Have you ever heard somebody say: “S/he’s feeling depressed. Give him a chicken leg?” Probably not, neither have I. On the other hand, I have often heard people say: “S/he’s feeling in need of comfort, perhaps a piece of cake might help. Or a bar of chocolate.”
Chicken, of course, is a protein and does not affect moods. Cakes comes into the food category called carbohydrates – also containing potatoes, pasta, bread, etc – which is known to offer comfort to those in distress.
The way carbohydrates work is that they raise serotonin levels in the brain thereby increasing a person’s sense of wellbeing. Chocolate is similarly comforting. It is high in tryptophan which gets turned into serotonin in the brain. That and its sugar rush will more than double its attraction to the comfort eater, even if the rush may be short lived.
Some people with long-term or high levels of depression or anxiety may be treated with SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor to give them their full name), giving them a level of balance through chemicals that they might not otherwise achieve. But what if a particular diet may be found to help?
According to an article in psychiatry journal Medscape, Intermittent Fasting is gaining in interest within the medical profession. According to the article, the practice of “voluntarily abstaining from food and non-water beverages” for a limited period of time is known to benefit a range of illnesses from cardiovascular disease and cancer to diabetes and weakening cognitive skills and it seems to have its appeal with some followers who say it helps their moods and mental abilities too.
Many of us connect intermittent fasting with the 5:2 diet where you eat what you like for five days and severely restrict intake (to about 600 calories a day) for the other two. However, there are variations.
One 30-something fan of intermittent fasting, who has also experienced depression, uses the 16:8 method, meaning he eats between an eight-hour period and fasts the rest of the day.
He explains: “When I did intermittent fasting using the 5:2 method, I effectively had one meal only rather than spreading it over a day. I preferred to eat in the evening so found that, by 4pm, I was hungry and having concentration issues. And I didn’t do it over the weekends.
“I now have tea or water up to 12 noon and then eat reasonably up until 8pm. That means my concentration remains good and my work doesn’t suffer.”
He says another benefit is that, because he exercises in the morning, he’s burning stored fat, rather than the calories he’d have accrued with a breakfast meal.
Mood-wise, he says he feels much better. “Eating has always made me feel sluggish and that has affected my mood. I do have the occasional slip up – if I’ve a bit of a hangover, for instance! – but most of the time it’s fine. It’s become a way of life and I feel much happier now than I did before I was on it.”
Psychiatrist and founder of 96 Harley Street, Dr Robin Lawrence believes there is a case for this way of eating. He says: “I have been using intermittent fasting for years; I am sure it elevates the mood and sharpens my thinking.
“This is anecdotal – there have been very few studies so this is not evidence-based advice – but some of my patients have reported a similar effect.
“It’s certainly worth a try if you are a bit ‘stuck’ despite antidepressants.”
Written by Lulu Sinclair