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Eat to beat depression

Eat to beat depression for World Health Day

Tackling depression naturally for World Health Day

Nutrition-related health issues seem to take an age to become part of accepted medical practice. The medical establishment requires comprehensive scientific evaluation, randomised trials and peer review before a new drug can be licensed, for instance. The pharmaceutical company has to weigh up the costs of research and development versus the potential profit to be made from launching a successful product that can earn a good return on their investment. (When you add in the factor that 80 per cent of their budget goes on marketing, it is clear the stakes are high indeed.) As real food is simply real food and can’t be licensed, branded or patented, there is little impetus for the medical community to fund costly research.

Medical research over the last couple of decades has, nevertheless, highlighted how an unhealthy gut can contribute to many physical diseases and these findings are becoming more accepted in mainstream medicine. Clinicians increasingly agree that the gut-brain axis also plays a crucial part in emotional wellbeing, including the development of conditions as diverse as chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and autism.

The Gut-Brain Axis

The gut-brain axis is a way of describing the interrelationship between gut health and brain health. The various aspects of digestion are controlled via the vagus nerves by a complex set of neurons embedded in the oesophagus, stomach, intestines, colon and rectum. The brain sends messages to all the nerves in your body, including the neurons that control digestion. All work efficiently enough until a person is anxious or stressed on an ongoing basis. You perhaps know for yourself that if you are feeling nervous your stomach can feel upset and queasy. The reason for this is that strong negative emotions, stress and anxiety increase cortisol and adrenaline, which then stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and shut down the parasympathetic system, which includes control of the gut. This causes a physical chain reaction:

* Reduction in pancreatic enzyme production

* Reduction in gall bladder function

* Reduction in the production of stomach acid

* Slowing down of peristalsis – the involuntary muscle movements essential for moving food efficiently through intestines for the absorption of nutrients

* Reduction in blood flow to the intestines

* Suppression of the intestinal immune system

In the short term, this allows the body to focus its resources on ‘fight or flight’ – a good survival mechanism. However, with ongoing stress and anxiety, this cumulative slowing down and suppression of the digestive process can, over a prolonged period, lead to a condition called ‘small intestinal bacterial overgrowth’ (SIBO). As the digestive process is compromised by stress and anxiety, the lack of stomach acid allows the stomach and small intestine – which should both be pretty much microbe free – to be colonised by unhealthy bacteria, and yeasts, causing foods to be fermented rather than digested. In addition to gas and bloating, compromised digestion leads to declining absorption of nutrients, which contributes to the loss of the co-factors needed for good digestion, and consequently further gut problems.

Now consider this situation lasting for extended periods of time. The integrity of the gut lining may be compromised, contributing to gut permeability (‘leaky gut’) that may be sufficient to produce chronic low-grade inflammation.

Chronic Inflammation

The inflammatory process includes the production of cytokines, chemical signals of inflammation that are carried by the blood to the brain. The cytokines can activate cells – so that the inflammation originating in the gut thereby causes widespread inflammation in the rest of the body, including the brain.

The impact of brain inflammation is that the brain has reduced nerve conductance which – guess what – shows up as depression, anxiety and stress.

This vicious circle can self-perpetuate and requires long-term changes to heal the gut, which in turn will help to heal the brain. This is done through changes in behaviour and improving levels of nutrition through changes to food choices. To improve your natural resilience to stress it is important to increase the amount of healthy polyunsaturated omega-3 oils in your diet, so look for oily fish, grass-fed meats and butter made from the milk of grass-fed dairy herds. Good plant sources include hemp seeds, linseeds, chia and some nuts and nut oils (macadamia, almond).

If you consider yourself to be depressed it will be helpful for your recovery to manage your stress levels, improve your sleep patterns and add nutritious and gut-healing foods into your regular eating plan.

Do bear in mind, however, that you may also need professional help if you have been suffering from this debilitating psychological disorder for some time. Please make sure you are accessing all the medical and psychological support you need. Try hard not to add isolation to an already challenging situation.

This blog has been taken from How to Feel Differently About Food by Sally Baker & Liz Hogon.

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Spotting the Signs of Emotional Eating

For many who are compulsively driven to eat for emotional reasons, not hunger, food has become a manifestation of self-loathing and a complex method of self-harming, or even a way of failing to thrive. These people crave food, avoid food, binge on food and obsess about food. Thinking about food fills their every waking moment. Food has become a way to celebrate and commiserate with themselves. In fact, it is their everything – except a natural way to sate hunger or be a source of healthy nourishment.

Typically, emotional eaters feel their appetite for food is out of their control and is counter to their heart’s desire to be slimmer than they are. They feel their inability to resist their food cravings proves how worthless they are as they trade their dreams of being slimmer for swallowing down foods they consider to be ‘bad’ or ‘forbidden’. They also often believe that the excess weight they carry is their own personal failing and visible proof for all to see that they are weak, inadequate or just plain greedy. The story they tell themselves continues with the common beliefs that if they were stronger, or had more will-power, or were simply just ‘better people’, then they would find it easy to manage their weight-versus-food-intake without the daily time-consuming over-thinking that they endure.

Every emotional eater has his or her own unique set of circumstances and history, but there are often similarities in thinking and in the belief system that defines each emotional eater. For instance, emotional eaters judge themselves harshly and their self-talk – the quiet voice that everyone hears within their own mind – is particularly critical and unforgiving. We also understand that emotional eaters can be triggered to binge eat when experiencing negative or challenging emotions, such as loneliness, sadness or anger.

Disordered thinking around food that emotional eaters may experience makes it particularly challenging to establish a nutritionally balanced way of eating that can be sustained for the long term. This is particularly true for those who are attempting to stabilise their weight after years, or possibly even decades, of yo-yo dieting.

Emotional eaters do not generally fare well following a type of diet that brings any of the following circumstances into play:

1. Diets that promote low-calorie eating to a level that induces hunger can quickly feel unendurable and trigger strong self-sabotaging behaviour.

2. Diets that rely on low-fat foods to restrict calorie consumption can increase the occurrence or severity of low moods, even to the risk of increasing the incidence of depression.

3. Diets that replace foods containing real sugars with chemical sweeteners can still spark compulsive sugar cravings and out-of-control bingeing.

4. Diets that replace meals with fake-foods, such as shakes, snack bars, instant soups or variations on this theme, often fail for emotional eaters when they are challenged with the inevitable reintroduction of real food.

5. Diets that promote or exclude whole groups of food, impose excessive or irrational rules or demand a specific cooking methodology can all help encourage unhelpful over-thinking about food that emotional eaters are already prone to. This includes the eating of only ‘free-from’ foods, including gluten-free (without a confirmed medical need), or following a strict macrobiotic diet, or eating only raw foods.

Do you obsessively follow all the latest healthy eating crazes, or recognise other symptoms of emotional eating? Read more from Sally Baker and Liz Hogon in their books How To Feel Differently About Food and 7 Steps to Stop Emotional Eating.

Sally Baker will be speaking at The Best You Expo at ExCel in London on 4th March 2017.

This blog is adapted from How To Feel Differently About Food by Sally Baker and Liz Hogon.

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What is emotional eating?

There is no single definition of typical emotional eating. It’s a common misconception that all emotional eaters are overweight. Many are within normal weight range but only because of their obsessive dieting, bingeing and disordered eating that will be a well-kept secret they share with no one. The same negative judgements emotional eaters make about themselves are common to the overweight and the obese, and the dangerously underweight for that matter. All share the trait of unrelenting over-thinking about food coupled with harsh, critical self-judgements.

To give you a sense of a typical emotional eater you need to understand that their innate sense of self-worth – how they actually see themselves as a worthy person – is closely linked to the numbers on their bathroom scales. A pound lost, or a pound gained, can set the tenor of their entire day. Also, foods are never neutral. They are forensically studied and determined to be good or bad.

Emotional eaters battle with their own body’s hunger and cravings. They know there have been times when they have succumbed and eaten one ‘bad’ food only for it to start a tsunami of overeating, or even bingeing and purging, with all the accompanying feelings of shame and self-loathing. An emotional eater’s attitude towards him/herself and food is not logical. The extent of his/her preoccupation with food and body weight is often a private source of great personal distress and shame. The reasons for this all-consuming link between food, body weight, self-definition, and how the individual feels about being him/herself in the world, are varied and inevitably complex.

Let’s be clear, and define emotional eating as a behaviour that occurs only in the developed world, the lands of perceived plenty. Negative selfjudgements; obsessive over-thinking about calories; skipping meals; bingeing and purging; or any of the other many aspects of emotional eating do not exist in countries of food scarcity or where people struggle for survival. It’s noteworthy that as third world countries emerge economically onto the world stage they open their doors to western influences and their seductive power. The socially mobile classes of any indigenous population quickly develop a taste for western fashion, and music, as well as western foods. The Standard American Diet of refined carbohydrates, calorie-dense fast-foods and fizzy drinks is now exported all over the world. Adopting it is a way of aping western consumption, and values, and can be found in the cities of China, Russia and India, as well, increasingly, as in more remote outposts. It also causes sectors of the population of these countries to judge themselves negatively against the narrow, westernised standard of perfection. With that comes self-dissatisfaction – a step on the road to emotional eating that was not apparent just a few decades ago.

Are you an emotional eater?

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you think you might be an emotional eater:

Too much on your plate?

Swallowing down your anger with food?

Frustrated at your yo-yo dieting?

Eating when bored, or on your own?

Feeling out of control around food?

Eating in secret?

Bingeing and purging?

Feeling sad and eating to fill a void inside?

Rewarding yourself with food after a hard day?

If you answer yes to any of these questions you might be an emotional eater. For more information about how to understand and manage your emotional eating, read Seven Simple Steps to Stop Emotional Eating – targeting your body by changing your mind by Sally Baker & Liz Hogan.