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Overcoming Depression: The Mediterranean Diet as a Path to Eudaimonia*

After my studies in functional nutrition and extended studies into the role of the microbiome and inflammation in depression, it all became very clear…

*Eudaimonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία), is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, “human flourishing or prosperity” and “blessedness” have been proposed as a more accurate translations.Sure there are cognitive issues that contribute to depression which benefit greatly from disciplines such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and the whole field of Positive Psychology in general, as well as simple habit-based factors like regular exercise, but for the most part we are dealing with a diet-related disease.

It seems that, when it comes to depression, it’s not all in your head — the real “heart” of the matter actually lies in your gut.

Real Food to the Rescue!

So, as the Mediterranean diet is high in fresh, whole, plant-based foods and low in inflammatory foods such as red meat, omega-6 rich oils (e.g. canola oil) and the many processed and sugar-laden foods that many of us in the Western world eat, it’s little wonder that it has been proven1 to assist in reducing depression.

For this reason, I would go so far as to suggest that a strict anti-inflammatory regime such as the Mediterranean diet will eventually be proven to assist in reducing or avoiding virtually all inflammation-based NCDs (most cancers, heart disease, depression, dementia, asthma and many more).

For more detail on how our diet plays a major role in noncommunicable diseases like depression please read this article.

The Omega-3 Factor

The singular use of olive oil is also another important factor in the Mediterranean diet’s proven ability to help reduce depression. Being rich in omega-3, it contributes in three very important ways:

  1. our brains need omega-3 for improved brain function,
  2. a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 leads to reduced inflammation, and
  3. omega-3 increases a person’s antioxidant function2; further reducing inflammation and factors (primarily the deleterious effect of uninhibited free-radical production3) which contribute to NCDs like depression.

Our Microbiome is the Mothership

There is also much to be said for a predominantly whole foods, plant-based diet in respect to improving the microbiome — which is where the vast majority of our “feel good” neurotransmitters are actually produced.

In 2016, key studies4 have revealed the part played by the brain–gut–microbiota axis in disorders as diverse as depression, obesity and autism spectrum disorder. The data indicates that not only can alterations in gut-microbial composition substantially affect central physiology, but that changes in the gut microbiota can directly and significantly affect our emotional and behavioural nature.

“Although serotonin is well known as a brain neurotransmitter, it is estimated that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract.” 5

With what we now know in this area, changing to something similar to a modified Mediterranean diet combined with pre- and pro-biotic foods or supplements will most-likely have a far greater long-term effect on depression than commonly prescribed SSRIs and other psychotropic medication.

Some further information about overcoming depression (including diet-related topics) can be found in this article.

So what IS the Mediterranean Diet?

Essentially, following a Mediterranean diet means eating in the way that the people in the Mediterranean region traditionally ate, which typically includes a generous portion of fresh produce, whole grains and legumes, as well as some healthy fats and fish.

Read this Healthline article for the full run-down, and get a 7-day mealplan here.

 


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Loving The Perfection of What Is

Today a friend came to me and mentioned they’d been ill and had given up alcohol and poor eating choices as a result (in order to get well). This was after a bout of depression and I’m sure you know of course that alcohol is a depressive — so this was, in a way, really good news.

Creating Detours

So often I see this. So often I’m reminded that at times we unconsciously create dramatic detours when our predictable path won’t lead us where we want to go.

In my own life I have seen that I manifest illness or some other wake-up call at the perfect times to assist me towards my deepest goals.

It may seem odd to say it like that — manifesting illness — but there’s great benefit in seeing it this way, as a continuation of the thought that we want the best for ourselves and sometimes need a personal challenge to force us to reconsider our current habits and trajectory.

For example, I had ditched alcohol for 10 years but then started drinking again (and eating lots of cheap pizza!) when my wife and I separated. I knew it was contributing to my growing feelings of depression but didn’t care too much at the time. Then, just like my friend, I developed a serious health issue and that was enough of a wake-up call to get back to healthy living.

The Danger of Heartfelt Wishes

Someone once said “be careful what you wish for!” … and I think this is particularly appropriate in this context.

  • We deeply yearn for more time to ourselves, and then complain when our friends don’t call for a week.
  • We wish for gut health and then bemoan the sickness that forces us to stop eating pizza and ice-cream for a while.
  • We desperately hope for a change of scenery and then freak out when we lose our job and have to move to another town for work.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point!

Moving Away From the Suffering of Resistance

“This shouldn’t be happening” is a phrase I have eradicated from my internal and external vocabulary.

Anything that pushes against what is (anything that is presenting itself in this moment) will bring you suffering, so if you want to live a life free from suffering, it’s crucial to develop a mindset and belief system that causes you to fall in love with the entirety of what is — or at the very least feel totally neutral about it.

For me, I see that life is intrinsically good. Life doesn’t judge illness or that car crash or that lost job or any event in life as “bad”, so if that’s a fast-track to getting you to a better place — a place you’ve deeply wished for — then so be it!

An alternate way of looking at it is that perhaps life is simply random. In that case, it’s just up to us — we can ask “how could this be helping me?” or “what good could come of this?” and then choose to make some awesome lemonade with our random delivery of lemons.

Either way, we win.

So perhaps consider this for a moment. What thoughts/reactions do you have to the idea: “life is perfect — it’s exactly what I need in this moment to move me towards my deepest goals”?

If your reaction is negative, how do you think that might be playing out in your life? Do you think that your suffering is helpful somehow? … As Byron Katie so bluntly put it: “Some of us would rather be right than free.”

Would you rather be laughing or crying? It really is your choice.

“Since everything is but an illusion,
Perfect in being what it is,
Having nothing to do with good or bad,
Acceptance or rejection,
One might as well burst out laughing!”
—Longchenpa

Today is another good example for me…

I’ve really wanted to get fit for a while and haven’t been doing anything about it, but today I was asked to trim some large hedges and hand-saw a bunch of big branches from a dying tree, and my first thought was “I’m way to busy for this”, my second thought was “I hate gardening” and my third thought (after I got half of it done) was “this is perfect — exactly what I asked for … and no gym fees!”

(Feel free to drop me a line or message me on Facebook if you’re struggling with this, or life in general — I’d love to chat! And, of course, it’s totally ok if you think that this idea is BS, but try to have an open mind and consider it at least).

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Finding Paradise in the Jaws of Hell

Lately I’ve been gratefully experiencing more moments of Nirvana: “a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self.”

I’m certainly not at the end of my journey… So much still to learn/remember and so much to let go of… Yet my life experience is reaching new depths of joyful peace, even though very little has changed on the outside — there’s still slow growth in my business and right now I’m living at my mum’s place to save money (definitely not ideal! haha) and I miss my kids terribly (who I haven’t seen for 3 months) and I have had another seemingly serious health complication (a heart issue) and … well, there are other things I could focus on too but just don’t feel the need to.

It could be hell, but it feels like paradise.

So how did I get here? Let’s take a look…

10 keys for finding paradise in the jaws of hell:

  1. Seeing that challenges are here as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  2. Knowing that there is a curious, loving, intelligent force at play (and that we are, ultimately, an aspect of that force).
  3. Letting go of what doesn’t serve us (that can be something as simple as excessive caffeine and alcohol, or as complicated as abusive relationships, and everything in between).
  4. Ensuring I don’t externalise my happiness (“I’ll be happy when…”) — knowing that real bliss is what is left when we let go of desire/need, judgement and rigidly fixed constructs around our self, others and the world in general.
  5. Staying present: now is all there is (and the only place we can access transcendence and Divinity) — pretty much everything else leads to fear and fantasy.
  6. Just saying “yes” to whatever presents itself (and then letting it slide on by if it doesn’t serve us — ask me for my “rock in the stream” meditation if you’re having trouble with this).
  7. Looking after the physical body — this body is our temple and our experiential home, so to start with (as Michael Pollan puts it) Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” and keep active.
  8. Understanding that our stories about life are just that; stories, judgements, perceptions and projections — not reality (see this article for more about this).
  9. Daily meditation.
  10. Gratitude.

The result? … Bliss.

I almost feel bad talking about how good I feel (for no reason at all other than my embodied beliefs and a willingness to let go of any thing or thought that restricts the flow of good that is always and ever available to us all) — even when things seem to fall apart on the outside — because so many people are having a challenging time around me right now….

But at the same time I have this growing compassion, deep love and drive to find a way to help more people awaken to their inherent bliss as much as I can, so part of that is showing how it’s possible with my own story I guess. So here we are!

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” —Lao Tzu

Which step will you take today?

Note: this is a pretty simplistic post, so please check out the rest of my articles to get a broader perspective on some of the topics covered here.

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From Deep Distress to Peaceful Impermanence

Lately I’ve had some truly distressing conversations with people very close and dear to me…

 
Distressing because of the insane cyclic nature of their thoughts — thoughts that can only generate more and more suffering for them.
 
Distressing because they seem so disconnected from the possibility of okay-ness, due to their absolute identification with their version of “how things are” from a distorted perspective.
 
Distressing because when we’re lost in that place of complete identification with our own thoughts, we can’t even entertain the idea that “I can be okay, right here, right now, no matter what.”
 
Distressing because they’re so intent on replaying the past and locking themselves into a tiny cage of limitation and separation.
 
Distressing because I still see some of that in me at times.
 
We’ve all been there.
 
LOST.
 

But that’s where HOPE arises for me…

 
Because I (like many of us) have been completely lost, wandering blindly in my own illusion and thought-identification (to the point of being suicidal many times), and yet these days I feel more “found”. These days I feel less distracted by cyclic lies and more open to the blissful truth of Being.
 
I’ve realised that…
“Lost” is always temporary.
“Found” is the constant beneath it all.
 
Rather than needing a map to get “out of here” and arrive “somewhere else”, more and more I am just joyously sitting in the wilderness and realising it’s the place of all possibilities — a place we never left, but we just forgot.
 
Nothing about this life experience is permanent… other than I AM — the highest version of our Self — silently, curiously, peacefully, blissfully watching, loving and accepting.
 
Ultimately, like many of us, our loved ones may too need to climb the mountain of suffering to see the valley of peace.
 
We all get there in the end.
 
 
P.S. If you or your loved ones are suffering at this time, I send you much love. It’s so challenging to watch or experience, but try to remember that we are all loved, that it is all temporary, and that bliss awaits us all…. if we can just let go of the illusion; little by little, piece by piece, moment by moment, thought by thought.
 
Shalom.
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Who could we be without that story?

Often I come across friends’ and coaching clients’ personal stories and statements that repeat in their minds and mouths — creating a restrictive personality construct that traps them in a cycle of recreating the very thing they want to escape.

I do it too. It’s pretty typical human behaviour really.

Here are some of my old stories that you might relate to in some way…

“I grew up in a poor family and I never learned how to manage money, so now I’m bloody lousy at it and never seem to have enough.”

“My dad never expressed a lot of physical or verbal love towards me and my mum was so lost in depression at times that she didn’t either, so now I have this endless, desperate void I just can’t ever seem to fill.”

“My first love cheated on me, so now I am scared to commit and I leave relationships before they can leave me — often within days — or I actually choose relationships that can’t possibly last, as a control mechanism.”

If I keep letting these stories play out in my mind and life, well, it’s pretty obvious where that will lead me — nowhere good.

There’s no room there for positive change or the spontaneous, mysterious, blossoming of something new that life so wants to give us.

It’s hopeless.

But we can turn it around.

“In essence,
> what you think
> determines how you feel
> which affects what you do.”
—Christine Wilding

So, with this extremely simple framework in mind, we can choose to tell a different story — or, my favourite, no story at all (just taking life as it comes, moment-by-moment) — and, in the process, allow positive growth and change to occur organically from the mind outward… thus, eventually changing how we behave responsively and indeed our whole experience.

It becomes a positive loop rather than a destructive one.

Even just imagining who we could be without those stories actually aligns us with a new vibration and a new possibility. And whilst I’m all for inner child work, regular meditation, various forms of energy healing and, in fact, every other natural/holistic wellbeing practice, it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that — just be the change you wish to see by genuinely asking “who could I be without that story/thought/expectation/belief?”.

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way.”
—Albert Einstein

“But…”

At this point, many people (including myself) are prone to react with “but I can’t just forget all that and move on — it’s who I am and those painful memories don’t just go away” … and to that I offer again: “so who could you be without THAT story?”.

Granted, at first it seems somewhat heartless, and indeed those memories don’t just disappear… But I learned a while back that I had a choice: I can hang on to these stories or I can let them go and be free of their influence (over time).

Things don’t always shift immediately or quickly, so the best thing we can do is just keep doing The Work (click to download an instruction sheet or see thework.com if you’re not familiar with Byron Katie’s process) and enquiring into the validity of each restrictive thought and story…. Eventually we see that our feet are tied with many lies, and we can walk free by loosening the ropes with the gradual allowance of truth into our minds and hearts.

The truth is…

…all truth is relative. We’re not any of those stories — not even the good ones — and we’re not bound by any of it. Underneath all this fascinating drama unfolding before us is a sea of blissful peace and love (the very thing we long to be and feel)… And by this simple act of openness and curiosity (“who/what could I be with that story?”) we can start to experience this incredible liberation and bliss that is inherently ours.

“When I let go of what I am,
I become what I might be.”
—Lao Tzu

See also: Emotional Self Care Through Spiritual Awakening Experiences

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The Great Contradiction

This beautiful illusion is such a fascinating contradiction.

We exist as everything from the place of nothingness.

We own everything and keep nothing.

We are all love and joy experiencing the depths of depravity and darkness.

I can marvel at the infinite complexity from a place of pure simplicity.

It is both a single leaf amongst a million others and also just the nameless tip of the whole universe.

I am.