Sugar and Depression: the Steve McCrosskey update

by Martin

in A Depression Blog

It’s now just over 4 weeks since I started this sugar and depression experiment.

To recap, in a bid to regulate my moods I decided to give up processed sugar.

With that, I therefore gave up all the sweets, cakes, desserts, chocolate and lip-smacking loveliness that I had hitherto relied on to make me feel good when life was doing the opposite.

Since I emerged from a major depressive episode, I (and more particularly my wife) had noticed that my moods had tended to yo-yo quite alarmingly. There were no periods of especially elevated mood, but there were mood swings from okay to low and, especially, from okay to irritated and angry.

Without going over the whole back-story in this post, it is fair to say that in the last year there have been a number of external stressors that would have no doubt played a part in this. But, once I’d done some research, it also seemed quite likely that my diet, especially my sugar intake, was having an impact on my moods too.

So, I quit sugar and went cold turkey.

After a shaky start, I haven’t found it too hard. Cravings still occur, but it is not too hard to resist.

I haven’t given up all sugar of course. There is plenty of sugar in fruit and I’ve started eating a lot of fruit. But, as I understand it, the naturally occurring sugars in fruit have less impact on mood that processed sugars.

So is there a relationship between sugar and depression or sugar and mood?

After a month of this, you would think I’d have some idea, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. And here’s why.

These are some of the things that have been going on in my life since I gave up sugar:

  • We sold our house
  • We had to look for another house to live in, in a very tight market
  • We packed up our old house
  • I had to work flat out for about 4 days straight to make the new place habitable
  • I’ve been taking some supposedly mood enhancing vitamins and supplements
  • I developed quite bad insomnia
  • I started learning meditation
  • I’ve been fretting about a big career move that should mean more job satisfaction but also less money and security
  • We moved house
  • We’ve been unpacking and getting things straight in the new place, for days.

If you had to devise a list of things with the greatest potential to impact mood, whether positively (meditation, supplements) or negatively (pretty much everything else), I reckon this would be a good starting point. So, I think it is fair to say that it is nigh on impossible, in the context of all these factors, to assess the effect that giving up sugar has had.

Which brings me to the headline of this piece, because, as Steve McCrosskey (the Lloyd Bridges character) in Airplane might have said, ‘looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sugar‘.

So, what have I learned?

Despite the failure of this experiment’s primary purpose, some very interesting facts have emerged.

Here is my latest Optimism mood chart.

Sugar and depression Optimism Mood Chart

Sugar and depression Optimism mood chart week 4

The elements to pay attention to in the chart are these:

  • the red line in the upper chart represents my mood
  • the grey line in the upper chart represents how well I coped that day
  • the grey block in the upper chart represent exercise taken
  • the orange block in the lower chart represent amount of sleep
  • the blue line in the lower chart represents quality of sleep
  • the gold stars below the lower chart indicate that I took my vitamins/supplements.

Obviously, I don’t claim that any scientific rigour is attached to this, but it is certainly worthwhile reviewing mood over an extended period, because some definite patterns are apparent.

First, it seems quite clear that my mood is better when I have more sleep.

Second, and quite surprisingly, there seems to be something of an inverse relationship between my mood and the amount of exercise taken. I doubt very much that there is any distinct causal relationship here (i.e. more exercise means lower mood), because there is plenty of scientific evidence to the contrary.

What I suspect is happening is that exercise is worsening mood when it is taken in the context of a background of poor sleep. In other words because I was already tired, the primary effect of the exercise was to make me more tired (and thus irritable etcetera).

Third, it is interesting that there are some quite significant dips in mood on several of the days when I forgot to take my vitamins and supplements. This is worthy of further investigation in itself and makes me wonder whether, as with medication for depression, there is a placebo effect at work.

Finally, you’ll see that my mood seems more stable towards the end of the month.

This could be related to the settling of sugar withdrawal but it also coincides with the period in which I have started meditating. More (sugar-less) food for thought and potentially another thoroughly unscientific experiment in the offing, I think.

I’ll draw this ‘experiment’ to a close with this post. Although I do intend to write a piece on the physiology relating to sugar intake.

I’d love to hear whether anybody else has cut out sugar or other foods and noticed a substantial effect on mood. Please comment below.


Mood and carbohydrate cravings. Christensen L, Pettijohn L. Department of Psychology, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688, USA.

Sugar Shock!: How Sweets and Simple Carbs Can Derail Your Life– and How YouCan Get Back on Track by Connie Bennett.

Image: Bus Stop, Tranquil Vale, screenprint, edition of 22, 50cm x 21cm, by Martin Grover

Go to Part 1 of the Sugar and Depression experiment
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About the Author

Father, husband, writer and website publisher, discontented in his day-job, he writes here about depression - his own and in general. You can follow Too Depressed on Twitter. Please share the content on this site with all your friends, followers and contacts using the buttons above.

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Last revised on December 10, 2012

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