Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault
If you’re struggling with depression, then you join the nearly 16.2 million Americans that have at least one major depressive episode in any given year. While depression is most known for its effects on our mood and overall level of fulfillment out of life, the battle never ends there.
Much like any other mental illness, studies show that depression leads to a wide range of other issues, health concerns, and challenges in life -- one of those being your diet. It should be noted. However, depression-eating can affect your overall health in a variety of ways.
Whether you find yourself overeating due to depression or finding that you’re often too depressed to eat at all, not consuming a regular and healthy diet can damage your mental, physical, and emotional health. That’s why it’s important to know when your eating habits are being negatively affected and know how to snap yourself out of it before it becomes a problem.
Below, we’re going to discuss the various issues that arise with your diet when depression starts to take its course on your overall mood. We’ll also discuss some of the most prominent nutrients that help reduce those symptoms.
The Impact Of Depression-Eating
Depression can have a wide range of effects on your eating habits and appetite daily, but a majority of the effects are caused by two things -- a lack of interest and a lack of energy.
These two feelings play a major role in depression-eating. They’re commonly felt by those suffering from depression in general, but the effect they have on your diet can be extremely damaging to the quality of your life.
Whether you’re experiencing a lack of interest or lack of energy, you’re more likely to skip meals and lose out on valuable nutrients required for our body to function properly. On the other hand, you could be experiencing a lack of interest in maintaining or controlling your eating habits, which would lead you to overeat on most occasions.
Either way, overeating and undereating can have a negative impact on your ability to live a fulfilling, rewarding, and happy life. That’s why it’s always important to maintain healthy eating habits, make sure you eat a balanced diet and hold yourself accountable when you start to lose interest or energy.
At the end of the day, you need to think back to why you’re eating healthy and what might happen if you fall off track. This gentle reminder will help you continue to move in the right direction through life.
Depression And Overeating
When you’re depressed, you’re looking for any source of happiness, comfort, or fulfillment throughout the day and often don’t care where that source comes from. For many people, they immediately turn to food as that source, and they never look back.
Depression and overeating can lead to a wide range of physical and mental issues, especially since your body and brain rely on the food you eat to function properly. The problem isn’t always eating too much (since an active lifestyle can balance that out), but rather with what we eat when we eat too much.
The problem with food is it only gives us a temporary sense of relief and sometimes doesn’t give us any relief. Still, those suffering from depression continue to reach for more food until they find that relief -- without paying any attention to what they eat.
That’s why it’s common to gain weight when battling depression and see other health issues arise, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, fast heart rate, and even worse.
So, what should we do?
To help fight this, you should know how to detect when you’re depression-eating and when you’re not. You should also know when you’ve reached your recommended nutritional limit for the day. That way, you don’t end up eating more than they think you did.
As much as those foods might bring you temporary joy, it’s often met with long-term sadness. You can choose your poison, but we highly suggest searching for another temporary solution until you find long-term happiness.
With so many other ways to achieve that happiness and get the most out of life, overeating should never be the answer.
Depression And Undereating
When depression isn’t causing us to overeat, it’s often causing us to undereat -- which is just as bad for your mind, body, and soul. While overloading your body with the wrong nutrients gets in the way of its ability to function properly, supplying your body with limited nutrients won’t get the job done either.
Being too depressed to eat is often caused by our lack of appetite or lack of desire for food, unmotivated behavior that causes us to skip meals, or simply due to the decision to sleep instead of eating. Either way, your body isn’t gaining nutrients, and that’s never a good idea.
It’s like trying to get your car to run without giving it gas in the morning or trying to sail without wind -- you’re not going to get anywhere, and you’ll only be getting in your own way.
So, what should we do?
To fight through this, you need to understand the importance of eating a healthy and balanced diet; that way, you can set yourself up for success when dealing with depression.
It might take a bit of trial and error, but you have to be open to trying new foods and finding some healthy options that you enjoy. The more enjoyable and valuable options you give yourself, the fewer reasons you’ll have to not eat -- especially when you find those healthy foods that immediately put a smile on your face.
It might also help keep a running list (sort of like a menu at a restaurant) -- those healthy options and tape it to the refrigerator. It’s easier than going through your fridge and pantry to figure out what to eat and won’t take as much effort to start cooking. It’s also a good way of keeping yourself inspired and reminded throughout the day.
Nutrients That Reduce Depression
Finding healthy alternatives to the snacks we’ve grown to admire over the years is extremely difficult. It’s equivalent to a child having to do away with their favorite toy -- it’s not going to make you happy in the beginning and might feel like the end of the world.
At the same time, it’s an opportunity for the child to find a new favorite toy to play with.
Same concept here, except we’re talking about food and depression-eating. Don’t worry. Here are some nutrients you can start consuming today to help reduce those depression symptoms:
- Selenium - this nutrient has been shown to improve your mood and reduce anxiety, helping fight depression. Foods rich in selenium include whole grains, nuts, seafood, and organ meats.
- Zinc - studies suggest that depressed people are often low in zinc, and consuming more can help reduce symptoms and improve our perception of taste. Aim for more meat, whole grains, and beans.
- Vitamin B9 & B12 - folate and cobalamin are both known to improve cognitive function and improve mood. Try adding more eggs, meat, milk, nuts, beans, leafy green vegetables, and fruit.
- Vitamin D -believe it or not, we get most of our daily Vitamin D from the sun. With that being said, a little bit of sunshine can go a long way in improving your mood.
- Omega-3s - this nutrient can help improve mood disorders and brain diseases while also improving the 'brain's functions. Foods you should aim for are walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and fish.
- Protein - we all know what protein is, and we all eat it, but most of us either eat too much or too little. Aim for 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Aim for meat, nuts, eggs, milk, chickpeas, or beans.
- Probiotics - these are tiny microorganisms that live in the gut and help maintain healthy gut flora. You can also take prebiotics, which acts as food for the probiotics in your gut.
It doesn’t matter if you’re eating too much or too little due to your depression; there’s a good chance you’ll see major health changes and behavioral changes either way. That’s why you need to not only ensure you’re eating the right amount each day, but also the right foods each day.
When you can find that healthy balance, you’ll start to put yourself in a position to lead a long and happy life that reduces your depression symptoms daily.
If you’re unsure whether you’re overeating or undereating due to depression, Mind Diagnostics is here to help. We have a comprehensive depression test available online for anyone who wants to learn more about themselves.
If you need further assistance, we have therapists on standby ready to be matched with you. Get started by taking the test today and learning whether or not you suffer from depression.