Depression is often considered an isolated condition, primarily affecting the brain and emotions. In literature, media, and some medical research, authors choose to relegate the mechanisms of depression to the mind rather than emphasize its whole-body connections to physical and mental health. When treating depression, considering how the entire body plays a role in maintaining or replacing maladaptive thought processes that can worsen symptoms can be essential.
How Do Food And Nutrition Impact The Body?
The food you eat impacts your body’s functioning. Although popular nutrition culture may discuss “calories in and calories out,” nutrition entails more than an equation of consuming calories and exercising.
Each time a morsel of food enters the body, a multi-varied and complex reaction begins. The entire body works harmoniously to properly digest food, assimilate nutrients, and expel unnecessary material. Eating for mental health means eating whole, fresh foods, and limiting exposure to processed, packaged, and hyper-palatable foods, such as hot dogs, candy, and fried foods.
Although food consumption is often viewed primarily through the lens of weight changes or preventing heart disease, food contributes significantly to all areas of bodily health, from circulatory health to mental and emotional health. Failing to provide healthy and nutrient-dense foods can result in mental health conditions. More than an issue of weight, diet is a matter of overall health, wellness, and resilience and can dramatically and overwhelmingly impact mental health concerns. For this reason, depression and eating are connected.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a blanket term for the depressive disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It is often used to refer to major depressive disorder (MDD), the most common depression diagnosis.
Other depressive disorders include:
- Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD)
- Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD)
- Substance-induced depressive disorder
- Postpartum or peripartum depression (PPD)
- Major depressive disorder with psychotic features
- Other specified depressive disorder (OSDD)
Depression is not “sadness” or “laziness.” It is a severe mental illness that can completely change an individual’s personality, mental health, and life, with symptoms filtering into every aspect of functioning.
People with depression may experience sleep disturbances, appetite changes, weight changes, increased anxiety levels, decreased interest in previously enjoyed hobbies, and difficulty finding motivation. However, depression is highly treatable.
The Connection Between Food And Depression
Specific foods for depression may decrease symptoms, whereas others can worsen them. Meals like hot dogs, frozen lasagna trays, and sodium-rich canned vegetables can, in excess, negatively impact general health. Diets rich in whole foods can actively aid general health. Although food cannot cure an individual of depression or depressive symptoms, mental health may be significantly improved by a healthier eating plan. When searching for a way to improve mental health, you might choose to start with what you eat.
The mechanisms behind food and depression aren’t necessarily the same for everyone. For instance, someone who struggles with depression and an eating disorder might experience feelings of shame and disgust that follow eating. People who struggle with depression and anxiety might worry they are taking too much food from the table and refrain from eating to satiety, instead always shortchanging themselves.
How Does Food Improve Mental Health?
Individuals who struggle solely with depression might struggle to find an adequate appetite for daily caloric and nutritional needs. However, there are some ways in which food and nutrition consistently interact with depression and mental health, including the following.
Including when someone lives with depression, improving eating habits can improve general health. General health can increase the body’s ability to synthesize and distribute nutrients properly. It may have a hand in managing and supporting hormone production, which may be imbalanced in individuals with depression.
Eating healthy food improves general bodily function, leading to elevated mood. While an “elevated mood” may not wholly ease the symptoms of depression, it can be a source of complementary support for individuals living with a mental illness.
Improved Bodily Function
All systems in the body run more efficiently if they are adequately powered and motivated, including your nervous system. Food is the fuel by which all body systems function, and failing to provide adequate fuel in one area can disrupt other areas. For instance, if the mouth is not producing the enzymes required to break down morsels, the stomach’s bile production might not break down and assimilate the nutrients into the body effectively.
If these nutrients are not removed from the food and sent to various body systems, such can lead to a breakdown in liver and kidney function. Although not problematic in isolation, consistently eating foods that do not interact synergistically in the body can result in inflammation and an imbalance or breakdown of basic body systems—including mental health.
Meals To Aid Mental Health
Specific dietary identifiers and parameters may help individuals diagnosed with depression cope with their symptoms and move forward, including the following.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is a dietary framework that emphasizes healthy fats, lean proteins, and natural carbohydrates. This diet emphasizes savory foods and does not include foods with high glycemic content, instead opting for the rich flavors of fats, oils, vegetables, lemon juice, and fish. This particular diet has been linked to a decreased likelihood of depression.
The Low-Carb Diet
Although the official recommendation from the governing board of dietetics suggests that carbohydrates should make up the bulk of an individual’s diet, low carbohydrate diets have been linked to improved health in some cases. This health boost may be due to the types of carbohydrates consumed rather than the number consumed.
Carbohydrates derived from fruits and vegetables and whole grains can be healthier than carbohydrates from highly processed foods and grains processed down to the endosperm. Unhealthy carbohydrates have lower nutrient contents and may promote inflammation, which can lead to mental health distress.
How Are Depression And Diet Connected?
Although the precise reasons for the interaction between diet and depression are not entirely known and warrant further study, there are some suggestions that inflammation is often a cause. Diets high in processed, hyper-palatable foods increase the likelihood of whole-body inflammation.
Inflammation can lead to a host of health challenges, including but not limited to diabetes, heart disease, and dementia later in life. Inflammation can disrupt the mechanisms for managing hormone function, absorbing nutrients, and distributing waste. A buildup of waste material, harmful substances, and lipid deposits can further launch the human body into disrepair and inflammation, creating a cycle.
It can feel overwhelming for individuals with depression to implement an entirely new dietary regimen—especially one that removes comfort and convenience foods in favor of fresh, whole foods, which can require more effort to prepare. A mental health professional with experience in nutrition and psychotherapy or a nutrition coach willing to work alongside a mental health practitioner may be valuable assets.
Seeking Support For Depression
Learning how to create food plans to manage and treat depression may be accomplished with support from a doctor focusing on psychology and nutrition or a treatment team, including a nutritionist or dietician and a mental health practitioner.
Online therapy may be an appealing option for people who struggle with being motivated to attend an in-person therapeutic setting. To speak with an online therapist through a platform like BetterHelp, you can sign up and receive a match within 48 hours. You can have therapy sessions from home with an internet connection and a smart device.
Online therapy consistently shows efficacy in treating people with a diagnosis of depression. A 2021 study that sought to compare engagement and attrition across various web-based nutrition programs concluded that online dietary interventions effectively engage populations with depression. Since the study, findings continue to support the promise of telemedicine for dietary consultation.
What is a depression food?
Although “depression food” is not an official term recognized by doctors or mental health professionals, depression food can be any food that worsens depression symptoms. Food cannot cure depression, but healthier eating can improve general physical and mental health. Highly processed meals may impact general health, so it can be best to avoid things like frozen lasagna, canned beans, sodium-rich canned soups, and highly processed meats like hotdogs.
What foods keep you motivated?
Having good mental health can go a long way towards keeping you motivated. Some things you should eat to support mental health include foods that support gut health, foods with anti-inflammatory effects, and plant-based whole foods. Your get may affect your mental health and may be referred to as your second brain. The gut produces serotonin, which produces feelings of happiness. Eating probiotic-heavy foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, tofu, and anything fermented can improve gut health. If you don’t consume foods like these regularly, consider taking a probiotic supplement.
Anti-inflammatory foods, like nuts, seeds, berries, green leafy vegetables, and fatty fish, can help support better mental and physical health by decreasing systemic inflammation, while plant-based foods, like fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts may contain phytonutrients that help support your immune system and keep you feeling healthy.
Does depression make you not want to cook?
Depression can make you not want to cook. Some people with depression may experience changes in appetite and energy levels or a general loss of interest that can make them not feel like cooking.
What to eat if nothing sounds good?
If you’re hungry but nothing sounds good, here are some meal ideas that might give you an appetite. Try some of your favorite comfort foods. These meals are different for everyone. Some people might prefer to return to a dish from their childhood, like homemade stir fry or their mom’s lasagna recipe, while others might want something more simple, like hard boiled eggs with hot sauce. You might prefer to try a new recipe from a different culture or order a new dish from a restaurant you haven’t tried before. Maybe the only thing that sounds appetizing is cream cheese and crackers or tortilla chips, or maybe the only thing that you have the energy for is instant rice. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet can help with mental and physical health in the long run, but it can be okay to indulge every once in a while.
How can I cook without stress?
Some people with depression may not feel like cooking because it can be quite a stressful process. Planning your meals, making a list, and going shopping can feel like a lot if you’re having a difficult time. But there are ways to make things less stressful. First, choose an easy recipe with straightforward ingredients. Don’t pick something with a lot of prep or that requires specialty ingredients you won’t be able to find at your local grocery store. You can order the ingredients online and have them ready to pick up or have them delivered to avoid going grocery shopping. Try something simple, like a rotisserie chicken or baked sweet potato, or sign up for a meal kit service that will provide easy recipes and all the ingredients right to your door.
Which foods are best for the brain?
Some foods that may be linked to improved brain functioning include:
- Green leafy vegetables: spinach, kale, collard greens
- Fatty fish: tuna, cod, salmon
- Berries: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries
- Nuts and seeds: walnuts, flaxseeds, trail mix, minimally-processed nut butter
What foods stop procrastinating?
There are no foods that directly affect procrastination, but for people who procrastinate because they don’t have enough energy, a change in diet may help. Eating foods with a low glycemic index can help avoid lags in energy. These foods have sugars that the body absorbs slowly, which can help avoid energy crashes that may occur after eating refined sugars. Try whole grains, nuts, healthy oils and salad dressing, and high-fiber vegetables.
What are 5 ways to increase motivation?
There are many things you can try to increase motivation. If you’re working toward a timed goal, write in on the calendar. Sometimes, seeing a deadline and exactly how much time you have left to meet it can help you stay on track. Start by setting small goals which can help you build momentum and help you get into a routine. Tracking your progress can help you see how far you’ve come, and rewarding yourself for small wins along the way can help you keep moving forward. If you need help or extra support, consider reaching out to a therapist or looking into local support groups.
Do bananas fight depression?
Some recent research shows that there are nutrients that may prevent and treat depressive disorders, including folate, iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc. Bananas may be a good source of potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, but this research found that other food sources of these nutrients may be more beneficial, including oysters, mussels, peppers, cruciferous vegetables, and leafy greens. If you need help determining what foods to eat for your mental and physical health, it may be a good idea to speak with a registered dietitian.
What drink is good for depression?
Some research shows that drinking water may be linked to a decreased risk of depression and anxiety, but what you don’t drink can matter, too. For example, while there is no direct link between caffeine and depression, there may be an indirect link as people who drink too much caffeine or are particularly sensitive to it may interrupt sleep or affect sleep quality, which can worsen symptoms of depression. Plus, depression and anxiety often occur together, with one study finding that 53% of people with major depression also had significant anxiety, and caffeine can worsen symptoms of anxiety. Substance abuse may also occur with depression, so avoiding alcohol may also be a good idea.
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