Eat Your Way to Mental Health

mental health nutrition Apr 27, 2020

For me, the whole novel corona virus / Covid-19 pandemic really didn’t hit home until two things happened:

  1. I was no longer allowed to visit my elderly father in his long term care facility, and…
  2. I was forced to lay myself off from my own business

For just about anyone affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, stress in life got a whole lot higher.

For someone who is a survivor of depression, that just made managing the illness a whole lot tougher.

DISCLAIMER:  The author is not a mental health professional.  Content in this article is for general information purposes only.  It is up to the reader’s discretion to determine whether this information is pertinent to their needs.

With that legal business out of the way, let’s continue.

I am someone who has dealt with depression in my life for well over 20 years now.  At times depression was winning, other times, I was winning.  I’ve gone from the darkest depths of depression and suicidal thoughts to finding my way back to a life that I enjoy living. 

Today, more often that not, I am winning the battle.  But the war continues.

As I mentioned, the additional stress and uncertainty from the pandemic made the battle tougher for me to fight.

When can I go back to work?

When can I see my dad again?  Is he ok in the old age home?

And despite knowing better, I made the conscious (and definitely poor) choice to indulge in comfort foods (aka stress eating).  I started eating fried foods again.  I indulged in processed carbs and sweets.  I abandoned my nutrition plan from my personal trainer. 

I sought comfort in breads, cereals, chips, crackers, Kit Kats and ate and ingested far more calories than I should have.

And then to calm my sugar-laden nerves, I increased my alcohol consumption.  I resumed drinking beer, wine, and bourbon.  I used these to help me sleep.

And now that we are 4 weeks into this lockdown I am lethargic, run down, more unstable emotionally, and the heaviest that I have ever been.

As a Certified High Performance Coach, I know the importance and the interconnectedness of maintaining optimal psychology and physiology.  Yet here I am, fat, and barely clinging onto my mental health.  How did I let this happen?

What is it exactly about “comfort foods” that makes us so drawn to them?

The answer lies in our biological evolution and the perversion of our food by food manufacturers to exploit our reward systems in our mind and body.

Our sense of taste is programmed to lead us to nutrition and warn us of danger.  That is why, in the broadest terms, we like sugary and salty foods, and dislike foods that are bitter.  In nature, these are survival mechanisms that we have evolved.

However, processed foods are now engineered to exploit our sugary and salty reward systems in the brain and provide us with ultra-sweet and ultra salty flavours backed with very little nutritional value.

This by-passes our natural appetite/fullness feedback loop because we can eat these processed foods much faster than naturally occurring foods.   Our mind doesn’t get any “hey I’m full signal” from the stomach because of this short circuiting.

Worse yet, the ultra sweet and ultra salty flavours triggers the release of our “happy” neurotransmitters.  Our brain then associates processed foods with pleasure, over and above what we would have found in nature.

That’s why we tend to over-consume processed foods.  We keep desiring the release of those happy neurotransmitters.

And because our brain has been trained to associate these foods with being happy, we then turn to them when we are feeling stressed, anxious or upset. 

What the nutrition scientists are learning more and more is that our processed foods and over-consumption are causing many health problems:

  • obesity
  • chronic systemic inflammation
  • high blood pressure
  • insulin resistance
  • type II diabetes and associated complications
  • heart disease
  • and others

Our brain-gut connection is a relatively new concept that is being explored.  An unhappy gut can have mental health consequences including a higher risk of depression.

So, I’ve began checking out various nutrition plans and programs to get my physical and mental health back on track.

I’ve looked at various keto diets, paleo diets, vegan and vegetarian diets, intermittent fasting and others.  But I’ve run into some road blocks.

I can’t stand fish — sardines, tuna, or anything like it.

I can’t eat cheese.

Never could stand yoghurt. 

Summary: I am a pretty boring, picky eater.

But, there was one recommended to me by a friend that I THINK I can manage.  It is a paleo-like program called “The Whole 30”.

What time is it?  Time for another disclaimer.  I am not affiliated with The Whole 30, nor do I receive any compensation or other financial gain from mentioning it here.

Even if you currently have no interest in changing your diet, even if you think you are healthy.. I highly recommend that you read "It Starts With Food" by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.  You will learn a lot, and it will certainly give you a lot to think about when it comes to choosing what you eat.

Thomas Detert is a Certified High Performance Coach(TM), mental health blogger and advocate.  He is the founder of Defying Depression: an online self-help movement that encourages those suffering with anxiety and depression to learn how they can help themselves. 

Visit to learn more.

Be sure to visit our YouTube channel for helpful videos about depression:


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