By Joanne Reid Rodrigues
IN this busy life, many people feel there’s never enough time to get through their workload. Most of us are a bit overstretched. Of course, we can’t create 25-hour days or eight-day weeks. But some lifestyle changes can raise our energy level. In turn, this can help us increase our productivity.
A great deal of what’s diagnosed as chronic fatigue and even depression, is actually the ongoing effects of a low-nutrient diet. There are other contributing factors, of course. But if we’re eating too many processed foods, lacking the nutrients that produce energy and serotonin, we’ll eventually experience a slump.
The characteristics of low mood and depression are marked by a slowing down, and fatigue and apathy. If a person is experiencing low energy, they might eat anything at hand just to relieve hunger when it comes. A few slices of toast or crisps, or chocolate or biscuits. When people feel depressed, they often can’t be bothered eating at all. Naturally, the diet suffers.
So, this brings the question: Does low serotonin cause depression, or does depression cause low serotonin? I believe both statements are true. If a person feels exhausted, they’re more inclined to grab the easiest finger food. If this continues, it doesn’t take long for serotonin levels to drop, and then a cycle kicks in.
Food intolerances are another way that our dietary choices affect our energy and mood. And food intolerances are prevalent. Unlike an allergy that produces definite symptoms within hours, intolerances can build up over days. Symptoms can include headaches, bloating, acid reflux, constipation, fatigue, brain fog, low mood, and increased joint pain.
The primary allergens are wheat and dairy. The reason for this is that wheat and dairy are in so many of the foods and food-like substances we buy.
While many folks have come to believe they are gluten-intolerant, and indeed some people are, in my experience, wheat is the more common problem. This is because the vast majority of wheat products we buy are highly processed. In its natural state, wheat was a healthy grain. Rich in fibre and B vitamins. But the harsh processing of the grain strips away all the fibre and B vitamins. This leaves only the sugar and gluten, resulting in a pro-inflammatory product. Most ‘wholemeal’ breads we buy are predominantly a mixture of processed white flour (wheat flour) at more than 90% with a little of the good stuff thrown in so that it can be sold as wholemeal bread. Colouring is added to turn it brown.
Wheat can worsen symptoms of arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. When people eliminate wheat from their diet, within a fortnight, they often feel many signs of improvement. Reducing pain and stiffness typically lifts their mood. Many feel brighter and have improved energy.
I often ask people to complete a food and mood log. In this way, I can identify common intolerances. It’s quite common that people start the day with toast, then at lunchtime they might have a sandwich and a bag of crisps, and in the evening, perhaps a ready meal. Sometimes this might even be pasta, eaten with garlic bread and a glass of wine.
While this might be fast and tasty, it’s a recipe for disaster, where our digestive system is concerned. Many folks notice they feel an energy slump after their lunchtime sandwich.
The effects of dairy intolerance can also cause fatigue and lower mood.
Again, the wonderful thing about elimination is that results happen quite quickly. We usually notice improvements within a week.
Back in the 1990s, I discovered the work of Japanese psychiatrist, Shoma Morita. I’d been researching dietary intervention for various health conditions. Shoma Morita was ahead of his time, in some ways. He practised in Japan in the early 20th century. Morita was one of the first to identify the link between nutritional deficiencies and mental-health issues such as depression and anxiety.
He devised a nutritional plan, and before he would see a patient face to face for a talking therapy session, he would have them follow his nutrition programme for two weeks. In fact, he wouldn’t see them unless they’d first followed his recommendations.
The addition of various nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins B and D, and minerals including zinc, magnesium, and selenium have a strong impact on mental-health conditions. Morita noted such improvements after only two weeks, and this allowed his first in-person session with a patient to be more effective.
Another problematic ingredient in processed foods and ready meals is vegetable oils. The most common ones are sunflower oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. Sunflower oil is in so much produce. While we need a small amount of omega-6 fats, too much over time can cause chronic systemic inflammation and damage our health.
The best fat is extra virgin olive oil, cold pressed, and preferably organic. A high-grade avocado oil is a healthful choice too. These oils are pricey, I know. But processed foods are pricey too. When we get used to making our own lunch bowl and preparing our own simple dressing, we can really improve our health, energy, and mood.
Even one week without wheat, dairy, sugar and alcohol can make a tremendous difference. People are often pleasantly surprised to feel so much better in such a short time. So, I always believe in pursuing a natural path to mental wellness first and foremost. And antidepressants can always be used as a last resort if all else fails. But look at nutrition and lifestyle first.
I also believe that our spirit grows every time we demonstrate courage.
Anais Nin said: ‘Life shrinks or expands in accordance with our courage.’ In my life, I’ve discovered this to be absolutely true.
To feel that wonderful sense of being alive, we need to live with courage. Taking steps to fulfil our dreams and doing things we’ve always wanted to do, lifts our feel-good factor. Always be willing to try something new, for this keeps us interested and interesting.
Joanne Reid Rodrigues is the founder of Slimming Together and the creator of The Authentic Confidence Course. She is an author and therapist in nutrition and cognitive behavioural therapy. Joanne can be contacted at JoanneRR.com.