Depression and Appetite


Depression is a feeling of sadness that does not go away for two weeks or longer and begins to interfere with your ability to function day to day. One of the most common signs of depression is a change in how much you eat. For some people with depression, this means a loss of appetite, while for others, the amount you eat may increase.

Loss of appetite can be an early sign of depression or a warning of a depression relapse. On the other hand, some people can’t stop eating when they are depressed. A sudden change in weight, either gaining or losing, can be a warning of depression, especially in someone who has other symptoms of depression or a history of depression.


Effects on appetite

Changes in your eating habits may be related to other symptoms of depression, such as fatigue and a lack of pleasure from activities. Many people with depression lose both energy and interest. This can include a loss of interest in eating. This may be especially true for older people with depression, who may lose interest in cooking and don’t have the energy to prepare meals. For others, nausea may be a symptom of their depression and a cause for loss of appetite.

While loss of appetite is a common depression symptom, feelings of sadness or worthlessness can make some people overeat. Depression can also result in emotional eating, a common event in which the need to eat is not associated with physical hunger. Instead, emotional eating is eating in response to emotional hunger. When patients eat in response to their emotions, they are soothed by the food as it changes the chemical balance in the brain, produces a feeling of fullness that is more comfortable than an empty stomach, and improves mood through positive association with happier times.


Do you need to help from a Doctor?

Different people with depression have different symptoms, but a sudden change in appetite is a common sign of depression that should not be ignored. Here are warning signs you should tell your doctor about:

  • A change in appetite along with other symptoms, such as sadness, guilt, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, changes in sleep, or digestive symptoms like constipation or nausea
  • Eating to avoid thinking about your problems or to avoid your feelings, or eating even though you are not hungry
  • Any change in eating habits or a significant change in your weight, especially if you have a history of depression. People with depression can experience severe weight loss that can be dangerous to their physical health.
  • Any thoughts of death or suicide; if this happens, let your doctor know immediately

Healthy diet to fight off depression

Trying to stick to your regular eating habits as well as eating a healthy diet may help you manage depression. There is no depression diet that will cure or prevent clinical depression, but there is research to show that some diets are better than others for depression. These nutrition tips may help:

  • Mediterranean diet. There is some research to support that a Mediterranean-style diet, which is high in fruits, nuts, legumes, and olive oil, and low in saturated fats, decreases the risk of depression.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. These substances are found in cold-water fish and have been shown to be important in brain function. Some studies show that they may enhance a person’s response to antidepressant medications.
  • Vitamins and nutrients. Research shows that deficiency of nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and tryptophan can have a negative effect on mood. Consequently, poor nutrition that results from loss of appetite can further exacerbate depression.
  • Nutritional support. You may want to talk to a dietitian about your eating habits. A dietitian can help someone with depression by creating a nutritionally balanced meal plan that takes into account the patient’s individual needs. For example, the depressed patient may not have the energy or desire to prepare a meal. The dietitian will consider this and create menus that utilize easy-to-prepare foods. People with severe depression who experience a loss of appetite may need nutritional supplements to help prevent weight loss and nutrient deficiency.

Let your doctor know about significant changes in your weight and any other symptoms of depression. If you have been diagnosed with depression, a change in eating habits could mean that your depression is getting worse. Treatment works, so don’t ignore these possible warning signs of depression.

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