Tips for Healthy Eating When You’re Depressed
Feeling depressed can make even the simplest tasks seem impossible. One area that often suffers when depression strikes is eating healthy. Depression saps your energy and motivation, making it easy to rely on quick, convenient junk foods instead of nutritious home-cooked meals.
However, what you eat can have a huge impact on both your physical and mental health. While it may require extra effort, focusing on healthy eating when depressed is extremely important. The right foods can boost your mood and give you more energy, helping you start to feel better both physically and mentally.
Plan simple, healthy meals in advance
One of the biggest barriers to eating well when depressed is a lack of energy or focus to decide what to cook every day. Planning meals and preparing food in advance takes away that decision fatigue.
Try spending one afternoon each week laying out your meals for the coming days. This could involve:
- Making a weekly meal plan and grocery list. Pick 5-7 dinners and pack lunches so you're not scrambling at the last minute.
- Batch cooking proteins like chicken breasts or beans that you can use throughout the week in different meals like salads or burritos.
- Roasting veggies to eat as sides all week. Roast batches of potatoes, broccoli, carrots etc and store portions in the fridge.
- Prepping overnight oats, egg muffins or freezer meals you can grab and heat up with minimal effort.
Having healthy, homemade options already prepared takes the burden off deciding what's for dinner every night when you're low on mental energy. Stick to your plan as much as possible so eating well becomes routine.
Stock up on easy, portable snacks
Depression saps your motivation to cook but also your appetite. Having portable, nutritious snacks on hand can prevent you from getting too hungry and reaching for junk food.
Good options to keep stocked include:
- Fresh fruit like apples, bananas, oranges - wash and slice apples/oranges for easy grab-and-go snacks
- Dry roasted nuts and seeds in single-serve packets
- Nut butter packets or single-serve nut butters with apples/celery/carrot sticks for dipping
- Individual Greek yogurt cups
- Hard boiled eggs, prepared in batches and peeled for snacking
- Protein bars - look for higher protein, minimal sugar options
- Single-serving cups of oatmeal, ready to microwave
- Unsalted veggie sticks like snap peas, bell peppers, carrot slices
Having wholesome snacks accessible will satisfy cravings without much effort on your part. A balanced mix of protein, fiber and healthy fats will boost energy levels and mood.
Focus on nutrient-dense whole foods
When you're overwhelmed by depression, you want food that's going to give you maximum nutritional bang for your buck with minimal effort. Whole, minimally processed foods are what your body needs to stay energized and heal.
Some go-to ingredients to focus on include:
- Leafy greens like spinach, kale and arugula - add to salads, sandwiches or smoothies
- Berries - antioxidant and vitamin packed. Top yogurt, oatmeal or enjoy as a snack.
- Beans and lentils - fiber, protein and long-lasting energy. Add to soups, tacos, burritos or salads.
- Sweet potatoes - vitamin-rich starch to fuel your body. Bake a batch for easy sides.
- Salmon and other fatty fish - omega-3s support mood and brain health. Choose canned or pouch varieties for easy meals.
- Eggs - versatile protein. Hard boil for snacking or scramble as a quick breakfast.
- Natural nut butters - pair with fruit or veggies for satisfaction. Choose a natural brand with two ingredients only.
Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and oats are also nutrient-dense picks. Focus on getting a variety of fruits/veggies, healthy fats and lean protein into your meals and snacks each day.
Prevent crash-and-burn by skipping empty calories
When you're feeling drained by depression, it's tempting to seek quick energy boosts from carb-heavy or sugary processed foods. While they may provide a temporary mood lift, these kinds of "empty" calories will leave you crashing and even more depleted overall.
It's important to avoid:
- Sugary snacks and desserts like cookies, candy, pastries, soda
- White flour baked goods like white bread, bagels, pasta, breakfast cereals
- Fried foods like chips, fries, fried chicken, fried takeout meals
- Highly processed meat like lunchmeats, sausage, bacon in large amounts
- Large portions of alcohol, which may worsen or trigger depression
Instead, focus on whole, minimally processed ingredients to fuel your body properly without highs and lows. This provides sustained energy from balanced macronutrients and essential vitamins/minerals. Listen to your body and avoid overeating highly palatable foods - eat mindfully.
Choose enjoyable, comforting meals
When depression leaves you with no motivation or interest in anything, it's understandable to want bland, beige foods that are easy to eat rather than cook something nourishing. However, choosing meals you find at least somewhat pleasurable can boost your mood naturally.
Some thoughts on making meals more appealing:
- Incorporate favorite comforting flavors, like herbs/spices, sauces or seasonings.
- Try batch cooking soups, stews or gratins you can reheat effortlessly for an cozy meal.
- Roast chicken or meatloaf and let leftovers be part of simple meals.
- Make pizza or breakfast for dinner once a week - enjoy favorite toppings.
- Indulge in a weekly treat like homemade chocolate chip cookies to look forward to.
- Listen to podcasts or music during meal prep to make tasks more pleasant.
- Make meals vibrant by learning new vegetable preparation styles from cookbooks or videos.
- Invite a supportive friend or family member to share a home-cooked meal with you occasionally.
Prioritize self-care enough to nourish your body properly. Small pleasures can make eating well a positive daily experience rather than a chore.