In this article we will be discussing how depression affects appetite and what are some of the common food traps that people with depression can fall into.
We will also discuss some of the ways you can manage your diet when you are too depressed to eat.
What to do when you are too depressed to eat?
Some of the steps you can take to manage a healthy diet when you are too depressed to eat include:
- Build on simple foods
- Consider frozen foods
- Prep your meals in advance
- Step out to get your meals
Depression is a serious mental health disorder that has caused widespread disability in the lives of those it has affected. WHO estimates that close to 300 million people are affected world wide.
Depression can affect your ability to perform well, focus, and be predictive in your work and academics. It can also impact your ability to empathise with people, socialise, and maintain relationships.
Depression has many debilitating symptoms that are criterias for its diagnosis and one of them is the change in diet. People with depression either experience a change in their diets or they don’t.
When there is a shift of their diet- people with depression tend to either eat too less or too much. There are reported loss of appetite or gain in consumption which can lead to weight changes and even cardiovascular complications.
Let us take a look at how depression leads to these changes.
How Depression Affects Appetite
Research and experts believe that changes in your eating habits are related to other symptoms of depression. For example, one of the symptoms is a loss of interest/pleasure in activities and fatigue.
So a person with depression may be too tired or have no energy to cook themselves a meal or might not be motivated enough to eat because they receive no pleasure from it. This is often the case for older people with depression.
On the flip side we also have people who tend be overeat when they are depressed. This is refered to as “emotional eating” by experts. Emotional eating involves the need to eat not out of physical hunger but more of an emotional hunger.
When people with depression eat in response to their emotions, they are soothed by the food as it changes the chemical balance in the brain, which produces a feel- good experience and is thus associated with good mood. So people tend to eat to alleviate negative emotions.
Why do we fall for Food traps
Food traps such as eating for comfort or emotional eating or not eating enough are very common for people who are depressed. Another food trap that is associated with depression is eating unhealthy food.
Some of the reasons why we tend to fall into these food traps include:
- Food becomes a way to self-medicate in the case of emotional eating. They eat to avoid negative feelings like sadness and shame. They begin to crave carbs and sugar as they alter brain chemicals to make them feel calmer or more pleasant.
- When people are depressed, they sometimes sleep through meals and unintentionally miss them because of their desire to rest or their lack of energy.
- People who are depressed are also stressed and oftentimes, food is the last thing on your mind when you are anxious, stressed, worried, and feeling helpless.
- People tend to eat unhealthy food as they are too overwhelmed to make or take the effort to go buy healthy food so they might choose to order fast food in, or make food that is easy, fast, and often unhealthy.
- Because depressed people often lack the experience of feeling pleasure they are also unmotivated to eat because food no longer is a pleasurable experience for them, it becomes a bland chore that is necessary for their physical survival which demotivates them to eat.
If you notice drastic changes in your diet and you notice that your symptoms of depression are getting in the way, the first thing you can do for yourself is to seek help.
Trying to make changes related to your diet will not work unless you take the strep to treat your depression through medical and psychological care.
During the appointment with your therapist or a physician, tell your doctor about the changes in your diet along with the other symptoms you are struggling with.
The most effective treatment plan for depression typically includes therapy, antidepressant medication- combination of both.
Your therapist can help you make strategies of change regarding your lifestyle choices that perpetuates your depression. They can also help you change your diet and come up with plans to help you eat well.
A few things you will need to address with your therapist or your doctor include:
- A change in appetite along with other symptoms
- Eating to avoid thinking about your problems, or eating even though you are not hungry
- Any change in eating habits or a significant change in your weight
- Thoughts and anxieties around the topic of diets, food, weight, and body
- Any thoughts of death or suicide; if this happens, let your doctor know immediately
Ways to manage your diet when depressed
Now that we have taken the effort to understand what is happening to you and struggle with being too depressed to eat, here are some of the things you can do for yourself to manage your diet.
Kindly remember, that this is not a standalone strategy to treat your depression, these changes are things you can do alongside proper treatment from a mental health professional.
Build on simple foods
If you are terribly unmotivated to the point where planning and making a meal is thoroughly impossible- take stock of the simple foods you have with you that do not require much prep.
Cereal and milk is one way to go however, if you want to take care of your body a little bit more, consider simple potatoes, instant noodles, eggs, and rice.
These foods are so simple and they don’t even take much time to set and cook- they mostly cook themselves. You just need to stay close to the stove, a timer on your phone, and a few garnishes.
Think of a couple of foods that you love and can easily build up depending on your energy level. Let these foods be something you can cook in one pot and which gives you maximum national value for the least amount of effort.
A good tip is that you cook more than you eat in a single sitting so that you can reheat and eat for the next meal.
Frozen food is your best friend
Being depressed can make the act of acquiring food rather difficult. The thought of going to the store or the market to get your food can be scary, uncomfortable, and exhausting.
If you are able to go to the store, stop by the frozen food aisle and stock up as much as space and budget will allow. Let your food choices be things that give you energy, nutrition, and fill you up.
You can even go ahead and treat yourself to things you loved as a child but were deprived off if you have the budget. Let your choices allow you some joy, something to look forward to.
Choose to buy vegetables and fruits in bulk so that you can freeze them and use them for weeks without having to go to the grocery store every time you want something.
Prep your meals
Now, it is understandable that you might be shocked at this- taking the time and effort to prepare your meals when you don’t even have the energy to eat a bowl of cereal but this is something for you to do as a way of self care.
On a day when you feel like you have some energy, and if you don’t call your best friend up or your mom or a loving uncle who knows how to cook great meals. Ask them their simplest recipes. Ask them to help you out if you want to.
Cook in large batches and freeze them. Frozen soup can last for weeks, so can marinara sauce and chicken breast. Take time to plan it out into days and weeks so that on those especially hard days, you can rely on these meals that you have made for yourself out of care.
Step out to get food
Allow yourself the comfort of takeaways and fast food if you have the budget. Don’t do it too often but on days when you can’t think of stepping into the kitchen- get your shoes on and move towards the closest restaurant of your choice.
Getting out of the house and walking can be a good way to get some exercise and avoid isolation, take in the air, the trees, and maybe pet a few dogs along the way.
If going out is not something you do not want to do, you always have the opinion of ordering in your meals or your groceries, so take advantage of that.
It doesn’t matter where you get your fuel from or the quality of your meals when you are only trying to survive. The nutritional quality of that food is not something everyone always has the energy to think about, and that is okay. The intent is to give yourself the food you need to survive and the energy to help you heal.
In this article we have briefly discussed how depression affects appetite and what are some things you can do to manage your diet when you are too depressed to eat.
Frequently asked questions related to “I am too depressed to eat: help!”
How does eating affect your mental health?
A healthy, well-balanced diet can help us keep our cognitive and mental health at an optimal state- it can make you more energetic and more alert and think better. It can also improve concentration and attention span.
Conversely, an inadequate diet can lead to fatigue, impaired decision-making, and can slow down reaction time. It can cause you to become exhausted easily, irritable, and even cause anxiety.
Is food linked to depression?
Several studies have found that people who ate a poor-quality diet — one that was high in processed meat, chocolates, sweet desserts, fried food, refined cereals and high-fat dairy products — were more likely to report symptoms of depression.
What is bad for mental health?
Some lifestyle choices that are bad for mental health include:
- getting too little sleep or inadequate sleep,
- Substance use
- engaging in stressful situations
- Not getting enough exercise and sunlight
- Not spending time to rest and reflect
- Not engaging in healthy relationships
- Unhealthy diets
What foods help with mental health?
Foods that Boost Mental Health
- Whole Grains.
What foods are bad for anxiety?
Worst foods, drinks and ingredients to consume for anxiety:
- Cakes, cookies, candy and pies.
- Sugary drinks.
- Processed meats, cheese and ready-made meals.
- Coffee, tea and energy drinks.
- Fruit and vegetable smoothies with high glycemic indexes.