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The Healthy Food That Made Me Sick and the Junk Food That Made Me Feel Better [Can You Use Diet to Cure Depression?]

Posted Oct 29 2013 1:05am

Can you spot the superfood in this picture? Look closely! Trust me, it’s pretty darn super.
Vomit. That’s what you get when you combine two tasty “superfoods” in excess and swallow. By now I should know that anything – from kale juice to Kanye West – taken in excess makes me barf. And yet, there’s been a pin bopping around the healthy boards as of late for a simple, warm drink that is supposed to confer a whole slew of benefits including the grammatically incorrect “saving the patient from heart attack”, the miraculous “curing chronic arthritis”, the dubious “killing germs in the bladder”, and the enigmatic “strengthening the white blood corpuscles,” not to mention everything else from pneumonia to influenza to acne. Oh, and of course, weight loss. Ready for the recipe?

Daily in the morning one half hour before breakfast on an empty stomach and at night before sleeping, drink 1 Tbsp honey and 1 tsp cinnamon powder boiled in one cup of water. If taken regularly, it reduces the weight of even the most obese person. Also, drinking this mixture regularly does not allow the fat to accumulate in the body even though the person may eat a high calorie diet.

Cinnamon and honey! What’s not to love?

Those of you who are better cooks than I am (i.e. everyone) are probably slapping your screens right now and yelling, “For the love of little green apples, Charlotte, one whole teaspoon is a lot of cinnamon!” You would be correct.  (Especially when you buy that specialty extra-potent Saigon cinnamon like I do.) But the poorly worded pin specifically said I could eat a high-calorie diet and still lose weight! And both honey and cinnamon are known superfoods, with research on the former proclaiming its antibiotic properties and research on the latter extolling its ability to improve insulin sensitivity. Besides, everyone knows that badly written instructions on the Internet just mean the writer is some kind of savant who simply can’t be bothered with grammar. Or fact checking.

First up: You’ll be happy to know I did not end up making a bomb. What with all the news these days I’m always paranoid trying out new recipes from weird sources. What if I end up with a kitchen bomb? Or meth? Or Paris Hilton? Sure it’s just cinnamon and honey but the less you understand about chemistry the more likely you are to end up with unintended results, like your own TV show. Science, yo.

Second up: Everything else. And I do mean everything.

It was cold this morning and I wanted something warm and comforting to drink so I decided to give this one a go and mixed it all up. Tasted like dirt. Burned going down. Overly sweet. Nausea. Reappearance. My good morning went from Mr. Rogers to Vietnam in about 0.2 seconds. I’m not even sure the vile concoction had time to hit stomach bile before it kangaroo-ed its way back out. For the record, not only did it look exactly the same the second time around but it tasted the same too. I suppose I ought to consider myself lucky though. If I’d been looking to “kill germs” in my bladder the prescription is “Take two tablespoons of cinnamon powder and one teaspoon of honey in a glass of lukewarm water and drink it.” Nature’s emetic is what that is.

I’ll tell you what: I will never again laugh at all those “Cinnamon Challenge” youtubes of idiots trying to eat a dry tablespoon of cinnamon powder. (Which, I shouldn’t be laughing anyhow as apparently someone actually died from choking on it.) While I wasn’t quite as dramatic as this chick , I definitely joined the idiot ranks with (brown, burny) water streaming from my eyes and nose.

Despite starting my day with a “good” food that harmed me, paradoxically I ended my day with a “bad” food that healed me. You all remember how bummed out I was yesterday. I started out sad because Steve is still dead and then made it way worse for myself by writing a post that I simultaneously loved and regretted. And then because I stayed up way way too late (?), I ended up sick in bed all day with a fever of 102 and watching Project Runway reruns (don’t judge my sickie TV habits) while Jelly Bean used her newfound freedom to eat every cookie in the house. So by this evening I was feeling pretty craptastic. What I really wanted was to sit in a patch of sunlight and meditate until my breathing evened out. But all I had was rain and I can’t breathe without coughing. (Again! Seriously, does anyone know if there’s anything to that old adage about how when you move someplace new you get sick a ton until your body acclimates to the new germs?) So  then my body said, “You know what I really want? Buttered popcorn and a good book in bed.”

“But nooooo!” I argued. “What about the kids? And the chores? I am busy! Besides, buttered popcorn is pretty much the apotheosis of evil according to every diet in print! The only thing worse would be if I deep fried it, wrapped it in bacon and slapped it on a stick!!” ( Someone somewhere has undoubtedly already done this I’m sure. )

My body answered, “This is what I want.” (cough, cough, wheeze) “And also a warm drink that does not contain any random super-barf-foods.”

And so I did. I ate buttered popcorn and drank Mint Magic herbal tea (that I got on my tour of the Celestial Seasonings factory!) and immersed myself in The Chemistry of Joy (fascinating book, totally recommend it) until my muscles unclenched and my thoughts stopped racing. I felt soothed in ways I didn’t even know needed soothing.

While the ability of food to heal physical ailments is widely discussed, one does not often hear of food’s remarkable power over mental illness. And it turns out this is the entire premise of The Chemistry of Joy : A Three-Step Program for Overcoming Depression Through Western Science and Eastern Wisdom by Henry Emmons, MD! The author, a noted psychiatrist, focuses on helping his patients reduce their reliance on anti-depressant meds by helping them health themselves through diet and lifestyle changes. I’ll admit it sounds a little quacky at first but it makes a lot of sense.

He starts out by saying that what we call “depression” is actually three different illnesses: anxious depression, agitated depression and sluggish depression. He then associates each type with an Ayurvedic type of, in order, Air, Fire and Earth. Mine is definitely in the first category (so now you can call me an airhead with impunity) and as I read through his food prescriptions (all very sensible stuff) I was surprised to see that he encouraged people with my “type” to eat crunchy warm comfort foods when they needed soothing. Which is exactly what my body had chosen for itself!

I have to admit that this is particularly appealing to me since I’ve felt pretty much ever since we moved from Minnesota to Colorado that I’m teetering on the edge of a major depressive episode (that I’m fighting off valiantly!). And not only am I already on an anti-depressant but I’m on the highest dose. Since I know this depression is situational, brought on by the huge change we just went through, I’m pretty motivated to find a way to mitigate it without more meds. (Tangentially related: I’ve also started taking a daily probiotic after several of you pointed out to me in the comments that over 95% of our bodies’ serotonin is made in the gut!)

Another book I recently read – Michael Greenberg’s Hurry Down, Sunshine, a memoir of his daughter’s psychotic break and subsequent struggles with Bipolar Disorder (fantastic read, totally recommend it) – gives another poignant example of the ability of food to help heal the mind. The doctors in charge of Greenberg’s daughter Sally’s fragile mental state recommend she follow “the manic-depressive diet” described as “as little refined flour as possible, but potatoes are okay. Lots of vegetables and protein. Two tablespoons of flaxseed oil per day, nine hours of sleep without interruption, and no naps.” The special diet, along with some other things including a large helping of fatherly love, completely heal the girl.

Sometimes food is medicine. Although, like I’m constantly reminding my kids about those gummy vitamins, medicine is NOT food. Ahem.

I’m curious – have you ever eaten something “healthy” that in fact made you sick? Conversely, have you ever found a food that acted as a cure, particularly for a mental health problem? And yes, of course, chocolate counts;) Got any good book recs for me?

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