My 30 Days Off...
So as some of you may have noticed, I recently decided to take a month off to work on some "personal projects". That personal project was a total lifestyle rehaul for me. I, like many people, slipped into a bit of a depression around August/September as quarantine seemed to be dragging on with no end in sight. So many things have changed this year in my life: my entire graduate program has now been online beside the first semester and because of this I do not feel as prepared as I'd like to in order to start my traineeship this summer, my fitness/exercise routine was interrupted which was a huge mental health stabilizer and long term goal for me, and this industry has changed so much that it became incredibly difficult to plan and budget more than a few weeks in advance so much so that it was decreasing my ability to be fully present and enjoy my sessions. I also missed a bunch of my regulars who were no longer able to meet because of various shelter at home constraints. All of these things that I try so hard to make routine and regulate all of a sudden felt out of control and there was nothing I could do about, queue impending doom... So before conceding to antidepressants or just burning out completely I decided to take 30 days off to embark on an elimination diet to attempt to naturally treat my depression as well as focus on rebuilding my fitness and self care stamina- two things I felt that I could have more control over even when everything else felt out of whack. I am in my final week now and am happy to report back positive results!
So the diet was the most daunting part for me. It was a drastic change from my current modality of eating which was basically try to stay under 1300 calories every day and restrict my eating window to 12pm to 8pm, but other than that I was just eating whatever I wanted (and frequently cheating by not counting all of the calories I was drinking!). This new diet I tried sought to reset the microbiome in the gut in order to alleviate symptoms of depression. There is a lot of research currently around the Gut-Brain axis and how the majority of our serotonin is actually produced in the gut and utilized in the brain. A SAD (standard American diet) high in sugars and refined carbohydrates is unfortunately theorized to produce inflammation in the body that throws off this axis. The diet I tried focused on whole foods (nothing with more than one ingredient in the label or no label at all) and restricts the following: no added sugar of any kind, no gluten, no caffeine, no dairy, no alcohol, no rice, and no potatoes. You can eat as much pasture raised meat and eggs, wild caught fish, vegetables, fruits, and nuts & seeds as you want and are only supposed to drink purified water for the entire 30 days (at least 64oz for me). The point of the diet is not to lose weight, but to treat depression- however if your diet is high in any of the restricted things, then you are likely to lose weight anyway. At first I thought this was going to be impossible and there would be nothing to eat but boy was I was wrong! Not only were the meals I was making delicious, but the results were almost felt immediately in the first week and continued to build through month! (I'll get more into results a bit further down).
Rebuilding Fitness Routine
When everything shut down I didn't think it was going to last very long like a lot of other people so viewed it as a week off from working out. Only as it dragged on did I realize I needed to be more resourceful about finding my fitness groove again. I really struggled finding a way to self motivate at home and feel like I was still getting the results and payoff I was getting from the various classes I was taking on ClassPass and the gym. I maintained for a bit with youtube yoga videos and work out videos but as I slipped further and further into depression I just lost all drive and will to keep trying and gave up. I was lucky to be even getting myself off the couch to go for a walk towards the end. Thankfully in the past few weeks fitness studios in the city have opened again and I am back doing Barry's Bootcamp outside and Pilates. I have also made a commitment to do yoga at home still on my active recovery days and do one mini (or bigger!) hike per week. I just got back from Yosemite this past week where I did a 13 mile hike that was harder than I expected due to my decreasing levels of cardio fitness but it felt great just to be out in my element again and TRYING to feel better and get back to the old me. I would say it worked, just putting in the work and trying to rebuild a new routine in a changing world has given me a new perspective and increased resiliency.
So I am a total and complete data nerd so I have been taking meticulous notes through this whole process to hopefully quantify my experience and understand what does and does not work for me in case I get *blue* again. Qualitatively I can tell you that I definitely feel better. In so many ways: physically, mentally, emotionally, hopeful-ly. The first week the withdrawal from caffeine and sugar was really hitting me hard so I was not working out or anything but taking it easy with myself. Although I was a bit cranky the first few days my sleep improved DRASTICALLY. Fitbit data below if you're a data nerd like me. Another almost immediately noticeable effect was my digestion. Without going too much into detail bloating, gurgling and cramping was gone entirely. I also lost 1.6 lbs the first week which I mostly attribute to cutting out my love of cheese, breads and alcohol. Week 2 I really hit my stride and this is when my mood started to lift. By day 10 my cravings went away, and my energy was consistent and clear. I woke up at 7am naturally, ready for the day and didn't need a nap or feel tired AT ALL until about 10pm. The regular clean eating and lack of sticky stuff (gluten and sugar) or stimulants (caffeine and sugar) really regulated my body's natural rhythm. Since my energy better equalized around week 2 I decided to throw myself back into fitness again fully as well, this further increased my baseline mood and gave me even more clear energy to work with. Other note-able improvements were my skin cleared up, I had more patience for the annoyances from school (related to mood lift), and I saved plenty of money not ordering food delivery or drinks! I've included some data below for nerds like myself:
Changes week 1 to week 3:
Sleep: average weekly fitbit sleep score improved from 64 to 72; average nightly increase from 5 hours 36 minutes to 7 hours 38 minutes
Mood: I rate my scale on a mood of 1 (worst day ever, angry-anxious-irritated) to 10 (amazing day on top of the world) and this went from a weekly average of 3 in the height of my depression to a weekly average of 8 (I know this scale is completely subjective but I was hoping to give you a sense of improvement scale)
Weight: overall I only lost 1.8 lbs for the whole week; my goal was to lose 5 lbs so although I didn't reach that I am still much happier with the way I look and more importantly FEEL
Resting Heart Rate: significant decrease from 72bpm when I was depressed and stressed to, no joke, 61bmp at week 3
So all in all, I just wanted to catch you guys up on what I've been doing and where I'm at now. I am definitely not trying to advocate an elimination diet as a cure all for depression. I am well aware that it is likely the my depression was already starting to ease a bit by the time that I started the diet, which is what allowed me to even embark in the process. I am also aware that people suffer depression for a variety of reasons, not simply biological and there is a bevy of treatment options and interests depending on personal values. I am simply sharing my experience of trying to naturally treat a depression that likely arose from my feelings of a complete and total lack of control of what was happening in my life and the world around me. I highly advocate reaching out to a therapist, integrative psychiatrist or helpline if you are suffering and need help. I would also advise that if you have previously struggled with an eating disorder or weight/food preoccupations to consult with a doctor before embarking on a seriously restrictive diet such as this as it can trigger some past issues. I would also love to talk more about my experience in session if you are interested! On that note, I am I am planning on returning to seeing people again at the end of next week at home in San Francisco so hope I get to see you soon and you haven't missed me too much! I am feeling very refreshed and ready to take on the world again! Care to join me?