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3 Food Traps to Avoid When You're Depressed

Learn how depression can affect your eating habits and what you can do to start making healthier choices.

3. Eating Whatever Is Easily Available continued...

“Depressed people often wind up eating fast food or whatever they have on hand in their kitchen – such as their last box of cookies,” says Sudeepta Varma, MD, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the NYU Langone Medical Center.

It’s also easy for people with depression to get into a rut of eating the same foods all the time. “It’s so hard for them to function that they’re looking for routine and structure. They may stop and get a bagel and cream cheese every morning and never try anything different,” Nolan says.

Another factor, Varma says, is that depressed people often have difficulties with concentration, memory, and making decisions. “This can make simple tasks seem overwhelming, so they might eat a bowl of the same type of cereal for three meals a day,” she says.

Getting Help

Experts say you should seek treatment for your depression before you try to change your eating habits. “Attempting to go on a diet, for example, can be frustrating and counterproductive if the depression hasn’t been addressed first,” Albers says.

If you’ve had depressive symptoms for more than two weeks and they’re interfering with your normal functioning, see your primary care doctor or a mental health professional. During the appointment, tell your doctor if there have been changes in your weight or appetite. The most effective treatment plan for depression typically includes therapy, antidepressant medication, or a combination of both.

“Once you start to feel better and the treatment kicks in, then you can work on the food choices you’re making and start changing your diet under the guidance of your doctor,” Varma says.

Avoiding Food Traps

As your depression begins to improve, the following strategies can help you eat healthier and sidestep food traps:

  • Soothe your senses: “Find other ways to comfort your body besides food, such as taking a warm bath, wrapping yourself in a soft blanket, or sipping hot tea,” Albers suggests.
  • Tune in to your hunger: When you think you feel hungry, Fain recommends pausing and asking yourself: am I really hungry or am I feeling something else? “You may find that what you’re really craving isn't a cookie or a bag of chips, but a heart-to-heart talk with a friend or a loved one,” she says.
  • Eat a varied diet: Nutritional deficiencies can make depression worse. So focus on eating a variety of foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. Consider meeting with a nutritionist who can create simple, balanced meal plans for you.
  • Boost your energy: Seek activities that give you energy, such as going for a walk, playing with your dog, or listening to music. “When you do something that brightens your outlook and improves your mood, you’ll be less likely to overeat and make poor food choices,” Fain says.
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Reviewed on June 27, 2011

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