Monday, May 13, 2013

The Salad Challenge

I am always open to hearing and reading new information regarding mental health.

A couple years before I started taking medication, I treated my depression with nutrition, vitamins, supplements, and other alternative methods.  Prior to that, for almost a decade, I had a no-fat, low-calorie, vegetarian diet with zero calorie drinks only.  Once I started researching depression and anxiety, I soaked up a lot of information that would indicate my diet could be contributing to my despair.  So, I decided to change my eating habits.

Through extensive research, I ended up becoming a Paleo expert (written with a hint of sarcasm).  If you really want to know more about Paleo, you can look it up yourself.  However, I am not going to get into the details in case you DON’T want to hear about it.  I will only say one thing that you've probably already heard; there are good fats and bad fats.

After reading about how fat can be good, my world was shaken.

For the first time in probably eight years, I willingly ate full-fat foods and meat.  I REALLY struggled to make this switch.  And I often boomeranged between the two extremes for a while.  But, nonetheless, I could not "un-learn" what I read about Paleo.

For about two years, I put myself on this Paleo Diet because I thought that it would help with my depression. (Unfortunately, the thought of losing weight was still ever present in my mind.)  After a year of diligently following this diet (I am a perfectionist, so you better believe I was committed), my depression was worse than ever.

I thought I was doing everything right.  I was eating an all natural diet, taking vitamins and supplements, exercising, going to counseling, and trying my best to take care of myself.  But things continued to go downhill.

After many torturous months, I ended up in the hospital.  I was totally defeated, had no will to live, and was in extreme despair.  After talking to a doctor, I reluctantly consented to taking an anti-depressant.

Since then, there has been a night and day difference.  For me, medication worked.

HOWEVER, I still, sometimes, read information on non-conventional ways to treat depression and anxiety -- because I know it works for some people.
So, I recently saw an informational video about treating depression without drugs.  There was a lot of information.  But, I doubt the instructor/narrator guy was ever depressed.  And I doubt he ever had an eating disorder either.  Strike one and two.  I want to hear about how people, like me, struggled with these mental illnesses and recovered.

But I continued to watch and listen out of curiosity.

In the video, the instructor dared anyone who was depressed to eat a big salad of raw veggies.  “You can’t be depressed after eating that!” He concluded.

A key thing to remember is that the opposite of depression is not happiness.  I am happy, or maybe content is a better word, after eating a salad because that is what I think I am supposed to do.  For me, however, eating a salad doesn’t take away the underlying depression, lack of motivation, feelings of worthlessness, shame, and guilt.

Because it is so dang hard to take a pill, I had to try this experiment again.  I ate a really nice, big, organic salad with olive oil for dressing.  It was a meal that even Dr. Salad Challenge in the video and all the hippies in New Hampshire would have given their stamp of approval.  I felt good afterwards.  I like salads on occasion, so it wasn’t like I was choking it down or anything.  I didn’t notice a big difference as time went on.  I was glad mostly because I thought I was doing the “right” thing and I was optimistic that it could work this time.

However, an hour later I was hungry again.  I drank a big glass of water.   Still hungry.

I didn’t know what I should eat.  More veggies didn’t sound appealing at all.   I started to worry about the different foods to eat and I wondered if eating them would cause the experiment to fail and my depression to come back.

I ate a chip – a single tortilla chip – and feelings of failure wash over me.  The old eating disorder mind set came rushing back.  “I am a failure and I have a weak will power...must. have. control.”

Because of watching the video and listening to Dr. Salad Challenge, I am not only still depressed, but now I also feel like a fat failure.  The whole rest of the day, I was really down.  It wasn’t until I wrote down my “experiment results” that I realized, for me, the experiment did not work.  I must move on and continue along the path that works for me.

There is no way that physically eating ONE tortilla chip could have set off a downward spiral or caused eating disorder behaviors to creep up again.  Before I was even done chewing and swallowing, I was full of shame.  My plummeting mood had nothing to do with the chemical, nutritional value of the chip.  It had everything to do with the expectations I put on myself.

Personally, my depression grows when I try to live up to other people’s expectations.  It comes from an “all or nothing” or perfectionist’s attitude.  For me, my depression is the worst when I try to control what I eat.

The salad challenge might work for some, but it doesn’t work for me.  And I have to be honest with myself about that, even though I would have LOVED for it to work.

My experiment conclusion: I will continue to eat salads every once in a while when I am feeling like a salad because I like them.  But, I will put ranch on it, and maybe some ham or cheese, and maybe some croutons…
Painting of the day:
Have a nourishing day today!

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