Love, Wellness

3 ways to make cooking and eating less overwhelming when you’re depressed

My favorite form of self-care is ensuring that I have food in the house at all times.

What do you eat when you’re depressed? Dry cereal? Tea? Half a packed of uncooked ramen? Think those memes about “depression meals” are so damn relatable? Same.

During a depression bout, you might feel unmotivated, lethargic, and dysfunctional – in other words, not in the mood to cook yourself a wholesome meal. Many people binge on food or pick at things to keep the hunger away. 

The problem is that the food we eat when we’re depressed further impacts our mood. Binging on too much food can make us feel sluggish and lethargic. Eating too little nutritious food will make us feel more tired. Poor eating takes a huge toll on your mind and body. These disordered eating patterns perpetuate depression, and depression makes it harder to eat properly. It’s a truly vicious cycle.

My number one method of dealing with this? Good planning. While I can’t always anticipate my depressive bouts, I can try to keep my kitchen and mind ready for those bad days (or weeks) when I can’t seem to cook and don’t want to eat.

If you struggle to eat well during depressive bouts, try a few of my guidelines.

1) Stock up on food

Produce section of a grocery store with lots of vegetables stocked

Forget candlelit baths and pretty manicures: my favorite form of self-care is ensuring that I have food in the house at all times.

This is easier said than done, of course. I don’t have a car, and I don’t always have enough money to do grocery shopping in bulk. I’m still new to managing a household, and planning meals is a lot more complicated than it looks.

I try to stock up on nutritious things to make fantastic home-cooked meals like curries and salads and burgers and stir-fry. But I also keep snack-like items in my cupboard, such as chickpeas, popcorn, tea, pretzels, protein bars, cereal and nuts.

Keeping my cupboard stocked is a gift to my future self – particularly if my future self is about to experience a depressive episode.

2) Try to meal prep when you can

Multiple Tupperware containers on a table with various food items, setup for meal prep
Wikimedia Commons

You probably associate meal prep with the fitness queens and domestic goddesses of Instagram and Pinterest, but I can assure you that meal prep doesn’t have to be complicated or aesthetically pleasing in order to be valuable. Meal prep can be as easy as cooking extra food for the next day or two, making soup in bulk and freezing it, or chopping up and freezing fruit for smoothies.  

Meal prep means it’s way easier to make the food and clean up afterwards, which makes the effort of cleaning up less overwhelming.

3) Make a list of what you have

Woman sitting at a desk with a notebook, writing in it with a pen. Photo is a close up on her hand holding the pen and her notebook.

When I’m feeling particularly depressed or anxious, my brain doesn’t work that well, and I struggle to remember what foods I have in the house. As a result, I sometimes forget food until it goes bad, and I spend extra energy making food I don’t need to make.

One easy way to avoid this mistake is to make a list of the food you have, especially the perishable food. Keep a note on the fridge and write a little list of the foods you need to eat soon. Your list might look like this:

  • Frozen fruit
  • Soup
  • Leftover curry
  • Bananas

When you’re feeling too low to cook or think about eating, take a look at the list and eat whatever looks most appealing.

Now, when you’re feeling down, you have a stocked fridge and a game-plan for your food. If you’re not able to prepare your kitchen, or if you’re struggling to eat despite preparing, try drinking a lot of water and tea. Fluids can’t replace food, but it’s important to stay hydrated even when you’re struggling to eat.

Don’t be ashamed to ask your friends for help. I’ll admit it: I’m bad at asking for help. Even though I’m surrounded by people who tell me they’ll always be there for me, I struggle to tell them what I need when I’m down.

More often than not, what I need is food. Good, nutritious, filling food. Sometimes, I just need someone who’ll make me a cup of tea or a warm meal. Ask for that, if you can. Your friends will probably be happy to help you out!

Lastly, remember that disordered eating is a serious issue. While it’s normal to have bad days, an extended period of disordered eating isn’t something you should ignore. Depressive bouts so bad that you can’t eat are a sign that you should be getting help, if you aren’t already.

If you’re feeling particularly low, ask yourself why that is, what needs to change, and how you can improve your situation. Reach out for help, and always remember that your body and soul are both worth nourishing.