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A Healthy Diet for Dealing with Depression

The Link Between Food & Your Mood

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Although the foods you eat cannot treat depression, your diet does have significant effects on your mood, energy levels, mental health, and your ability to cope with stress. If you suffer from depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), certain dietary changes can help you get well when combined with a treatment program outlined by your health care provider.

Talk to Your Health Care Provider
Be open and honest when discussing your symptoms and feelings. Because depression can have many underlying causes, your doctor should perform a complete physical and also check the following:
  • Thyroid. The thyroid gland controls yours metabolism but indirectly affects your mood. An overactive thyroid can make you feel anxious and irritable, while an under-active thyroid can cause sluggishness, exhaustion, loss of appetite, weight gain, and hair loss.
  • Iron levels. Low iron stores can alter your mood, cause fatigue and difficulty concentrating, and decrease mental alertness.
  • Use of oral contraceptives. Birth control pills can also shift hormone levels and alter mood swings, depression, and fatigue.
  • Sleeping habits. Changes in your sleeping patterns and the quality of your sleep can be closely related to your mood. A lack of sleep can cause many symptoms similar to those of depression.
If your doctor diagnoses you with clinical depression, work with her to develop a treatment plan that suits your lifestyle and discuss what role nutrition might play, especially if you receive prescription medications. The following guidelines are not cures for depression, but they are things to consider along with your treatment program.

Dietary Tips for People with Depression

DO structure your meals. Eat at approximately the same times each day and don't skip meals. Enjoy three well-balanced meals and plan snacks between meals. This will help insure that your body is getting the right nutrients throughout the course of the day.

DO eat quality nutrients. Dieting itself is a stress on the body. Individuals who are trying to lose weight and have a history of depression must work to eat foods that are good for the body and the brain. Try incorporating more whole foods, fruits and veggies, and healthy fats by starting with this list of super foods.

DO eat plenty of calories, even if you are trying to lose weight. Extremely low-calorie diets alter your metabolism and increase your risk of malnutrition. Eating less than 1,000 calories per day reduces the amount of tryptophan (an essential amino acid that is needed to produce serotonin) in your body. As a result, serotonin levels drop, which increases symptoms of depression and its chances of recurring. If you have trouble meeting your calorie needs, read Calorie-Boosting Tips.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • EWAGNEV493
    Becky thank you for this article. It was very enlightening for me! :D - 7/15/2015 2:33:51 PM
    It took me a long time to figure out that only very slow weight loss is sustainable over the long term and that severe dietary restrictions would only lead to binges. Getting professional help for my depression and eating issues has been a life saver. You don't have to battle the depression demon alone. Acknowledging that I needed help was the best gift I gave myself. Reach out. - 7/15/2015 12:12:54 PM
  • Those are some great suggestions. I just wanted to point out that in today's society, another part of the problem with depression and losing weight is that if you are depressed you are less likely to be motivated to work because you don't have energy (just like not wanting to exercise or eat well which was mentioned). However, if you are not able to work, then there are very limited ways in which you can get any food, let alone the healthy stuff. For example, if you are able to go to the food bank, they can only supply what has been donated, and a lot of that is canned foods with bread and eggs. So, just wanted to throw that out there: that there is sometimes other barriers that make it even harder to do some of these suggestions simply because depression can be all encompassing in your life. However, if those barriers do not exist, then these are fantastic suggestions! Thank you so much for writing them down so we can access them at a later date. - 7/15/2015 1:07:45 AM
    Good tips. Thank you ! - 12/7/2014 1:42:01 PM
  • As someone who's struggled with depression and weight for a long time I can say this article is SO TRUE. First thing that really really helped me was to add a quality fish oil to my daily nutrition (Innate Choice Omega Efficiency). in TWO DAYS I could tell a difference. I kid you not TWO DAYS! And the eating of regular healthy meals also made a significant difference.

    Unfortunately so does cutting back on caffeine. I'm from Seattle, I love coffee and drink 4-6 cups a day! Since I fasted from coffee for my 10 day cleanse, I can now very much see the effects of coffee on my body (my bladder is not happy when I have a lot of coffee on board, I'm uptight and anxious more than I realized, it quenched my appetite for a healthy breakfast) .

    So I'm walking talking proof of the positive effects of making the changes in this article. - 5/29/2014 1:16:46 PM
  • Great article - 12/29/2013 7:09:54 PM
  • I am so thankful to my adult daughter for for turning me on to this website and all it has to off! I am over one week out and have not only lost weight already, but improved my flexability, walked daily and over all been more active as well as improved my way of thinking! Thank you forall the great support and information! - 2/12/2013 10:19:11 AM
  • 1. Eat brain food aka saturated fat and cholesterol, that is what your brain runs on. A very good choice is extra virgin cocnut oil (the one that smells like coconut).

    2. Avoid foods that throw your hormone system out of wack: worst food ever is soy that in not fermented, it messes bid time with your hormones.

    3. get enough iodine in your system, this you need for your thyroid, also available as a suplement (lugol's)

    4. get rid of the processed salts and use keltic seasalt instead, wich is actualy a mineral complex, bur dont forget to eat some fat with that otherwise your body can't digest it properly.

    5. Liver from healthy animals is a true vitamin boost or go for fermented cod liver oil. - 2/9/2013 6:28:33 PM
  • Definitely have your thyroid checked. Depression is actually one of the symptoms of being hypothyroid (low thyroid). It was one of the symptoms I had, and the depression went away once I was on the right dosage of thyroid medication. - 2/9/2013 1:08:12 PM
  • Cut wheat from your diet and increase fat substantially. As long as you keep sugar and starch low you can eat plenty of good fat. Best fat? Coconut oil! - 2/9/2013 11:54:53 AM
  • Try eliminating ALL wheat products and see if the depression lifts. - 2/9/2013 11:28:26 AM
  • This is very true! I have been eating better this past month trying to take out processed foods, salt sugars, and eating food that is good for me. I have every food group and trying to cut out white flour, greasy food, and what not. I am on the opposite even though. I need to gain weight and not lose it. Anyway, I have lots of energy; my mood has switched so much! I canít believe it is the middle of winter and I donít feel hardly depressed. I have been fighting for the past 2 years depression and loneliness and in January I started a new life style with food change and I feel so great! I added more fruit, whole grains, yes whole grains people be careful about what youíre eliminating. If donít have a gluten allergy or sensitivity donít take it out of your diet. Fact is we need ďgoodĒ carbs and good fat in our diets to function. I hate fad diets I see people go on. They just starve themselves and then when they eat normal again their body gains everything back. Just eat proportionally and get out and move your butt! Weights lose and gain is a slow process when doing it right and healthy! Oh and if you arenít diabetic throughout artificial sweeteners donít use them! FYI

    Oats and good cereals are great for me. I admit Oatmeal with blueberries or Yogurt, with blueberries, and granola give me lots of energy in the morning and I donít feel groggy. The foods that make me sleepy are Pasta and thick white bread (I can eat thin slices in a Sandwich and I am fine), with lots of cheesy sauce, also huge portions of meat. When I balance the portions out and add more veggies I donít feel that way. I donít think you need to eliminate meat or grains just portion them out right and pay attention to the grains you are using. As a person also trying to gain weight taking out carbs is dangerous! If you think grains and wheat is making you feel bad maybe you need to be tested for a gluten allergy. That could be what is really wrong not the fact we ďshouldnítĒ eat them.
    - 2/9/2013 8:54:47 AM
  • THIS ARTICLE WAS VERY HELPFUL. - 2/9/2013 8:33:22 AM
  • Interesting article. I've definitely noticed a correlation between my quality of sleep and my mood. - 7/29/2012 5:09:54 PM
  • Interesting - 2/24/2012 12:30:55 PM

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