How Healthy Eating Can Lead to Depression

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depression-image-design-1You’ll hear all the time that to fight against depression you need to eat healthily. A healthy diet is supposed to give your mind and body all the nutrients needed. With a well-balanced diet, your blood flow will be improved, so your mind gets the oxygen it needs. You’ll also get a balance in hormones to help with the release of the right chemicals.

What if I told you that your healthy eating could do the opposite? What if I said that it could lead to depression?

Even if you have a healthy diet, you may not be getting the best foods for your mind. At the same time, you may not have the balance that you need to give your mind everything it believes you need and want.

Here’s a look at healthy eating and how it can lead to depression. This doesn’t mean you should focus on junk food all the time, but it will give you a better idea of how to use your healthy diet to make sure it does help you fight against depression.

Too Many People Cut Out the Food they Like

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When you hear, you need to follow a healthy diet, it’s very common to start thinking you need to eat just rabbit food. In fact, so many people get focused on eating the likes of avocados, tomatoes, oily fish, and everything else that is supposed to be good for them that they miss out on the food that they want.

A healthy diet doesn’t mean that you have to miss out absolutely everything that is “bad” for you. In fact, some of those supposedly bad foods for you can be good for you in moderation. Just look at the studies currently underway about how red wine, dark chocolate, and even coffee can be great for the overall physical and mental health.

We spend so much time trying to fit in the good food and focusing on a healthier lifestyle that we start saying no to the food that is meant to be bad for us. That just leads to us wanting that “bad” food more and more.

The more we tell ourselves no, the more we crave the food. It’s a never-ending cycle, and it leads to two things: you end up depressed about not getting to enjoy your meals and you start binging on the food that you keep saying no to.

It’s not just about a healthy diet, but also about a balanced one. Focusing on foods that are good for your health doesn’t mean that you must forgo the foods that you once loved to eat. You just need to get them into your diet in moderation.

Cutting them out means that you get fed up of the diet you’re on.  You start hating the fact that you can’t have the food anymore, and this can lead to chemicals dropping in your mind. Your brain can release the right levels of happy hormones. Instead, you get more stress hormones being released into your body, and this can be a cycle of depression.

So, when you do decide to follow a healthy diet, make sure you include some of those foods that you want. You’ll benefit from it in the long term.

For some, the cravings can be a temporary issue. In the early stages of the healthy diet, you’ll have to deal with sugar cravings and other withdrawals from the change in your diet. Once you get through the withdrawals, you’ll find it much easier to go through days without the sweet foods. But that still doesn’t mean you have to leave them out completely.

You’re also at risk of depression during the earlier stages. Not everyone will be able to work through this stage. It depends on your personality. It’s worth being aware of the possible downsides to cutting out all unhealthy food.

A Healthy Diet Doesn’t Mean Getting all the Right Food Groups

Food pyramid

How do you know that the food you’re eating is giving you the right nutrients? Even if you know you’re getting all the nutrients you need, do you know that you’re getting the right levels?

We focus so much on the food that we tend to forget about recommended daily amounts. After all, you can’t have too much of a good thing, right? Well, this is where many people are wrong. Yes, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Let’s go back to the point above. You need to get the bad stuff in moderation, but that also applies to the good stuff. It’s all about a balanced diet.

One of the most commonly forgotten about nutrients is carbohydrates. We’re focusing so much on getting fiber and protein, that we forget or purposely miss out the carbohydrates—the food group that helps to give us all the energy that we need throughout the day.

But aren’t carbohydrates bad for you? This is a common misconception because we tend to think about carbs as evil—the things that sugar in our bodies and increase the risk of Type II diabetes. It’s all about getting the right types of carbs.

There are two types: simple and complex. The simple carbs break down quickly. These are mostly from your refined sources, like your chocolate, cakes, cookies, and other similar products. They can also be in white rice and white bread. Really, they’re in the foods that don’t have that much fiber. These are the carbs that will give you the instant energy boost but then cause the energy dip just hours later.

Complex carbs are much better for you. They break down in the body much slower, giving you sustained energy levels throughout the day. There’s no sugaring in the blood, which means you’re not as likely to suffer the insulin response and increase your risk of developing Type II diabetes.

Many of the complex carb foods are full of fiber and other nutrients. They include the likes of:

  • Brown pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Potatoes
  • Root vegetables
  • And Fruits

You will still get plenty of nutrients by adding these complex carbs into your diet. You’ll also get the sustained energy levels.

Drops and increases in the energy levels are bad for you. Consistent low energy levels are also bad. Your brain doesn’t have the power to function properly, and you end up with a release of the stress hormone. Just think about how down you can feel when tired. If this was constant, you’re running the risk of developing depression.

When you’re tired, you’re also less likely to do any exercise. The exercise is needed to help boost the happy hormones in the body. This is a never-ending cycle.

Some carbohydrates also help to give the brain a boost on their own. This isn’t about energy, but getting the right chemicals in your brain. There is tryptophan in complex carbs, which helps to boost the level of serotonin in the body. The serotonin is the happy hormone: that mood booster that we all need daily.

So, if you get more complex carbs, you will get this necessary nutrient. You will need to get amino acids to help with the absorption of tryptophan, so it is all about healthy and balance within your diet.

You may feel tired after eating some of the healthy carbs. This is again linked to the tryptophan and the levels of serotonin. The tiredness is a good one: you’re satisfied and ready for the end of the day. Just think about how you feel after your big turkey dinner at Thanksgiving or Christmas. You can counter this by doing some exercise during the day.

It’s not just the carbohydrates. Some diets recommend the complex carbs but want you to cut down on the protein. There are plenty of vegan or healthy vegetariandiets, after all. The problem is that by cutting out animal products, you run the risk of not getting enough protein in your body.

Protein helps the muscles to repair, but it’s not just good for that. It offers some sustainable energy because the protein breaks down in the body slowly throughout the day.

If you want to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you can get your protein from legumes and beans. However, you will need to make sure that you get enough.

Likewise, you will still need to get some fat. A small amount of healthy fat supports the brain. Just think about the likes of omega 3 and fish oils. With the brain fully supported, it’s able to release more of the happy hormones daily. You’ll feel happier, rather than getting the stress hormones that can lead to depression.

A Healthy Diet Doesn’t Mean a Healthy Lifestyle

dumbbell and breakfast with measuring tape

We’re so focused on the healthy diet that we forget about other ways to help curb depression. It’s not all about the diet, but we start to put our whole focus into it. We’re forgetting about the hormonal balance, the need for exercise, and the need for an overall healthier exercise.

Your healthy diet can end up causing depression because you forgo all the other needs to fight off depression and prevent it.

It’s important to add exercise to your lifestyle. We’ve just looked at how exercise helps to boost the happy hormones, but do you know all about how it does this? When you exercise, your brain gets more oxygenated blood. The body must boost the blood flow to make sure your heart and lungs work properly while you exercise.

With your brain getting more blood, it’s able to function to its full potential. That means your body can release more of the happy hormones, including serotonin and endorphins. You don’t feel as much pain throughout the day, and you’re a much happier person. You’ll also find that your energy levels get a boost.

Sure, the diet can help with the boost of endorphins and serotonin, but it doesn’t do as much good as exercise. Make sure you completely change your lifestyle.

You should try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. This doesn’t mean running. You can do an activity that you enjoy and split up the 30 minutes throughout the day. Some people will do 7-minute exercises at strategic points of the day while others prefer to take a 30-minuteexercise class.

You’ll also need to consider other elements of your lifestyle. Do you smoke? Maybe you have an excess of stress in your life. Some people are just more susceptible to mental health issues. You may have another mental health condition or personality disorder that has a dangerous depression side effect. Some people need to take medication on a regular basis to help their mental health issues.

Stress levels are the most common reason for depression. A healthy diet doesn’t stop the stress in our lives. Some of theuse just struggle with the way to deal with worries and difficult situation. We may have money worries or family problems that lead to our cortisol levels increasing.

Stress is a silent killer. It raises the blood pressure and stops us sleeping that well. We’re at a higher risk of gaining weight, suffering from heart disease, and dealing with other health problems.

But how does the healthy diet fit in with all this? Some people stress over not being able to stick to the healthy diet constantly. We worry about what will happen with one day off or how that chocolate cake is going to cause a problem for our health. So much focus on sticking to this health diet leads to us being stressed over the situation.

It’s important to look at your overall lifestyle. Just focusing on your diet and not getting the medical attention you could end up needing will make you depressed. It will cause other health problems, too.

There’s Still a Risk of Skipping Meals

Useful cut vegetables on a plate in the form of heart on wooden table top view

Getting a healthy diet doesn’t mean that you’re following a healthy meal plan. You could get plenty of fruit and vegetables, but are you skipping meals? This is going to lead to depression if you do it on a regular basis.

When you skip meals, you don’t give your body the calories that it needs throughout the day. You run the risk of dangerously dropping your calorie intake, and your brain won’t like you for it. This is when you’re more likely to start craving for the high sugar foods that you know are bad for you. The benefit of them is that they’ll give you an initial energy boost. Right now, your brain is thinking about the current needs and not the long-term needs.

Skipping breakfast is one of the most common issues. We’ve all done it at some point, whether we haven’t had the time to make something or we think it will help us with our weight loss efforts. Often, it causes more harm than good.

Our bodies have been through a fast overnight.  Breakfast helps with managing the metabolic rate. If you don’t get the right amount of food, your metabolism will decrease because the body doesn’t know when you will get more food. It doesn’t want to use up all the reserve that you have.

But of course, you’re likely to be hungry throughout the day. Your body isn’t satisfied and will crave for all the foods that you’re not supposed to eat—those that don’t give you the nutrients that you need.

You can counter this problem. After all, skipping meals isn’t always something you can avoid. You may not feel hungry, or you may feel ill first thing on a morning so want to wait until later to eat. Planning head for this is important. Arrange to have smaller meals throughout the day to help you get the nutrients and calories that your body will need. You’ll get the sustained energy, which will help your mood.

It’s also important to make sure that any food you do eat is good for you. Your brain will make you want chocolate and cookies, but you need something that will sustain you for a longer period of time. Reach for the fruit or make a light, filling meal. Look out for foods that are full of protein and fiber to help you with this.

The drop-in energy levels will take us to the same problem as not getting enough complex carbs in our diet. We end up not doing enough exercise, and our overall lifestyle isn’t healthy. It doesn’t matter how healthy the food is that you eat (when you eat it) because everything else is working against your mental health.

The best thing you can do is avoid skipping meals as much as possible. Sure, there will be some days that you struggle with this, but don’t make it a regular habit of not all your meals. If you struggle with eating breakfast, opt for smaller meals throughout the day. You could also opt for a smoothie at the start of the day to help you get the calories that you need to start.

You May Not Get Enough Calories

Cabbage salad with avocado and oven potatoes

Even if you don’t skip meals, there is still the risk of not getting enough calories. When you think of healthy foods, many people instantly think of fruit and vegetables. In fact, there are a lot of diets that recommend focusing only on fruits and vegetables, with a few legumes and beans thrown into the mix. If you do this, just think about how few calories you’re going to get.

This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Getting less than 1,200 calories a day means that your body isn’t getting all the nutrients it needs. It’s not getting all the food groups, including fat (yes, fat, which we’ll get onto soon). By getting fewer calories, you’re not giving your body the full days’ worth of energy that it is going to need.

But can’t it get this energy from the stored calories? It will, but it must work slowly. Your body doesn’t know if this lack of calories is for one day, for a week, or for a whole month. After two days, especially it can start to go into a starvation mode, which is where your metabolism will slow down to make sure you have enough energy for the whole day.

A slower metabolism means that you don’t get all the energy that you once got. Your body isn’t burning as many calories, so some of the functions aren’t as good. The first thing you’ll feel is tired. You don’t feel like you can get as much done throughout the day, and could find that you need to sleep more. The problem is that the sleeping isn’t helping your energy levels.

You’re not going to get as much exercise, and you just don’t feel satisfied. You end up craving all the food that you once ate. Your body just needs a quick fix, even if that means getting a short-term energy boost. And when you don’t give yourself that energy boost, you slip into a depressive state.

All this because you want to eat healthier. You think that your healthy diet is good for you.

While you want to follow a healthy diet, you still need to make sure you get enough calories. Look at the food that you’re eating. If you’re eating healthy but feel like you’re not getting enough energy, there are high chances that you’re not eating enough. Tally up the calorie count throughout the day and make sure it at least reaches the 1,200 calories.

Remember that if you’re not getting enough calories, then you won’t be getting enough nutrients. This leads to depression, too. The brain isn’t getting the nutrients it needs to support the cognitive function, and you’re more likely to suffer the signs of aging.

A Healthy Diet Doesn’t Mean You’re Getting the Right Nutrients

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Like with the food groups issue, a healthy diet doesn’t mean that you’re going to get all the right nutrients daily. You can still end up missing out some crucial additions because of your poor food choices.

A deficiency in vitamin D is one of the most common issues. Most people associate it with poor bones and teeth, but a lack of it also affects your mental health. While you can get your vitamin D from the sun, if you’re living in an area that doesn’t get a lot of sun daily then you’ll need to get it from your diet.

Studies have shown that people who have a deficiency in vitamin D are more likely to suffer from depression. The brain has vitamin D receptors that need to be satisfied throughout the day. The depression is very common in the winter months, which is when the sun is less likely to be out to feed us the vitamin that we need.

But how does a healthy diet affect this? Well, some people choose to cut out milk from their diet. There’s belief that milk is unhealthy for us because of the natural sugars and fats in it. The truth is that it is full of healthy nutrients, including vitamin D and calcium.

It is still important to get the milk in moderation. Too much calcium and vitamin D can lead to kidney issues. But you need to get some in your diet to boost your brain healthy.

On top of that, a healthy diet doesn’t mean we’re going to get enough B vitamins. This is especially the case with vitamin B12, which is one of the hardest to get from food. There’s a reason many people will end up taking supplements to get this.

When we focus on a healthy diet, we can cut out foods that are high in fat. Sometimes we cut out foods that are high in protein. The downside is these foods also tend to have plenty of B vitamins. Studies have shown that a lack of B vitamins can lead to depression—or people with depression are more than likely to have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

You can get B12 from oily fish, lean meats, and legumes. It’s time to add them to your diet if you haven’t done already.

We also can’t forget about the levels of selenium. This is a mineral that many people forget about, and doctors rarely test for until they run out of other deficiencies to test for. A lack of selenium can lead to energy levels dropping because there isn’t enough blood passing through the system.

Selenium helps to support the heart and blood vessels, making sure the blood doesn’t clot, and it gets everywhere that it needs to go. The lack of energy is one of the first side effects noticed, but of course, is linked to so many other deficiencies. Your brain isn’t getting enough oxygenated blood because the heart and vessels aren’t supported enough without the selenium.

How does the healthy diet cause this? Selenium is found in the highest amounts in oily fishes and lean meats. Too many of use cut out these because we want to follow a healthy diet, without thinking what we’ve done.

Magnesium and iron are two other nutrients that can cause depression if you don’t get enough of them. With a healthy diet, you do run the risk of a deficiency in these, because of your diet choices. Iron is in abundance in red meat, which is where most of us get it from. What we tend to forget is that we can get it and magnesium from dark green leafy veggies. Even with a healthy diet, we may not get enough of these dark green vegetables.

Iron helps to support the oxygen levels in your blood. A deficiency is commonly noted by extreme fatigue, which we’ve already discussed can lead to depression.

A lack of magnesium affects the levels of serotonin in the brain. This is the mineral that helps to support the production of serotonin, so a lack of the mineral means a lack of the chemicals. Magnesium also affects the function, so even if you get enough, you end up running the risk of it not performing as it should because of your magnesium deficiency.

As a magnesium deficiency builds, there is a high risk of depression. You would need to correct the deficiency issue, so just following a healthy diet in other ways isn’t going to be good enough.

You can get more magnesium with whole grains, as well as in those dark green leafy vegetables. If you’re really struggling to eat the vegetables, you could opt for green smoothies instead.

Eating and Drinking the Vegetables and Fruits is Not the Same Thing

Diet and nutrition. Fresh fruits, vegetables and juice

The mention of green smoothies leads us onto another reason the healthy diet could lead to depression. When we’re trying to get more of the healthy fruits and vegetables, we start to look at drinking them instead. There are a few issues with this.

First, we’re more likely to consume more of the fruits and vegetables. Isn’t this a good thing? Doesn’t this mean we’re getting more of the nutrients that we need? Well, yes and no. In some cases, it could mean that we get healthy amounts. But remember that there is a problem with getting too many of the nutrients.

When we consume more fruits and vegetables, there is the risk of consuming more nutrients than we need. We’re running the risk of other health problems, and these could lead to depression.

Second, of all, the extra consumption leads to more calories being drank. We just don’t know when we’ve had enough as well as we would when be eating the fruits and vegetables. So, we end up consuming more calories than we need to.

But surely this is a good thing, right? We’ve already said that our healthy diets can lead to a lack of calories. What’s the problem with the extra calories? Well, there’s the risk of consuming more calories than we’re burning off. The calories are stored, and we end up gaining weight. Being overweight is linked to depression.

Drinking the fruits and vegetables will be dependent on the other foods that we eat through the day. Really, your smoothie is replacing a meal or a snack. It’s not the best option if you’re going to keep consuming your normal daily food at the same time.

Third, it will depend on how you drink your fruit and vegetables. There is the risk of missing out on the fiber. This is the big issue when it comes to juicing the fruit and vegetables instead of blending.

When you juice, you’re removing the pulp and the skin. You’re removing all the fiber in the fruit and vegetables, which means your body is just going to get the sugars. This is more of a problem with fruits, as they tend to be higher in sugars than vegetables.

By consuming more sugars, you’re going to create that instant energy increase. Your glucose levels increase and you end up with the insulin release. You get an energy dip later, and there’s a risk of developing Type II diabetes, among other health problems. Of course, these drops in the energy levels so quickly after eating will mean that you need more food. You’re going to try and stick to the diet, and you end up hating your diet. The depression is more likely to set in.

While you can still get some fruits and vegetables in liquid form, think about how much you’re consuming. You’ll also want to consider the way that you consume them. Focus on the smoothies rather than juices to make sure you get all your fiber. Stick to one a day to get more of the nutrients without the excessive calories.

There’s the Risk of Getting Bored of Your Diet

Teenage girl with no appetite

How many times have you followed a healthy diet only to end up getting bored with it? Your brain starts to crave the other foods that you want, and you run the risk of developing depression later.

The issue is the lack of variety. It’s not actually the healthy food that causes the problem but the way that you use it. Be honest; just how many ways do you know how to use vegetables? When you initially think of them, you likely think about:

  • Salads
  • Stews
  • Soups
  • Stir fries

After a while, these dishes get boring. You want something new; something exciting. In fact, you need it, or you’re going to start craving all the foods that you know you shouldn’t eat a lot of.

So, it’s time to find some variation. You’ll need to spend some time looking up plenty of recipe ideas for your chosen diet. Don’t worry because there will be plenty of options available. There is breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and even snack ideas that you can enjoy throughout the day. The more of these recipes you have, the more varied your food will become.

The healthy diet no longer feels like a chore. It’s no longer the thing that you must stick to, so you end up enjoying being on it. This instantly helps to give you a mood boost, because you feel like you’re not missing out in life.

This is also useful for weight loss, which will help to fight depression. Being overweight is depressing for many, but following a healthy diet isn’t just going to help you lose weight. You need to keep it off afterward. The benefit with a varied diet that you don’t get bored on is that you’re going to learn the healthy habits while you lose weight. You’re not ultimately saying no, but you won’t just instantly go back to the old habits when you’ve lost the weight.

Yo-yo dieting becomes a thing of the past. You won’t get as down about getting into your favorite clothes, only to gain the weight again.

Your Healthy Diet Doesn’t Completely Rule Out Depression

Depressed girl with eating disorder

There are plenty of studies that show a healthy diet helps to fight depression. What many people forget to realize is that it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t suffer from depression.

The problem is that we can get so complacent with the diet and believe that it does our minds all the world of good that we forget about other steps that we need to take. This can cause more problems because we rule out the likes of exercise or medication to help us fight the depression.

Our healthy diets are giving our bodies the nutrients were a need, but they’re not perfect. A healthy diet isn’t the entire answer to boosting the mood and helping to prevent depression. We start to get annoyed when our diet doesn’t do it all for us, and this causes bouts of depression.

Studies have shown that those who following a healthy diet are at a lower risk of developing depression. If you really want to make sure that you don’t suffer from it at all, you will need to take into account all of the above. Sure, follow a healthy diet but remember it’s about balance too. You need to have an overall healthy lifestyle and still allow yourself some of the bad at times.

While a healthy diet is good for you in most cases, there are problems with it. You do run the risk of some deficiencies, and you could end up causing a reduction in serotonin, rather than an increase.

It’s not all about the healthy diet. If you want to keep depression at bay, you need to look at your overall lifestyle. This is the best way to keep your mental health supported.

No tags 2 Comments
2 Responses
  • Robert Burns
    November 22, 2017

    Ms. Reed, you are uninformed and outside your expertise. A perfect example of a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous (to others) thing.

  • H. G.
    January 7, 2018

    Thank you so much for this thorough article. I realized that because of following a strictly veggie, fruit, and meat diet without considering the caloric intake, I’ve been under feeding my hubby. Now I can take this info and ramp up his calories to give him what an active guy needs. Hopefully that will help both our mental states. Thank you!

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