How to Eat Healthy When You’re Depressed
Being affected by mental health doesn’t make you weird. It merely proves that you’re human. So, let’s continue to break the stigma of mental health.
As we head into the fall and winter months where many people are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – seasonal depression due to changes in the climate and weather – I’d like to give six simple strategies that have worked for me to ensure you stay on track to achieve your goals in both your body and mind.
Identify and know early signs of depression or anxiety so you can take IMMEDIATE action to get help.
This will vary from person to person but if you’ve had depression for long enough, you oftentimes can sense a change in your mood and behavior. For me, I may feel more anxious when I wake up and I’ll find it a bit harder to get that morning workout or walk completed.
So, I’ll limit the amount of caffeine I have. No more expressos and Americanos for that jolt of energy in the morning since caffeine is a stimulant and can intensify anxiety. Same goes for pre-workout supplements or fat burners – those are critical and can be very dangerous! So, evaluate all vitamins and supplements that you may be taking to ensure there are no stimulants and not just caffeine.
If I need a jolt in the morning, I’ll have a shot of apple cider vinegar mixed with water and lemon juice. And since I personally hate vinegar, this really wakes me up.
Also, I’ll let my accountability friend know that I’m feeling anxious and depressed, and WHAT I plan to do to feel better. This includes cutting out caffeine, seeing a therapist or counselor and limiting alcohol consumption.
I’ll be honest – it can feel good to “therapize” with alcohol, especially when it’s disguised as a night out with friends, but you must resist the urge AND you should let your close friends know. And any friend that makes you feel less than for not drinking OR even choosing to avoid the temptation altogether by not going out, is not a friend you’ll want for the long haul. Trust.
In summary, when you smell and see smoke, call the Fire Department. It’s best not to wait until the house is completely engulfed in flames to call for help. Similarly, when you see signs, say something and take appropriate action.
Make food easy for you. Keep it simple.
When you’re depressed, basic everyday tasks such as showering and eating can be challenging. This is something that many people do not understand and partly why some people with depression tend to hide their struggles because a person can feel embarrassed to admit.
I remember going to a fitness event back in 2014. It was during the summer and I was secretly depressed. One of the guys who I had just seen a few months earlier saw me and remarked, “Geez! Every time I see you, you’re getting smaller and smaller. You need to eat bro!” Truth was, I was having trouble eating, coupled with the fact that I was FitMenCook and I was expected to eat (and post) a meal that was pleasing to the eye and to my body. Sounds simple and easy enough…except for when you’re depressed. Then it’s just debilitating. Honestly, I was just happy that I made it out to that event.
So, to relieve some of the pressure I felt, I learned to separate “my job” as FitMenCook from my health. I removed the pressure of trying to create something “social media ready” for my PERSONAL diet.
I stripped my diet down to the basics and removed any foods that I may potentially binge such as nut butter, jams, protein cookies, chips, etc.
When you feel depressed, lack of motivation is a significant factor which tends to directly impact our food choices. Whatever is available to eat, we eat, paying little attention to the nutritional value. This is where many people get caught up.
To combat this, stock up on quick (instant) foods that require little effort to prepare.
Food For Beating Depression Examples:
- canned premium white chicken
- premium canned tuna or salmon
- whey protein
- instant oatmeal
- instant rice or quinoa
- mixed salads in a bag
- air popped popcorn
- yogurt cartons
- nuts & seeds
- bananas and…
- frozen dinners.
If you need some ideas to prepare healthy recipes you can get meal prep app pro.
Yes, I would/do actually eat frozen dinners because they were easy. And I know that some people frown upon SOME of those meals because of the sodium and preservatives; however, with the alternative being binge drinking/eating or nothing at all, that frozen dinner is a FANTASTIC solution.
Also, normally I would tell you to buy fresh produce and chop it up yourself. But when you’re lacking motivation, spending a few extra dollars to buy pre-cut fruits and veggies like celery or zucchini noodles is encouraged! Yes, you will see a difference in your spending and maybe that can be an indirect motivator to start prepping some more food.
And while I LOVE almond and peanut butter, it’s a comfort food for me when I feel anxious. I would secretly eat an entire jar at 3 am so that I could induce a food coma and pass out. It was awful. So, I temporarily removed those types of foods that were problems for me and made sure that wholesome foods were in arm’s length.
Some people don’t like the approach of removing foods because you could potentially replace one bad habit with another, but for me, so far so good! I think I haven’t done that because at the same time I’m eliminating foods, I’m also dealing with underlying issues that may affect my eating through counseling.
In all, as you keep your diet simple, make sure you’re getting sufficient nutrients either from the foods you eat OR natural vitamins and supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, magnesium, and amino acids. This is important since mental health has been linked to nutrient intake.
Choose one “hero” meal each week to make.
This may seem to contradict tip 2 but they are largely complementary. Your overall diet should be simple and easily achievable.
But, there are added benefits to cooking nutritious food – the sense of accomplishment from making a meal is significant. It can affect your mood and even inspire a little creativity as you add a “dash of this or that” to make the recipe your own.
When cooking, put on some music you like or turn on your favorite Internet-TV show as background noise and enjoy the process of cooking. Don’t worry about making it perfect.
Like tip 2, start small with meals that are easy to make – slow cooker meals, frittatas, stir-fry, veggie noodle pasta, and even waffles or muffins.
Cook your way into a better mood and reward your body in the process. Do this at least once a week and be consistent with it.
Evaluate your social media intake.
You may be surprised at this tip but it’s hugely important in our “always connected” society.
During high months when you’re feeling great, you can draw a lot of inspiration to get summer time from social media. Those pictures and videos of models help to remind you of your goals and can give you an extra push in the gym.
When you’re not feeling as great, scrolling thru endless pictures of perfectly chiseled bodies and picture-perfect moments of Instagram families can actually be…depressing!
So many times friends or people I’m advising on a diet will tell me how they are upset that they are not seeing the same results that the models on social media seem to have. I remind them that models are actually paid – it’s their actual job to look good. And it comes with a LOT of sacrifice to be “camera-ready” all year.
But a better question, if it’s making you feel negative about your own progress, or lack thereof, why are you following?
This is especially true since your mood impacts your diet! You may feel like “what’s the point of eating healthy because I’ll never look like that?!” And that type of thinking further contributes to poor eating decisions whether it is binging or skipping meals altogether. Both are harmful.
You can mute their feeds or unfollow for a short while, then go back to following when you’re up for some more motivation. Remember, they are real people, too, and likely struggle with the same darn issues the rest of us have. They just may not show it.
So, go through social media and unfollow or mute feeds that no longer serve your interests now.
Set a specific fitness goal or activity that you can complement with your diet.
One of the best things I’ve found to be most helpful was and is having something to do. Meaning, make your diet purpose driven. When you have a specific fitness goal in mind, it helps to focus your efforts around eating. It’s a constant reminder.
Whether it’s running a 5k all the way up to a marathon, obstacle course, a powerlifting meet, surfing, a bodybuilding competition or even being able to walk around the neighborhood with your kids, use those specific goals to focus your eating.
DO NOT JUDGE YOURSELF.
This is probably the most important.
Admittedly, some moments will be tougher than others. Some of those moments you’ll “rise to the occasion” and make healthy choices that further your goals, and in other moments you’re just happy to make it out of bed. And that’s real and understandable.
So be fair with yourself while at the same time being honest.
Even if you lack the motivation to do basic things…
…are you at least putting yourself in a position to win and get the added help you may need? Only you can answer that.
Your life is valuable and your contribution to society matters in ways you’ll never know. So don’t discount your life or your experience. You matter!