Top Tips for Eating Well When You’re Depressed
Eating well when you’re depressed: it sounds like an oxymoron and some–who have experienced the darkest nights of the soul–would say it is. I won’t argue about that and I will make the point that sometimes making some small nutritional changes when our mood is low can be helpful.
I will make the disclaimer that I am not a dietician or nutritionist! In no way am I trying to offer medical, or situation-specific advice. I simply subscribe to the general guidelines of the Canada Food Guide. You and your dietician or physician are the best judges of the food that is ultimately right for you.
Symptoms of depression can pave the way to eating poorly during times of low mood. Of particular relevance:
- Lack of motivation
- Poor appetite or significant weight loss
- Poor concentration
- Low energy
- Lack of interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities
- Excessive or inappropriate guilt
In situations of atypical depression, sufferers may experience increased appetite and overeating.
Attending to the depressive symptoms which contribute to eating problems is important because our response or action plan must be tailored to the symptoms themselves.
Symptoms: Lack of Motivation, Poor Concentration
Suggestion: Focus on ease and convenience.
1. Convenience foods get a bad rap, which is often deserved, sometimes not. While no one can deny the value of fruits and vegetables, the task of cutting them up when you’re depressed may be particularly daunting. Instead consider:
- Boxed salad
- Pre-cut veggies like baby carrots
- Pre-cut fruit such as pineapple or other “easy” fruit like apples or bananas
- Canned fruit or applesauce
- Frozen vegetables which need only to be warmed up
2. Other convenience foods:
- Whole grain cereal
- Pre-cut cheese slices
- Almonds or other nuts
- Toast with nut-butter or other spreads
- Veggie or deli slices
3. Frozen Meals have come a long way over the years in terms or quality and variety. Having some on hand in the freezer can be helpful. An additional advantage is that the portion sizes are often small, good when appetite is reduced.
4. If budget is not an issue, consider a meal delivery service, which offers the option just to heat and serve. Great for postpartum situations too.
5. Some local grocery stores also have delivery service, with others allowing you to order online with a weekly bin delivered to your door.
6. Enlist the help of friends and family. Often loved ones are at a loss as to help someone who is depressed. Willing family members and friends can do things such as make small meals or snacks which you can freeze or they can help by picking up groceries.
Symptoms: Poor Appetite, Low Energy
Suggestion: Small, frequent meals or snacks
Using some of the food suggestions above, or your own ideas, eat small portions every few hours. Aim for food choices with higher food value that will stay with you longer. For me personally, I find eggs and nuts good choices.
Symptom: Lack of Interest or pleasure
Suggestion: Be realistic, be aware
To me, it’s too much pressure to force yourself to like eating when you feel that you can’t be bothered. Sometimes it can be more helpful to reframe one’s focus towards basic sustenance. For others, giving oneself the permission to mindfully “ask” your body what it needs and going with it, can be important. The answer may not always be chocolate!
Symptom: Excessive Guilt
Suggestion: Be Kind to Yourself
I’ve included guilt here because over the years, I’ve noticed a lot of unintended pressure placed on persons with depression to “eat healthy.” As if having a low mood was not bad enough, now one has to have a well-balanced diet as part of the treatment plan. And people who don’t often feel bad about it. Healthy eating is optimal. I like to eat well whenever I can and yes, it is an essential piece in the treatment of low mood and other mental health conditions. But with mood disorders, it’s critical that our response be realistic and practical. If one is suffering acutely, a healthy diet may not be at the top of our list of concerns. Instead, practice letting go of self-judgment and doing what’s possible in your situation. It is hoped that some of the above suggestions will be of help.
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