Will my mental health really improve if I start eating meat?
February 23, 2012 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Vegetarian. Depressed and lethargic. Psychiatrist suggested eating meat again. Is this something I should seriously consider?

Been vegetarian for about 13 years now. Been dealing with depression for longer than that.

I'm already on a good combination of antidepressants and I'm hesitant to switch medications. I've taken B vitamins before with no noticeable difference other than neon yellow pee. My diet isn't terrible, but I do have to schedule meals because otherwise I'll forget to eat.

At this point, the biggest reason why I'm vegetarian is inertia. I've been vegetarian since I was a teenager, so it's a significant part of my identity at this point. I don't even know how to cook meat.

I'm sad and tired, Internets. How do I make this decision?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (53 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot say what you should do.. but there is a wealth of tutorials on youtube on how to cook just about anything. You just search "How do I cook chicken" or terms like that. It's helped me a lot to feel more comfortable in the kitchen.
posted by royalsong at 4:05 PM on February 23, 2012

A psychiatrist suggested that your diet might be the root of your problems? I think that's a call a physician or dietician is better equipped to make. I'd seek a second opinion.
posted by arcticwoman at 4:06 PM on February 23, 2012 [13 favorites]

That seems ridiculous to me. Becoming a vegetarian (i.e. giving up meat, not fish/dairy/eggs) has filled me with zest and energy.

Does your doctor mean you need to eat more protein? Or perhaps just that you need to remember to eat healthily, meaning not skipping meals.

Is your psychiatrist insightful enough to meet your needs? Maybe finding someone else is the change that's required.
posted by bearwife at 4:07 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

My aunt went through something similar and she started eating meat again (in small amounts)... and felt better within a couple of days. She was all for the ethical/healthy veggie life... but... as I say, hit a bit of a burn, went back to meat, and felt better.
posted by misspony at 4:08 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

ps- she was on meds and is still on meds
posted by misspony at 4:08 PM on February 23, 2012

You may want to get your iron levels checked. Iron deficiency anemia can really do a number on your energy levels. It can also affect your mental clarity. If you end up supplementing, make sure to take it with Vitamin C.
posted by fancyoats at 4:09 PM on February 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

I too find it odd that a psychiatrist is telling you to forsake your 13-year commitment and value system in order to treat your depression and lethargy. While a psychiatrist may be an MD, you should probably seek a second opinion from somebody more qualified that can tell you how eating meat will supposedly treat these psychological issues.

It's possible that the psychiatrist just suggested eating meat in order to open a dialog with you on it. I wouldn't run out and buy a steak or anything just yet. It doesn't hurt to ask your psych why it was suggested, in case it had to do with something beside nutrition.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:10 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Psychiatrists are physicians. I would seriously consider your psychiatrist's advice. You seem to be reluctant to switch though. You can talk to your psychiatrist again and explain why you are reluctant and ask for alternatives. They may believe that adding a small amount of meat to your diet would be best for your health, but may be willing to suggest other options. You could also get a second opinion from another psychiatrist.
posted by grouse at 4:11 PM on February 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

Do you have an annual checkup with another physician? If yes, talk to them about your labwork and how it's been looking over time. If not, start now. Inform the doc of your concerns with longstanding depression, your preference for vegetarianism, and your desire to find out what might be underlying the depression. Be clear that it started before you gave up meat.

You may have any number of medical problems, and adding meat into your diet may be where you end up, I don't think it's the best place to start.

Of course psychiatrists are MDs (or maybe a DO), but their primary specialty is not endocrinology or any number of other things that could cause lethargy and depression. Hell, maybe you went on a trip, drank some water and have been carrying around a parasite for 15 years, with symptoms the last 13. We have no way of knowing. And a GP will need to take history and review your whole body health.
posted by bilabial at 4:14 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was a vegetarian for years. I was "blah" for a long time, and it did help (a lot, and pretty quickly) when I began to eat meat again. And now I'm a meat eater. I'm happier this way, so long as I don't think about it too hard.
posted by danielle the bee at 4:15 PM on February 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

There are some interesting articles on this. I suspect if diet is contributing to your depression, it is due to an absence of B12 from food (fortified cereal, yeast products, dairy) or possibly the omega-3 fatty acides found in fish.

The name of the game seems to be healthy diet, which need not include eating meat.
posted by bearwife at 4:15 PM on February 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

In my experience, a quick hit of fat and protein from a steak dinner did improve my mood, but that was also tied up in the ritual of cooking and memories of other meals. Now that I'm a vegetarian, that is one fewer tool out of my toolkit, but I barely miss it. For one thing, it was a quick fix for a systematic issue. I still have exercise, cooking, music, friends, games, reading books, exploring new neighborhoods, etc, etc, etc...as tools in my mood toolbelt. And my cholesterol is way, way better!

Sometimes psychiatrists are pretty narrow in their prescriptions, since they're trained to be medication dispensers first and foremost. You should discuss this with your psychologist/therapist. You might just end up feeling crappier for giving up a part of your identity. No therapist should ask that of you. Give it a try if there's more to this question than, "my psychiatrist gave me this advice," but if you never would consider this course otherwise, it's silly to chage a big piece of who you are based on one opinion.
posted by Skwirl at 4:23 PM on February 23, 2012

Meat is a source of iron that's more absorbable than the iron in non-meat foods. Also, vegetarian diets can be pretty carb-heavy (even beans are pretty carb-y), which sometimes makes people feel lethargic. But you can deal with those things without eating meat if you don't want to.

I would get bloodwork done to see if you are deficient in iron, serum ferritin (longer-term iron storage molecule, as opposed to hemoglobin), B vitamins, or vitamin D, and whether you have thyroid issues. I was never even close to anemic (having low hemoglobin), but I had low serum ferritin after many years of not eating meat and I think that made me tired.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:24 PM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

How's your bloodwork look? You can certainly keep the meat suggestion on the table, but you could first apply some science to the problem. After you have those numbers, you can see a nutritionist.

I know that I function best on meat, no wheat, real fats in measurable quantities, and very limited starches. Maybe you do too, but it seems like kind of a whimmy suggestion from someone who ought to be at least passing familiar with basic medical tests.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:28 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was vegan for 10 years and no longer am due to anemia and other health related reasons that I simply could not treat without animal products (long story that isn't the point here). That said, before I switched to eating more things, I talked to a vegetarian/vegan dietician/food specialist. Some doctors are absolutely against being vegetarian or vegan, without recognizing the benefits/that many folks can be healthy living that way. If staying vegetarian is important to you, I'd consider checking in with an expert who you know would be aligned with your values to see what they have to say. I must say that I feel much healthier now, as a mostly vegan/veggie omnivore, than I did before but it is different for every single person. I'm also not a doctor or expert, so it would be good to talk to people who are. Your health and your body are invaluable.
posted by anya32 at 4:28 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sad and tired, Internets. How do I make this decision?

If it were me --- and if, as you say, you feel like you're vegetarian at the point more from inertia --- then I'd consider it. What I don't see is a reason to treat this like an all or nothing, you're in or you're out, decision. It's an option, something you could try and see if it works for you. If it doesn't --- if you're still facing the same mood issues after a week or two, and you don't feel like you're deriving benefit --- then resume your vegetarian lifestyle. If you do end up feeling like it helps you, then you'll face a new set of decisions about how to eat meat ethically. But you can cross that bridge when you come to it. Depression can be an absolutely crippling illness --- I think you owe it to yourself to see if this benefits you.
posted by Diablevert at 4:29 PM on February 23, 2012 [17 favorites]

After you have those numbers, you can see a nutritionist.

Also, if you're in the US, please make sure you see a dietician and not a nutritionist. The former is a legally protected profession requiring credentialing and so on, the latter anyone can claim to be.
posted by griphus at 4:32 PM on February 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

Like Diablevert says, why not try it for a few weeks? If you feel better, then great, you know what to do. If not, then at least you learned something.
posted by Forktine at 4:32 PM on February 23, 2012

Is your psychiatrist aware that "you feel like you're vegetarian at the point more from inertia"--if so, the recommendation to try meat may be more about becoming active in your lifestyle choices. Just engaging in the process of your identity might be helpful to your mood and changing your diet--or re-examining why you are vegetarian--can be useful to break the mental patterns you may have fallen into because of depression.

On the other hand, I have read some literature (none I have handy, but I see bearwife has linked some), suggesting that fish is good for depression and I have known more than one vegetarian with issues related to mood disorders who felt better after reintroducing fish into their diets.

Either way, perhaps it might be a useful exercise for you. I was a vegetarian for about ten years, almost entirely for diet reasons rather than ethical ones. When I stopped being a vegetarian, I discovered too much red meat made me feel gross and now I rarely eat red meat and usually eat fish or turkey rarely more than once a week. Sometimes, though, a cheeseburger really perks me up.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:41 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Credential: I've experienced long-term depression, and (separately, as far as I know) I've given up long-standing vegetarianism.

You're in a rut. Start thinking of yourself as someone who, when he/she feels like it, takes steps that break with longstanding habits, and thus escapes ruts.

Couldn't hurt.
posted by foursentences at 4:42 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

This might not be economically feasible, but the way I first tested this hypothesis was by eating meat at restaurants. That way I didn't have to cook it or invest the time and energy to figure out all that buying/cutting/cooking stuff that I'd never done because I had been a vegetarian longer than I'd been cooking for myself.

I noticed that if I'm really on top of things and eat really healthfully (which probably means very different things for different people), then I don't really like meat and it doesn't make me feel any more energetic. The rest of the time, though, it does seem to fill some gap.

One think I thought was useful, was getting over the idea that if I tried meat I was giving up entirely on being a vegetarian. I guess it was deciding that I didn't really get bonus points for being a vegetarian for 13+N years rather than 13 years+break+N years.
posted by lab.beetle at 4:44 PM on February 23, 2012

Ask a doctor about the B-12 supplementation given to older folks who can't absorb it -- it's more effective than the tablets.

Also, many people are deficient in vitamin D. That's easy to supplement yourself. Getting sun helps too.

A doctor can test your levels of these vitamins, and iron too. Probably worth doing.
posted by amtho at 4:50 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it's reasonable for a psychiatrist (who is, after all, an MD and presumably knows as much about nutrition as any other MD, which is generally very little actually, but still) to suggest that you look at changing your diet as one way to boost your energy.

If you want to explore this further, I'd suggest seeing your general practice/primary care doctor and getting a round of bloodwork to see whether you have any measurable deficiencies or anemias. And then maybe consulting with a dietitian.

If you don't want to explore this further, it's really just fine to say "No" to your psychiatrist. He or she is just throwing ideas out there to see what might work for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:51 PM on February 23, 2012

Try letting yourself get angry instead.
posted by univac at 4:53 PM on February 23, 2012

I find that if I don't get enough tryptophan EVERY DAY, I start feeling blah and lethargic. It might be useful to try some of the tryptophan containing beans and whatnot first. Also, vitamin D.

Sometimes psychiatrists are pretty narrow in their prescriptions, since they're trained to be medication dispensers first and foremost.

That's untrue and unfair.
posted by gjc at 4:53 PM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think that eating meat should be the first thing you try if being vegetarian is at all important to you. Meat isn't a nutrient and you can't be meat deficient. However, there are nutrients in meat that you may be at risk of being low in. You can find out if you are deficient in those nutrients by having your blood tested. Then you can make a decision about how you want to increase your levels of that nutrient: either through animal products or vitamin pills or eating more plants that have that nutrient. A few likely deficiencies are iron, B12, vitamin D, and omega-3. I don't think there are any nutrients that you can't get through non-animal sources. There are many vegetables and fruits that contain iron. You should be taking a B12 supplement, because plants don't contain B12 that humans can use. You can get blood tests and talk to a doctor or a dietician and then decide whether you need to change your diet and how you need to change your diet, but you don't have to do that now before even finding out if there's something wrong with your diet. Obviously it's not impossible to have a healthy vegetarian diet, since many people are vegetarian and healthy. Also, be aware that some doctors can be biased against vegetarian diets for non-health-related reasons, so try to find out a reason for eating meat beyond a doctor telling you that you should without scientific evidence to back it up.
posted by starfishprime at 4:54 PM on February 23, 2012 [10 favorites]

I think starfishprime has this all exactly right. Step One: Determine if you are low or deficient in necessary nutrients. Step Two: Determine how you want to go about supplementing your current levels of these nutrients.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:59 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

i've had a similar problem. please memail me if you'd like to talk more about it.
posted by nadawi at 5:02 PM on February 23, 2012

A lot of people will tell you that if your labwork looks normal that you have nothing to worry about nutritionally and that isn't the source of your problem. IANAD, but having longstanding depression and physical issues has shown me that this isn't necessarily the case. Normal lab values are based on ranges that might still be suboptimal for you personally. I am not testably anemic, for instance, when I don't eat red meat, but I express many symptoms of anemia (in particular, things like not being able to draw enough blood with a lancet to test blood sugar - which is definitely related to iron levels, as opposed to more vague, untraceable symptoms like "fatigue" or "being out of breath"). I get such relief from eating red meat that it may just be that my body needed the iron anyway. There are ways to deal with this other than eating meat, maybe. I find the tendency to reduce it to vitamins and minerals that you might not be getting a bit like the "nutritionism" that writers like Pollan critique. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and there is something that eating meat gives to your body, if your body wants meat, that the right combination of fruits and vegetables doesn't. I've noticed that different types of people handle long-term vegan/vegetarianism, or high-carb/low-carb differently; I think different bodies can have different needs and while many people do well or benefit from vegetarianism, others might find it has negative effects on their health.

If you don't feel right, and it is expressing itself as physical fatigue, you should look at physical as well as mental approaches to the problem. There are many other ways to deal with depression, but I don't think psychoanalytic, CBT or other approaches work as well with someone who's physically compromised.

There are programs on the net that allow you to input what you eat and see what nutrients you are deficient in, and the world's healthiest foods website can tell you what food supply them.
posted by decathexis at 5:12 PM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

What really caught my eye was when you said this: I do have to schedule meals because otherwise I'll forget to eat and this: the biggest reason why I'm vegetarian is inertia.

It sounds like you're not particularly excited about food. Maybe part of your depression and lethargy stems from this? Food doesn't have to be your life, but you really should be happy about it. You should be excited enough about eating to not forget to eat. You should say "I'm a vegetarian because I freaking LOVE vegetables!" You should look forward to dinner.

But I don't see any passion behind your description of food, and maybe your psychiatrist doesn't either. In that case, trying to eat something new and exciting might help you. Or maybe you just need to try finding more vegetarian food that you really love? There's nothing inherently happy-making in meat that you can't find elsewhere, but there's a lot to be said for choosing to eat something (vegetarian or not) because you are excited to eat.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:17 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, yes, a million times yes. Meat is good for you, and you should eat it. I'd suggest the website of the Weston A. Price foundation such as this Vegetarian Tour to learn about some of the many reasons vegetarians should consider eating non-factory farmed meat.
posted by rainbowbullet at 5:17 PM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

You should make sure you're taking a b12 supplement. Aside from that, vegetarians that eat a balanced diet come out ahead of meat-eaters in nearly every study where there is a difference between the two groups. Including depression.
posted by the jam at 5:34 PM on February 23, 2012

Hi OP. I'm a professional nutritionist (not your nutritionist) and also a former vegetarian (10 years veg, half the time vegan, the other half lacto-ovo) who (re)began eating meat over 6 years ago. Like you, I was instructed to try eating meat because of health reasons. Like you, I struggled with it greatly due to a large part of my identity being wrapped up in my vegetarianism.

Not knowing more about your body and your life, and honestly, even if I did have that information, there would be no way for me to know FOR SURE if your mental health would improve if you started eating meat. In general, I recommend a nutritional approach that encourages the use of various foods with an experimental spirit. The only real way to know how this change would impact you is for you to try it and pay attention to how it feels.

Since you do have the mental health struggles you have, I also think it would be a good idea to evaluate what (if any) emotional toll eating meat might have on you. If you're an inertia-only vegetarian, there may not be a compelling reason to stay veg. If you really have other underlying reasons, that could pose a challenge, but it doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't do it.

No one on the internet can give you permission to eat one thing or another thing. That permission must come from within. The fact is that you are ALLOWED to eat any food you wish to eat. This might not actually be that big a deal for you once you get over the initial hump of trying it out.

If you do wish to experiment with this, I would suggest progressing slowly, beginning with perhaps and egg or some goat cheese if you don't already eat those foods and graduating to chicken broth and then moving on to an actual piece of meat from there (and by "progressing slowly" I mean over at least several days and possibly weeks).

If you'd like to memail me, I'd be happy to help you think through this issue more or offer additional suggestions.

PS - I felt better almost immediately after adding meat into my diet, and I now have no interest in removing it permanently again. That doesn't mean I eat it constantly, but I'm obviously not labeling myself as any kind of vegetarian anymore. It was a bit weird identity-wise for a while, but I got over it, and you will too if the same thing happens to you.

PPS - There are a few previous AskMe Qs on this, too, that might be helpful.
posted by pupstocks at 5:50 PM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your question reminded me: a while back there were a couple studies making the rounds that suggested another "meat nutrient," creatine, might be particularly helpful for vegetarians. Creatine is not essential in the diet, but creatine levels seem to be lower in vegetarians, and supplementation boosts them to the level of omnivores. And interestingly, a couple of studies have found some improvements in cognitive functioning for vegetarians after creatine supplementation. Subject to a few caveats (I don't know if there's any strong connection to depression, the science is still speculative, and IANAD, etc.) maybe it's worth asking your doc about it.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:51 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your psychiatrist is a doctor so if he's suggesting something then, yeah, you should consider it. Certainly more seriously than random internet advice. Doctors can be wrong, sure, but that's probably not the default way to view their advice.
posted by Justinian at 6:54 PM on February 23, 2012

I've never been full-on vegetarian but I've eaten less meat to save money at times - I struggled a lot with lethargy and fogginess, especially in the afternoon. Eventually I realized that having a decent chunk of fish, chicken or beef at lunch means I feel a lot better. Beans, cheese and other forms of protein do not have the same effect for me. I don't know why. I have friends who can have a meatless meal at noon and attack the rest of the day with vigor. I cannot. I have other friends who feel a million times better after going veg. I don't discount their experience but I know it does not work the same for me.

It sounds like vegetarianism is a habit for you rather than a deeply held belief. I'd consider giving it a shot.

If cooking seems overly daunting at first, remember there's pre-roasted chicken and canned tuna and sliced beef from the deli.

Whatever you decide to do I hope you feel better soon.
posted by bunderful at 7:15 PM on February 23, 2012

IANAD, just a fellow major depressive.

I wouldn't make dietary changes unless you feel led to (or you see a dietician) -- Shrinks and MDs don't generally get a lot of classwork on diet. As others have mentioned, having labwork done to see where you're deficient is a great idea.

And another is to use what has been scientifically proven to lift depression: Omega-3 supplements, Vitamin D (if your levels are low), light therapy or exposure to the great outdoors, and exercise. Make sure you're getting some social interaction, and are working to get better sleep. Learning about DBT and CBT changed my life.

For me, exercising bumped me out of eating just because I was supposed to be eating. Even a little bit can make a difference.

I'm all for anger too. I hope you turn the corner soon.
posted by vjpdx at 7:16 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sometimes people have issues right away or develop issues from going vegan or vegetarian.
I believe the majority of people do fine.

Dalai Lama had to given in and eat some eat, for health reasons.

I would not look on it as a personal failure, it is important to be healthy.

You may want to try various other additives or vitamins or supplements prior
to giving up.
posted by digividal at 7:17 PM on February 23, 2012

The two things are not linked. If you've been a vegetarian for 13 years and it's genuinely a deficiency in something then you've not been doing it right. This is also a nonsense suggestion for a shrink to give unless they have a specific background in human nutrition vis a vis mental health, which is incredibly unlikely. So: go to a medical doctor as in an actual GP and get a blood test and see if you're missing anything. Then, fix that. Your depression is a separate issue that needs to be treated with medication and therapy. Yes diet can play a part in depression but unless you've been depressed for 13 years, ever since the day you went vegetarian, that's got nothing to do with it. This is a bullshit default response by the meat brigade, as if there's never been a sad steak-lover.

But, eat the meat if you want. I don't care, and maybe it'll turn everything sunshine. If so, great! I'm just saying this psychiatrist suggesting that meat will fix it means that he/she isn't very good at his/her job.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:37 PM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is your psychiatrist aware that "you feel like you're vegetarian at the point more from inertia"--if so, the recommendation to try meat may be more about becoming active in your lifestyle choices.

crush-onastick makes a good point that I agree with. I also gotta say that I am with you as far as being "over" food - eating is easily the most boring and annoying thing that I have to do every day, just like filling the car with petrol is boring and annoying, but it's gotta be done so I just accept it and get up from the table and start doing the dishes while I'm still chewing the last mouthful of food.

The fact that you're in a rut, though, suggests to me that you're probably making the same handful of things constantly. Which you can still do, but try and identify the things that are missing (and if you're only making a few different things, then you're missing a lot) and add the missing thing to the thing you're having. If it's a veg spag bog, throw some spinach and kidney beans in there. If it's burritos, add some shredded carrot. If it's a stir fry, thrill to the sound of almonds or something hitting the pan. Whatevs. Anything can go with anything when you don't give a shit. Just walk around eating heads of broccoli, man, whatever, nobody cares.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:46 PM on February 23, 2012

Former vegetarian, former depressed person. Eating meat seemed to make a big difference for me.

I was veg for about 20 years. I started my conversion by eating small amounts of chicken in curries at restaurants and quickly graduated to bacon and other meats.

Now I eat plenty of meat and fat and a lot less carbohydrate than I did when I was a veg (I'm eating more or less primal). I feel a lot sturdier emotionally and physically. For me, it seems to be the fat as much as the protein.

It was weird to learn to cook meat, but once you figure out the basics, it's simple. Bacon is the easiest and most addictive, so you might experiment with that. You'll never to forget to eat if there's bacon in your house!
posted by ceiba at 8:22 PM on February 23, 2012

I think I've gotten better at planning for vegetarian eating over time, and as that has gone on it's been much less often that I've felt I "should" eat a little bit of meat---or pop lots of vitamins and supplements, which I was also doing out of fear the vegetarian diet was causing my problems. I was having fatigue, depression, anxiety. Ramping up my exercise helped a lot. Meditation (with a multiweek class and a teacher, not just the dabbling I'd done) helped a lot. You don't sound that psyched about being vegetarian, but maybe you're just not feeling very psyched in general these days. If you want ideas about food, feel free to contact (basically having on hand loads of protein such as beans and tree nuts and loads of actual vegetables)
posted by spbmp at 8:41 PM on February 23, 2012

If you want to try a little bit of meat but not a whole steak or roast or whatever, start eating a small serving of something from an asian restaurant (such as Thai) where the meat portion of the meal is much smaller than in western dishes - eg: pad thai with chicken or prawns, stir fried vegies with fish, that sort of thing. You can even pick out some of the meat bits, eat those, then consume the vegies and leave the rest of the meat behind. Do that twice a week for a fortnight and see how you feel.
posted by Kerasia at 10:29 PM on February 23, 2012

I imagine your psychiatrist is just suggesting you make sure your iron levels are okay. I'm not sure they would really care how you achieve this. If you're a vegetarian, there are supplements. But get your levels tested by your doctor.
posted by mleigh at 11:15 PM on February 23, 2012

Try keeping a food diary. Just a log of what you ate and how you felt. If there are any patterns in there (e.g. feeling better after eating protein) they will be evident in time. Varying things here and there in what you eat wouldn't hurt either. As a bonus keeping a food diary is one of the things a dietician would find very helpful should you see one.

As for whether you should eat meat or not, I don't know, though I think it couldn't hurt to try. Cooking meat shouldn't really be too much of a factor in your decision. There are many simple ways to cook meat. There's slow cookers (throw in everything and turn it on) and stews and soups (in a boiling pot on the stove) and baking. Though you should probably ease into eating meat gradually before trying to eat a whole bunch of it.

Also maybe you are simply not consuming enough calorie-wise? (2000ish for adults is recommended I believe) If you don't really feel like eating than that could lead to just not eating enough. And on days you are more active or exercising you will need to eat significantly more than usual. This is sort of an obvious thing to say, but someone ought to say it. (I am that person!)
posted by everyday_naturalist at 2:25 AM on February 24, 2012

Former vegetarian here. I feel much better when I eat meat. I believe some people are obligate carnivores (or more accurately omnivores).

I second the recommendation to check out Weston A. Price.

And the World's Healthiest Foods web site is great. One caveat though: Just because you take in nutrients does not mean you absorb them. You can make a salad out of the most healthful vegetables, and if you have no fat on that salad, you simply won't absorb the vitamins.

You also need vitamin D to absorb calcium, and most people get most of their D during the winter from fortified milk. There's also a lot in salmon. Vegans *must* take supplements if they don't get enough sun to make adequate amounts of vitamin D.

Non-heme sources of iron, such as leafy greens, are a lot harder to absorb than heme iron. You need to eat or take some vitamin C in order to properly absorb non-heme iron, and you also need *not* to take in too much calcium at the same meal.

If you are on the fence about trying meat again, you might peruse a copy of Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth. She has a lot to say about why vegetarianism is actually bad for the ecosystem (in addition to bad for the health).
posted by parrot_person at 3:35 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sometimes psychiatrists are pretty narrow in their prescriptions, since they're trained to be medication dispensers first and foremost.

That's untrue and unfair.

You're right. The more nuanced point that I hoped to share is that my peer group is pretty open about discussing our therapy experiences, and in my observation, psychiatrists have shorter and less frequent sessions that spend a lot of time fine tuning medications. As such, it seems like there's a tendancy for "solve your problems for you" modes of communication as opposed to the active listening that is more often employed by non-MD psychologists. Issues of identity require a lot softer touch than OP's doctor appears to have employed.

For instance: I saw a therapist for many years and diet certainly came up quite often, but I did not learn that she was very active in the vegan community until I was *well* into my own exploration of ethical and health-related vegetarianism. After she "came out" as a fellow vegetarian, she was very supportive and helpful, but it would have been inappropriate until I came upon vegetarianism on my own.
posted by Skwirl at 8:04 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

IF you're eating enough of the right foods, a veg or vegan diet should have NO negative impact on depression.

I've been vegan for at least a dozen years and vegetarian for maybe 28, I've been in and out of the depression/anxiety scene, I've experimented, read several thousand (no exagerration) pages of research and attended a couple hundred hours of lectures and presentations by doctors, dieticians, and vegan athletes. I've studied this for a couple decades.

A whole-foods vegan diet devoid of processed junk and with a good variety of plant-based nutrition should do the trick. There's nothing good in animal foods that you can't get from a plant-based diet, and there's plenty bad (LDL cholesterol and hormones are the most obvious -- check out the book the China Study, based on 28 years [so far] of every type of ongiong research conducted all over the world by the team of Cornell Univ., Oxford, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive medicine).

Do you supplement for Omega fatty acids? There have been cases of people curing depression by supplementing these, and hemp and chia seeds are your best sources.

Are you sure you're not calorie-deficient?

Do you eat plenty of whole-food (unprocessed) carbs? Tryptophan can't metabolize properly into seratonin without good carbs, and that right there can cause depression. If you don't have enough seratonin to begin with, no selective seratonin reuptake inhibitor or other antidepressant can help you.

Do you keep your 25 Hydroxy ("supercharged") Vitamin D high, and absorb your calcium well, by avoiding dairy?

You also need vitamin D to absorb calcium, and most people get most of their D during the winter from fortified milk.

NOPE. Sorry. Milk is high in protein and calcium, and this inhibits production of 25 OH Vitamin D which, in addition to adding to SAD and depression, also inhibits absorption of calcium. That's why we, in the West, consider osteoporosis inevitable, while in rural areas of China that consume no dairy and almost no meat and only 1/2 the calcium we consume, osteoporosis (as well as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression) is almost unheard of. In fact, areas of the world with the highest dairy consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis and bone fractures.

You can make a salad out of the most healthful vegetables, and if you have no fat on that salad, you simply won't absorb the vitamins.

I have to call bullshit on that. Yeah, I mean, rabbits and deer and gorillas are just SO damn malnourished (and so am I and so are these vegan athletes, including Carl Lewis, the world's greatest legendary track and field Olympic athlete, and Mac Danzig and several other UFC fighters). Besides, you should be taking in enough GOOD fat from vegetable sources. Avocados are practically decadent with fat.

In fact, I feed my cats primarily a vegan cat food (Ami) that is formulated to mimic their natural diet perfectly (including non-essential amino acids like L-Carnitine and Taurine) but from plant sources. I've checked it out just about down to the molecular level, and it has everything they need minus the LDL cholesterol and hormones. I care for my cats fanatically and would never take ANY chance on harming their welfare. I monitor their health and behavior carefully and they are happy, healthy, and very playful. And feline species are the closest thing to purely carnivorous animals that exist.

Depression is tricky but, if your veg or (better yet) vegan diet is good and you're not calorie deficient, there's reason that it should factor into the equation at all.
posted by Shane at 8:19 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

...there's reason that it should factor into the equation at all.
That should be "NO reason", of course.

posted by Shane at 8:22 AM on February 24, 2012

Have you seen a general practitioner or nutritionist? A lot of psychological issues can have dietary roots, or be caused by some other physiological imbalance.

My ex was diagnosed as bipolar many times. Sometimes medication helped. She finally saw someone who ran blood tests and found she just had a thyroid imbalance. Now on pig hormones she doesn't have any of those problems any more.

When I was severely depressed, medication helped a bit, I think. But I also started eating meat again when I tired of all the medication adjustments. A can of tuna really helped. Or at least I felt like it did.

Try fish. See how it works for you.
posted by MonsieurBon at 8:37 AM on February 24, 2012

Emily Deans is a psychiatrist with an interest in how diet affects mood and mental health, and she has a blog about it. She is of a paleo/primal persuasion, but she focuses on the scientific literature first and foremost - her most recent post is about how a vegetarian diet lowered tension as compared to ominovorous or fish-only idets. I've included some posts on diet and depression that's written at the bottom of this comment.

My recommendation would be to yeah, experiment with meat and see where you stand. You don't have to eat it forever, and if you do find that a particular meat helped you then you can try to figure out what it was about that meat that fixed your problem. Some possible culprits are B12 vitamins, iron, creatine, ZINC, and not enough cholesterol (based on Dean's posts, IANAD). If you wanted to explore these possible deficiencies in the context of your current diet, this is the progression I would suggest:

1) increase intake of eggs (preferably pastured) and dairy (raw if you can get it). Increase intake of fats such as avocado and coconut. You can do this while still remaining vegetarian. Give it a week, see if it helps.

2)Try oysters or fish. Oysters are a great source of zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, and you don't even have to cook them. Buy them from the grocery, cut them open and eat them raw with some lemon juice. I'm sure vegetarians will disagree with me here, but oysters are pretty non-objectionable as far as animal pain/ environmental destruction goes. They don't have a central nervous system and they can be sustainably farmed. Fish might also be good for you, especially wild-caught salmon. If you don't want to cook it, get sushi. Give this another week, see if you feel any better.

3)Try grass fed, sustainably farmed beef. Go to an upscale grocery like whole foods and buy whatever grassfed beef steak they have. Fry it in a pan until it's not bloody inside. Slice it and eat it. Try eating steak a couple nights for a week - see if you feel better.

Good luck, I hope you feel better.

posted by permiechickie at 10:28 AM on February 24, 2012

Additionally, a vegan who eats oysters waxes poetic:
Consider the oyster
posted by permiechickie at 10:41 AM on February 24, 2012

1.) Do you have SAD?

2.) When you say you've supplemented with B-Vitamins, which kind did you take? I used to take a lesser-quality B-12 horse-pill sized supplement for years with little benefit... when I switched to a sublingual B-12 at a 5000 mcg dose, it was like the world had been gray and muted and I just came alive again. It has to be a methylcobalmin sublingual B-12/B-vitamin complex lozenge with folate at a dose of 5000 mcg, remember!

Also, do you have a stimulating, supportive community of people with whom you interact? Do u do any kind of service for others, no matter how small? I don't think happiness can be achieved in a solitary vacuum unless the person is on some sort of intentional, mystical solo vision quest. Diet can't fix this.
posted by devymetal at 4:26 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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