Eating Yourself Well; or, Punching Depression in the Face with Sweet Potatoes and Stuff
So as I mentioned in the last post, I’m doing the whole pick-yo’-ass-up-off-the-ground thing that follows a period of not-so-great physical and mental health.
Having been freakin’ miserable for a while, I decided at the start of this month to try to approach things a little differently. I decided to try thinking of food not just as sustenance or a mood-flattener, but as a kind of medicine.
This, in theory, is ok – but in practice, it seems kinda cheesy. I put the hashtag #healingwithfood on an Instagram post and then almost deleted the entire post, because… Well, it’s corny. I’m British. I can’t.
But my doc had told me I’ve got some kind of underlying issue that’s making my immune system go haywire, not helped by the fact that I am The Worst Coeliac Of All Time – which in turn may have been contributing to the fact that I’ve been suffering with the kind of low mood that makes the thought of getting out of bed in the morning seem about as doable as climbing Mt. Everest in a bikini, in a blizzard, with a downright furious and somewhat overweight Great Dane strapped to my back.
(Still bad with metaphors, y’all. Some things never change.)
So I did some research.
Unfortunately, everything I read/watched/listened to on the subject was written with in a way that made me all but cringe myself inside out with over-the-top enthusiasm and a mildly embarrassing cure-all approach – so I decided to take myself shopping, without thinking too much about what I’d read – but with the sole purpose of buying food that I knew would make me feel good.
No plan, no rules, no bans on anything in particular – just food that, when I looked at it, made my body go “yuh-huh – that’ll be nice.”
I imagine it’ll come as a surprise to precisely no-one that by the time I got to the checkout, I had a basket full of fresh fish, meats, avocados, mangoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, and a whole bunch of other things my body was apparently after. I am not saying there’s anything new in the fact that bodies like delicious, nutrient-rich foods. This ain’t news.
Almost two weeks later, however, and I’ll admit – even as the ol’ clean eatin’, gym-goin’, fat-girl-representin’ blogger I’d very nearly forgotten I was – I’m surprised at how much better I feel. I have less pain and more energy. No migraines. No nausea.
And also, my skin and hair are lookin’ healthier than they have in ages. I am practically Beyoncé with the hairflips and glow right now.
The big change, however, has happened in my head.
I can confidently say that, in my experience, having had five knee surgeries, severe obesity, a not-all-that-mild addiction to prescription painkillers, and various other physical illnesses in my time, that nothing has knocked me for six quite like a period of real, dark, long-lasting depression. In my experience – and it’s different for everyone, obviously – it’s been like having all reason and sense and logic sucked out of me, in favour of an overwhelmingly self-destructive and quite frankly, kinda bitter mood, on a near constant basis. For months.
The upshot of that is that this last few weeks – since I made the decision to make some kind of peace with my body, which itself is a sign things were getting better – have been like coming up for air. I had completely forgotten what it was like to be me, and the relief of remembering – of that awesome life I had, of fitness, and health, and downright joy in things like a sunny autumn morning – has been hands-down one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
And that makes me think there’s something in this whole food-as-medicine thing. I mean, obviously there is. But, y’know, more so than before.
Now, let me be clear: I am not for a moment suggesting that you abandon or ignore any medical advice given to you in favour of sweet potatoes and salmon. If you’re on medication (which I’ve certainly been in the past), don’t change that without a doctor’s advice. You know this.
But I do think – more so than ever before – that supporting your body with food that you enjoy, and that does you good, can have a profound effect on how well you are, both physically and mentally.
The reasons for this are twofold. First up, good food = good nutrition = happy body, and blah blah blah. I’m not going to bang on too much about that, because it’s been said repeatedly before.
More than that, though, it’s a mindfulness thing. Mindful shopping, mindful cooking, mindful eating – regardless of what you’re eating, even (and especially) if it’s cake – is a form of control that, when you’re suffering with the chronic, painful blues, can seem almost impossible… But which, if you can make it work, can give you something of yourself back from the apathetic and downright miserable ol’ black dog that’s gnawing at your coat tails.
They might sound like small, even obvious, things, but trust me: when you’re depressed, stuff like this is the Big Fight. It’s hard. But even attempting to do it is a hella brave, hard-as-nails kind of thing to do (even if I do say so myself.)
I know what your big question will be here: aside from sweet potatoes (gawd, woman, stop going on about sweet potatoes) – what did I eat? What’s the miracle cure?
And quite frankly, I’m kinda loathe to answer that.
Because there is so much conflicting information out there already. I did some research and discovered I should go vegan, go paleo, quit carbs, eat more carbs, juice, avoid juices, and… Yeah. You get the picture. Not one person needs me to put another whole bunch of ideas based purely on my own personal experiences and no scientific evidence out there, because the internet is full of it, and a lot of it is… Fluff.
Not just fluff, in fact, but kind of mean, even if written with the best of intentions. To my mind, the worst thing you could say to someone who’s struggling to even get out of bed in the morning is that they’ve gotta follow some kind of ludicrously strict, complicated, rule-ridden diet that’s going to put a bunch of additional pressure on them.
What I will say, though, is that I’m currently eating real foods, most of which I’m preparing myself, when I want them (like that burger at the top – which was one of the best things I’ve ever made.)
I’m listening to my body. I’m being mindful. And it’s helping. I’m also not ruling out cake, because I know there will also be times when cake is going to give my mindful self actual honest-to-god joy.
What I’m getting at here – and what I guess I’ve been getting at since I started this blog in 2012, even if I did kinda forget it for the last few months – is that you know your body better than anyone else. You know what makes you feel good. And making the decision to listen to that, even when things are about as bleak as they can get, is one of the bravest things you can do.
So, the conclusion of this tale.
First up: if you’re struggling at the moment – if things are dark, or bleak, or grim, or any of the other words I’d have used to describe my recent mental state – it will get better. Things will improve.
But also, believe in the little things you can do to help yourself.
Even if that’s just making one meal that your body craves, buying some fresh fruit, even taking a couple of steps out the door when you really, really don’t want to – these things, cumulatively, will make a difference, because they’ll show you exactly what you’re capable of.
And trust me: you’re capable of pretty much anything.
So, godspeed team – and if you’re in the dark right now, I wish you all the best of luck.