What to eat when you’re feeling depressed

Photo: sheamcguier (iStock)

The songs claim that this is the most wonderful time of the year, but for some of us, it’s the shittiest: the cold weather that keeps us inside, the lack of sunlight, the emphasis on bright sparkly times with family and friends that make us feel especially inadequate and lonely. When you’re depressed, it’s hard to take joy in anything, especially eating. It’s hard to motivate yourself to make food, or maybe you’ll just eat junk food because at least it tastes like something.

In September, Alexander Hardy, a writer, teacher, mental health advocate, and cohost of the podcast The Extraordinary Negroes, put out a call on Twitter for recommendations for “quick & uncomplicated ‘depression meals’” for a young relative.

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The post generated an enormous response and plenty of suggestions, including eggs, toast, granola and energy bars, and a stash of frozen meals (Trader Joe’s were considered especially good). Some cited a 2018 guide from Lifehacker’s A.A. Newton that ranked depression foods based on how difficult they were compared to showering (“Depression is different for everyone, but losing the will to shower is about as universal a symptom as it gets”).

In a post for Elemental, Medium’s science site, writer Dana G. Smith interviewed Hardy and Newton, among others, about how their eating habits change when they’re in depressive episodes and how they continue to feed themselves. One said that grocery shopping was more of a challenge than food preparation, which makes sense, according to a psychiatrist Smith interviewed: “Depression affects the frontal lobe, and the frontal lobe is what helps us be motivated, prioritized, organized. You actually are less able to do those things when you’re depressed.”

Finally, Smith cited a study from Macquarie University in Australia in which young adults prone to depression changed their eating habits to a healthier Mediterranean diet for three weeks and reported an improvement in their moods. Nobody’s sure why, but it’s possible that processed food causes inflammation of the body (the cause of all our problems these days) or that diet affects gut bacteria, which affect the brain.

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Whatever the case, everyone seems to agree that the best thing you can do is keep a stash of high-protein and frozen foods ready in case of a depressive emergency.

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About the author

Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.