I drink a lot of green drinks. I eat a lot of green foods. I draw in a lot of looks and comments for drinking and eating said colorful sustenance. Especially at work, green faces abound (and trust me when I say they’re not faces green with envy).
These faces are green with the grim glow of someone about to hurl, or break out in hives. Perhaps both simultaneously. I really hope that never happens; it would be a serious buzzkill to my lunch break.
The other day, whilst drinking a delicious homemade smoothie at my desk, a colleague commented, as someone almost always does, about the emerald concoction I had brought in. “I don’t even want to know what’s in that,” he said, apprehensively backing away. “Anything green, and I’m allergic to it.” He then shuffled away, probably to find a sausage roll to act as antihistamine, just in case he happened to catch a bit of the green.Now I would never do the same thing to someone else. Can you imagine if I walked up to him, eating aforementioned sausage roll, and said with a look of disgust in my face, “I don’t even want to know what you’re eating there! Just looking at it makes my eyes bleed! My eyes! MY EYEEESSSS!!!!!” It’s an unfortunate double standard that someone can criticize a person for their healthy life choices, yet the reverse is somehow not okay (and will often get you labeled as insensitive). Why is it acceptable to scoff at nature’s purest and perfect rainbow delights, yet bow down to all things modified and brown? Just another one to add to the list of Ridiculous Things About Our Society.
Truth be told, people don’t like what they don’t know, and what they clearly don’t know is how good you can feel by adding a little more green to your scene (or red, or purple, or yellow, or orange…). Whether the people who comment on others’ dietary preferences are aware of it or not, I genuinely believe that seeing another person make healthy choices makes other people feel uncomfortable about their own choices, and as such, the questions and comments and awkward laughter come out. To be honest, I don’t even mind it anymore most of the time, and I try to welcome any inquisitiveness as an opportunity for education. More often than not I’ll get some sort of response about “all things in moderation..”, which I wholeheartedly agree with when it’s actually put into practice, with the food in moderation being the processed and fried foods, and not the foods that came from the earth.
As I’ve spoken about on the blog before, changing my eating habits has been one of the single biggest boons in healing my depression and anxiety, continuing positive mental health, and overall functionality. This is not to say I ate an excessive amount of junk as a kid, because I didn’t. However, when you’re young, you don’t have as much of a say in what you eat, and often don’t have the cognitive tools to differentiate between which foods might be making you feel better or worse than others (let alone that they may be exacerbating the horrible feelings inside your head and tension in your body). By the time we are adults, most of us are already set in our ways, and either still lack the help or the knowledge needed to determine what works best for us, or we just simply don’t want to know.
Although it was certainly not intended as a depression remedy at first, my road to how I eat today was a bi-product of the medication meant to actually be the remedy. From the time I started taking anti-depressants to the time I finally got rid of them for good, I had gained nearly 25lbs (about 15 of those from my normal weight, as I was underweight from the depression when I began). With the weight gain making me feel almost as bad as the withdrawal symptoms from coming off the meds, I decided to start cooking more at home, and making healthier versions of the foods I loved in order to drop the pounds the ‘real medicine’ had given me. I began to eat leaner meats, and less processed foods. I still ate a fair amount of dairy and sugar, and nowhere near enough vegetables, but it was a small improvement and at the time it was good enough for me. The more I got into it, the more beneficial changes and improvements I made, and bit by bit began to feel good on a more regular basis. However, it wasn’t quite enough to keep me feeling stable and well for long stretches of time.Flash forward a few years to when I began studying with Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and all the pieces of the puzzle came together. I had read previously about how food can affect your mood, but I didn’t truly get it until I came to IIN. They didn’t tell you what to think, but how to think. They didn’t tell you what to eat, but that contrary to what society tells us, one standard diet does not fit all, and that adding more of certain foods in and taking more of certain foods out can not only help your body feel better, but more importantly, it can improve your mind. I’ve experimented with so many different ways of eating since then, some of them written about on the blog, and have now come to what I feel is the single most stabilizing way of eating I have ever experienced.
What will probably shock anyone who has ever known me before now, and shocks nobody more than myself, is that I have come to adopt a predominately vegan, as well as refined sugar free lifestyle. I have found that eating a mostly plant based diet, with very little processed sugars has been beyond instrumental in my general wellbeing and happiness. I came to try this way of eating as I had already cut out almost all animal products from my diet for ethical, health, and environmental reasons, and wanted to see if I could take it a step further. More than anything, I had seen such a vast improvement in my mental health since going this route and was hoping for it to improve even more (saving the planet and the animals was initially a fringe benefit, although have since become vital to my maintaining this lifestyle). So this past January, I signed up for ‘Veganuary‘ and have more or less stuck with it since then (I say more or less, because although virtually 95% of what I eat is as such, I will every now and again have a bit of cheese, or a plate of seafood, although almost only when I am travelling – I still haven’t quite managed to totally stick to it then). In a million years I never thought I would be this person – there was a time when I wouldn’t so much as date a vegetarian because I thought it might cause a problem in our social life, not to mention the fact that I wanted to be a cheesemonger when I grew up – but here I am. Green juice making, tofu baking, earth shaking plant lover.There are so many studies and papers out there linking what you eat to how you feel, certainly more now than when I was growing up, but these are my facts surrounding eating a plant based diet:
- I haven’t had a major depressive episode lasting more than a couple of weeks in over two years now (!!!)
- Anxiety still comes, but my head is much clearer and so it passes on through most of the time, floating by like puffy little clouds
- Gone are the days of hysteric hypochondria, and thank God for that (I’ve diagnosed myself with everything in the WebMD book, been convinced I was being followed by a red van, and have legitimately thought I was pregnant from dancing with someone. Yep, I was ‘that girl’)
- My lows are far less frequent, and my highs far less intermittent or manic. I am able to maintain a positive mindset to the extent that now it is the rule, not the exception. Simply put, I am more stable than I have ever been
- I feel more connected to the planet and to all animals, they even seem to approach me more than they did before (excellent news for this crazy cat lady!)
- My intuition is stronger than ever, and my connection with my spirituality has deepened tenfold
- I used to have horrible fits of uncontrollable rage. These episodes are now so few and far between, I can’t even remember the last time one happened
- People who have recently come into my life think I am one of the most chilled out, zen people they know. While this is a fabulous thing, I laugh to myself because for most of my life this couldn’t have been further from the truth
If simply changing what I eat can bring so much positivity and emotional balance, coming from an initial place of dark hopelessness, can you imagine just how incredible someone who is relatively stable already could feel? Do you know just how many people have reversed diseases and autoimmune disorders by changing what they eat? You don’t even have to become a vegan; but trust me when I say adding a bit more plants and reducing processed foods will go a mighty long way. I still eat all the types of foods I’ve always loved, desserts included, just now made differently. Aside from a genuine allergy, I can’t see how anyone could ever have anything but a positive reaction to consuming anything green (St Patrick’s Day green beer excluded). Of course there are many other factors at play here – therapy, yoga, setting boundaries, etc.. – but suffice it to say, nobody should ever underestimate the power of what you put on your plate.
So next time you find yourself tempted to poke fun at someone for making dietary choices, healthy or otherwise, maybe first find out why they made those choices in the first place. Just because someone eats well doesn’t mean they’re depriving themselves, or jumping on a bandwagon, or think they are better than you, or whatever else may come to mind. Maybe they are just trying to get by in life like everyone else, and have been lucky enough to find something that helps keep them off the edge of the cliff another day. And if you’re the one to whom the fun is being poked at, let it roll off your shoulders and use it as an opportunity to impart some knowledge. We make fun of what we can’t understand, so keep that in mind before taking anything too seriously.
As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks. Have you found something else that has helped to keep your head clear and your moods stable? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! In the meantime, I’ll be off hugging a tree somewhere.