January 11, 2022

Does Depression Affect the Way You Eat?

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Medicially Reviewed By:
Dr. Priya Chaudhri
credentials here

The Link Between Depression and Eating

Learn about the link between depression and eating habits that seem to evolve along with the mental health disorder.

One of the mysteries of depression is the common symptom of having a change in appetite and weight. A mystery because some people with depression might lose their appetite and have sudden weight loss. Others, though, may feel the urge to consume much higher amounts of food than before and have weight gain.

Depression is a complex mental health disorder with much still to be learned about its nuances, including changes in appetite. Read on to learn more about depression and eating, and how to get help for this mental health challenge.

What is Major Depressive Disorder?

Depression features feelings of extreme sadness, along with a cluster of other symptoms that do not resolve within two weeks. The main symptoms of major depressive disorder include:

  1. Persistent depressed or sad mood state; feelings of despair and hopelessness.
  2. Deep fatigue.
  3. Change in eating habits; sudden weight gain or loss.
  4. Trouble concentrating or making decisions.
  5. Sleep problems.
  6. Slowed movements and thinking.
  7. Loss of interest in the activities once enjoyed.
  8. Feelings of guilt or shame.
  9. Thoughts of suicide.

When there are five or more symptoms present, it indicates the person has depression.

Why Does Depression Cause Your Eating Habits to Change?

Our eating habits are often linked to a present mood state. For instance, when stressed or anxious, some people will eat more than usual. This is referred to as “stress eating.” The act of chewing can relieve the feelings of stress or distract you from the stressor.

For someone with depression, a change in their relationship with food is often one of the symptoms. They may feel so sad, so hopeless that they do not have the desire to shop for groceries or cook meals. They may notice their appetite is suppressed, and accept that without forcing themselves to eat, leading to weight loss.

Others with depression may find themselves eating more. They may make unhealthy food choices, such as eating a lot of high calorie comfort foods. This is referred to as “emotional eating,” as it relieves some of the pain by consuming tasty foods. This can result in weight gain.

There are also studies that describe how the brain is affected by depression and the sight of food. Research shows that there is greater activity among those with increased appetite in the left frontal cortex and bilateral mid-insula. In the group with appetite decrease, there was heightened activity in the left mid-insula.

How to Improve Your Diet When Battling Depression

When someone suffers from depression, diet can play a large role in reducing symptoms and getting better. The mind-body connection is very real. Depriving the body of nutrients will only add a layer to the difficulty of having depression. As well, eating a diet that includes a large amount of starchy, sugar-laden foods with affect blood sugar levels. This will not only lead to weight gain, but will leave the person feeling poorly.

The bottom line is that a healthy diet is a key self-care aspect of recovering from depression. Try to consume a diet rich in these food items:

  • Lean proteins, like fish and poultry.
  • Fresh veggies and fruits.
  • Whole grains bread and pasta.
  • Low-fat dairy.
  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes.
  • Lots of water.

Getting daily exercise is also helpful when battling depression. Yes, it may be hard to feel up to engaging in exercise. But even just taking a 20-minute walk each day is going to help boost the mood and improve sleep.

Different Clinical Settings for Depression Treatment

When the signs of depression have lasted more than two weeks, it is time to be seen by a doctor. The doctor will want to first rule out a health issue that could be causing the symptoms. If no health problem is found, the doctor will refer the person to a mental health provider.

A psych evaluation is the next step. The patient will be asked about their symptoms and any factors that might be involved, such as a recent loss. The results of the assessment rely on several things.

These include the severity of the symptoms, the length of time depressed, and any co-occurring disorders present. Once a mental health expert has diagnosed depression, it is time to decide on a treatment approach.

Some of the treatment options for depression include:

  • Outpatient treatment through a private doctor. This often involves regular therapy sessions as well as antidepressant drug therapy.
  • Residential treatment at a private mental health center. This option offers a more intensive approach with daily therapy and related activities within a private home setting.
  • Inpatient treatment in a hospital setting. This option is reserved for more severe cases, especially those on suicide watch.

Treatment for Depression

To help someone with depression, there are some basic treatment elements that will be used. These include:

Drug therapy. With over 30 types of drugs for treating depression, the doctor will begin treatment with the best match. The trial lasts 4-6 weeks. If the patient does not improve, the doctor will assign a new drug.

Psychotherapy. Therapy involves the type or types that best fit with the patient’s clinical features. Some of these include CBT, exposure therapy, and solution-focused therapy.

Holistic methods. The mind-body link should be addressed through not only diet but also by learning ways to manage stress. Some methods might include yoga, journaling, and art therapy.

Depression and eating or appetite changes seem to go hand in hand. If you are battling depression and have had a change in your eating habits and weight, help is available for you.

Elevation Behavioral Health Provides Private Residential Depression Treatment

Elevation Behavioral Health is a luxury mental health center that provides compassionate and effective care to those struggling with depression. If you are in the midst of a depressive episode, and it has affected your eating habits, contact us today at (888) 561-0868.

Our team of experts is here to help you.