eating for depression and anxiety

Eating for depression and anxiety: How you can eat better and feel better

Sharing is caring!

TW/CW: This post is about eating for depression and anxiety, and how you can use food to nourish your body and manage some of the symptoms.  If food/eating is a sensitive topic for you, proceed with caution.

What is your favorite food? Have you ever taken the time to think about whether or not it actually benefits you?  Or do you mindlessly eat it as a source of comfort?

This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. See my Privacy and Affiliate Disclaimer pages for more info.

I have struggled with healthy eating for as long as I can remember.  People might not know that about me at first glance. After all, I am relatively slim.  I think it’s normal to assume that I’m not one to eat my feelings. 

That is one of the stereotypes I hope to smash with this post.  Skinny people do not always make good choices, and, conversely, people who are overweight do not always make bad choices.

My 2010s was a quest to find health and wellness for myself, and one area I really struggled in was feeding my body the right things.

So, what am I going to talk about in this post?

  • My mental health journey
  • Some tips for eating in a way that might minimize symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • The connection between food and mental health

What this post is not going to be about?

  • Shaming people for their choices
  • Allegations that eating a certain way is a cure for mental illness
  • Blaming those with depression and anxiety for “doing it to themselves” by not eating well.

No. I simply want to help by providing you with an alternative way to treat these illnesses.  I’m not a medical professional but research resoundingly says that healthy eating can help.

Like my posts?
Well, aren't you a peach? Subscribe in this box right here to get my free HEALTHY EATING JOURNAL PDF, along with a few other helpful tools.
We respect your privacy.

affiliate link, eating for depression and anxiety

My story with mental illness

I’ve suffered from symptoms of depression since I was about nine years old.  My cousin passed away unexpectedly and it obviously affected my family in a significant way.  I became more withdrawn (I was already a shy kid to begin with), and I remember acting out more at home.  It was a profound loss, and I have never been the same.

As an adult, the symptoms grew worse through years of toxic situations and unhealthy choices.  In college, I started to develop symptoms of hypomania. After I graduated, I got a job that became super, super toxic for me.  It sent me down a spiral of interpersonal sabotage, hypomania, and depression.

Throughout those difficult years, and after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I used various tools for managing my mental health.  Some more effective, and some more healthy, than others.

I tried, exercise, prescription medication, therapy, self help books, essential oils, eating my feelings, guilting myself into eating less… I tried just about everything.

For anyone who reads this who is going through something similar, I see you.  Your feelings are valid.

Let’s walk this journey together.

Eating for depression and anxiety

There are some strategies for healthy eating that you can try to minimize mental health issues.  First, I want to make another couple of clarifications. I would never advocate you going off meds and trying something like this instead.  I do not believe this is a substitute. Yes, it is possible that you can use alternative treatments in such a way that you become more stable and can maybe lower your dosages.  But that is not my intention with this post. That is a discussion you need to have with your medical provider, if it is something you want.

Also, I’m not a massive fan of diet culture.  I think it is damaging to your self-esteem, and a lot of these super restrictive diets often cause more harm than good.  However, I think many diet plans have “good bones,” meaning a lot of the underlying principles can be helpful.

Here are two dieting methods that have been found to help those with depression and anxiety.

Mediterrean and DASH diets

One article talks about two different diets: The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.  

For the Mediterranean plan:

Get your starch fix with whole grains and legumes.

Fill up on plenty of fruits and veggies.

Focus on eating fatty fish, like salmon or albacore tuna, in place of red meat.

Add in healthy fats, like raw nuts and olive oil.

Enjoy sweets and wine in moderation

Healthline article- These Women Treated Their Anxiety and Depression with Food. Here’s What They Ate.
affiliate link, eating for depression and anxiety

I really like the concept of this one, because as the article says, it is more about adding healthy things in versus punishing yourself by taking things away.  That is a much better approach, in my view, for someone who already struggles with mental health issues.

The article mentions three different studies.  In one study, 166 people with depression tried this diet for a few months.  At the end of it, their symptoms were improved. That’s a relatively small population sample.  But I think it is promising! The second study showed a decrease in anxiety in medical students who consumed more Omega-3 fatty acids.  (Again, adding in versus taking away.) The last study they mention indicates that people who follow this diet closely are 50% percent less likely to develop depression. 

eating for depression and anxiety
Download this FREE handy PDF here!

The DASH diet is a bit similar but its focus is removal, and one thing in particular: sugar.

Embrace whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.

Get protein from chicken, fish, and nuts.

Switch to low-fat or nonfat dairy.

Limit sweets, sugary drinks, saturated fats, and alcohol.

Healthline article- These Women Treated Their Anxiety and Depression with Food. Here’s What They Ate.

The article mentions two studies that back this up, which I will link below:

Effects of sugar intake

Heart healthy diets and depression

Giving up sugar

I have to admit.  This one gives me the sads.  (Well, I have depression as a pre-existing condition, but you know what I mean.)  No one “likes” the thought of giving up sugar. I’m definitely one of them, and you probably are too.  There’s not many things that taste better than an ice cold soda or a cheesecake or freshly baked cookies.

But we are seeing this more and more in medical research, that regular sugar consumption has long lasting effects on our physical and mental health.

affiliate links, healthy eating, eating for depression and anxiety

That being said, I don’t believe in super strict diets that feel like you’re living in a 19th century boarding school.  Still, it is worth looking into the negative effects of sugar, and trying to possibly limit it where you can.

One woman in an article I read said that after a month of eating more leafy salads, more healthy fats, and limiting sugar, her energy and moods were much better.

So, yeah.  Don’t punish yourself, but I really think it is worth a shot.  The great thing about a “treatment” like this, is you can try it for a month, see if it helps, and if not, discontinue.

The connection between food and mental health

As you’ve been reading here, there is a massive connection between the foods that you eat and the way that you feel.  Not just in the physical sense, but also your emotional health as well. I really learned a lot reading the Healthline article I linked above.

Did you know….?

  • Certain vitamins we take in can boost serotonin production.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is key for mental health.
  • Too much sugar has been found to “decrease a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is involved in the development of depression and anxiety.”
  • There is also a lot of research linking out gut to our mental health.  
  • Eating healthy foods is a form of self-care, which is a vital part of CBT.
  • Eating healthy can also give you more motivation in other areas!

Which foods are helpful?

So, what should you be eating more of?  According to one article, are three important categories that you can easily work into your daily eating habits.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants make your cells feel good. They help protect you from free radicals, which are basically things in your body that make you age faster and feel less healthy.  Eat more Beta-Carotene (carrots, apricots, and broccoli, etc), Vitamin C (blueberries, oranges, and peppers), and Vitamin E (nuts and seeds, and vegetable oils).

Complex carbs

“Carbohydrates are linked to the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. Experts aren’t sure, but carb cravings sometimes may be related to low serotonin activity. Choose your carbs wisely. Limit sugary foods and opt for smart or “complex” carbs (such as whole grains) rather than simple carbs (such as cakes and cookies). Fruits, vegetables, and legumes also have healthy carbs and fiber.”

Depression and Diet

Proteins

Not all protein is created equal, but this article particularly recommends foods containing tryptophan, which is linked to serotonin production.  For example, eating more turkey, tuna, and chicken can help your mood. Other things to try include beans, dairy products, and fish.

Treat yourself well

Everyone needs to eat healthy foods, whether they are depressed (or anxious) or not.  But looking at the research, I am more convinced than ever of the link between the way I eat and the way my moods are.

You might feel hesitant to impose a strict diet on yourself, especially if you’re already depressed.  I don’t blame you, and to be honest, I don’t recommend that. What I do recommend is starting slow. Spend a week writing down the things that you eat to see where you can make changes, and make it a priority to try a little bit each day. Don’t go whole-hog at the beginning.  Make sure you take baby steps!

eating for depression and anxiety, mental health, healthy eating, wellness
Share this post on Pinterest by using the icon in the top left corner of the picture!

“Eating healthy food fills your body with energy and nutrients. Imagine your cells smiling back at you and saying: “Thank you!” – Karen Salmansohn


Did you like this post? Make sure you share the post on Pinterest, Facebook, or wherever you see fit. You never know who it might benefit.

Looking for a safe space to discuss mental health and connect with others? I would love for you to join my private Facebook group! I share my blog posts and other relevant mental health resources I come across. Click the image below to join. See you there!

Mental health facebook group

Sharing is caring!

42 thoughts on “Eating for depression and anxiety: How you can eat better and feel better”

  1. Food definitely has an impact on your mental health and well being! As a personal trainer, I’m always trying to guide my clients to make healthy choices not only to feel better physically, but mentally too. It takes time to change and adapt but it’s so worth it.

  2. Fantastic post on a very important subject. Great that you give such a detailed analysis and really hope this reaches the people who NEED to read it 👍

  3. This is such an informative post! I eat quite Mediterranean and I think it has improved my mental health symptoms – as has eating a lot of fresh fruit rich with antioxidants. I do need to cut down on my sugar though as I think this could help too!

  4. It’s amazing the connection we feel between eating certain foods and our moods. I know when I eat badly, I feel so awful too. I feel so much better when I am more conscious about what I eat and it definitely helps my mood as well!

    1. For sure! I initially feel on top of the world when I eat a sleeve of oreos when I’m down but 10 minutes later, I’m like “Eww why did I do that?” LOL. It’s all about forgetting the short term pleasure in favor of long term healing. Thanks for reading!

  5. I love that you talk about your story, hypomania, sugar detox and serotonin! All good stuff. Thanks for this wonderful info and once again boosting the mental health awareness through your blog!

  6. There is a huge connection between nutrition and mental health. Omega 3s, probiotics, and Vitamin D are my go-to supplements for keeping my mental health strong and healthy.

  7. Having Celiac Disease is a cause of depression especially as we fail to absorb all our nutrients from food. The gut affects mood and mood affects how we eat and digest food. It can be a vicious cycle.
    Also – our food and digestive system completely impact our sleep patterns, especially how much deep sleep we get.
    Once I got a handle on digesting to sleep better, other things also fixed themselves!

    1. YES! Gut health is so important. We don’t like to think our bodies and minds are so linked, but they really are. Thanks for the info!

  8. Isn’t it crazy how what we put in our body can affect our moods?! I noticed a dramatic decrease in anxiety when I cut out pop and sugars. Very interesting article, thank you for sharing!

    1. No problem. It’s sooooo hard when you’re depressed. All you want is easy tasty stuff, not cooking a whole healthy meal a lot of the time. Thanks for reading!

    1. I really want to give it a try but it terrifies me lol. Maybe i’ll give it a shot for all of February after my bday (the 9th) Thanks for reading.

  9. I’m constantly trying to eat better for my mental health! I’ve suffered with a long-term on and off eating disorder (of course it’s always there in the back of my mind) and I know that when I’m eating more regular meals my mental health is SO much better!

  10. Great read with so much valuable information. I am also living with Bipolar disorder, and I have found modifying my diet very helpful. I have cut sugar from my diet and eat low carb. I have sustained this for almost a year, and I have never better (not in a mania type of way…in a balanced way!lol)

    1. lol that’s good! I am trying to balance in more fruits and veggies, myself. Good luck! Thanks for reading. Feel free to share!

  11. I so appreciate this post. I have been learning so much about foods, nutrients etc in regards to mental health. I am a believer. Being an actual doer, is another story.

    I have been really trying, but the sugar issue is the toughest one.

    Thanks for this great post!

    1. Yes, being a doer (not just a believer) is a challenge! Sugar really is a struggle. Thanks for reading! Feel free to share.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *