Depression Triggered By Overeating? The Wrong Food?
July 21, 2015 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Before we get going on this....Some will say this is psychological, but I need to say that whatever goes wrong, it's like a switch is thrown and it lasts for days. I seem to have a depression set in when I over-eat, or perhaps ingest the wrong ingredient. There is something physical going on that causes me to drastically not think the same. I start flip-flopping on things I was firm on, I have no strength mentally for socializing, and certainly none for confrontation to the point where I would get taken advantage of without fighting it. That isn't me. when it goes away, it does so fairly quickly, within a half of a day.

I had a whole cruise ruined because of this. I am human and there are stressors in my life, but they are in proportion when I am ok and they bring me to my knees when the episode occurs. I suggested a food allergy test to my Doc, and that person said allergies either disagree physically or they don't, and I feel no other symptoms. I spoke to a psychologist, and that yielded nothing. I'm all ears. Perhaps it's gut/digestive and nutrients are not going where they need to? Liver? Hormone-related? Whatever happens, my mood and ability to cope dip hard. Throw some ideas my way!My blood work for all of the normal stuff checks out ok. Not diabetic, no drugs, not a drinker at all, abstain from caffeine, I know all of the textbook stuff, so help me dig deeper please!
posted by Shylo to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like it's time to start keeping a food diary, to see if there's a pattern between what you eat and how you feel.

Anecdotally, I know I don't feel emotionally good after consuming certain foods. I've had a lot of success changing my diet recently by taking very high doses of probiotics, which I think (and some new studies suggest) has helped my mood. Consider speaking with a nutritionist or naturopath, perhaps?
posted by monkeymonkey at 3:08 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you tried keeping a food/mood diary? Track every single morsel of food you put into your mouth for, say, a month. Track your moods alongside it. Look for any sign of correlation. If you can figure out that the past few times you ate a banana, your moods suffered, then you'll be on the path to fixing the problem.
posted by Solomon at 3:08 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Blood sugar levels spiking/crashing, and residual shittiness? Have you tried going low-carb? (According to Science, gluten is not a thing for people without serious and overt sensitivities, but carbs can affect your mood a lot due to blood sugar and withdrawals.)

Are there specific foods you notice doing this thing? Could it be related to the onset of a migraine, perhaps? Are any of them common migraine triggers? (From what I understand, some people just have the prodrome stage, or the before/after stages without much of a headache in between.)

Mood and the gut are quite related, according to my doctor, and if you have acid reflux or gastritis or something along those lines, it could be messing with your moods as well.
posted by easter queen at 3:08 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding the suggestion to keep a food diary. I kept one for a while and noticed that my mood would go all to shit if I ate too many carbs and/or too much sugar. Cut out sugar, cut out most carbs, and my mood has been pretty even-keeled ever since, with depression and anxiety symptoms coming way down and becoming much more manageable.
posted by palomar at 3:09 PM on July 21, 2015 [10 favorites]

Food diary, or alternatively, go on an elimination diet like Whole30. I had major anxiety issues that were helped by going on Whole30. Now I know how to avoid them.
posted by Brittanie at 3:19 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with all who have said to keep a food diary, and I also think there are a number of elimination diets you might try. I've done the Whole30 and I think it's great, but I actually found out much more about my sensitivities to various kinds of sugars, which are big culprits with mood, by doing a FODmap elimination diet. It's a PITA, tbh, and I actually went to a nutritionist in order to have help doing it in a supervised form, and she pulled the book I just linked out of her drawer and said, "well you could try this." I was like, "wait what am I paying you for?" I already had the book, what I wanted was an expert. Anyway, the point is that not only can you do this by yourself, pita aside, but you might actually want to.
posted by janey47 at 3:25 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm wondering if you've got it backwards: you start to feel depressed and do a bit of comfort eating...?
posted by Specklet at 3:38 PM on July 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Anecdotal: I know I overeat when I'm depressed, and it definitely doesn't help things, only prolongs it/triggers a cycle of overeating because depressed, depressed because overeating. On top of that, if I'm overeating, I'm not exercising which I need for emotional maintenance.

Too much sugar causes mood problems and lethargy in me; to the point that if I have a bigger than usual dose of it, I experience something like a hangover with a very black mood the next day, where I have no energy, a headache, cravings, etc. If I give in to the cravings I extend my misery.

Were you drinking a lot of alcohol and/or caffeine on the trip? As I age the effect of those drugs only gets more powerful. Like, shockingly so. More than 3 drinks and my mood the next day is wrecked. More than 2 cups of coffee and I'm an anxious irritable wreck all day.

I absolutely recommend a food diary and possibly eliminating things or cutting back drastically one at a time and see what your body tells you.
posted by kapers at 3:55 PM on July 21, 2015

Response by poster: Yeah, I forgot to mention I have kept a food diary. No patterns. Been there, done that.
posted by Shylo at 3:57 PM on July 21, 2015

Sorry, you did mention you don't drink or do caffeine.

Do you take a probiotic or eat probiotic foods?
posted by kapers at 4:00 PM on July 21, 2015

What is your diet like? Do you eat a lot of processed foods,sugar, or carbs? I think these things could cause change in mood.

I would try an elimination diet. The most common food intolerances/sensitives are dairy, wheat, soy, and eggs and they could affect your mood too. Maybe you don't even notice physical symptoms because you are used to them.

I cut out dairy and just stopped having gas (for the most part) and digestive problems, but previously if you had asked me I would have thought I had no physical symptoms.
posted by bearette at 4:02 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I seem to have a depression set in when I over-eat, or perhaps ingest the wrong ingredient

I forgot to mention I have kept a food diary. No patterns.

These don't match up. Why do you think this is connected to over eating or ingesting the wrong thing when no patterns have showed up with the food diary?

You might need to have a more limited diet for a while and gradually reintroduce the types of foods that have caused problems to be able to see where the problem is. An allergy test might not be useful, because you could have a food that you don't do well with but not be allergic to that food.
posted by yohko at 4:09 PM on July 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

I think I sometimes get something similar to what you describe, when I eat too much of one food (even if it's healthy, like carrots or lettuce or something) or if I feel like I've eaten too much overall. For me, there's no real pattern as to what food will make me feel this way-- it's the amount that matters the most; overeating is key.

Abiding by the guideline to eat until you're 80% full might help. Some things to consider: Have you ever felt guilty about the food you eat (in any way at all)? Do you prefer the feeling of being hungry?
posted by gemutlichkeit at 4:20 PM on July 21, 2015

Specklet beat me to it. It seems likely that the overeating is the first manifestation of a depressive episode. I'm not saying your idea is impossible, but as you get this checked out by doctors and they rule out various physical possibilities, I think you have to consider the strong possibility that you are experiencing depression. Which is more likely: that you ate too many clams, had an allergic attack and now you can't handle confrontation, or that you overate because you were just starting to slide into a depression that (among other problems) lessens your ability to handle confrontation?

Or, it may be that overeating triggers feelings of self-loathing, and that sets off a depressive episode. If you have some kind of eating disorder, it wouldn't be too surprising if overeating made you feel terrible.

While I'm not discouraging you from exploring physical causes, I think you need to seriously pursue psychological causes. Consider whether you behave in any other unusual ways before you plunge into these depressions, if there are other things you can see as warning signs. Talk to a therapist about your attitudes toward food and eating.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:35 PM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I forgot to mention I have kept a food diary. No patterns. Been there, done that.

Do you happen to have your food diary in shareable electronic form? It's possible that you're missing patterns. E.g. tomatoes and potatoes are both nightshades.

If there truly is no pattern, then your triggers are probably something else.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:36 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you're getting good suggestions above, and just popped in to say that while your doc is sorta right about allergies, it's doesn't mean that what you eat can't effect your mood and/or the way you feel. I did the Whole 30 diet and my PMS (which is quite bad, both physically and emotionally) completely disappeared. My gut disliked the lack of roughage, so I added some whole grains back in and was golden. YMMV, but if you can figure out what's going on it's probably worth hanging in there!
posted by jrobin276 at 4:40 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

There are studies that connect some foods to depression/lack of depression. I have an inflammatory medical condition. For that reason, I eat an anti-inflammatory diet. When I eat certain things -- usually things I understand to be pro-inflammation -- I can become suddenly suicidal. One thing that really messes me up is peanut oil.

You could look for articles on that angle. I know brain inflammation is associated with depression. If your food diary did not track every single ingredient in everything you ate, it could easily miss things like oils the food is cooked in. Read labels, read labels, read labels and get a lot more specific if you haven't been already. Also, realize that there can be a delay between ingestion and symptoms. Some things hit me 48 hours later. I have read things that suggest this is not unique to me.
posted by Michele in California at 5:08 PM on July 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Dropping in to say that Functional Medicine has a lot to say about the connection between the gut and brain. It's not so crazy that eating too many clams could cause inflammation in your gut, which in turn could have biochemical effect on your mood.

This article might be an interesting read for you: Is Depression a Disease or a Symptom of Inflammation.

Good luck and listen to your gut!
posted by magnislibris at 5:12 PM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

That reminds me: The gut is so neurologically complicated, it gets called a second brain. Plus some brain chemicals are very definitely strongly influenced by diet. This is why, for example, eating turkey tends to make people sleepy. So you could look up whatever symptoms ir issues you had, try to find out what brain chemicals they are associated with and research the dietary connection from there. That has been useful for me at times,

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 5:33 PM on July 21, 2015

I'm a female person. In my forties I started having a cyclical problem, roughly monthly, where I'd have problems with overeating and nausea. I believe that hormonal fluctuations triggered the eating. So it might not be the food, it might be what triggers eating.
posted by puddledork at 5:40 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Another thing that comes to mind is dehydration. Maybe over-eating leads to less fluid intake without you realizing it. Dehydration can really mess with your head and your mood, etc.
posted by tamitang at 6:00 PM on July 21, 2015

Bit confused by the 'pattern' thing, there is or isn't a pattern?

Because yes, depression can be the main and/or only major sign of an allergic reaction. There's a pubmed that I can't find right now about a woman with 'seasonal' major depression which cleared up with ragwort allergy shots.

For myself, depression is the major symptom of my allergies (dustmites, cats, plaintain, hayfever), especially my one food allergy - wheat! WHEAAAT! Man, I spent so long being an anti-hypochondriac because I thought I couldn't have a problem with gluten, and duh, I don't, I have a wheat allergy. Yes, allergy the main symptom of which is plain old snotty hayfever, but the most insidious symptom of which, is depression!
Yes, my nose will only run for a day or two, but the lingering depression/malaise/tiredness continues for a couple of days after that. :P

As for overeating itself causing depression? Not sure what could be driving that, but I wouldn't dismiss it entirely as a theory.
So many mechanisms that could be going on there, sugar levels or insulin crash, digestion problems using too much energy on digestion, overeating could be affecting some kind of gut problems (bile ducts, kidney stones, ibs?) that you haven't noticed yet, gut parasite symptoms often spike after sugar or carb heavy meals (I had giardia, ask me how I know! Oh, and that sets off lactose issues) or you could have food crossing the gut barrier that often causes an immune response LIKE an allergy (I understand that as essentially micro tears, which I guess could be more common after a heavy meal? *shrug*), and hey, there is a lot of the gut serotonin thing that we don't quite understand.
Sorry, I'm not a Dr, that's just a few things I know of, so it could be anything.

Stick with the food diary, small meals, or try an elimination diet to really rule it out. Just, chicken, oil, and a couple of 'safe' veges for a few days.
I wish I'd tried that a decade earlier.
posted by Elysum at 6:11 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not so crazy that eating too many clams could cause inflammation in your gut, which in turn could have biochemical effect on your mood.

Well, to clarify, I wasn't saying that this was definitely psychological and that the OP should give up on investigating physical causes. But I think it's worth putting at least as much energy into investigating psychological causes as they put into investigating physical causes. Most of the responders here are stressing the physical, but I think it's (somewhat) more likely there could be a psychological cause.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:14 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't know what the fuck your doctor is talking about because heaps of foods and vitamin supplements can affect your hormones, which would affect your mood. Ditto what was indicated before about inflammation and diet.

Get another doctor. I just had my new dentist ask me all sorts of questions on an intake sheet regarding food and supplement interactions with existing medical conditions, etc.. These things are not, like, unknown.

posted by jbenben at 8:25 PM on July 21, 2015

There is something physical going on that causes me to drastically not think the same. I start flip-flopping on things I was firm on, I have no strength mentally for socializing, and certainly none for confrontation to the point where I would get taken advantage of without fighting it. That isn't me. when it goes away, it does so fairly quickly, within a half of a day.

I used to get a day or two of this every few weeks, along with severe muscle pain and crushing, overwhelming fatigue.

An acquaintance suggested I start eating a hot chili every day. None of the sane options I'd tried had made a lick of difference, and chilis are cheap, so I gave them a go. Every day for a couple of months I'd chew up and swallow a bird's eye chili and put up with three or four minutes of hiccups and drooling, and quarter of an hour of burning and sweating. Those little bastards are serious business.

I'm down to about one a week now. I have not had a busted-body day for four months and feel generally healthier.
posted by flabdablet at 8:41 PM on July 21, 2015

I get depressed from mineral water sometimes (probably from trace minerals), some teas, some antibiotics. Also cardiovascular exercise like running. If I don't take my multivitamin I get depressed.

I've just learned my triggers and avoid them.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:41 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Could you define or describe what you mean by overeat? Finding a pattern to your crashes is a lot different depending on what you mean by overeating. For example if you get the anxious nibbles at a party and crunchy your way through an entire chopped raw vegetable tray meant for eight people and that's the sole sum of your entire over eating episode it is a lot different than if you have slowly been creeping up on those midmorning slump sweets and the after dinner entire bag of Oreos every day for three weeks.

But if your overeating takes the form of a horrid bloat and not-digesting over fullness feeling and the only reason you have to think you had an episode of overeating is because duh, you sure feel like you overate so you must have, it is yet another pattern.

I say this because one thing you could do is learn to spot when you are starting to overeat so that you can stop sooner.

I'd like to nth physiological possibilities here. Someone mentioned dehydration. If you eat more fibre than you usually do you need to up your fluid intake. The problem could be too much fibre without a matching fluid intake. The next time you find yourself on the overeating train I would experiment with fluid loading to see if it changes the pattern, even if what you are eating is non-fibrous, such as overeating an entire roast of beef.

Chocolate and hot dogs are two things that trigger migraines in susceptible people and I figured they had to trigger migraines in me except that of course I dropped chocolate and hot dogs and promptly uncovered the pattern that when I craved chocolate or had a sudden craving for hot dogs I had an incoming migraine, a symptom that manifested before any head pain, aura or thick-headedness. I get the migraine with or without the chocolate.

Ideally you want to figure out before you start overeating and observe your diet, symptoms and appetite very closely to see if the cart is arriving before the horse.

Can you relate your crashes to the weather, especially humidity, hormones, the places or people you associated with, the amount of exercise and the amount of sleep you got? It may be that overeating is not the trigger for your sudden lack of ability to be assertive, but one of the symptoms, as if your physiology detecting the fact that your competitive abilities were going to be compromised, makes sure to get you fed so that you won't starve if you have to spend a week unable to even win a dispute with a gopher over which one of you will get the last carrot in the garden, let alone being able to sustain yourself with a nice gopher and carrot stew.

I would seriously explore the possibility that being short of sleep, perhaps because of sleeping badly as opposed to not being in bed long enough could be the trigger for both the overeating and for the need to crawl into a corner and hide.

Another possibility might be a magnesium deficiency. Sometimes people overeat because they need a trace element in the food and the only way to get enough is to eat too much. Magnesium is a metabolism regulator needed to keep you top notch and energetic. Your symptoms of decline and not-want-to-stick up for yourself might just be related might improve with a week or two of daily magnesium supplements.

Another thing you could experiment with is deliberately feeding your gut bacteria by eating a wide variety of fibre foods. If all the fibre you get is beans you will only be feeding one sort of gut bacteria and can end up with an overgrowth. For a healthy gut microbiome you want to get a wide variety of different fibres. The over eating you do is very likely triggered by a super abundance of one or another sort of gut bacteria. Gut bacteria have an enormous effect on your physiology, creating cravings for sugar or yeast type foods, making you calm or making it impossible for you to calm down, and a host of other things that change your emotions and your stability.

Gut bacteria imbalances are not the only thing that can trigger over eating and produce symptoms of depression but they are one thing that you can tinker with that fits your symptoms. One thing though, I don't recommend probiotics. The bacteria in probiotics are aerobic. The bacteria in your guy is anaerobic.

Finally, I suggest you look at the problem and see if over the long term it is some kind of a cycle. It may be that at times you are on top of your game but at other times you need to rest. If your life is always stressful you may need to take breaks from it and your depression could actually be a sign that you can't sustain the stress level indefinitely and need to take a break from it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:53 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

You are not alone!

My son would get really upset and have a crying day the day after consuming oatmeal. It took awhile to figure it out. Check your patterns again- the emotional triggers could be starting when the offending food hits a certain part of your digestive cycle. Not all reactions are immediate. Also, they aren't always consistent. If you are under stress, you will react more strongly to certain allergies than if you aren't and the more you eat the offending food, the more likely you are to have a reaction.

Eating pineapple in high school made me very depressed for a day or two. If I eat it now, I am doubled over in physical pain for 2 or 3 days, so swollen up that I look like I need a fluid pill.

I also get a weird reaction to pizza. I get very cranky within a few hours of eating it and it charges up my libido like nothing else.

I don't know that anyone has studied the relationship between food intolerances and our moods so most doctors will think you are crazy when you mention it. Just keep tracking what you are eating and when you are experiencing symptoms. A pattern will emerge. If not, start looking at environmental causes. There may be a chemical that sets you off or stresses your body to the point of a food reaction. I have to avoid all glade products, aerosols, Windex and Lysol products, and dryer sheets. Just keep track, you will figure it out eventually.
posted by myselfasme at 7:29 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I suggested a food allergy test to my Doc, and that person said allergies either disagree physically or they don't

Well, there are food allergies, food intolerances and food sensitivities. If your doctor isn't interested into looking into these for you, I'd suggest you see a Nutritional Therapist - they might be able to help you identify yours, or design an exclusion diet regime that cuts out the common culprits and reintroduces them in such a way as to home in on whats' affecting you.

There's no need to do anything nuts like the GAPS diet that some people rave about (and make sure you find a therapist who doesn't rely on woo) but for sure this is the sort of thing that sometimes gets overlooked by GPs.
posted by greenish at 8:05 AM on July 22, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all so very much. I don't know if any of you will look back to see this, but I appreciate your help. I wasn't as thorough in my post as I should have been. The overeating is not psychological, just happens to be at parties or on a cruise when a large variety of good food is part of the occasion. I am disciplined and I don't eat much junk most of the time.
The thing people here have pointed out is that it may not be instant, so I am tracking my moods and foods by the hour, and anything else I think is significant, such as exposure. I do eat yogurt (I make it myself now, I used to eat Faige Greek non-fat). That and the kimchi I make and eat have not proven to be the culprits. If a trend is occurring, I'll find it. My data before wasn't on fine enough of a scale. Thanks for opening my eyes to that.
My choice of medical professionals is scary, they do look at my like I am crazy, and they keep offering me antidepressants. I am ok with accepting my chemistry may need help, but I am experienced now and know when this gets triggered, and that meds will never allow me to fix this. For something that feeds us, the doctors available near me don't seem to care at all about nutrition. I am not a doctor but I'd say we live and die by what we eat. If I chose to eat nothing but fatty meat and cheese and I was to visit them, rather than ask me what I eat, they'll just put me on med to keep me kinda alive. Scary stuff. This seems to be my case to crack.
posted by Shylo at 2:59 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ok, it's been almost a year.....
No new help from the medical professionals. I am doing ok, and here is what I am doing now that seems to help:
I don't stuff myself, 90% of what I eat is unprocessed, I be sure to include potatoes & pasta as it seems my brain feeds on carbs, I consume occasional fermented foods like kombucha & kimchi, I eat tryptophan -rich foods, and I avoid dairy. I still have my moments but I haven't had food send me into a tailspin. We'll see how I do over time.
posted by Shylo at 6:42 PM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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