When first diagnosed with celiac disease—a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food, commonly called “gluten intolerance”—in the summer of 2012, I had already considered the impact it had on my digestive tract. Almost immediately after giving up gluten and wheat, the bloat that I had carried in my stomach for almost four years went down, the agonizing stomach aches that I had suffered from for so long subsided and I felt completely and instantly energized.
But, what I hadn’t expected was the drastic change in my overall mood and reaction to stress. It’s common knowledge that exercise releases all sorts of feel-good endorphins, boosting mood and performance. When these endorphins are released into our brain, we get what is often termed as an “exercise high” or just a general sense of euphoria. Thus, a daily dose of physical exercise (30-45 minutes/day) has been cited as an effective treatment for depression and anxiety for its ability to reduce stress and increase self-esteem. But the problem is that most individuals who suffer from mental illness, despite being aware of the benefits of exercise, can’t muster the energy to engage in exercise and eat healthily, as the helpless feelings that characterize these disorders can sometimes be absolutely overwhelming, which makes checking the diet that much more important.
Though the idea that food has such a strong impact on the mind is not a completely foreign concept, to most it’s often the last piece of the puzzle they search for after trying all other treatments. But now that we’re being made aware of how our food is being processed, it should be the first thing we think about when we notice a radical change in our mood. The brain, which controls our moods and emotions, derives as much as 30 percent of its energy for daily functioning and processing from food. Therefore, if an individual suffering from depression and/or any other mood disorder or mental health concern is putting something into their body that they have an intolerance to, whether severe or mild, it’s bound to have an impact on their cognitive functioning and mood.
According to The International Guide to the World of Alternative Mental Health, so often our favourite foods—our hidden stash of comfort foods, the high-calorie-artificially-flavoured delights that we hide in the back of our cupboard for when we’re feeling particularly low—are the main culprit. Common signs of food intolerance after consuming an offending item include a low blood histamine count (often leading to misdiagnosed anemia or other vitamin deficiencies due to lack of proper absorption of these essential nutrients), a rapid pulse, and food idiosyncrasies, often expressed as strong likes or dislikes. Since comfort foods are an integral part of this destructive cycle, the food intolerant individual is in effect an addict, desperately reaching for the foods that actually make them sick.
When suffering from a mood disorder and trying to figure out what’s the cause, after doing everything else prescribed, I’d strongly advise seeing your family doctor or a qualified nutritionist to assist in discovering and eliminating offending foods from your diet. Eating should facilitate healthy brain function, not trigger mental illness, and individuals suffering from anxiety and depression need all the help they can get in providing healthy stimulus to aid the brain in combating these difficult emotions.
It may not be everyone’s cure-all, but eating correctly is one less factor to be considered when looking for causes and finding solutions to health problems, mental or physical. It worked for me.