Friday, November 30, 2012

What Harm Could One Little Cup of Coffee Do?

I have been eating well for about a week and feeling much better. My moods are more even, and now that I am also exercising again I am much less depressed than I usually am. I was doing so well that yesterday I figured it could not hurt much if I went to the coffee shop and got one of those sweet mocha concoctions. Yes, that was stupid, irrational thinking on my part. Basically it was my eating disorder thinking for me. But at the time it seemed rational. I mean I had eaten Paleo all week, one drink would not hurt me, and I would not have another one for at least another week. (I do realize that sounds like an alcohol addiction and there is a lot of research about how sugar addiction and alcohol addiction are linked.)

An hour after finishing my milk-filled, caffeine-filled, sugar-filled drink, I was shaking, angry and easily irritated. My son would ask me a simple question and I felt like I wanted to scream at him. When I typed on the computer I was missing keys because my hands were so shaky sometimes. I ate some protein and vegetables to try and even things out, but I just got worse and ended up with a severe stomach ache and shaking that lasted well into the night. All from a darn Venti Mocha.

Photo by Katie Norris

Despite the research out there, there are still many people who do not think food affects our mood. I keep trying to convince myself of that as well, but every time I eat something that is not good for me, not only does my mental illness get worse but frequently by body become physically ill as well. I should have learned my lesson by now and not listen to people who tell me I can have sugar just once a day or a few times a week, or that I can eat junk food in moderation.

I think some of us are more sensitive to the foods we eat than others and we do not have the luxury of eating unhealthy foods "in moderation." I have been craving chocolate and sugar ever since that mocha drink and all I can think about is if I can get some sugary treat somewhere. For me, I can't do "moderation" because clearly foods trigger chemicals in my brain that just get out of control and it is too hard to try and make up for it later. For instance, one way to combat depression is to increase serotonin. Eating sugar does increase serotonin but in an unbalanced way which makes you feel better for a bit but then causes an even bigger dip in your levels later causing you to become more and more depressed. (Check out this article about sugar and mental illness: Scientist Shows Link Between Diet and Onset of Mental Illness.  There are many other research studies out there showing the same thing.) Instead, eating a balanced diet of protein, healthy fat, and carbohydrates from vegetables balances out your serotonin for a longer time period causing a more even mood.

I really encourage people to research what kind of diet might work for them in helping to treat their mental illness. I am not a doctor so I can't tell you what to eat. I can only go by my own research and what my doctors suggest for me, and I recommend you do the same.

My husband said today that if I had started a new medication last Friday and I was doing this well, he would say the medication was working. All I did last Friday was change my diet, exercise, and sleep and it is working as well as medication (for me) without the terrible side effects I would get from prescriptions. I would say that the biggest risk is that lifestyle changes are hard to stick to and I do go back and forth on them but I also believe that if we keep trying we will be able to find what works for us and stick with it, we just need a lot of help along the way.


Rev. Katie


  1. So it's not so much what you eat (or take as a pill) but what you don't eat. I found the same thing with my skin. I had a really bad skin condition on my face which nothing (and I mean NOTHING) helped. I tried everything from steroidal creams to coal tar (not kidding) and it just kept getting worse. Then I started using Dr. Bronners soaps instead of the standard shampoos in order to avoid all the wierd chemicals. Cleared right up and not a problem since. But it's harder with food... harder to keep from eating all the goodies life puts in front of me. Reading this blog post helps remind me. Thanks.

  2. It is good that you pay attention to your diet, sleep, exercise and stress levels. Trying to pin down cause and effect of what triggers mental disturbances can be daunting. I am a firm believer that consuming large amount of alcohol and other drugs can cause problems. I wonder how many people self-medicate rather than seeking medical help... Keep up the good work with your writing and this blog. =)