How to Eat Healthy When You’re Depressed
Figuring out how to eat healthy when you’re depressed is a bit of a catch-22. You know that eating better will help you feel better, but you don’t have the energy or motivation to buy real ingredients or prepare healthy meals. You end up eating something quick and easy, or skipping meals if fast food sounds too difficult. And then, of course, living off of coffee and string cheese keeps you feeling depressed, tired, and unmotivated.
To put it lightly, depression messes with your food intake. This is such a common problem that there’s even a blog devoted to so-called “depression meals,” including these gems: “half a gogurt shared with my dog” and “three red baron singles pizzas in quick succession at 3:14 am.” The sad desk salad has nothing on the handful of dry cereal dinner.
Because mental health and physical health are so intertwined, food can be one of the best kinds of medicine when it comes to helping you deal with depression. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to start eating in a way that best supports your mental health.
When you’re dealing with depression, you need mealtime solutions that are:
3. (Relatively) Healthy
That being said, here are a few simple ways that you can move on from depression meals toward better + greener plates.
1. Master a single signature dish
I’m not talking about making shrimp scampi here. This is your microwave Kraft mac & cheese with steamed broccoli and spices thrown in (also, yeah, you can microwave broccoli). Or your peanut butter on whole wheat bread with apple slices and cinnamon. Maybe it’s ramen with sriracha and whatever vegetable you have laying around waiting to go bad in the fridge. This is the one dish you can find the energy to throw together on your worst day that still passes as food. Take as many shortcuts as you need to to get there – I would probably starve without a microwave and pre-cut fruit.
Try to find a nutritional balance here since you’ll be relying on this one dish a lot. As a general rule, try to split up your plate something like this:
- 50% carbs (fruits and veggies are carbs, too, friends!)
- 25% protein (beans, legumes, and tofu are all valid cow-friendly options)
- 25% fat (not just for ice cream anymore – think about nuts, olive oil, or the millennial’s one true love: avocado)
Once you find a recipe you’re comfy with, you’ll save a boatload of energy on two fronts: planning + shopping for ingredients and actually making the damn thing.
2. Load up on healthy no-cook staples (that you’ll actually eat)
A few spoonfuls of cottage cheese out of the container and a banana takes about zero energy to “prepare” and eat, but the carbs and protein might give you enough energy to start thinking about doing that thing you really need to do. This is really up to your individual preferences, but some of my go-to no-cook staples are:
- Nuts (apple cider vinegar cashews are amazing if you ever run across those bad boys in the bulk section)
- Whole grain bread + some kind of condiment (peanut butter, olive oil & spices, hummus, avocado…)
- Pretzels or whole grain crackers + easy access cheese (like string cheese or mini Babybel’s)
- Pre-cut fruits & veggies + dip that makes it worth it (most foods are really just vehicles for condiments anyway)
- Smoothies or protein drinks (pre-made, obviously – do you see a pattern here?)
3. Make food social + fun
You can get by okay on 5-minute meals. But if you really want to get out of that depression meal mindset, you need to reframe how you think about food. Turn mealtimes into an opportunity to share time with a friend, significant other, or family member. Try out a new flatbread recipe with your best friend, or spend date night meal-prepping by candlelight. Try a cooking class or one of those (super expensive) subscription boxes (hey, spend your money however you want. I spend more than enough money on hair care).
When you’re depressed, food tends to feel like a chore – something you have to get through multiple times a day just to stay alive (how unfair is that?). But making food social will help you renegotiate your relationship with food and strengthen your social ties. If you’re keeping track, that’s a double-win against depression.
That’s it, guys!
It’s pretty challenging to discuss food + depression in a meaningful way. There are fewer relationships more personal than the one you have with food. It’s harder still because depression can lead you to you eat more, less, or nothing at all than you would with a healthy brain. From person to person, it’s the same disorder but wearing different clothes.
I would love to hear about your experiences – how has depression impacted your eating habits or relationship with food? What helps you get a healthy meal in when depression is kicking your booty?
And, as always, thanks so much for stopping by!