Whenever I meet with a new employee to facilitate the right support for them, I will always ask about their diet.
The question tends to attract strange glances at first, but there’s a very good reason for asking it.
Even just a few years ago, the very idea that our gut bacteria could have any influence over our mood would have been instantly dismissed. But recently, a glut of scientific studies have started to show that micro-organisms in the gut have the ability to affect our mental health, sparking a “major research pursuit”.
I wasn’t at all surprised to read about this. In my late twenties, I had sadly lost a child, resulting in an infection during which I was hospitalised. I was prescribed huge doses of antibiotics, and then depression hit me like a ton of bricks.
My GP prescribed even more drugs to help me manage my depressive symptoms and the crippling anxiety that followed, but they just weren’t making any difference.
In my desperate search to find something – anything – that could help me, I began to investigate the effects of food on my digestion and my mood.
After all, I’d had previous experience of feeling depressed whilst on antibiotics. I’d suffered from whooping cough as a baby, and then I’d had several ear infections that had resulted from swimming for my county as a teenager. I was only fourteen years old when I first started to experience depression and anxiety, and now it was happening again.
Could both incidences possibly be linked to the drugs I’d been prescribed?
I started reading about stomach flora, learning all about the microbiome, and how the gut is indeed influenced by stress, sugars, alcohol…and antibiotics.
My diet back then was full of sugar and carbohydrates, which was very usual for the time. These were the days before we knew very much about real healthy eating, so I would eat toast for breakfast (if I had time!), then grab a sandwich or a jacket potato at lunchtime, all washed down with a sugary drink.
In the face of all the research I read, I decided to ditch the sugary carbohydrates, as well taking probiotic capsules every day to protect and maximise my stomach flora.
The effects were nothing short of a genuine epiphany – in less than a year, I started to feel ‘normal’ again. I wanted to tell the whole world about the amazing effect my simple diet changes had had, but I found it wasn’t quite ready to listen.
Happily, this is starting to change, with huge advancements in our understanding of all the ways in which our gut bacteria affects how we feel.
In particular, this groundbreaking study shows that people suffering from depression have several key gut bacteria missing – even those participants who were taking antidepressants.
These days, I have continued to drastically lower my sugar and carb intake, and include plenty of fiber through eating sweet potatoes, quinoa, and other assorted grains in my diet. I have also taken a microbiome test (you can do the same for yourself here) to ensure I can continue to keep my gut healthy.
By now, you can probably understand exactly why I ask the employees I support about their diets! In reply, I often hear about sporadic eating patterns, with lots of sugary ‘quick fixes’ to beat energy slumps, and to save time during the day.
If this sounds like you too, why not do as I recommend, and rethink your food choices? Add a good quality probiotic to your diet, reduce sugar and carbs, and eat more fermented foods (such as raw, unpasteurised sauerkraut) – and you could start to feel much better, much sooner than you think.
I work alongside HR and L&D professionals, and business owners, to provide vital support to their employees during times of emotional turbulence and change. To find out more about how Confidence to Return could help you, please get in touch.