Food and Depression – Eating well when you aren’t feeling well

Unhappy woman in pajamas eating pizza

The following is presented for informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified mental health professional for advice and guidance specific to your unique circumstances.

Depression is part of life. For some, it’s a passing moment that’s usually related to something painful or unexpected happening like a job loss or the passing of a family member. For others, depression is a more serious problem that they live with day in and day out. Have you ever considered the relationship between what you put into your body and the effect it has on your brain?

Your food and your mood

What you eat can play a big role in your depression, how severe it is, and how long it lasts. Junk food that is high in sugar, trans fats, sodium, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine can all lead to a change in your mood. Alcohol and fried foods are contributors as well. And if your diet is full of these foods on a daily basis, it’s likely that you’re feeling a little more down than you’d like.

Studies show that people who fill their diets with fruits, vegetables, and fish are at a lower risk of developing depression than those who fill their diets with processed foods. And if you add legumes, nuts, and olive oil to a healthy diet, it lowers your risk of depression even more.

A well-balanced diet of healthy foods seems to be the best way to care for your depression from the inside out. What you eat has an affect on every aspect of your health, but especially when it comes to your mental health.

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Dr. Eva Selhub discusses how food feeds your brain. She says: “Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress . . . Unfortunately, just like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel. If substances from “low-premium” fuel (such as what you get from processed or refined foods) get to the brain, it has little ability to get rid of them . . . Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.”

Avoiding temporary pleasures

There’s just one big problem with all of this . . . when we’re depressed, our bodies (and minds) tend to “crave” junk food and comfort food to make us feel better. A bad day is an excuse to eat a pint of ice cream for dinner. You don’t worry about gaining a few pounds if you’re going through a difficult time. That’s only normal, right?

When dealing with a particularly stressful, and depressing, time in your life, one of the fastest ways to pick yourself up and move forward is to start making more conscious decisions about what you eat. Your brain will recover much faster if you feed it well and you’ll be able to find yourself back on the sunny side of life sooner. So how do you make that happen? A couple suggestions:

Put someone else in charge of your diet. If you don’t feel capable of making good food decisions for yourself, ask a friend, partner, or family member to help out. Put them in charge of buying your groceries and putting together your meal plans. At the very least this can help limit your access to unhealthy foods.

Use junk food as an incentive. If you can’t kick junk food cold turkey, try treating it as a reward for other positive behaviors. Obviously, you’ll want to continue to limit your intake, but here you can use your craving as motivation to make other healthy strides, like exercising, speaking to a counselor, or updating your resume.

Although it may not be what you crave, eating fruits and vegetables instead of a bag of chips and choosing water over soda will help you start to feel more positive and help you move forward much faster. And if money if at least part of what’s causing you distress, consider speaking with a trained debt and budget counselor. Counseling from a nonprofit credit counseling agency like MMI is almost always free and can help you find the best solution for your unique problems.

Tagged in Navigating change, Smart shopping

Emilie writes about overcoming debt, while balancing trying to eat healthy, stay fit, and have a little fun along the way. You can find more of her work at

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