Depression and loss of appetite: what if I’m too depressed to eat?

If you're struggling with depression and a loss of appetite, we have looked at why this happens and what you can do to start feeling better.

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Can depression cause a lack of appetite?

Depression can affect our appetite and change the relationship 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 focus on depression and a loss of appetite. If you've been struggling to eat because of your depression, we'll look at why this may be happening and what you can do to start making positive changes. We'll also explore the treatment options that are available to you to help you get back on track.

Causes of lost appetite

When someone has depression, it may be that they occasionally skip or don't 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 they once enjoyed. Sometimes, this means that the pleasure they used to gain from preparing or eating food disappears
  • People tend to feel low in energy when they're depressed – this can mean that having to cook or eat may feel like too much for them
  • People with depression often experience anxiety which can result in gastrointestinal symptoms (such as nausea, diarrhoea or abdominal pain), which can cause a loss of appetite
  • Depression can cause people to 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 don’t deserve to eat or to feel better
  • Some antidepressants can reduce appetite or cause gastrointestinal discomfort, which means that people may eat less

Foods that help with depression

When you're dealing with depression, it can be a real struggle to take good care of yourself and your diet. But it’s such an important thing for you to do.

Research has shown that certain foods can actually help to boost your mood. These include:

  • Foods that contain the amino acid, tryptophan, including eggs, spinach and salmon
  • Foods that are rich in folic acid, including avocado and spinach
  • Foods that are rich in omega-3 acids, including salmon and tuna
  • Foods that contain vitamin B12, including fish, lean meat, poultry and breakfast cereal

By trying to incorporate as many of these foods into a balanced diet, you’re taking extra steps to combat the symptoms of depression, and you may find that your mood improves as a result.

Below, we've also listed a few quick and easy steps to introduce into your weekly routine, so that you can start eating more and eating better.

Stick to your routine

Try to get up at your usual time and carry on cooking and eating meals at regular times. It’s important to have three meals a day and one or two snacks between meals.

Eat a balanced and varied diet

Try to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Make sure that you don’t exclude any food groups. Consider taking a multivitamin if you’re not eating enough fruit and vegetables.

Limit caffeine and alcohol

Both can be linked to insomnia, mood swings and anxiety, which can end up making you feel even worse.

Do some exercise

Exercise 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

Try and make sure you’ve always got some healthy snacks in for the moments when it’s too difficult to cook. These can include things like nuts, cereal bars and fruit.

Eat something you like

Even if you’re feeling low, it’s important to try and do positive things for yourself as this can help to boost your mood. This might include eating food that you know you like, or that you consider to be 'comfort food'.

Eat and/or cook with someone else

This will be easier than doing it on your own and isolating yourself will probably make you feel even worse.

When to get depression help

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of depression, and this is having a negative impact on your appetite and overall quality of life, it’s time to reach out for professional support. Depression is treatable and you don’t have to suffer in silence.

You could speak to your GP about your symptoms or get in touch with Priory directly to speak to one of our mental health professionals. This will give you an opportunity to talk about what you’ve been experiencing and access treatment for depression so you can start feeling better.

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

  • Inpatient (residential) treatment
  • Outpatient treatment or day care
  • Online therapy via our dedicated platform

We also offer lots of different therapy types for depression, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), all of which can be delivered in one of the following formats:

  • One-to-one therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family and couples therapy

You don’t have to struggle with depression; help is available and we can support you to return to the healthy and fulfilling life you deserve.

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

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