Depression Eating: How to Feed Yourself When You’re Depressed
Updated: May 1
It can be difficult to care for yourself when you're feeling depressed, but eating regularly is important for both physical and mental well-being. Here are some tips on how to feed yourself when you're depressed. These tips can also be helpful for neurodivergent people who experience changes in motivation or challenges with executive function.
Don't skip meals: Even if you don't feel like eating, try to stick to a regular meal schedule. Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, which can worsen your mood and energy levels, making it harder to do self-care stuff, in a giant cycle. Let go of any self-judgement about what you eat, and just make sure you’re getting food.
Eat foods that make you feel good. Diet culture tells us this has to be big salads and green smoothies (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but it’s also okay to eat whatever makes you happy or brings back good memories. Any food is better than no food.
Make meal planning easy: When you're feeling depressed, it can be hard to find the motivation to cook. Simplify meal planning by choosing easy-to-prepare meals or meal prep in advance so you have healthy options on hand when you don't feel like cooking.
Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water is important for both physical and mental health. Dehydration can cause fatigue and worsen symptoms of depression. It’s also one of the basic elements of self-care covered in The Plant Metaphor. Some neurodivergent people struggle with something called “interoceptive awareness” - which basically means being able to feel and recognize body cues. Similarly, depression can change appetite so that you don’t feel hungry, even if your body needs food. Some people who struggle with noticing hunger or thirst find it helpful to put reminders in their phone.
Seek support: Don't be afraid to ask for help from family, friends, or a mental health professional if you're struggling to eat enough because of low mood or finding the motivation to eat.
Meal Planning: Caring for Future You
When you’re depressed it can feel hard to plan ahead - just getting through the day takes a lot of energy, and thinking about what you’re going to eat next week might feel like too much. Here are some specific ways to make meal-planning easier when things are hard.
Choose simple recipes: Look for recipes that have fewer ingredients and require less time to prepare. In therapy we talk about choosing the “middle path” - the space between doing the most intense version of everything and doing nothing at all. Only have energy for blue box macaroni or ramen? That’s okay - consider throwing in some extras like meat, vegetables, or veggie meat to make it more filling. Same goes for ramen.
Keep a note in your notes app of things to pick up at the store. I really like the Anylist app - you can share lists with others so that family, partners, or other support people know what you might need.
Use leftovers: Don't be afraid to use leftovers to create new meals. For example, leftover chicken can be used to make a salad, sandwich, or stir-fry.
Cook in batches: Prepare large batches of food that can be portioned out and used for multiple meals throughout the week. For example, make a big pot of soup or chili that can be reheated for lunch or dinner. You can use body doubling to your advantage - invite a friend over to cook with you and then give them half to take home in a Tupperware. Body doubling can help sustain motivation, and gives you the added benefit of social contact and support.
Keep it simple: You don't have to create gourmet meals every day. Simple meals like a can of soup and a piece of bread or a salad with canned tuna (or just tuna out of the can) are perfectly fine.
Use kitchen gadgets: Utilise and kitchen gadgets that you have that can make meal prep easier, such as a slow cooker, Instant Pot or blender. These can provide shortcuts that mean that you have to put in less time and energy.
Give yourself permission to eat convenience foods. It's okay to use convenience foods like pre-cut vegetables, canned beans, or frozen fruits and vegetables when you're short on time or energy. You can thinking of them as accessibility aids.
Meal planning should be flexible and tailored to your individual needs. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to create perfect meals every day, and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Remember that food has no moral value - there is no such thing as a good food or bad food, and the last thing you need when you’re depressed is shame about what or how you’re eating.
What is Spoon Theory?
The Spoon Theory is a metaphor used to explain the limited amount of energy, or "spoons," that someone with a chronic illness or disability may have available to them each day. It was created by Christine Miserandino, who has lupus, in an effort to explain to her loved ones what it's like to live with a chronic illness.
The theory works like this: imagine that you have a certain number of spoons that represent your energy for the day. Each activity you do, such as getting dressed or making breakfast, requires a certain number of spoons. Once you've used up all your spoons for the day, you're out of energy and may not be able to do anything else.
The Spoon Theory helps to explain why someone with a chronic illness may have to carefully prioritize and plan their activities in order to conserve their energy. It also helps to illustrate why someone with a chronic illness may have to say no to certain activities or events that they would like to attend, simply because they don't have enough spoons to do so.
When you have very few spoons, it can be challenging to prepare food. Here are strategies to make food with one spoon or no spoons:
Use a slow cooker: Slow cookers are a great tool for making easy, one-pot meals that require minimal prep work. You can throw in some ingredients in the morning and have a hot meal ready by dinner time. Some slow cooker recipes require you to do extra work like searing meat or sauteing onions and garlic. Look for slow cooker recipes where you just dump everything in in the morning and leave it to cook.
Make simple sandwiches: Sandwiches are a quick and easy option that require basic ingredients and minimal effort.
Use convenience foods: Don't be afraid to use convenience foods like pre-cut vegetables, frozen fruits and vegetables, or frozen meals. These items require minimal prep work and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Opt for no-cook meals: There are many meals that don't require cooking at all, such as salads or yogurt and fruit. You can also make a meal out of simple snacks like cheese and crackers, hummus and veggies, charcuterie, or fruit and nuts.
Prep meals in advance: If you have more spoons on one day, use that energy to prep meals in advance for the days when you have fewer spoons.
Remember, it's okay to prioritize taking care of yourself and conserving your energy when you have limited spoons. Don't be afraid to ask for help from family, friends, or healthcare professionals if you need it. If you think you would benefit from professional support for your low mood, consider reaching out and booking a free 15 minute phone consultation with one of our counsellors.