Can wheat be causing your depression, and subsequently negatively affecting your relationships?
Bagels can’t actually make you sad, can they? With all their toasty crunchiness and cream cheese smoothness, they are nothing short of happiness. Right? I used to believe that having a crunchy, creamy bagel would make me happy. It would raise my spirits when I was feeling low. I used to crave bagels when I was depressed and would eat more during these times in an attempt to feel better. I truly believed that having this minor satisfaction would help me. Little did I know that I was actually promoting and prolonging my depression.
I have been depressed since my early teens. I was diagnosed with Major Depression (big “D”) in my late 20s and went on medication (Wellbutrin) in the hopes of controlling my feelings. Depression and all its feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness and helplessness have defined my life. It has defined my career (I am a psychotherapist), my social life, and my relationships. But most importantly, it was how I defined myself. I was the depressed girl and then the depressed wife and mother.
I never had the typical "I can’t get out of bed" depression. But I had enough of the symptoms that to any mental health professional, I sure looked depressed. Plus, I had early childhood trauma and had lost my father a young age so it just made sense that I would be depressed.
On bad days, I felt like I was walking through tar — everything was in slow motion and I felt weighted down. Everything took tremendous effort. Conversations with friends and colleagues, who wanted to connect and chat, felt like insurmountable hurdles. I had no energy and it took tremendous effort just to animate my face. I could not concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. I physically ached: especially my hips and leg bones. I would also cry unexpectedly and sometimes uncontrollably. This was not good for anyone involved, not myself and especially not my marriage. My husband, while supportive, was as tired as I was.
And then something changed. While on a fad no-wheat diet with my husband, my depression evaporated. The depression lifted so much that I began having jittery side-effects that my psychiatrist had warned would happen if I took too much of my medication. Of course, I did not believe this and promptly went to see a cardiologist, convinced that I was having heart issues. I assumed that I felt better because of the weight loss or maybe because it was sunny that week.
It took almost a year of experimenting with not eating wheat before I made the connection that wheat might be causing my feelings. Everything I knew about depression from growing up as that depressed-girl, everything I knew from being a depressed patient, as well as everything I knew as an experienced psychotherapist treating depression led me to "know" that depression was not impacted by food. It was not that simple. I "knew" that my depression was a complicated mix of my biology, my history, my thoughts and my relationships. It was not my food.
Except that every time I ate a bagel, I felt sad. It took me a year to be able to conceptualize what wheat-free would look like. Wheat was such a large part of my diet — cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pretzels for a snack and pasta for dinner. What else was there to eat?
For the first 6 months of this experiment, I was far from gluten-free. At most I was gluten-light. About once a week I would bump into some cookies or a delicious dessert that needed eating and I would oblige. Then I would feel terrible. But I thought a totally gluten-free diet was impossible — especially since I was a mother of 2 beautiful donut-loving girls.
After I stopped eating wheat regularly, I could really feel the impact it had on me when I did treat myself. I would get light headed, develop a sore stomach (it felt like my food would not digest), and I could feel my face go slack. It was as if all the troubles in the world suddenly occurred to me. And after a few days off of wheat, I would feel normal again. I didn’t experience euphoria — it was just a calm happiness and a comfort in my body. This not only helped me in my persional life but when I was feeling good, everyone else was feeling good, too. Happy wife, happy life, right?
One day it occurred to me that I might be able to come off my medication. Yes, it took me this long to even consider the possibility that maybe wheat didn’t make my depression worse but perhaps it WAS my depression. Maybe all I had was a wheat sensitivity.
I committed to go completely gluten-free and worked with my psychiatrist on a plan to come off my medication slowly. My husband was very nervous about this experiment, especially since he'd seen me at some of my lowest points. I was terrified. I had not been off my medication for 15 years except during my pregnancies. And I had had pretty severe postpartum depressions following each birth. But I took a deep breath and jumped.
No withdrawal from the meds. No depressive symptoms. No hopelessness. No feeling like I was the worst person in the world. No aching joints. No crying uncontrollably. No feelings of wanting to crawl into bed and hide from the world. No thoughts of hurting myself. No depression. This nothing was the MOST AMAZING FEELING IN THE WORLD. It was as if a miracle had occurred. This thing that I had battled, medicated, cried about, beaten myself up over, raged at, ignored and finally accepted as fact was GONE. Just gone.
I have now been gluten free for a year. I am also depression-free and medicaiton free. I don’t think that I ever had Depression. I think that there were times when I was depressed (little "D") over losses and break ups but I believe that my symptoms of Depression (big “D”) were actually symptoms of my food sensitivity. My lack of depression has caused me to redefine who I am and this journey of definition will continue for a while. My non-depression has also greatly influenced how I work with depression in my clients.
Depression exists and most people who suffer with it do not have food sensitivities as the cause. However, there are those people, like me, who battle against themselves and their "depression" for years, unable to make any real changes because they do not have depression. My main goal is to educate my clients about all the possibilities for their feelings of depression, anxiety or sadness. This includes food sensitivities, diet deficiencies, past traumas, loss, biology or parenting. Through education they can make the best decisions for how they treat their own depression. Keep reading...
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