At one point in 2009, I was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Okay, obviously none of that is true, but I was on top of my game full of strength, confidence and doors were opening one after the other offering great opportunities. Then, before I knew what happened I was unable to lift myself up out of bed. I was numb inside and little did I know I was about to embark on a five year journey that I was anything but prepared for.
Before I go any further, I must disclose that I have not been diagnosed with depression, as my stubbornness and ill faith towards leaving my doctors office with a prescription for antidepressants deterred me from ever going. This isn’t to say that medications can’t be useful or part of someone’s management or recovery, it just wasn’t for me.
MY STORY (Coles Notes version)
My world was torn to pieces when my mother passed away from her decade long battle with cancer. Within days, I turned to veganism thinking it would protect me from all that is evil in this world. Some people can make a plant-based diet work but after proper testing I found out that I wasn’t methylating properly, my level of zinc had also plummeted and no amount of pumpkin seeds was going to bring it back to within a normal range, I struggled to maintain my strength and conditioning, I wasn’t recovering from the most basic of workouts; therefore my aesthetics went to crap. My mind and body were becoming weaker by the day, both of which destroyed much of my spirit. I had to turn down fitness jobs (mostly modelling) as my body resembled more of the “before” look rather than the “after” and I was embarrassed to train clients while feeling so out of shape. When I started making some progress at the gym and in the kitchen, I sustained injuries to the scaphoid bone in my left hand and the medial meniscus in my right knee. The 30K square foot Wellness Centre that I was hired to design and manage was bought out after only a year and change by a bigger company who didn’t see the value of what my team and I were trying to accomplish within the workplace. There were a number of other occurrences that contributed to my depressive feelings but you get the idea.
Throughout the five years that followed my mother’s passing I was on what I can only describe as an emotional roller-coaster. I expected the dark days after my mom was gone, but the intensity of the peaks and valley’s that followed were extremely debilitating. I knew I had to pick myself up and move on as my mother would kick my behind if she knew I wasn’t happy and living my life. There were days where I felt I was making progress but these successful days were rare at the beginning and even though I eventually started to lump more and more good days together to where it would be weeks in between what would be a day or two of self sabotage, I was still far from out of the woods. Anyone who has suffered (or suffers) from depression or has experienced a great loss can most likely relate to what I was feeling and I am willing to bet you could also identify with what I am about to get into next.
THE VICIOUS CYCLE
The days of self sabotage were fuelled by binges of poor quality food, excessive TV watching and video game playing, sitting around, late nights, interrupted sleep and producing more negativity than Oscar the Grouch. Luckily, I don’t drink much alcohol post University/bar-tending days but when I did consume a little it was like my own personal kryptonite that robbed me of any hope of getting back to where I once was. I dreaded spending time with friends and family because I would say I was “fine” and lie about how I was feeling to avoid having to actually talk about what I was going through. Ever since I was a kid, I always chose to suppress thoughts and feelings for the sake of keeping the peace and not inconveniencing anyone with my problems.
After roughly five years of this vicious cycle and telling myself tomorrow will be the day I get my life back I finally realized I was on a fast track to nowhere. I wanted to climb out of the cellar and get back to being in the game but my bursts of enthusiasm would quickly vanish and I would go back to feeling comfortably numb. Luckily for me I have always been driven to defy the odds and I have always lived by the “never give up” mantra, therefore I believed that this funk I was in was going to be no exception and it was just a matter of time before I took back the control. I also knew it was going to take more than watching these two scenes ( 1 and 2) from Rocky III each day to get my “Eye of the tiger” back. It took me five years to put my plant-based diet to bed (I told you I was stubborn), accept that my mom was gone, that I may had been dealt a few bad hands but I was still the winner of, what Warren Buffet calls, the “ovarian lottery,” meaning I was still better off than the majority of people in this world born with much less than I.
The following tips are what it actually took to put me back on the path to feeling great and confident about myself again. I realize we all have varying circumstances and experiences but if you find yourself buried under a mountain of depressive feelings and you aren’t sure what you can do, I encourage you to start with a few of the tips listed below. If they overwhelm you, please just focus on one tip at a time until you can master it and move on to the next. This is the same approach I take with my clients to achieve their weight loss goals.
8 TIPS TO HELP MANAGE DEPRESSION
1. Adequate Sleep; Go to bed no later than 10pm. By doing so, you take advantage of your body’s natural release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Other hormones that benefit from adequate sleep are your appetite and hunger hormones as well as insulin.
2. Eat whole foods; Purchase and consume the majority of your foods that are found along the outside of the grocery store walls. Foods such as fruit, vegetables, meats, eggs, dairy (if tolerated), nuts & seeds, whole grains (if tolerated) and beans/legumes/lentils (if tolerated).
3. Limit processed foods; Normally, I recommend following an 80-20 rule when it comes to food, 80% whole foods and 20% processed with roughly 10% coming from junk food. However, it may be more beneficial to lower this percentage even more for extreme cases or work your way to a 90-10 ratio.
4. Exercise; With all of the mood boosting properties of exercise it is a no brainer to include something each day. However, if you aren’t getting adequate sleep each night or eating 80-90% whole foods, the last thing you will want to do is exercise.
5. Get outside; Exposing your self to natural vitamin D via sunshine and breathing in “fresh” oxygen will help energize your mind and body. If you can practice the art of grounding or earthing this will also aid in a full body reset.
6. Feed your mind; This can be done through reading and/or meditating. One of my favourite apps right now is a meditation app called Headspace.
7. Keeping a gratitude journal; Jotting down what you are grateful for either when you first awake or right before you retire for the day is a great way to rewire your brain and focus on the positive. Interested in journalling, check out this post of mine Writing In A Journal Isn’t Just For Teen Girls In Vampire Shows.
8. Probiotics and prebiotics; There is more and more research being released that suggests there is a solid connection between gut health and mental illness. Consuming fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, pickles, olives and cassava will help rebalance the ratio of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics, such as fermentable fibers like banana’s, onions, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root and dandelion greens feed the good bacteria in the gut.
Oh, and just to set the record straight, I am more of a Dark Knight fan.
*This blog post is not to replace medical advice in any way. It is however intended to offer you a few options to help manage the pain and suffering associated with depression and other mental illnesses.
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