Food and Mood

Depressed woman talking with her therapistHealth is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. When it comes to our mental health however, almost half of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about their problem. This is despite the fact that therapies based on nutrition, cognitive behavior, or pharmacology play key roles in reducing the severity and duration of mental illness.

Article by Lori Petryk, RD

Nutrition Therapy

The first dietary recommendation I suggest to reduce anxiety-related panic attacks, is to reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine can act as a stimulant to produce heart palpitations, can cause occasional stomach discomfort and may actually trigger panic attacks. Although most people feel the effect of coffee within 15 to 20 minutes of consuming it, its effects can last up to 15 hours. People may therefore not correlate their morning coffee with an evening panic attack.

Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fatty fish, have been touted as a panacea for numerous health conditions. Evidence is inconclusive on their potential benefits for anxiety disorders, however they may be helpful for those suffering from mild depression. A daily consumption of the omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be found in a 2.5 oz serving of anchovies or salmon. If you are unable to meet your needs through food alone, a supplement that contains 1.5 – 2 grams of EPA has been shown to stimulate mood. Consuming more than 3 grams of omega-3s does not result in greater effects and may be contraindicated in patients taking other medications such as anticlotting drugs. A recent scientific review however concluded that there is not enough high quality evidence to determine the effects of Omega 3 fatty acids as a treatment for major depressive disorder.

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a type of counseling that focuses on the way people think (“cognitive”) and act (“behavioural”). It is well known that our thoughts about a situation affect how we feel (emotionally and physically) and how we behave in that situation. When our thinking is making us feel anxious or depressed, it can lead to people overeating or even binge eating. CBT has been proven to reduce or stop the thoughts that lead to anxiety or depression, and can reduce the act of overeating and binge eating. The Center for Mindful Eating has been a pioneer in the use of CBT to treat people struggling with binge and compulsive eaters. Their website has a plethora of excellent resources.

Pharmaceutical therapy

Often the first therapy people consider for the treatment of anxiety-induced overeating is pharmaceutical therapy. Unfortunately, these drugs can be expensive and can result in physical side effects. Vyvanse is the latest pill released for the treatment of binge eating. Originally designed to treat ADHD this is not the obesity miracle drug we have all been waiting for. The company’s own medication guide actually states “VYVANSE is not for weight loss. To top it off, a common side effect of this medication is anxiety!

Anxiety and depression are complex multifactorial diseases, which we are only beginning to understand. As with many diseases, treatment can be complex. Whether you choose over the counter medication, supplements, CBT and / or pharmaceutical intervention, the pros and cons should always be discussed in depth with your doctor.

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