll say it again - I'm only an expert on me. Your results may vary. What I'm really encouraging here is for you to become an expert on you. Take responsibility for your own well-being as an act of self-love. Try things. Pick and choose. Get to know your own body and your own brain. Read. Do research. Talk to your doctor, therapist, and nutritionist. Ask questions. Don't take my word for anything - but be inspired. The difficult truth is there is no magic bullet for depression. When people ask me what I did to recover, they get tired of listening way before I finish telling them all the things I've done. It's been a long road, uphill, with many setbacks. I'm sorry to have to tell you this; it isn't easy and there's no formula. But recovery is possible. And nourishing your body lovingly and responsibly can be a key aspect of your recovery. Please take what I've offered here, do your own research, and find your own way. I care so deeply about your recovery - I really do. And I wish you well-being and self-love.

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