Dieting while struggling with depression and anxiety

Published on January 2, 2021 by Cori Grămescu

Depression and anxiety seem very difficult but going outside, eating healthier and being social can really make a difference and I would like to share my experience and tips on how to get over them.

As a survivor of depression, I was often asked how I manage my everyday diet on the days when I feel numb, unwilling to get out of bed, wash my teeth or breathe. Or when anxiety cripples me over and I can barely breathe for hours in a row.

In the early days of my depression, I didn’t manage anything. I would just lay in bed, in the dark, without washing for weeks in a row, staring at the walls. I still have a tendency, when I’m not feeling well, to numb my pain by scrolling endlessly on social media or the internet, and subconsciously comparing myself with others. I can technically live on bread, butter and swiss cheese for days in a row (don’t ask) and I once ate 3 kilos of danish cookies a day during the peak of my depression. So, I know a thing or two about not functioning and getting out of that state of emotions.

Luckily, most people only experience milder forms of depression or face days when they feel unmotivated or a bit down, but the list below helps you navigate with a certain degree of success the days when you feel like there’s no purpose to anything and you might as well give it all up.

What I feel is a chemical imbalance

Whenever I feel really down and unable to exist, it helps me a lot to repeat this out loud to myself. I acknowledge my pain, but I also distance myself from it. Viewing my depression as an outside illness helps me get into the “fixing” mindset. I know from my therapist and my psychiatrist that these actions radically improve my physical state during depression:

  • Stay in the sun, spend time outdoors in nature
  • Channel my anger in contact sports (hello, kickboxing or boxing)
  • Drink water, exercise mildly and do breathing exercises to embody my emotions
  • Spend time with people I like and I have a genuine connection with
  • Be open about my depression with my close group of friends

Regarding my depression as external to me, I can begin to work on it. I usually drag myself outside the house for a long walk while listening to an audiobook I like. This helps me disconnect my mind from my depression and regain focus on something else. While walking, I take deep breaths and relax my body. I think they call this mindful walking.

I just focus on feeling my body in the movement and inhaling as much air as I can and keeping it for 4-6 seconds in my lungs. After an initial heart rush, things start to feel better. Then, there’s my daily kickbox class. I work out with a trainer and release all my anger. I punch and hit like a mad woman, but it really helps me release all these emotions through my body. It’s amazing how effective it is and I’m doing it whenever I feel the tension building up inside my mind.

I also have an agenda to meet people I like and I care about. I still have a strong tendency to isolate and lay in the dark and I linger on without actually having any sort of motivation. My friends know about my depression and they stopped encouraging me to “feel better”, and it really helps just to stay there with them without feeling awkward.

I do things that I know are good for me without feeling like I want to do them. I just focus on “It’s good for me, so I do it as medicine”.

Eating healthier can really turn you around

It helps me a lot when it comes to food choices. Of course, I would eat fast food or pasta or cookies when I’m feeling like crap. Of course, fried chicken tastes better than grilled fish. Of course, French fries taste better than grilled vegetables. However, I know that eating healthy nutritious foods nourish my body and help maintain my blood sugar levels stable and this improves how I’m feeling.

So, I choose to eat better without feeling like it. The way I manage this is to eat tastier. For instance, I order Thai vegetarian dishes that are both veggie-packed and tasty or add lots and lots of spices and flavors when I cook at home, so that food is actually tasty, not just healthy.

I also make sure I eat sufficiently for my needs. This means eating a large plate of vegetables with each main meal, having enough protein and not reducing my complex carb intake. I have a large slice of rye bread or some good 5-6 spoons of rice or a large potato with each meal.

When the brain struggles with depression or anxiety, the cognitive processes that help us navigate the emotional distress require more energy to complete the daily tasks, so it’s better to feed yourself a bit more complex carbs from healthy sources to support the process. Otherwise, the cookie crave you feel when you’re feeling crappy is your body’s way to signal its needs in the same dysfunctional way it got depression in the first place

I don’t ask too much of myself

This was a lesson I learned the hard way. After a second miscarriage that ended up with internal bleeding and a major surgery performed in emergency, I pushed myself to immediately resume my professional activities and daily life. I was under the influence of will over feelings moto and I kept pushing and pushing myself to get over it. 3 months later I was in my worst emotional state ever, contemplating the fact that death seemed a far better option than my life. Therapy and a good psychiatrist that guided my treatment without jumping on medicating me immediately helped me recover, but it was a good lesson.

I acknowledge the days I’m really feeling down and if I manage to crawl out of the bed and wash my teeth, I already credit myself for the accomplishment. If I manage to take a shower, I really honor my effort. Do I eat decently? I’m my own hero. Of course, accepting myself and even showing a bit of self-love also helps.

I take it from there, I do what I can and it’s ok, I mean really, deep-down ok. Depression has taken most of my perfectionist dreams and unrealistic standards away, and I’ve learned to be at peace with a less-impressive version of myself and my life. I just do what I can.

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