In my practice as a Registered Dietitian, I work with many clients who struggle with depression and other mood disorders. Through working with this clientele, I’ve learned many valuable lessons. I’ve come to see how every person’s experience with depression is completely unique. However, as I get to know more and more people with depression, I have come to identify some more common food challenges.
Limited energy to prepare meals
For many, depression often comes with a feeling of exhaustion. The thought of planning and preparing a meal can seem extremely overwhelming. Often, clients report they end up eating something quick and later feel shame and guilt for not preparing a “proper” meal. However, it’s important to remember a nourishing and pleasurable meal doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be helpful to keep a list of simple, easily prepared meals on hand for inspiration. Some examples:
- Cereal + milk + fruit (yes, cereal is a legitimate meal!)
- Toast + nut butter + banana
- Tortilla chips + hummus
- Peanuts + slices of cheese + fruit
- Scrambled egg + toast
- Yogurt + granola + frozen berries
Note there are days where dinner may be a handful of chips or a chocolate bar. This is okay too. Your worth is not based on what you feed your body. Although it’s probably easier said than done, try to be kind with yourself.
Using food for comfort
Due to its soothing and comforting qualities, food is often used to cope in moments of distress. Unfortunately, we live in a culture in which we are often told this is wrong and unacceptable. However, I tend to regard food the way I do any other coping strategy: as a means of self-care. When we eat out of emotions, we are often merely trying to sooth ourselves in a way we know works for us. This is far from being a “bad” thing. In fact, this type of self-care helps us get through the difficult stuff. What is often unhelpful is the feeling of remorse that follows. When you start feeling ashamed for eating when not physically hungry, try to remember your actions are beautiful gestures of self-care, and that you are doing the best you can.
Loss of appetite
Depression can come with a loss of appetite and interest in food. Clients often tell me they “stop caring” about food or sleep through mealtime. This is particularly difficult, because not eating enough can make you feel irritable, which can worsen symptoms of depression. The following tips may help if you are struggling with this challenge:
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals or snacks
- Focus on foods you love
- Eat with others when you can
- Avoid filling up on fluids (eat first, then drink!)
On the other hand, you may have seen your appetite increase. This is often the result of a medication side effect. Talk to your doctor if you notice major changes in your appetite.
If you are someone experiencing depression, I want you to know I hear you. What you are living is not easy and you deserve to go through this with support and understanding. If it is within your ability, I encourage you to seek out a qualified practitioner to guide you. You don’t need to do this alone.
Most of all, I hope you find self-compassion in this journey. Keep fighting, dear warrior.