My Experience Only. YMMV.

The Depression Diet

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.

Comments on: "The Depression Diet" (4)

  1. Surprisingly, I think it is actually a positive sign for my brain chemistry at the moment that I am eating Frosted Mini Wheats, dry, as I read this, solely because I need the fiber. And I bought cream cheese and chips to go with my left over M&Ms the other day just because I hadn’t had them in so long. I know it’s not a bad sign because they’ve been in the pantry almost a week and I haven’t even opened the packages yet!

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  2. I can’t sleep so I’m reading a bunch of your posts here. I recall reading things about regular depression (not bipolar) causing people to NOT eat in many cases, Not sure if that’s true. This was not my experience. I was on unrelated meds which caused appetite increase and overate the whole time I was depressed. I’m been rather manic since this past August. Most of the time. There were days I literally ate nothing, and I drank water. I lost all the weight I gained from being on steroid medications for my skin. Today I managed to eat a bagel (it took me 8 hours to do so) and drink some Gatorade. There were several days that the only thing I ate was an entire jar of dill pickles. On the other hand, when depressed, I will pretty much eat anything that fits into my mouth.

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    • Thanks for sharing that. In my case, depression makes me eat and anxiety makes me not eat.

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      • Mania never really affected my appetite to the extent that it has this time, though. Depression always did though. Either way, I feel like I’m completely out of tune with my body. Something is always going on and causing me to eat more or eat less than I should.

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