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Could Starting A New Healthy Diet Actually Trigger Short Term Depression?

For years I’ve always cautioned my personal training clients that they may likely feel worse before they feel better when ditching their poor eating habits and starting a healthy diet.

It’s not like the instant you transition from Big Mac’s to grilled chicken salads that you’re going to feel great.

I’ve long suspected much of the lag time in feeling positive improvements had to do with the natural detoxification and cleansing that was occurring in the body.

When you begin de-junking the cells and clearing out metabolic waste from the GI tract, liver, etc, you’ll often experience what I refer to as “false hunger.”

This is not true hunger in the sense that you’re being deprived of energy to facilitate metabolic functions, but rather a call from your body crying out for more antioxidants and nutrients to help rejuvenate the cells and flush out the garbage.

You may likely find this is accompanied with sugar cravings, feelings of uneasiness, and perhaps even mild depression. This makes the battle to stick with healthy foods a struggle especially in the first week to ten days.

Researchers may have found clues to why the withdrawal symptoms and depression is triggered when you end your fatty and sugary food habit.

More after the jump…

It’s long been recognized by scientists that sugary and fatty foods react to the opioid receptors in the brain much like addictive drugs do. That’s one of main reasons these foods are so addictive and hard to give up in the first place. The more of them you eat the more your brain sends signals to keep them coming.

So it comes with little surprise that when individuals give up these foods they’re likely to experience withdrawal symptoms much like drug users experience when they kick the habit. It all has to do with chemical changes in the brain.

A recent study published by Dr. Stephanie Fulton et al, of the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Medicine sheds some light on what might be happening.

“By working with mice, whose brains are in many ways comparable to our own, we discovered that the neurochemistry of the animals who had been fed a high fat, sugary diet were different from those who had been fed a healthy diet,” Fulton explained.

“The chemicals changed by the diet are associated with depression. A change of diet then causes withdrawal symptoms and a greater sensitivity to stressful situations, launching a vicious cycle of poor eating.” Go to story.

S Sharma, M F Fernandes, S Fulton. Adaptations in brain reward circuitry underlie palatable food cravings and anxiety induced by high-fat diet withdrawal. International Journal of Obesity, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2012.197

I’ll save you all the research mumbo jumbo and cut to the chase, that is unless of course you really want to read all about it. I’ve provided links if that’s your thing.

Basically what happens is there’s a change in the levels of dopamine and the stress hormone corticosterone. Eating sugary and fatty foods provide a short term feeling of enjoyment, often followed by a crash that leaves you craving more to get your fix.

Start pulling these foods out and you’re going to be “jonesing” for junk food like a drug addict reeling for the next high.

So yeah, you’re going to through a low period before you can get to the other side. The majority of diets and nutrition changes come unraveled within the first week or two because of this very reason.

This is why it’s so important to formulate a plan and get support in the process. Here are a few tips I can provide:

Clean out the cupboards and fridge. Get the junk out period. Don’t rely on your willpower, if it’s there you’re likely to cave in and eat it during a weak moment. Don’t make excuses like the kids want it or whatever.

Talk over the decision to start a healthy diet with your family. Get their support going in. Preferably look to get everyone else on board as well if you can. If you can’t, ask for their support in your decision to get the junk food out of the house.

Plan out your diet and get prepared! I can’t emphasize preparation enough. Don’t leave healthy eating to chance. Go to the store and get stocked up on healthy foods. Make some meals in bulk with the crock pot or whatever. Put away in Tupperware and get yourself organized.

Keep a food journal or nutrition log. The old school method of simply writing down everything you eat and drink works just fine. You may however choose to use an 0n-line tracker which has the added benefit of monitoring calories and nutrient totals.

Seek the support from an accountability partner or a personal fitness coach. Don’t try to take the walk all alone. You’re going to be weak and vulnerable in the beginning. Know this going in and plan accordingly.

Establish a strong emotional reason “why” you’re making this change. Just making the decision to get healthy is pretty weak and probably won’t last long. That is of course unless you’ve had a recent health scare or bad report from your doctor. None-the-less, always look to get crystal clear with why this is important to you and put it down in writing.

Visualize on where it is you want to go and what you want your body to look and feel like. Use vivid imagination and practice seeing this picture in your head several times each day. You’re in essence programming your subconscious mind to take you where you want to go. Don’t overlook the power in this.

Don’t set out to diet, but rather to establish healthy eating habits. Diets don’t last forever. Shift your focus to the long-term and not with quick gratification.

Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables significantly in the beginning. Remember this is when most of the detoxification and cleansing will occur. Give your body the nutrients it needs to flush out metabolic waste and toxins. If you’re not big on eating them, juice them, but get in them in some way, some how.

If sugar cravings are giving you the fits, try using black coffee or tea to help with the withdrawal symptoms. I’ve written on this extensively in other posts so I won’t get into the details now. Just know that it can be helpful with some individuals.

The bottom line with all of this is that making the transition from a poor diet to a healthy diet isn’t always going to be a walk in the park. Be ready to fight for your health and quality of life you desire.

The rewards won’t be instantaneous and you’ll likely feel worse before you feel better. Know this going in but rest assured with the fact there’s light on the other side of the tunnel. That much I can promise you.

If you live in the Charleston, SC area and would like assistance getting started with a healthy lifestyle of supportive nutrition eating and exercise, my team of fitness professionals are ready to help at Shaping Concepts.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides fitness consulting in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation for middle age adults. See our success stories from numerous Lowcountry residents then sign up for a no-obligations consultation today.

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Category: Hormones & Health.