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Depression and loss of appetite - advice and next steps

Depression can affect our appetite and change the relationship that we have with food. It can cause us to eat unhealthily, eat more than usual and it can also lead to a loss of appetite.

Within this blog, we have focused on depression and a loss of appetite. If you have been struggling to eat because of depression, we will look at why this may be happening and what you can do to start making positive changes and getting the support that you need to start feeling better.

How does depression cause a loss of appetite?

When someone has depression, they may occasionally skip or not finish their meals. They may go for days without eating or drinking enough. This can impact on their energy levels and cause weight loss and health problems, making their depression even worse.

There are a number of reasons why depression can cause a loss of appetite, including:

  • A person with depression will often lose interest in activities that they once liked to do, and sometimes the pleasure of preparing or eating food can be affected
  • People tend to feel low in energy when they are depressed; having to cook or eat can feel like too much
  • People with depression very often experience anxiety, which can manifest with gastrointestinal symptoms (like nausea or abdominal pain), which can cause a loss of appetite
  • They often feel sad, worthless or hopeless. With so much going on in their mind, they can forget to eat
  • With depression, it can feel as though you really don’t like yourself. You may believe that your health doesn’t matter or that you do not deserve to eat or to feel better
  • Some antidepressants can reduce appetite or cause some gastrointestinal discomfort

The importance of taking good care of yourself

When you are dealing with depression, it can be a real struggle to take good care of yourself and your diet. But it is such an important thing for you to do. There are steps that you can take and there is support that is available to help you feel better.

Below, we have listed a few of the quick and easy steps to introduce into your weekly routine, so that you can start eating more and eating better:

  • Stick to your routine as much as possible. Try to get up at your usual time, carry on cooking and eating regular meals at regular times. It is important to have three meals a day and one or two snacks between meals
  • Eat a balanced and varied diet to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Do not exclude any food groups. Consider taking a multivitamin if you are not eating enough fruit and vegetables
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine can be related to insomnia and anxiety, and alcohol can give you mood swings and anxiety
  • Do some exercise as it can improve your mood and appetite. If you haven't exercised for a while, start by walking for about 20 minutes every day
  • Make a meal plan. Plan a week’s worth of easy-to-prepare meals and snacks, and shop accordingly
  • Shop online or ask for help. If the idea of going food shopping is too overwhelming, try click and collect or online food shopping. If this feels like too much, ask someone to help out
  • Have easy and healthy snacks readily available, for the moments when it is too difficult to cook (nuts, cereal bars, fruit)
  • Eat something you like. Even if you’re feeling low, it is important to try and do positive things for yourself as this can help to boost your mood
  • Eat and or cook with someone else. It will be easier and isolating yourself will probably make you feel even worse

Seeking help and support for depression

If you have been recently experiencing symptoms of depression, it is important to reach out for professional support.

Firstly, speak to your GP or a mental health professional, like the psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists here at Priory Group. This will give you an opportunity to talk about what you’ve been experiencing and access the support and treatment that you may need to start feeling better.

Here at Priory Group we treat people with all forms of depression and have a range of treatment programmes available for the condition. When you first meet with a member of our team, they will work with you to determine the most effective treatment pathway. This could include:

  • Outpatient therapy – this usually takes the form of weekly therapy sessions. With weekend and evening appointment available, it is a flexible form of treatment that allows people to access support at a time that works best for them
  • Online therapy – our online therapy service, Priory Connect, allows you to speak with one of our specialists from the comfort of your own home
  • Day care programmes – you attend one of our hospitals or wellbeing centres to take part in a programme of half-day or full-day sessions. This option is recommended for people who require further support, without needing a residential programme
  • Residential programmes – this form of intensive treatment is typically used for those with more severe forms of depression. It provides you with structure and 24-hour expert support. A combination of therapies, treatments and wellbeing activities are included in the programme

Blog reviewed by Dr Sara Morando (MD, RCPsych) Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital North London

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