Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

The Four Food Groups

Yesterday David cried for two hours because the state of Maine didn’t say anything as he assembled his talking puzzle of the United States.

“It’s not working!” he screamed as he threw the first thirteen colonies across the room.

“What did he have to eat today?” asked Eric.

“Christmas cookies and a candy cane,” I replied. “We’re sticking to the four food groups [from the movie “Elf“]: candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup.”

Lucky for me, I get to see how my brain would behave if it were a five-year-old boy. David’s extreme meltdowns signal to me that we both need to return to the land of green legumes and brown grains.


Because too much sugar can be toxic to our sensitive chemistries.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I went five days without working out, and four without consuming a fruit or vegetable. During the nine-hour drive home from Ohio, I could feel the neurotransmitters in my brain packing their bags for a vacation in Florida.

“Wait! Wait!” I pleaded. “Don’t go!” As soon as we landed in Annapolis I went grocery shopping–walking the perimeter of the store, where the good foods (produce and meats) are found–and I strapped on my running shoes because I wanted to say hello to my endorphins and ask them how their Thanksgiving was. I vowed to my serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine that I’d do a better job at Christmas. I’d resist the candy canes, splurge on grapefruits, and exercise five times a week.


But Saint Nick came with his yule logs and German butter cookies, and I couldn’t deprive the kids of an afternoon of making gingerbread boys and Christmas-tree cookies–even if butter, sugar, and white flour were the three ingredients. The feel-good chemicals in my brain got fed up again, and we’re currently in the midst of negotiation talks.

My diet has always been an important part of my recovery from depression. Two years ago I worked with a naturopath on compiling a list of vitamins and minerals that would contribute toward mental health, that knew how to convince my neurotransmitters to stay. On top of my mood stabilizer and antidepressants, I also take vitamin C, B-complex, vitamin E, a multi-vitamin, glucosamine-chondrotin, magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, folic acid, and a load of omega-3 supplements. It takes me the same amount of time to swallow all my morning pills as it takes Eric to fry our breakfast eggs and set the table. But it’s certainly worth the time. Because some of us (like David and me) really are what we eat.

  • http://HASH(0xce76338) A.D.DarkPoet

    I really appreciate your blog for witty and poignant literary style. This post is especially intriguing to me related to diet as a way of helping my depression, A.D.D., Anxiety and P.T.S.D. No one has ever brought that up before. Tonight I was looking at an Andrew Weil book, “From Chocolate to Morphine” that talks about the various effects drugs, medications, natural substances like caffeine have on us. I’m sure my Effexor, Lorazepam and Methylphenidate have some effects on me that I could do without. Beside this, your reference to exercise struck me. About 3 weeks ago, into the Christmas steamroller, I stopped going to the gym which I had been doing regularly for a few months. Tonight while at Barnes and Noble, I picked up Hal Higdon’s book, “Masters Running”. I have acquired the vintage to be a Master’s age group runner, over 40, well, 55. I am also going back to the gym, as hard as it is to get momentum moving. Thanks for writing this blog. I love it. We are meant to work together to solve some of our life hurdles and this blog is such an important medium for people to do that in.

  • Kevin Keough

    Four food groups and the Fundamentals of Health. I’ve learned about the importance of eating….of eating food in a way that demonstrates a remote understanding of the fundamentals of nutrition. I am hypoglycemic—-a far more insidious condition than most understand. I’ve only encountered a few people–other hypoglycemics–who recognize that one can have hypoglycemia or hypoglycemia can have you. Typically, people will inquiry about my eating habits and instruct me on the proper way to do things. When I fail to ‘do it right’, I am scolded, lectured, or dimissed as a disinterested student. It appears that people find it virtually impossible to understand that someone can literally find themselves in the grip of hypoglycemia. Mental dullness, a furrowed brow, mild hand tremor, a type of confusion, resistance to eating, conserving energy, social withdrawal, irritability, etc set in and take over. No amount of reasonable or logical explanations about the critical need to eat are even registered in my brain. Ocassionally, someone will recognize that if food is going to reach my stomach I will require the patient assistance of another person. These experiences are infrequent but the kindness has such an impact that it helps me take care of myself before I reach the threshold of ‘no return’. The experience of a hypoglycemic is similar in certain respects to the experience of someone in the grip of clinical depression. People tend to find it impossible to accept that depression can render a person to a type of helplessness. No amount of logic, pep talks, or angry rebukes do anything other than deepen a sense of lonliness and fear characteristic of depression. Clinical depression is a DISEASE-not an illness. Fundamentally, the symptoms and signs of depression result from the atrophy and death of billions of cells in different parts of the brain—especially the hippocampus–and throughout the limbic system. When a person views colorized brain scans of people with different types of dementia like Alzheimer’s, brain trauma, and depression their is a recognition of fundamental similarities; obviously the brain has suffered serious damage-cell death, serious atrophy. Talk about serotonin and norepinephrine–‘biochemical imbalances’–really misses the point. We are dealing with observable neuroanatomical destruction; it would be good news if we were only dealing with neurochemical anomolies. An examination of our views of Alzheimers and Depression reveal fundamental differences in our understanding, attitudes, expectations toward people from these different diagnostic groups despite fundamental similarities in the neuroanatomical destruction characteristic of each. Think about how we view Alzheimer’s…..juxtaposed with Depression. No point in spelling it out.”Against Depression” by Peter Kramer, M.D. is currently one’s best way to get exposed to an understanding of depression that is consistent with developments in the neurosciences in the past 15 years. Kramer identifies Depression as the worst disease to ever afflict the human race. It’s worth reading. It will change how you understand this insidious disease…..and lead to a bit more compassion.

  • http://HASH(0xce78c44) dark to dawn

    Thank you Beyond Blue, A.D. Dark Poet, and Kevin, for well-reasoned comments about the relationship between nutrition and its effects on many facets of our lives. I have fibromyalgia in addition to recurrent major depression and have found that too many simple carbs several days in a row can cause a real flare-up in my physical and mental pain levels. Just wanted to share that with others who may not have heard about that possible connection – espcially with fibromyalgia pain. More folks are getting the message about eliminating simple carbs for weight control, but that’s not always motivation enough to avoid the starches and sweets. Sometimes I still choose to over-indulge, but when I pay the price of a pain flare-up, I quickly return to simple carb aviodance and the pain is gone, usually in a day or so. Also, wanted to say that I’ve just caught up with reading the blog entries after a few holidays off and made a comment to the post, “My Angel, Ann.” One commenter encouraged Beyond Blue to consider the beauty of sunrises and sunsets for inspiration not to be depressed. That led me to respond to those who believe that mental illness can be willfully controlled if you just use the right technique or belief system. Please scroll down to that blog entry if you’re interested in a conversation about why depressed, bipolar, or other mood disorderd people do not find that approach helpful – or even adding to the burden. Well-meaning people who haven’t “been there” can be more helpful to their afflicted friends and loved ones by understanding that cures are not found through prayer, strength, or good intentions – though all can be a supportive part of the healing process.

  • http://HASH(0xce7965c) michael leach

    As someone with friends and relatives who suffer from depression or anxiety — and a frequent vistor to those lands myself — I am grateful for your helpful blog. Your essays and the responses are most worthy of passing along. Thank you for your warm compassion, sweet humor, and wise advice.

  • http://HASH(0xce7a33c) Tom Clift

    Thank you for the insight into depression as related to food intake. Also, the need for rigorous exercise if one is to enjoy good health and a healthy disposition. I have fouond that I’ve been gorging on holiday sweets and feeling that I am rewarding myself rather than inviting a severe depression and poor self esteem as well as serious physical consequences. I’m making a change right now!

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