DOES SUGAR AFFECT DEPRESSION?

I didn’t intend for my initial blog post to be at such a sad point. First the suicide of Kate Spade, and now my friend and mentor Anthony Bourdain. There are no words to capture the whirlwind of emotions in my heart so I thought “why not write it out” and share for the first time  my journey through depression.

Many have asked “Why is your program called Aw, Sugar?” Well the 100% truth around that name stems from my own period of deep depression and what I “heard” which helped save my life.

When my husband died in 2013 I was completely lost. Realizing that my best friend, my soul mate, was physically gone hit me in a way I can not explain. The depth of darkness I spiraled into was terrifying and yet I welcomed the opportunity to escape the eyes of society and its unyielding expectations of me and my life post Charles. What was my escape? Sugar. Refined sugar to be exact.

Without realizing the pattern I soon found that my “daily diet” consisted of processed foods, sugary drinks, candy and gelato. In fact on any given day I consumed no less than a full gallon of gelato, a family sized bag of Flamin’ Hot potato chips and at least a half bottle of red wine. My friends and family did what most do when trying to comfort a grieving loved one: they said nothing about the obvious physical changes they saw in me…my isolation, my serious mood swings, my bloated face, my bad skin. Nothing.  They were helpless, only wanting to see me find my way back to peace.

About 6 months into this downward spiral I had hit rock bottom.  I was about 15lbs overweight, living a hermit life, going out incognito only to purchase more junk food and return home to sit alone and feed my sugar demon. When I tried to go out or hold up to expectations the world still had for “Mrs. Charlie Trotter” it most often turned into a disaster. I’d eat tons of sugary/processed foods, drink way too much and literally have mini emotional breakdowns/outbursts which were shocking to those who witnessed them and to me (when I came down from the sugar high and evaluated my actions).

I walked away from everything…my friends, my family, my consulting business, my TV career. I was truly at rock bottom.  What happened next shocked me and it was at this point I realized I needed help.

I will never forget that day.  I was laying on the sofa, phone with ringer off,  sobbing uncontrollably, literally wailing out loud. I started thinking I didn’t want to live any longer. I began to meditate on the thought of death. Now if you knew me you’d know this was the complete opposite of who I was: since my youth most people often thought I was on drugs because of my high level of positive energy all day every day.  That old version of Ro was long gone.

In this new version of Ro I realized I was afraid, feeling like I had to “be strong” because so many people lean on me…so strong that I couldn’t seek help. I feared what people would think or say…would I appear weak and misunderstood?   As I lay there crying I could hear my grandma saying “Aw, sugar.” You see,  that’s what she would say when I wanted something as a child but could not have it. She always started with “Aw, sugar” and then told me what I couldn’t have.

Grandma Fannie was saying “Aw, sugar you can’t give up…it’s not your time to die.” I LITERALLY HEARD HER SPEAKING OUT LOUD AS IF STANDING IN MY ROOM. This scared the living crap out of me!

The next day I went and tried to sign myself into a rehab and they would not accept me. They said I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it. Instead they recommended I “get out of my environment and get into serious grief therapy.” That’s what I did. Why am I telling you this? Because there is so much SHAME in our society around asking for help, seeking treatment and mental health needs in general. So I’m being transparent with hopes that I can reach someone who may face a similar struggle.

Thus began my journey in therapy to understand what I was doing and why I was doing it. I was amazed to learn – after beginning to food journal – how processed sugar was affecting my life. I could see the DIRECT LINK between my consumption of refined sugar and my SAD MOOD. Being the life learner I am, I started to study this deeply which led me to enroll for my certification as a Holistic Health and Wellness coach with a focus on Sugar.

What I learned is that there is definitely a link between MOOD and refined, processed foods filled with sugar such as pasta, candy, soda, and white bread to name a few.  Sugar in its natural form is a complex carbohydrate like what you find in fruits and vegetables. That type of sugar (in moderation) is good for us. Our body processes it at a slower rate (reducing blood sugar spikes) vs. refined sugar which is absorbed faster by our body (thus causing spikes).  Ah ha! There it was hiding in plain sight for me: my imbalanced consumption of refined sugar was definitely A FACTOR in my depression. Not THE ONLY FACTOR but definitely something I could address. I was desperate to learn more and heal my body from the inside out.

According to a study by James Gangwisch and his team at Columbia University Medical Center, “it has long been known that people with depression tend to crave sweets.” Gangwisch states “We feel (the increased risk for depression) is most likely due to spikes and troughs in blood sugar. When blood sugar is low, you can have a hypoglycemic reaction. The body sends out stress hormones to realign the chemistry, which can make you feel anxious, nervous and lower mood.” I was creating a vicious cycle by eating refined sugar because I felt sad, which in turn only made me feel even more sad, so in turn I ate more refined sugar to make me feel better…do you see what I was doing?

I was finally onto something which I could change and I pursued my health with a vengeance. I wanted to live after all! I began working out 6 days a week but still felt sluggish, unable to lose weight, bloated, unable to focus, and suffering from adult acne! My doctor prescribed B vitamins (which I later learned are depleted by refined sugars) and I began my journey to heal myself spiritually (my heart) as part of healing myself physically (my body). This meant more knowledge, knowledge, knowledge!

The most alarming thing I learned initially was all of the names of sugar (over 50), and the places refined sugar hides — especially in LOW FAT foods! I started to remove all forms of refined sugar from my daily eating program, eliminated all sugary beverages, cut back on processed food and increased fruit and vegetables in my daily diet. Over time I got my health back and today I feel better than I have ever felt in my adult life. Does refined sugar kick in sometimes? Yes. My position in TV is all about food discovery. Please understand that’s my JOB. It’s not the way I live my day-to-day life. Just to be clear and transparent. Additionally,  life happens…a slice of birthday cake or an anniversary champagne toast isn’t the end of the world…it’s really all about balance.

What does this have to do with suicide?

The suicide of Anthony Bourdain made me think about my struggle with depression which I’ve never shared with anyone, not even my family or best friend. I just saw a recent post from him – he never looked happier and more fit. I was supposed to update him on my TV project when he returned from France. To the world he looked like he had it all: celebrity status, new love life, wonderful child, solid relationship with his ex-wife and top rated CNN show earning loads of money. What’s not to love right?

WRONG.

He clearly did NOT have an inner peace which would prevent him from this suicide. There is no substitute for inner peace. Money can not buy it..fame definitely does not guarantee it…it’s something we all have to find in a unique way. I don’t think I ever saw him binge out on sweets during holiday when I spent time with him and his family. I don’t know what he struggled with “internally” which finally got the best of him. I can’t judge him for committing suicide, because while I’ve been close I never actually did it.

What I can do – what he always encouraged me to do – was be unabashedly AUTHENTIC and tell MY TRUTH. He always said “F**k it, some will hate you just for being you. So what do you have to lose?” I’m going to miss this raw, rare, refreshing mentor. The world has lost a unique person but his mark will forever remain in my life.

I was so afraid to seek help. My life looked “great” from afar but I was so sick on the inside. I kept up a good front for quite a while but then things just got out of control when the thoughts of suicide surfaced.  I’m grateful for my higher power sending my grandma to remind me that my work here is NOT done. In fact it’s only just begun.

My decision to walk away from my high grossing consulting business and move towards my purpose – developing a Wellness based business focused on naturally sugar free living –  was terrifying. The fear which held me back is now the fuel for walking towards making a difference in a way that is meaningful. The first Aw, Sugar program just launched. I have private coaching clients and next up plans for collaborating on wellness themed projects with organizations and corporations.

Naturally sugar free is a lifestyle approach — not a diet.

I know I’m in my purpose. All of the experience I’ve gained over 25+ years in the culinary and business world is now being funneled towards helping educate around a singular topic – Naturally Sugar Free – which can help address the obesity and diabetes epidemics we now face. I also believe it can be a helpful component of an integrated (medical and spiritual) approach to managing depression. 

If you or someone you know is suffering with depression and even have the thought of suicide cross your mind PLEASE don’t wait. Instead call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” – Christopher Reeve

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