Healthy eating habits are super important for effectively managing your symptoms of depression.
I know, I know. It’s the last thing on your mind when you’re feeling depressed. Your mind is whispering sweet nothings of Oreos, Ho-hos, and Diet Coke in your ear.
And trust me, I’ve been there. One of my body’s favorite coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression is to eat whatever tastes good.
But is that the best way to go about it?
They say you should listen to your body to allow it to heal, and rest when it needs to rest, etc. However, as far as eating goes, it’s better to shut those voices out and get some nutrients instead.
That’s not to say you can’t indulge. In fact, that can be a really effective mood booster. But it’s not great to make that your overall lifestyle.
You can read more about the benefits of healthy eating for mood management here: Healthy Eating For Depression and Anxiety
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Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with anxiety for many years who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.
A quick word about diet culture.
The point of this post is not to force anyone to submit to antiquated thoughts about how their body looks or diet culture. That is a very real thing that damages the self esteem and mental health of millions of women (and men!) every year.
According to one source:
One study, from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, found that 62.3% of teenage girls surveyed reported that they were trying to lose weight and 58.6% were actively dieting. What’s particularly alarming is that only 15% of teenagers actually classify as being overweight.How a Culture of Dieting Can Perpetuate Eating Disorders
So, it’s important to be kind to ourselves in our journey to eat more nutritious foods.
And please, for the love of all things sacred: Instill a healthy relationship with food into your children. Do not talk about diets or weight loss in front of them. Yes, we need to teach them about the way different foods affect us and make them feel, but there are ways to go about it that won’t have long term on their self esteem. You can read more here.
- You are beautiful.
- Size does not equal happiness.
- Your heart is all that matters.
- You are worthy of love the way you are.
- You are not a failure if you try meal prep and it’s not for you.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, on to meal planning!
Why meal planning is helpful for the depressed.
I really love the concept of meal planning! It can take a while to get into the hang of it, but when you get a good rhythm going it saves you so much time each day. You can do a little work each day for an hour or two and have enough meals for the week. It feels so amazing and productive.
Here are a few reasons why meal planning is a helpful tool when you live with a mental illness.
The health benefits
For starters, healthy eating obviously has a lot of physical benefits. According to Medical News today, by maintaining a healthier diet, you can see the following benefits:
- Weight loss. (Although this should never be your main reason to eat healthier. Diet culture is very dangerous for mental health. Consult your primary care physician before starting any weight loss programs, or if you have obsessive thoughts about dieting or weight loss.)
- Reduced cancer risk.
- Diabetes management.
- Heart health and stroke prevention.
- The health of the next generation. (Children learn from watching us!)
- Strong bones and teeth.
- Better mood.
- Improved memory.
- Improved gut health.
- Getting a good night’s sleep.
These are all things that anyone can benefit from. Who doesn’t want to reduce their risk of cancer, and teach their kids some good lessons in the process?
The structure it provides
A structured day is something that has benefited me so much in my journey with depression and anxiety. The less I plan out my day, the more likely I am to fall into bad habits and negative thought patterns.
I always start each day with a to do list. If you are someone who struggles with eating choices, a food “to do list” might help you get some control back.
Meal planning is a great way to get back into a routine. You will know exactly what you are going to eat and drink on a daily basis, and will have plans in place for how to prepare it.
Here are some key ways to become more adaptable to structure:
- Have a to do list for every day, and use time blocking.
- Set frequent reminders on your phone.
- Ask a loved one to keep you accountable.
- Go to bed at the same time each day, and wake up at the same time.
Effort matters!Just the effort of meal planning makes a difference. It tells your brain that you want to get better, and that healthy practices are important. Even if your first few weeks of meal planning aren’t huge successes, just trying it can make… Share on Twitter
My favorite quick and healthy meals
Here is a list for you of some of my favorite healthy meals or snacks that don’t take tons of time to prepare:
- Yogurt/granola/berry bowl
- Eggs scrambled with cheese, with fruit on the side
- A literal taco salad (a bowl of lettuce topped with taco meat and shredded cheese)
- Mini omelettes in a muffin tin
- Baked oatmeal breakfast bites in a muffin tin
- A salad with diced chicken, tomatoes, and cheese
- Steak/chicken/fish and veggies
- Shrimp kebabs with veggies
- A fruit smoothie with spinach
- Celery and peanut butter
- Lettuce roll ups (large pieces of lettuce rolled up with meat and cheese inside)
Simple meal planning ideas for any budget
There are different ways you can approach meal planning. You could plan your meals day by day, a week in advance, or a month in advance. I don’t think there is really a wrong way to do it. It just depends on your time constraints and personal preferences.
Obviously the less lead time you need to set up and prepare everything, the easier the process is to manage. But if there is one day where you have a ton of energy, it’s not a bad idea to do a little meal prep. Here are the pros and cons of each method:
Daily meal planning
Pro(s): It takes less prep work, and there is less energy involved.
Con(s): You have to do it every day, and probably make more frequent trips to the store. That might be too much for some.
Monthly meal planning
Pro(s): This frees up tons of time during the week where you don’t have to stress about meal planning or prep.
Con(s): It would take a lot of initial work at the end of the month. And there is the potential of a ton of pre-cooked meals, or pre-purchased produce going bad. Plus your tastes might change over time, after you’ve already bought a ton of supplies.
Weekly meal planning
To each their own, but this seems to be the least problematic way to go about it. Let’s explore the pros and cons of this way of doing things.
Pro(s): It allows you to have several days worth of nutritious meals planned and prepped.
Con(s): Still takes some time and energy but not as much as doing it by the month.Whatever method you choose, stay consistent, and be patient with yourself if it takes you a while to get into the rhythm of things. When we're depressed, we need self-love and self-compassion more than anything! Share on twitter
The ultimate meal planning calendar
Here is a downloadable weekly meal planning calendar that you can reuse again and again. Enjoy!
What you need to buy
So you don’t forget anything, here is a list of all the things you will need to buy that could pretty much apply to any choice of meals
- Multivitamins. (This can help fill in any gaps in your nutrition.)
- Fresh lemons. (Add a slice to water to make it easier to get those ounces in.)
- Gallon freezer bags. (Perfect for pre-made crockpot freezer meals.)
- Meal prep containers, one for each meal for each day. (21 total.)
- Salad jars are a fun idea if you want to pre-make salads for the week.
- A food saver system. (This can be bit of an investment depending on which model you select, but these are really cool ways to prolong the life of your produce and meats.)
- Tons of lettuce and fresh produce, depending on your menu options.
- A healthier sweet snack alternative, like dark chocolate chips or granola.
- A healthier salty snack alternative, like almonds or cashews.
- Ingredients for the meals you selected.
Click the images to have some of your meal prep items shipped right to your door!
Remember, a healthy eating plan should not feel overwhelming.
And it definitely should never feel like punishment. Food is a tool to nourish our bodies with vitamins and minerals, not a punitive tool to reward or punish depending on how we act.
Healthy eating is an amazing choice to make for your body. It should not make you feel sad and guilty. If it does, maybe you need to take a pause to work on your mindset. It will be easier to stick to your goals if you are excited about the process and are doing it for the right reasons.
Eating a more well-rounded diet can help you feel more energetic and more balanced emotionally. Even just little tweaks here are there can get you started feeling better.