Food

Our guts and our brains are in constant communication. And because of this, changes in weight and appetite frequently accompany depression. In fact, studies have shown that eating fast-food and commercial baked goods (i.e., foods high in fat, salt, and sugar) can put a person at higher risk for depression.[1]

But what we eat can also be used to fight depression. For example, research has found that a healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, can help reduce the risk of depression.[2]

Photo of man preparing a salad

Getting on the right path

Below are a few quick tips that can help us tackle some of the most common problems related to food when a person is depressed:

  1. Not eating enough,
  2. Eating too much,
  3. Lacking motivation to look after our diet.

We also provide some tips on eating well. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated or turn our lives upside down.  Small changes that are maintained over the long term can end up having a big effect on keeping our mind (and bodies) in tip-top shape.

For more comprehensive information and guidance about healthy eating, scroll to the Additional Resources section at the bottom of this page.

Not eating enough?
Eating too much?
Lacking motivation to prepare food?
Not eating enough?

Depression can take away our appetite – to the point where we might not be eating at all. This can rob us of energy that’s needed to get stuff done each day and also lead to unhealthy weight loss. When we feel like this, managing to eat anything can be pretty tough. Here are a few tips to get our food intake kick-started.

Start simple

If we’re not eating at all, raw fruits and vegetables, which don’t take any time to prepare, can be a quick and easy way to get something nutritious into our system.

Simple-to-prepare foods

Meal preparation doesn’t have to be gourmet. Simple-to-prepare foods, like noodles, rice, and chicken, can be used to get us back on track with regular eating.

Small meals or healthy snacks

Try eating a bunch of small meals or healthy snacks throughout the day rather than focusing on preparing the typical three large meals each day.

Physical Activity

Exercise can stimulate appetite, so we can try including some moderate activity such as walking into our routine as much as we can.

Eating too much?

Eating too much can be a problem for some guys when they’re depressed – and often this involves unhealthy foods.  Not only does this lead to weight gain, but it can also put us at risk for other health problems like heart attack and stroke.  Below are some tips to help get over-eating under control.

Avoid eating to “comfort”

We should avoid eating when we feel upset. Eating when bored, stressed, sad, angry, or lonely does not make those feelings go away.

Avoid “distracted” eating

Try to limit mindless eating when watching TV or at a computer.

Don’t eat “just because”

Just because food is on our plate, doesn’t mean we have to eat it all. If you’re full, listen to your body and stop eating.

Limit “bad carbs”

We can reduce our intake of unhealthy carbs (or bad carbs). These are foods such as white flour, sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. Unhealthy carbs digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels that ultimately make us feel really tired – the “sugar crash.”

Focus on health, not weight

If we can’t lose the weight we’ve put on, all is not lost. Increasing our activity level and fitness can offset the health risks associated with carrying extra weight.

Lacking motivation to prepare food?

When we’re depressed, it can be tough to find the energy – or even interest – to take care of ourselves, including preparing nutritious meals. The key is to keep things simple and structured. Follow these few simple tips to get started.

Schedule food-related activities

Draw up a daily timetable and schedule in food-related activities such as shopping, cooking and eating.

Keep it simple

Prepare meals that don’t require a lot of prep and planning, like sandwiches, wraps, quesadillas, omelettes, rice bowls etc.

Home-delivered meals

If you live on your own and aren’t eating proper meals, consider using home-delivered meals.

Shop online

Make use of shopping online and home-delivered groceries.

Prepare food ahead, when possible

Make use of the times when we feel good to prepare meals ahead of time (e.g. if we feel good in the morning, make dinner then) – or cook large quantities of food and freeze it.

Tips for eating well

Maintaining a healthy diet can help keep our minds sharp and balanced, which makes a big difference in our overall well-being, so it’s worth paying attention to what we’re putting in our body.

Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains

Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains in a variety of colours (aim for a mix of dark green, yellow/orange, red, blue/purple foods), and don’t skimp on the greens.

Choose natural fats

Choose olive oil and natural fats (like peanut oil) over butter or solid fats.

Reduce salt

Use herbs and spices instead of salt.

Try fish once a week

Try eating fish (once or twice a week) or poultry rather than red meat.

Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Get your vitamins and nutrients

We should focus on getting our vitamins and nutrients from a regular diet of wholesome foods rather than relying on dietary supplements.

Avoid caffeine

Especially if we’re feeling anxious, and in the evening when we want a good night’s rest.

Limit alcohol

Limit your alcohol intake if you choose to drink. Heavy drinking can actually contribute to depression or make it worse. Learn what healthy drinking looks like.


Putting It Into Practice

Forming new habits can be tough, so we’ve gathered helpful tips and strategies for creating daily habits and routines to fight depression.


References:

  1. Sánchez-Villegas, A., Toledo, E., de Irala, J., Ruiz-Canela, M., Pla-Vidal, J., & Martinez-González, M. (2011). Fast-food and commercial baked goods consumption and the risk of depression. Public Health Nutrition, 15(3), 424-432. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980011001856
  2. Lassale, C., Batty, G., Baghdadli, A., Jacka, F., Sánchez-Villegas, A., Kivimäki, M., & Akbaraly, T. (2018). Healthy dietary indices and risk of depression outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Molecular Psychiatry, 24, 965-986. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-018-0237-8

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