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Lousy Mood? It Could be the Food

Here's a funny AMV(1) on what it's like to be depressed, apathetic and overly sensitive. Note: explicit (but funny) lyrics in the video.




Hearing this song brought a startling realization: I used to be emo, but with normal clothes. Sulking, sobbing and writing poetry were my hobbies. When I was a kid, my mother said that she wouldn't know what to do to punish me if I had done something wrong.

And yet things got worse. Over a two-week period in 1996, my best friend moved away, I lost my job and broke up with my boyfriend. I lost my appetite and lived on a daily bagel, cream cheese and a Coke for the next few months.

I had tried counseling, and didn't find it helpful; in fact, I found reviving painful memories was pointless. Not thinking about them, on the other hand, worked wonders. Later on, so did studying philosophy and learning to think through emotions instead of just riding through them.

But what's blown away all the techniques is diet. Since I started my low-carb, saturated fat fest almost a year ago, the old problems evaporated. I can't remember the last time I needed to stop and regroup. I believe the high-fat diet has had everything to do with that.

Psychotherapist Julia Ross says in her book The Mood Cure, "...much of our increasing emotional distress stems from easily correctable malfunctions in our brain and body chemistry--malfunctions that are primarily the result of critical, unmet nutritional needs."(2) She recommends, among other things, eating plenty of good fats and protein. "Our clients generally love the way they can come alive on their omega-3 foods and supplements." (3) Saturated fat, Ross explains, is needed for vitamin and mineral absorption, skin health, blood sugar control, brain health, and cancer prevention, to name a few things. It's an important part of her cure for patients with eating disorders(4), something Dr. Robert Atkins had been doing for years.(5) Ross also recommends eating enough food and including vegetables.(6) (I noticed years ago that eating a salad improved my mood.)

Sweets and white flour starches tie for bad mood foods #1 and #2 in Ross's book.(7) (Remember my Coke & bagel diet?) Dishonorable mentions go to skipping meals, low-calorie dieting, low-fat diets ("firmly associated with depression"), low-protein diets ("low energy and low-mood"), and pre-packaged food.(8)

Michael Eades M.D., co-author of Protein Power, observes, through research and clinical experience, that low-fat diets cause depression and mental disorders. He writes,

MD [Mary Dan Eades, M.D.] and I have always noticed that at the same time the bookstore shelves were laden with books on low-fat dieting they were also filled with books on depression. I don’t think this is a coincidence. The brain is a fat dependent organ composed primarily of fat. An enormous number of scientific studies have shown that people who don’t get enough fat nor enough cholesterol tend to develop depression and/or anxiety. MD and I have seen this first hand. Ten or so years ago we participated in a clinical study for an anti-obesity drug that worked by inhibiting fat uptake in the gut, thereby putting patients on a low-fat diet irrespective of how much fat they actually ate. One of the big problems we had was that the patients on the drug became depressed, anxious, or both, went to their regular doctors and were given prescriptions for antidepressants or anxiolytic medications. One of the guidelines of the study was than anyone who took one of these medicines was disqualified from continuing. We fought this problem continuously, so we know that low-fat diets cause mental problems. During the past 20 years the average fat consumption has fallen about 25%-30% as the obesity epidemic has surged, leading, I’m afraid, to a whole lot of antidepressant prescriptions. I would have to say that the increased drug use doesn’t cause obesity, but is, like the obesity epidemic, a consequence of a sea change in the American diet.(9)

No wonder I felt so lousy for so long with problems that were difficult, but shouldn't have left me doing nothing but putting one foot in front of the other for months. As for my diet when I was a kid, I may have inadvertently been on a low-fat diet. I ate milk and cereal for breakfast (cereal is sugar and flour; milk is a little better but I didn't like much on my cereal). I ate a sandwich with lean roast beef or pastrami on a squishy bun, a Coke and a piece of cake for lunch. Dinner was a little lean meat, cooked until it was like shoe leather (trimmed of fat because I didn't like it) and a canned vegetable. My mother was the cook in our family, but I don't blame her for not knowing how the food affected--well, probably all of us. She's now on the low-carb, high-fat train, she seems happier than she's ever been, and she thinks "I Must be Emo" is hilarious.


1. "Death Note Emo Song." Music: "I Must be Emo" by Hollywood Undead. Video: Death Note.
2. The Mood Cure by Julia Ross, M.A., p. 1.
3. Ibid, p. 149
4. Ibid, p. 153.
5. The Atkins Diet Revolution by Robert Atkins MD, p. 266.
6. The Mood Cure, p. 155.
7. Ibid, p. 122.
8. Ibid, p. 134
9. "How Does Life Fat Thee? Let Me Count the Ways" by Michael Eades M.D., July 11, 2006, http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/weight-loss/how-does-life-fat-thee-let-me-count-the-ways/.

UPDATE, 2/13/11 My mother firmly denies cooking the meat until it was like shoe leather. She just cooked it "well-done." You say potato, I say po-tah-to.

Comments

Mike W said…
Lori, by even more sheer coincidence, I've been looking at the same thing and to be honest, I find this more shocking than the fact everyone's been needlessly low fatting it for so long. Still, on the bright side it has given us Radiohead and Coldplay, both fronted by low-fat vegetarians. Is that a bright side? Thinking about it...
Lori Miller said…
Maybe it's the wintertime blahs. It was 5F (around -13C) this morning here in the land of eternal sunshine. It's been that way for a week.

At least I've inspired my best friend (a goth) to eat bacon every day.
Unknown said…
Low-carbing helped me even out my moods and mental status somewhat, but what really did it for me was upping my sat-fat intake. I'm still not at 100 percent (though I wonder how much of that is despair at the fallout from years of low-fat-engendered depression ruining my life), but I'm hella better off than I used to be.
Lori Miller said…
Jeanne, I'm glad to hear you're doing better. Last night I watched a movie and thought, "Oh, it's from the 80s, before everybody got all angsty...hmmm."

A couple of things you could check out (no doubt there are many more--these are just the ones I'm familiar with): I don't know if you read the Heart Scan Blog (written by Dr. Davis, a cardiologist--see my blog roll), but he recommends wheat elimination. It can have drug-like effects. Some people who comment on his blog say they get depressed when they're "glutened."

Over the past week, I've begun to wonder if too high a dose of B vitamins make me lethargic. I had a 0-calorie SoBe or Vitamin Water loaded with B vitamins and ended up sitting around in a crummy mood. Yesterday, I took a B multi and the same thing happened. I was so sluggish and non-committal my mother was worried about me. I don't know for a fact if it was the B vitamins, or if that's a common reaction, but I'm going to leave the B vitamins alone.
Anonymous said…
If you are intersted in the gut-mental health connection you should take a look at this 2 blogs by Emily Deans.
http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry

She writes about how malnutrition worsen depression/ADHD and other problems of the mind.
Lori Miller said…
I've seen her blog--it's very good.

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