Chadwick Hayward

How I Conquered Severe Depression with a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet

Success Stories |
By Chadwick Hayward

How I Conquered Severe Depression with a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet

Less than two years ago, I remember driving home from work and repeatedly thinking, “I should just go home and hang myself.” 

By all measures, I should have been happy. I had a good, well-paying job, a beautiful wife who loved and cared for me and whom I loved, and a wonderful home. This didn’t stop my dark thoughts. Most days I would come home from work, get heavily intoxicated, and remain that way for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t like overwhelming depression was a short phase in my life, either. I remember similar thoughts reverberating in my head as I lay in bed in high school. In university, I remember taking as many pills as I could get my hands on and feeling disappointed and scared when, to my surprise, I woke up the next morning. I don’t know if it was the fear of stigma, but I didn’t want to talk about it. I built walls to hide how I was feeling on the inside. I often felt like an actor playing a part in my own life.

I obviously wanted the depression to end. I just didn’t know what to do. I tried self-medication, and I was prescribed antidepressants. It really wasn’t until after the depression lifted that I was able to look back with hindsight and realize what had changed.

The adage is true: We are what we eat. Our bodies break down the foods we consume and use the base parts to make up every cell—every bone, muscle, vein, and organ. Our diets impact our chemistry and our mental health. It wasn’t until I changed my diet and my mood improved that I was able to look back and see the connection.

I was lucky. Friends suggested we watch the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Wow, am I glad they did. It started my wife and I on a plant-based path that lead me away from depression. I lost 50 pounds and was able to heal myself from lifelong Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Every step along the way I gained health and longevity—and unlocked happiness. For the first time, I could look ahead with hope. Eventually, I gave up all added oil, sugar, and salt, and I was able to quit smoking and drinking.

Knowledge is power. The more I learned, the more dedicated I became. I cannot speak highly enough of the documentary Forks Over Knives for the eye-opener it was. I owe a great deal of gratitude to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, too; his books ignited my thirst for the scientific support of a whole food, plant-based diet. I was elated to find the work of Dr. Michael Greger at nutritionfacts.org, and I’ve watched all the videos available on his website.

I no longer seek to alter my state of mind through drugs, alcohol, and food. Now, each day I strive for optimal health and only consume foods that nourish me. I’m excited to experiment with recipes and spices and am astounded by the amazing variety of foods and flavors that are available with this way of eating. I feel the opposite of restricted.

This year, after being on a 100 percent whole food, plant-based diet for nine months, I set an ambitious goal. I had been hearing a lot about vegan athletes, so I started running at the beginning of 2017. Only six months later, in June, I entered my first race of any kind—the River Valley Revenge Ultramarathon in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. That day I ran for 70 miles, mostly in the rain, in Edmonton’s first-ever 100-mile trail run. Sixty-two percent of racers didn’t finish the race, and I ran the farthest of any non-finisher. This is something that would have been impossible on my old diet, but now my body is able to push farther than I ever thought possible.

This message of health is so powerful, everyone needs to hear it. People likely will not change overnight. It took me some time to change, but now I have shed the darkness that overwhelmed me and found a passion for healthfulness. Know that you are not alone and that you can find happiness, hope, and health.

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