I came very close to ending my own life on May 20th, 2013. And as I sat on the cold tile of my bathroom floor, propped up against the door, I made the decision that I was ready to leave this world. In the darkest hours of my severe depression, I could see no other way to escape the suffering that had consumed me. Death would be my freedom. And as I constructed a plan to do just that, I heard a voice in my head, unknown to me, that told me to get up and go for a walk.
I’m not sure why I listened but, today I am very grateful that I did. Anyone that knows me personally can attest to my stubbornness and once I make a decision to do anything, it’s almost impossible to convince me otherwise.
Months prior to that moment, I had a conversation I had with my sister. I confided in her how I was feeling. I was lost like I was trapped in a dark black hole I couldn’t seem to climb out of it. She was worried and told me I needed to talk to someone about my depression. Depression?! That was a word I never let myself use because I felt the social stigma and judgement around it. But I was severely depressed. And as I began my dramatic weight loss in February of that year, I took away the comfort of food and replaced it with running. Though helpful it was not enough to slay my demons.
That same voice, that told me to go for a walk, reminded me that my mother would never forgive me. That she had spent years trying to reach me, trying to get me to open up and let her in. And even when I wouldn’t or couldn’t, she was still there.
As I walked down the path that ran alongside one of the University of Saskatchewan’s fields, I was deep in suicidal thoughts. By this time, I had lived in Saskatoon for almost 8 years. And for the majority of that time, I lived in very close vicinity to said path. When I began running 2 years prior to that at 295 pounds, that was the path that I ran along. And I had either ran or walked that path nearly every day, twice a day, for those 2 years leading up to May 20th, 2013. Which is why when I saw a man running towards me, I had never seen before, he caught my attention. You see, his legs were amputated from the knees down. Both of them. And he was running on blades. And I never saw that man again in the 2 more years that I lived in that neighbourhood.
Whatever your belief system is, that man saved my life. Because to me, he was an angel. An angel sent to remind me that I can overcome this adversity. That this man with no legs what out doing just that. And I still had both of mine.
Depression doesn’t just turn off though. I still struggled and for a very long time. And even as recently as six months ago I was still battling depression. Some days were better than others but the majority of them I tried to put on a smiling face, a mask, an amour to hide how I was truly feeling. Because the world was telling me to “just smile” or “shake it off”. Neither of which is helpful to anyone.
Mental health is an issue that we all struggle with at some point in our lives. And I want you to know that you are not alone. And for some reason, our society seems to shame and negate one’s mental health struggles. But mental health and emotional health are just as important as physical health. So often people will spend hours in the gym and time meal prepping but balk at the thought of seeking help for depression. To be healthy in body but not in mind, is not health. It's denial.
Depression is multi-faceted. But I’m a nutrition coach, so I work with food. I can personally equate my moods to foods that I consume. Mostly, because I have done the work of listening to my body and identifying my triggers. If your doctor prescribed you medication for depression, please continue to take it. But maybe also consider how you are fuelling your body. Is it affecting your mental health?
Did you know that 60% of your brain is comprised of fat? Which is why I believe the Keto diet that I discovered in June of 2013, forever changed my life. This was before keto was known mainstream. Before there were tons of books, resources, and research on keto. But while listening to a podcast there was a brief mention of a ketogenic diet. For some reason I was so intrigued by the term I began researching it instantaneously. During my research on keto, I read an article which hypothesized that because of the effect keto has on the brain in epileptic patients that it may be a viable treatment for depression. Being a scientist, I wanted to experiment. And still not fulling accepting I was suffered from depression, I decided I would try the diet for 2 weeks. In 2 weeks, I wouldn’t do irrefutable damage from eating a high-fat diet. A common thought at the time was 1. Fat makes you fat and 2. Saturated fats lead to cardiovascular disease. Today I know better.
Keto did not heal my depression, but it did improve my mood to a point where I could actually smile. Again, a conversation with my sister comes to mind when she had come to visit me in Saskatoon that summer. Her words “I don’t remember the last time I saw you smile” cut me. And tears started running down my face because I couldn’t remember either. The weight loss that resulted from my keto approach was merely a nice side-effect at this point. The fact that I survived that year through depression and a very messy break-up and came out smiling is a testament to the power of nutrition.
I’m not saying you need to follow a keto diet if you have depression. But maybe it would help you, as it did me… Science has proven that refined and processed foods create inflammation that can lead to various diseases in our bodies and our brains. We can show our brains some love by consuming a whole foods diet, rich in a variety of vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Because you are not alone with mental health struggles, there are many resources available to those suffering from depression. And if this hits a chord in you, I would be happy to help you find the help you need.
Here are 6 Top Nutrients for Your Mental Health:
Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Research has shown promotes communication processes in the brain and reduces inflammation. Consume in the form of wild-caught salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and eggs.
Folate – Research has shown that a folate deficiency may lead to depressive symptoms. Folate also promotes the brain’s metabolic processes. Consume in the form of asparagus, avocado, beets, broccoli and spinach.
Healthy Fats – Eliminate trans fats (hydrogenated oils) which create inflammation and increase the risk of depression. Consume avocado, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, grass-fed butter or ghee, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Lean Protein – We require a full spectrum of amino acids (building blocks of protein) and 9 of the 20 amino acids we require must be obtained through our diet in order for us to survive. Protein is critical in supporting neurological function and balancing hormones. Consume grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish & shellfish, free-range poultry & eggs, collagen powder and bone broth.
Probiotics – Research has shown a gut-brain connection and has dubbed the gut as the “second brain”. Having a healthy gut microbiome can increase energy levels, support cognitive function and promote mental wellness. Consume kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented vegetables.
Vitamin D – If you’re living in Canada like me, chances are you are not getting adequate vitamin D levels from the sun. Research has shown that vitamin D actually acts like a hormone in the body and affects brain function. A deficiency in vitamin D has been linked to an increased risk of depression and seasonal affective disorder. The current recommendation for vitamin D supplementation is 35 IU per pound of bodyweight.