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A Healthy Diet for Dealing with Depression

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 healthcare provider.
 

Talk to Your Healthcare 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 your 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 ensure 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 superfoods.

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.

DO consume plenty of omega-3s. While some studies have failed to show a connection between omega-3 fatty acid intake and depression symptoms, others suggest that consuming more of these heart-healthy fats may help with depression, especially when taken along with conventional antidepressants. Epidemiological research also shows that populations who eat more fish have lower rates of depression. Foods rich in omega-3s include cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel), soybeans, walnuts, eggs fortified with omega-3s and ground flaxseed.

DO cut back on caffeine. Caffeine acts as a stimulant, making you feel anxious and interfering with sleep patterns. Consume no more than 200-300 milligrams of caffeine daily.

DO avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and illicit drugs can interact with antidepressant medications and other over-the-counter medications. For many, depression and substance abuse are already closely connected. If you think you have a problem, seek help. Addictive or abusive behaviors can prevent you from a full recovery.

DO eat plenty of "good" carbohydrates, which increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. High serotonin levels can improve mood and decrease symptoms of depression. Aim for at least 130 grams of carbohydrates each day. And try to forgo the processed, "white" carbs (white rice, white bread, white flour, etc.) in favor of less processed foods like whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat bread and whole-grain cereals), fruits and veggies.
 

Losing Weight While Dealing With Depression


If you are trying to balance weight loss with depression treatment, the following tips will help you do it safely without making your condition worse:
  • Inform your healthcare provider before beginning a diet for weight loss.
  • With your doctor’s approval, proceed with a slow-paced weight loss plan, aiming to lose no more than 0.5 pounds each week.
  • Follow a balanced diet that meets all of your nutritional needs for protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. A registered dietitian in your area can provide an individualized plan to meet your nutritional needs based on your medical history and treatment therapy.
  • Carefully evaluate your mood changes while dieting and seek immediate treatment if you notice any changes.
Depression is difficult for anyone who lives with it. It can sap your motivation to care for yourself, eat well and exercise—the very things that can help you feel better. While dietary changes alone aren't a surefire way to prevent or treat depression, they can help you feel better when combined with the treatment options that your healthcare provider recommends.
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Member Comments

Good suggestions but like another member said it is hard if your money is tight to eat healthy and even harder to abstain from coffee if you do not sleep well due to pain like my daughter does now. Report
Informative ... Thank you Report
Thank you for the article. It made some interesting points. Report
Thank you for the information. Report
As always rely on your doctor rather than the internet. Report
... liked the article and tips...
06/21/18 Report
Great information. Report
Very useful link thank you Report
Thank you for the info Report
good info Report
EXCELLENT! Report
EWAGNEV493
Becky thank you for this article. It was very enlightening for me! :D Report
CRAMPERELLA
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. Report
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. Report
CRAMPERELLA
Good tips. Thank you ! Report
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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.