Diets & Depression: How Food Affects Your Mood
State of the Union
After looking at the stats, I was second guessing myself a bit writing this article. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 6.2% of men deal with depression. It’s more common among women, actually. Was this something worth writing about for guys?
Well, let me reframe it a bit. Sure, most of us don’t consider ourselves depressed. We were taught by society and our father figures: “when the times get tough the tough get going.” Forge ahead, endure, work your job, love your family, no one is coming to rescue you. You live or die by your own choices.
I’m not here to refute that. Today’s world takes grit. I believe the Lord designed us as protectors and providers. Not video game addicts and baby daddys. We were made strong by our very nature. You were designed as a work horse whose soul was built to handle stressors, hardship, and tough times!
That said, have you ever watched a UFC fight? Each fighter comes out to trade blows and pour out their all each round. Then they go back to their corners.
In that corner, they have a group of people who care about them and for them. The fighter is allowed to be weak, if even for just a moment. He allows others to patch him back up. Then he is headed back to the fray.
You won’t hear me say men need to get softer, or that life is just getting too tough. No, I want to be another person who helps turn you into a better fighter!
In that same breath, as me,n we tend to think we always need to be in the ring. We don’t honor the times we need to be in the corner.
That’s how feelings of depression can creep in. We try to stay in the ring long after the bell has rung. It isn’t sadness that comes to the surface, it’s often anger, irritability, workaholism. If we just ‘push harder’ we can solve the problem. You were made to work, so if you just work on the problem harder, you can fix it!
At least, that is what got me into my struggle with depression. My wife had dealt with her own bout with depression. She has had many struggles that I don’t feel the freedom to share. Not my story. But I remember holding her as she literally curled up in my lap like a child crying uncontrollably. My depression looked nothing like that, but that’s what I was on the lookout for.
Instead, I just kept getting tired, and I noticed I couldn’t really do quite as much as I used to. No matter what kind of “rest” I took, it never got better. Some thought it was because I had hit 30, I was just getting older.
Then I noticed the 1st thing to be dropped was my joy of making things.
You see, I love blacksmithing, wood working, and just building in general. I felt like I didn’t have time for it anymore. Then I noticed it was 2 years since I wet a line at the coast. The one time we went down, I didn’t even want to take the boat because it was too much effort.
All I wanted to do was sit in front of the TV or computer on my time off. No one noticed this. He’s just tired. That’s what I thought too!
Then hunting season came and went. A few of them. When it started I remember sitting in the blind and HATING IT! I hated the cold, I wanted to get in, grab my doe, and get out.
At the time, we got most of our meat from hunting. My favorite past time had been reduced to a detestable chore. Then, I went over 2 years without firing a single shot.
I lived out at the ranch at this point, and never even made time to walk on the property and sit in the blind. Too much to do!
All it would have costed me was an afternoon. I’m sure most of you would kill for the chance to walk a few hundred yards and be in a hunting blind over a feeder throwing corn.
Instead, I woke up at 6am and worked from 7am until I dropped at 9 to 10pm. I wouldn’t allow myself many days off, and I remember being extremely short with my family.
Why am I spending this much time on my story?
Because, this is why depression in men is worth looking at. It’s flipping sneaky! We often don’t understand the trap until we fall into it.
Depression blindsides us, and we don’t see how important it is to just take the boat out to the coast.
To fight for that hunting trip with the boys. As fighters, I have seen so many of us not honor that time in the corner. We give it up for more time to fight.
All the while getting weaker and weaker!
We Need To Curb Our Addiction
Ok, let’s try to reign this in and get to the meat of this blog. You came to hear about depression and diet.
To be clear, even if you don’t struggle with depression, following this dietary advice will actually boost your energy levels tremendously, if you combine it with strength training it will also boost your testosterone, even in your 50’s and 60’s!
The one thing you can do that will improve your mood and your energy is to cut out sugar! It is in almost every processed food we eat today.
McDonalds is famous for putting sugar in literally everything on its menu, save fries. That’s because sugar has proven to create behaviors very similar to a drug addiction!
Check out this quote from a peer reviewed article on PubMed
“consumption of added sugars and drug-like effects, including binging, craving, tolerance, withdrawal, cross-sensitisation, cross-tolerance, cross-dependence, reward and opioid effects.”
DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH, Wilson WL. Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Jul;52(14):910-913. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097971. Epub 2017 Aug 23. PMID: 28835408.
When sugar hits your bloodstream it creates an insulin spike that we think of as a sugar rush. Then, shortly after our insulin comes crashing down. This is the part that causes all of the tiredness and irritability we can feel an hour or two after we consume sugar.
Most of us experience the crash in the mid afternoon when we don’t really want to do anything, we just want the day to be over.
Sugar then creates cravings that push us into hunger way more often than our bodies actually need. Of course, we oblige and end up eating our ‘three square meals’ in a day. Each one most likely containing 1500 calories or more. Do you see where I’m going with this?
The nature of carbs is the other falsehood the American public has been forced to swallow. To be clear, carbs are things like breads, grains like rice, and it’s in almost every vegetable.
The highest amount of carbs actually lies within root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, garlic, onion. You know, only my favorite vegetables! So why are carbs a lie?
For decades now we have been told that carbs are a ‘macronutrient.’
A macronutrient is something we need to consume consistently in order to survive.
If you log onto popular fitness apps, like My Fitness Pal you will see that carbs are listed not only as a macronutrient, but the dominant macro nutrient!
When carbs enter your body, they are converted into sugar. Which means, your body uses them the same way it uses sugar. Sure, carbs are an energy source, but an inferior one that lends itself to mood swings and false hunger.
Check this out from the US Food & Nutrition Board. In their textbook it says:
“The lower limit of dietary carbohydrate compatible with life is apparently zero.”
As humans we don’t need carbs at all.
In fact, if you cut out carbs and sugar you will notice there is a huge benefit. You will be able to think clearer, have consistent energy throughout the day, and you will even sleep better at night. Trust me, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t tried it for myself!
Then there were two…
Hopefully you are pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down. Fats and proteins are the only two macronutrients humans need to survive…and thrive!
Good news, that means you can eat all the bacon you want my friend! Those burger patties smothered in cheese aren’t clogging your arteries, they are straight up man fuel! Dove, deer, elk, and almost any other animal protein should all be on your table.
I don’t see how any red blooded American out there can’t get psyched up about a diet like that! I have actually been on this diet for a year now.
Sure, I’ve had some breaks, but that is more due to my sugar addiction than anything else. So when I talk about the benefits, it is from my own personal experiences.
One can say they are anecdotal, but when you hear story after story about the same benefits happening you see anecdotes added to anecdotes, that my friend, is how statistics are made.
Before we get lost into meat heaven let’s come back to our goal: Understanding the connection between our diets and depression.
We have 4 major neurotransmitters that impact our emotions every day. The one we center on when speaking about depression is serotonin. This is the neurotransmitter that acts like a ‘mood booster.’
When the doctor prescribes anti-depressant pills it is most commonly a synthetic form of serotonin to bring our brains up to a level where we can deal with the actual issues that are bothering us. Many of us, myself included, don’t like using medications if we don’t have to. That’s why “best diet for depression” is such a huge trending search on Google!
There is a whole technical explanation with an explanation on the uptake of tryptophan into natural serotonin if it can ever make it through the blood brian barrier before other, more easily digestible amino acids…blah blah blah.
The long and short of the technical explanation is that protein and fat do NOT give us the ingredients to make the serotonin neurotransmitter responsible for boosting our moods, BUT other amino acids get accepted first.
Think of it like a race and the tryptophan is like that chubby kid that tries real hard, but never can outrun the natural athlete. He is always left in the dust.
After a ton of reading I saw that experts simply talk about eating carbs that are low in sugar to lower our amino acids and thus, lower the competition for our favorite chubby boy.
Experts suggest that we eat high carb foods which are low in glucose (sugar), and limit our protein intake to lower the amino acid competition. This is like taking out all the best things that build you into a healthy human being just to lower the competition for one amino acid!
Here is the problem that all the experts still say about their approach. Insulin will do its job and lower the glucose in our system from the high carb foods, but then it stores them in our cells as glycogen. A.k.a fat.
Let’s think about this holistically. Sure, you don’t want to be depressed, and an effective diet could be a help with that.
To get there dietitians say we need to rely on carbs so our body can piece together some serotonin for us. All the while we get fatter, we have less energy, our thinking is foggy due to all the carbs. How does any of that move us toward our goal of living a healthy life full of joy?
Your body will have the opportunity to make some natural serotonin, but the cost is so high! We haven’t even mentioned the joint pain, gout, and diabetes that comes with high carb diets.
I could go on. It’s actually a bit of a pet peeve of mine because we are now seeing our lives shortened as the first generation to take the USDA’s advice on food get sicker and die sooner.
My Proposed Solution
I’ve never been one to whine about a situation without offering a solution. That action gets us nowhere. Here’s my plan…let’s drop the best diet for depression nonsense and focus on a diet that brings over all health.
Even the articles I kept combing through admit the biggest change to our natural serotonin levels are not affected by diet. It’s a poor plan of attack, frankly. So let’s go over some plans that will move the needle in a significant way.
1.) Get outside. That’s right. The more time you spend outdoors in the sun the more our body tends to kick up serratonin. If you heard my thoughts in Episode 3 you would know that nature is a grounding force.
The more ways we can get out in it the better. Take some boys and go on a hunt, take a walk at your local park, heck take your wife for a stroll around the neighborhood in the evening. Get outside!
2.) Regular exercise: I’m not going to be dogmatic here. I have stuff I do, that I really enjoy. My workout takes me 20 minutes 4 times a week and it pushes me to my max. If you want to check it out it’s called X3.
This isn’t a paid endorsement, just a product I have been using. The point is when you really get your heart beat up that is what will kick your brain into overdrive and produce what some have called a “runner’s high.” A euphoric feeling of accomplishment really.
3.) Be consistent! Look if you are feeling stressed or hopeless the last thing you probably want to do is anything on this list! I get that. My advice is kind of tough love…do it. The. flip. ANYWAYS! Actions build on actions. The more you are consistent the more you will see results. If you miss a workout or you binge on donuts, just correct it the next day. This is a marathon boys, the more days you win, the better. I can’t overstate this one enough!
4.)Give yourself permission. You need self care. You need the time to be in the corner so you can go out and fight with everything in the next round. This means giving yourself the afternoon off. This means coordinating with your wife to make sure you have some free hours to spend in rest, and she does too.
Trust me, it may feel like nothing is getting done, but you need self care. No, I’m not talking about vegging out in front of the TV. Do something that actually rejuvenates your soul! It should leave you ready to conquer the world once you get done with it.
5.) Surround yourself. This can be good friends who already know your life intimately. This could be starting new relationships. It could be a counselor who can hear your problems and help you work through them. If you don’t know where to start with that I can leave you the guy I see. He is amazing and is great with specifically helping men.
He doesn’t have a website, doesn’t need one. So I will give you his email. His name is Jordan Castille, tell him Justin sent you. No, I don’t get any money from him. He is just solid!
6.) Medication. Look, I’m not all for it, but it can help. I would NEVER do it without a counselor’s recommendation, hence Jordan, but it is an option. The goal with medication isn’t that it fixes your problem, but puts you in a place where you can effectively deal with the junk that is causing your distress.
Which is the whole point isn’t it? At the end of the day these are all supporting actions. In order to find healing you need to confront your junk head on and deal with it! Look, I’m in your corner, you’ve got this! If you want to reach out, I want to hear.
Until Next Time,