Beat Depression

How to Eat to Beat Depression: The Magic of Mindful Eating

When we’re depressed, all of life seems tasteless and empty of joy. If we learn how to eat to beat depression though, we can restart more than just our taste buds. The reason is the how, and not just the what. To beat depression, learning to eat mindfully is as important as the foods we choose.

Depressed people often fall into one of two camps…those who lose all interest in food, or those who shovel it in trying to soothe the pain. Too little food leaves us weak and light headed; too much leaves us feeling guilty and bloated. Either way we seldom taste the food, because we had so little interest to start with, or because the hand to mouth action was working while our minds were somewhere else.

What is mindful eating, and how can it help beat depression?

Eating mindfully simply means giving all your attention to every bite of food you take. How it looks, how it tastes, how it feels in your mouth and all the way down into your tummy. And if you choose healthy foods, like berries or nuts, with lots of color, flavor and texture, and really focus on the experience of eating, then you poke a little hole in the fog of constantly thinking about being depressed.

Think of a strawberry, for example. You have to hold on to the stem for a second before you can pop it in your mouth. Notice the color is richer at the end, and maybe a little whitish at the top. When you nibble at the pointy end, you can’t help but feel those little seeds on your tongue, at the same time you taste the sweetness and feel just a little crunch. And it tastes so good. Get the picture?

Benefits of mindful eating include:

1. Enhanced pleasure from the experience of food. If that sounds hedonistic, remember we are talking about how to eat to beat depression here. You are starting from zero pleasure in anything…so it is good to find some wherever you can, to break the grayness that consumes you.

2. It can pique your appetite, but keep you from mindlessly stuffing yourself. Mindful eating is good whether you are eating too little or too much. Remember the old Lay’s Potato Chips® ads that said, “bet you can’t eat just one”? Well if food holds no interest, sipping a little tomato or grape juice, or munching some green olives or chocolate, could entice your taste buds to want more. You probably have some “can’t eat just one” favorites of your own.

If you tend to devour more food than you notice, then paying closer attention to each bite will help keep you from swallowing tasteless mouthfuls because you didn’t even realize they were there.

3. It can head off depression caused by being overweight. Many women experience depression because they feel fat, and the depression holds them back from making positive lifestyle changes that would encourage weight loss. So then, feeling terribly discouraged, they escape into more mindless eating.

Studies have shown that focused eating can help people slow down and eat less, without the stress of diet plans, and the accompanying fears of failure. By savoring each bite you taste, you may find you are satisfied with less, and you can avoid eating merely as a reflex action.

4. Mindful eating encourages better choices. When you don’t really care what it is that you are eating, you can find yourself with orange fingers from cheese puffs you had for dinner on the couch. When you decide to eat mindfully, on the other hand, you feel more empowered to find things that taste good and are good for you.

You can find some specific food choices in our earlier article “What to Eat to Beat Depression” foods which lists beneficial nutrients to help relieve depression, and are tasty to boot. If you stock up on some favorite healthy comfort foods, then you can have them handy to savor when depression strikes.

5. Your mind can’t focus on food and how bad you feel at the same time. The longer you can relish the experience of eating, while appreciating what a joy it is, the less time you will spend rehashing how depressed you feel. Depression may make us feel numb, but our brains are still busy. They’re just busy maintaining the unhappy status quo.

Alternate mindful eating and other positive activities for best results.

We have talked before about the benefits of laughter and music to lift your spirits. If you have some favorite books that help when you are depressed, Psychology Today suggests reading a bit, stopping to eat a few mindful bites, and then returning to your book. In the same way, you could sip some tea while watching a funny movie or listening to music, but save your moments of eating to a non-distracted time.

Healthy, tasty food, eaten mindfully is a boost to our bodies, our minds, and our total well being. And taking time to notice and appreciate every bite is how we can eat to beat depression.

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2 replies on “How to Eat to Beat Depression: The Magic of Mindful Eating”

This is helpful information for everyone, whether affected by depression or not. I think that most of us can benefit from mindful eating, since we so often “multi-task” while we eat. Mindful eating will bring a little extra joy to our lives three times a day, and hopefully be a boost to those who are suffering from depression. Great article, Janet!

Thanks, Angela. We could all learn a lesson from the French. They eat well, but when they eat, they savor every bite, and they don’t eat while doing other things. It’s a good life style change to follow.

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