The Depression Diet

depression diet

Today’s guest blogger is Janet over at Bipolar Me. She is a freelance writer/editor with bipolar disorder, type 2. Her excellent blog has made me a fan of hers for many years. I suggest you follow the link and take a look around. You’ll become a fan too.

It seems that Target (and other stores) can now send, well, targeted ads based on previous purchases. The example usually given is that someone who buys a home pregnancy test will start receiving coupons and discount offers on diapers and strollers.

I maintain that one way to spot depressives is through their grocery-buying habits. Just as psychologists say that odds are that the last three people in any long line are likely to be clinically depressed, I say that someone who purchases an entire chocolate chip cheesecake and a bottle of Jose Cuervo is going to be in the back of that check-out line too.

Which brings me to my point. There are certain foods that depressed people tend to eat. These foods don’t cure depression, of course, but they do seem to provide some comfort.
The first category of depression food is, of course, comfort food. We all have our own definitions of comfort food, but a lot of them seem to be high-carb, high-fat, no-nutrition sorts of food. They bring back memories of childhood, maternal nurturing, and a simpler time when calories didn’t count. Some of my comfort foods include club sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese.

My husband knows enough to make me comfort food when I’m stressed out. He does add tuna fish and peas to the mac and cheese to make it somewhat more nutritious. He knows my needs and does well at meeting them, though his grilled cheese will never rival my mother’s. He does pretty well on the tomato soup.

The next category of depression food is weird food. I suppose this category includes the chocolate chip cheesecake and tequila. One of my depressed friends introduced me to her particular specialty: wavy potato chips dipped in cream cheese with an M&M stuck on top. My husband starts to worry about me if I ask him to pick these up for me at the store. But it does contain all four food groups: salty, sticky, sweet, and crunchy.

When I was a kid, my favorite was a block of cream cheese with that odd, unnaturally orange French dressing poured over it, mashed with a fork, and with pickle relish if I we had any. This was my own chip dip creation. It resembled my friend’s in the cream cheese and wavy chips department, but French dressing is no substitute for M&Ms. Let’s just say my tastes have grown. (Not necessarily up.)

Another category of depression food is useless food. These are edibles that one can make with very little effort, as even small efforts can be overwhelming at this point in depression. Frozen dinners are good for this. I recommend Marie Callender pot pies if you go this route, because they have both a top and bottom crust and so feel more like a meal. Foods that come in small cups with pop-open tops are good too: Beefaroni, mac and cheese, soups.

Sometimes, however, the depression is so severe that even these simple efforts are beyond you. For those occasions, there are truly useless foods. It’s a mistake to call them meals at all. Here I’m talking peanut butter straight out of the jar (spoon optional), and dry cereal straight out of the box. During my worst days I used to keep a box of Cocoa Puffs by my bedside, just in case. As I slowly improved, I replaced that with a box of Life cereal. (The name was a coincidence, I assure you.)

I know that eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is one of the most common suggestions for keeping depression at bay (along with exercise, sleep, and all that other good advice). I also remember that when a person is talking about suicide, one of the questions you’re supposed to ask is, “When’s the last time you ate?” Supposedly it’s harder to take your own life if you’ve recently done something as life-affirming as eating. (I don’t know if that’s actually true, but I did try it once and the person is still alive, so maybe.)

I also know that sometimes irrational thinking extends to food choices as well. I worry about my husband when he starts eating peanut butter sandwiches dipped in cold chunky soup (still in the can). I’ve been told that’s a guy thing, not a depressive thing, but still sometimes I wonder. Even at my most depressed, I’ve never been tempted to do that. Ew. Just ew.

7 comments on The Depression Diet

  1. You are spot on with the comfort food, although I become a predator. I will eat most anything, and I don’t stop. Never mind the weight gain from meds; I do it the old fashioned way. Sometimes I fear for my cabinet doors!

    1. I understand and am right there with you. We’ve learned healthy tips since we were kids, yet the implementation can be so hard.

  2. there was a period in my life where i was so sick, so depressed, that all i ate was 3 Musketeers mini candy bars for about 3 months. i couldn’t bear to go further into the Walmart than the aisle right behind the registers, which was full of all the candy. I’d just sweep my arm down part of the shelf and fill my cart and leave. luckily for me i eventually got a roommate who liked to cook. she’d go into the walmart while i stayed safe in the quiet un-overwhelming car. then she’d cook and i’d have real meals.

  3. Even though I don’t suffer from depression, I have fond memories of eating binges, especially with large boxes of Lucky Charms. I only ate the marshmallow candies, throwing away the somewhat nutritious part of the cereal. In fact, I’ve recently had a craving for the candies in Lucky Charms. The only reason I can’t eat them now is because they’re so hard to chew. Otherwise, I’d be at Walmart right this very second, buying a large box of Lucky Charms. 🙂

  4. Thank you for posting this so succinct and well written summary of the diet that I followed before I (mostly) got past my depression some 40 or more years ago. It is an episode I will surely write about on my blog and/or in the memoir I am writing. I said I was mostly past my depression because I still want to indulge in the “normal” comfort foods, like “normal” people, I guess, but I want everyone that I am targeting my memoir to (like a recovering anorexic that I am mentoring as she starts college) to know that we all suffer and we all persevere, through varying times and at varying rates, at some point in life.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: