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When Depression Killed My Appetite, I Changed My Eating Priorities

Nourishing my soul in a stage of sadness.

The first time I experienced depression, it was as crippling as everyone had described. It’s one of those things that sounds awful in theory, but until you experience it yourself, you don’t know how absolutely debilitating it can be. But the most shocking part for me was my loss of appetite. All of a sudden, I found myself smack dab in the middle of a cliché, lying on the kitchen floor with dried tears on my cheeks and no room in my stomach for anything other than complete and total sadness.

As someone who has loved food their entire life, and even plans their day around food, this was new. Physically, I could hear my insides screaming for nourishment, for food, but mentally, I had no will to eat—and especially no desire to cook. There were times when I would go the whole day without putting anything in my body.

According to Dr. Drew Ramsey, author of Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety, this is common for people who deal with depression. “Changes in appetite and changes in weight are part of the diagnostic criteria for depression,” he told me. Because depression is such a complex illness that much of the medical world is still learning about, “there’s a lot that remains to be understood,” he noted.

“Oftentimes people think about it as just an illness related to serotonin, and it's much more complex than that,” he said. Although research has shown that your microbiome and hormones can affect your levels of depression and vice versa, there isn’t one thing experts can pinpoint to explain a loss of appetite in times of depression.

This was frustrating when I was experiencing it, as there was no magic solution to give me my appetite back. But one thing that did help was finding a depression meal. If you’re someone who has dealt with depression, and the lack of appetite that can come with it, then you are familiar with these meals. They are easy, quick, very low effort dishes you can whip up and consume when you find yourself where I was. On social media, people will share their go-tos, ranging from buttered pasta to frozen pizza rolls to low-effort nachos.

“When you're depressed, it can seem like the hardest thing in the world to do is muster up the energy to cook a meal or take care of yourself,” Danielle Allen, a dietician and TikTok creator, told me. She herself struggles with a fluctuating appetite due to anxiety and depression and shares her depression meals in those moments.

“Get away from the idea of what you have to eat,” she advised. “Instead, my goal is just to feed myself, just get energy in my body. Focusing on eating as the first priority in that depressive episode can be a really helpful thing to do. And so picking something simple, that's not going to have a lot of barriers, is usually the strategy I recommend.”

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So the goal in times when I don’t want to eat is not to eat healthy, but to just eat. Something, anything. When I’m in those moments, often it’s not even about tasting the food, but about getting it into my body. I have to overcome that aversion knowing that afterwards, I’ll feel a little bit better.

And if that food also brings me a smidge of serotonin in the moment, even better. Annie’s White Cheddar mac and cheese does that for me, because I know I can muster up the little amount of strength it takes to make it, and it brings me a little burst of joy. For Nicole DiMascio of the popular account, Dope Kitchen, it’s deli turkey. Normally, you can find her cooking up healthy and delicious meals while “getting baked in the kitchen,” but one day, she shared her struggles with eating while depressed with her followers.

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Thank you for being here. I love you. You’ve all made my life so fun since I started this account. #cooking #breakfast #recipes

♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys - Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

“I go through a lot of mood swings where like some days I'm super organized, and then one thing will happen that kind of derails all of my progress,” Nicole said in an interview with me. “I need to just be gentle with myself and remind myself that it's okay to not always be positive.”

Her candid post resonated with her followers. “One of the most touching and heartwarming things was hearing people say that opening up about my appetite during depression and my journey helped other people feed themselves and that it was just a great reminder to nourish their bodies even if their mind wasn't in the right place,” she said.

We are living in strange times. The ongoing pandemic has affected just about every part of our world and isolated many, leading more people to experience depression and anxiety. But being able to go on social media helps me see that I am not alone in my depression and knowing that the first goal is to eat brings a small tinge of comfort. However, it’s certainly not a replacement for mental health care, so if you are in need of help, check out the resources below.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline

National Institute of Mental Health

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