Friday, July 29, 2011

Dealing With Depression

Today we’re chatting with Jennie Zraick who recently contributed to HJC with a post on Animal vs. Plant Protein. Depression is all too familiar to many as evidenced by the use of antidepressants. They have become the most frequently prescribed drug. Here is Jennie’s story:

Tell us a bit about yourself.
Where does one start with this question?!? I’m 47 years old, mother of two small dogs, Emma and Sammy. I’ve been married 24 years to an amazing man, my biggest blessing. In my “previous life” I was a CPA for AT&T Wireless. Now I’m kept busy with our home, and caring for my Mom who has dementia and lives close by in Cameron Park. My hobbies include beading jewelry, knitting, quilting, crocheting and scrapbooking.

When did you realize you were depressed? Tell us what that was like.
Looking back, I see signs of depression as young as 12 or 13. I have clinical depression. When people think of depression they think of someone who is weepy and sad. My symptoms are a complete physical exhaustion that makes everything seem completely overwhelming. As a result I just freeze up and can’t do anything. Some days getting off the couch was a challenge.

I learned to “self-medicate” with sugar and caffeine at a young age. My symptoms escalated in my late 30’s to the point where I wasn’t able to function well at work (which is a problem when you’re dealing with tax calculations in the hundreds of thousands for a major corporation!). At that time I sought help from my doctor and we started the process of finding anti-depressants that gave me some relief. I’ve been on two meds for about 13 years. I also saw a counselor for a short period of time. Because my depression is a chemical imbalance in my brain, counseling hasn’t played a huge part in my treatment.

When you went to the doctor, were you asked about your diet?
No. I brought it up several times. My gut told me nutrition was a part of what was going on, but she didn’t think there was a connection. Because I exercise and am not overweight, my doctor and others see me as generally “healthy”… WRONG!

What got you thinking about diet?
From the time I was an infant I didn’t like vegetables. It even says in my baby book that I wouldn’t eat them. To me, even iceberg lettuce is extremely bitter. On the other hand, sweets are really sweet. I love sweets! I could live on dessert and sometimes did. All my adult life I’ve been aware that my diet has been out of balance. It wasn’t a huge leap to conclude it was impacting my mental health.

Depression: The Way OutAbout a year ago I kept passing a local church that advertised a “depression recovery course.” I felt God prompting me to check it out, so I did. The curriculum, by Dr. Neal Nedley, teaches change that anyone can incorporate in their lives—one of the major changes being diet. Audrey Greenlaw, who taught the course, demonstrated an amazing amount of knowledge about nutrition and how it impacts our minds and bodies. She emphasized dietary changes as a healing tool for both mental and physical health.

How did you go about making changes to your diet?
The course encouraged a whole foods, plant-based diet. The thought of making “vegetarian-like” changes for someone who hates most veggies seemed insurmountable. Instead I first focused on cutting out the two most damaging items in my diet: refined sugar and caffeine. I then started substituting better alternatives for things I was eating: almond milk for cow’s milk, whole grains for refined grains, fresh foods for processed foods, etc. These changes made me feel GREAT so I’m continuing to move more aggressively toward a whole foods, plant-based diet.

Three months ago I started weaning off one of my meds and have been off of it for two weeks. I’m starting to wean off the other med now. Woo hoo! (Note: This was done with help from my doctor. You can’t just stop taking anti-depressants! Find trusted people who will give you honest feedback if they see signs indicating you’re weaning off too fast.)

What was the hardest thing to do or give up on your new diet?
I thought it would be sugar, but have found that white “artisan” breads and butter are tougher. Both are “trigger” foods for me—once I have a bite I gorge until they are gone… not a pretty sight! My best defense is to not have them in our home.

How has your husband reacted to these dietary changes?
I am blessed with a husband who loves to eat healthy. He has gone along with the changes I’m making without complaint and now thinks more about his food choices when he is eating outside our home. One of the biggest improvements he has noticed is the absence of flare ups of diverticulitis.

What can you say to others who might be dealing with depression?
  1. You can significantly impact your depression through diet.
  2. Odds are you won’t find the help you need from mainstream medical professionals!
What can you say about your mood and energy now?
The changes in my energy and mood are what prompted me to attempt to wean off my anti-depressants. I had tried in the past and failed. I believe that the changes in my diet are giving my body the ability to produce what it needs to function "normally."

Thanks for being willing to tell your story and help others, Jennie.

Readers, what ailment (large or small) might you be dealing with that could be alleviated or cured with diet? Scroll down and leave a comment.


  1. Update - I spent a week traveling to my childhood home and my SIL's. During that time I had a lot of sugar, dairy, and all in all unhealthy food (the standard American diet) with not a lot of exercise. When I got home I felt so sluggish and tired I could hardly get anything done. It took about 10 days of healthy eating and exercise before I felt "normal". A testimony to how beneficial a sugar-free, caffeine-free, primarily plant based diet is! (I think the sugar was the main culprit in my feeling as poorly as I did! I ate A LOT of ice cream! My traditional comfort food when at my childhood home.)

    Jennie Z

  2. Thanks for the update and reminder about eating unhealthy, Jennie. Folks don't realize how much sugar they ingest and how little it takes to affect their health. Welcome back to your new "normal."