Food Does Not Taste Good When You Are Depressed (7 reasons)

This blog post seeks to understand why food does not taste good when you are depressed. It explores the first signs of depression, why this lack of taste is a problem, and how to manage this concern. 

Food Does Not Taste Good When You Are Depressed

Depression can lead to various problems, including changes in eating patterns. Some people with depression overeat to comfort themselves from the negative feelings and thoughts brought on by their condition. 

On the other hand, some people report losing their hunger and appetite, thereby eating way less than usual. These individuals even claim that food does not taste good anymore and liken it to tasting like cardboard. Other individuals barely eat and mention that they sleep so much that they end up skipping their meals. 

Depression can also affect other senses, including smell, sight, sound, and touch. Sensory overload is also likely to take place when you are depressed.  

The First Signs of Depression

Losing your appetite and finding food to lack in taste are some of the first signs of depression. Eventually, you start losing interest in other things that used to bring you joy and happiness. This lack of interest eventually turns into a sort of numbness. You may also start experiencing changes in sleep, such as sleeping too much or too little. 

Despite usually being a lover of food, you will experience extreme changes in appetite. You do not derive pleasure from food the way you used to. On the other hand, if you are overeating, you will still feel like food does not taste good and eat only to cope with your depressive symptoms. 

Such changes in food habits afflict everyone who suffers from depression, including food critics and chefs.

Other signs of depression include:

  • You experience changes in sleeping patterns, wherein you sleep too little or too much or wake up through the night;
  • You feel fatigued and a drop in your energy levels;
  • There is a lack of motivation and interest;
  • Minor inconveniences disturb you excessively;
  • Even a simple task seems challenging;
  • You are irritable;
  • You are socially withdrawn;
  • You feel excessive worry, anxiety, or fear; and
  • You have difficulties concentrating and making decisions.

Why Does This Happen?

Some individuals with depression report that they dislike the taste of food. It is not because the food is unappetizing, but because they have lost their appetite and interest in everything, including caring about their food or even themselves in general.

When you are depressed, you lose motivation to do anything. You lose the motivation to get out of bed, work, engage in any pleasurable activities, and even eat. Such an absence of interest can make you skip meals, sleep through them, or even when you try to eat, you do not care about the food or find it distasteful.

Neurotransmitters

There are speculations that depression impairs your sense of taste and smell. A study in 2006 reported that two neurotransmitters, namely serotonin, and norepinephrine, are found in low levels in people with depression, which could also play a role in how they perceive taste.

The researchers reported findings regarding taste sensitivity when the participants with depression were on antidepressants to increase these neurotransmitters’ levels. 

When the serotonin levels were heightened, they experienced almost 30% more sensitivity to sucrose (the chemical found in sugar) and greater than 50% more sensitivity to quinine’s bitterness. When the norepinephrine levels increased, they experienced almost 40% more bitterness and more than 22% extra sourness. 

Such findings indicate that if increased levels of these neurotransmitters result in heightened sensitivity, the decreased levels found in people with depression could cause their sense of food not tasting good.   

This study has important implications because taste tests can help doctors identify the affected neurotransmitters, enabling them to choose the right medication for their patients.

Is It the Brain or the Tongue?

The same team of researchers from the 2006 study examined whether the alterations occurred in the brain or the tongue. Therefore, they evaluated the sensitivity of the subjects immediately upon giving them antidepressants. They found that the participants’ sensitivity increased within an hour compared to the group given placebos. 

Typically, antidepressants take around four hours to reach the brain in considerable quantities. Therefore, the findings imply that the changes could be operating on the neurotransmitters in the taste buds.  

Mood and Taste

Research indicates that our mouths contain receptors for tasting fat. A study investigating the effects of mood on taste reported that people with depression tend to have low sensitivity to tasting fat. 

They mixed skim milk and heavy cream in varying proportions to allow the participants to distinguish among these levels. People with depression were unable to identify the differences. This inability could complicate physical health matters as it could reinforce the mindless eating of foods high in fats. 

The same study investigated the effects of varying moods on taste. They stimulated three emotions, including happiness, sadness, and neutrality, by using audiovisual snippets. The participants could identify the increasing intensity levels when they tasted the milk before their moods were stimulated. 

However, those with higher scores on the depression and anxiety scales could not distinguish fatty milk from skim milk after watching the happy and sad videos. If their emotions were heightened, they were likely to suppress their activity. Such a finding was observed across different taste features, but most notably seen with fat.   

Stress and Taste

Minor stress or stress for short periods can make your taste and smell sensitivity more prominent. One study found out that when healthy people got stressed, their sensitivity to glucose and salt increased. Stress is different from anxiety and depression despite fueling one another. 

Stress heightens senses in response to a threatening situation, while anxiety and depression suppress them.   

Why Is It Problematic?

The problem with such eating changes is that it prevents you from getting the required nutrition, which perpetuates your irritability, lethargy, fatigue, lack of motivation, and even your depressed mood. 

How to Manage

Meal- Planning

When you have a structured meal plan, it enables you to prepare food without focusing much. You do not have to exert energy to think about what to eat or search for recipes. Depression can kill your appetite, but you need to force yourself to eat. If you do not, your body does not get the necessary nutrition to function and impairs many abilities, worsening your depression.

You can find basic meal plans here compiled by A. A. Newton to ensure you eat even when you are depressed. 

She includes various incredible and nutritious recipes for varying degrees of difficulty. For example, she has a few recipes for when you feel you need to eat something, the preparation of which is more straightforward than showering, as convenient as showering, or more difficult than showering. Here is a summary of the foods that she has specified for each of the difficulty levels.

  • Easiest:
    • Rice
    • Instant meals
    • Miso soup
    • Order in
  • Slightly Easy:
    • Eggs and toast
    • Instant mac and cheese
    • Dumplings or potstickers
    • Popcorn 
  • Hard:
    • Tomato soup and grilled cheese
    • Simple baked foods
    • Roasted vegetables 

Medications

As we have seen, specific neurotransmitters could play a role in the way you experience food. Therefore, talk to your physician about your taste sensitivity. The antidepressants they prescribe might help increase the neurotransmitter levels and allow you to enjoy food again. 

If you experience any side-effects, consult with your physician. Antidepressants do not work immediately for some individuals. It involves a degree of trial-and-error to understand which drug works best for you. 

Careful Not to Binge

Now that you have understood how taste can be affected, you can be more mindful of what and how much you eat. Fat is one of the taste components significantly affected in that distinguishing fatty from non-fat foods can be tricky. So, ensure you stick to a meal plan and not overindulge in junk foods. 

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Conclusion

This blog post explained food does not taste good when you are depressed. It outlined the first signs of depression, explored why this lack of taste is a problem, and how to manage this concern. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Food Does Not Taste Good When You Are Depressed

Are the taste buds affected by depression?

Yes, taste buds are affected by depression because of two neurotransmitters, namely serotonin and norepinephrine, found in low levels in people with depression. Researchers found that boosting their levels leads to an increase in taste receptivity. 

Why do you lose your appetite when you are depressed?

You tend to lose your appetite when you are depressed because of a loss of motivation and energy in general. You may also feel anxiety and worry, which also contribute to a loss of appetite. 

Apart from depression, what can cause food not to taste good?

Apart from depression, the following things can suppress taste and make food not taste good.

Specific vitamin deficiencies like vitamin B-12 and zinc;
Head or ear injuries;
Smoking;
Gastric reflux 

Can a loss of taste be treated?

A loss of taste related to age cannot be treated. However, other causes that lead to a loss of taste can be treated, including altering medications that may cause this problem or treating nasal or dental issues that lead to a suppression of taste.

Does depression cause a loss of smell?

Depression can cause a loss of smell as the brain region responsible for the olfactory senses are shown to be lesser in size than usual. Specifically, the olfactory bulb is smaller in individuals with depression, and the more severe the depression, the smaller the olfactory bulb. 

Such findings affect the treatment of depression, as well. Doctors can assess progress by comparing the bulb volume before and after treatment.

Which foods ease anxiety symptoms?

Those foods enriched with magnesium may induce calmness and relaxation in people. A few examples of foods rich in magnesium include nuts, leafy greens, whole grains, seeds, and legumes. 

Foods that are a good source of zinc, like cashews, oysters, and egg yolks, can also help induce calmness.

Can anxiety cause a loss of appetite?

Yes, anxiety can cause a loss of appetite. Anxiety can also lead to increased appetite. People with anxiety experience alterations in their hormones. Moreover, individuals with decreased appetite may not eat because of the physical manifestations of anxiety. 

Which drugs can cause a loss of taste?

Several drugs can cause a loss of taste, including:

Antipsychotics
Antihistamines for treating allergies
Diuretics
Muscle relaxers
Stimulants 
Drugs for smoking cessation 

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References

Bruno, A. (2017, August 15). How Depression Changed My Relationship With Food. Self. Retrieved from https://www.self.com/story/depression-food.  

Fleming, A. (2013, December 03). How stress affects your food: from distorted tastes to comfort eating. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/dec/03/stress-food-tastes-comfort-eating-depression-anxiety.   

Steber, C. (2019, July 25). 11 Early Signs Of Depression To Have On Your Radar, According To Experts. Bustle. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/p/11-early-warning-signs-of-depression-experts-say-to-watch-out-for-18228617.  

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Sara Quitlag is an Applied Psychologist, with a deep interest in psychopathology and neuropsychology and how psychology impacts and permeates every aspect of our environment. She has worked in Clinical settings (as Special Ed. Counselor, CBT Therapist) and has contributed at local Universities as a Faculty member from time to time. She has a graduate degree in English Literature and feels very connected to how literature and psychology interact. She feels accountable and passionate about making a "QUALITY" contribution to the overall global reform and well-being. She actively seeks out opportunities where she can spread awareness and make a positive difference across the globe for the welfare of our global society.