"Eating is a prerequisite for life"
September 18, 2019 8:19 AM   Subscribe

How To Feed Yourself When You're Depressed For those of us who occasionally (or more than occasionally) struggle to find the energy to refuel ourselves, here are a small handful of ways to get some nutrition.
posted by hanov3r (78 comments total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
No one who owns a jar of Nutella ever starved to death
posted by thelonius at 8:26 AM on September 18, 2019 [18 favorites]

also peanut butter
posted by supermedusa at 8:37 AM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

totino's party pizzas

end list
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:38 AM on September 18, 2019 [12 favorites]

Some of his recommended recipes are a bit tricky! I notice when I am depressed I crave junk food, and when I eat junk food I feel more depressed. My go-tos when I am super worn out and hate the thought of putting any effort into cooking are:

- Toast two slices of bread, butter, Greek yogurt and honey on top
- Fried eggs (eggs are so magic, nutrition-wise)
- Simmer chicken broth, whisk two eggs, do a little whirlpool with the soup, pour eggs through a spatula into pot—egg drop soup!
- couscous is way quicker than rice. Boil water, dump couscous in along with oil or butter (and for me, salt, pepper, and lemon juice), cover pan and take off heat, fluff after five minutes and maybe add some grated cheese.
- old reliable the peanut butter sandwich or peanut butter on crackers
- rotisserie chicken from the store, eat with fingers straight from fridge

If you don’t mind waiting around for the oven, a baked potato topped with olive oil and healthy stuff (rather than bacon bits and sour cream) is great comfort food.

It’s always easy to grab an apple or banana or cut up a big pepper if you managed to make it to the grocery store.
posted by sallybrown at 8:43 AM on September 18, 2019 [25 favorites]

A recent vanlife review article talked about getting some healthy low cal food out of a cooler on the road. One recommendation was a Romaine lettuce leaf for a shell with hummus, cheese, and diced tomatoes. Sounded worth a try.
posted by aleph at 8:46 AM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am so glad to see this article. I trend well below average body weight, and my native response to depression is to stop eating. It’s a dangerous and often quick spiral for me to hit a body weight that sets my systems into serious disequilibrium which increases the depression and makes it even harder to find my way out.

My experience has been that few people understand what a critical problem this is for skinny people (and yes, skinny-shaming is a thing too).
posted by Silvery Fish at 8:53 AM on September 18, 2019 [28 favorites]

These days my can't-deal meals are eggs and toast (although frequently the toast is homemade bread, somehow). Ellio's. Mini pretzels with enormous scoops of hummus (enormous).

There was a time that I stood in the kitchen and ate sauerkraut straight from the can. Those weren't great years.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:54 AM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

- Simmer chicken broth, whisk two eggs, do a little whirlpool with the soup, pour eggs through a spatula into pot—egg drop soup!


I have to try this.
posted by hanov3r at 8:55 AM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have to recommend Cooking is Terrible as a resource for feeding yourself not-awful food when you just Can't with things. It's less about recipes and more about mix-and-match formulas which are really helpful when you have to throw something together based on what's left in the fridge.
posted by Gordafarin at 8:58 AM on September 18, 2019 [23 favorites]

When my husband was depressed and doing chemo, we had Lowest Effort Oatmeal:

1 bowl or container
1 part oats (any kind)
Equal volume liquid (water or milk or whatever you have on hand. In a pinch, I've used thinned-out yogurt and/or apple sauce.)

Dump everything in a bowl or any container big enough. Stick in the fridge. Lid or cover optional. Edible any point after 8 hours, though steel cut oats are better after a day or two. If you can't manage to eat it at a given time, it stays good in the fridge for a long time, which can help with guilt.

If you have the energy, tossing a little cinnamon or a handful of raisins or some maple syrup or honey or fresh fruit will make it taste better. Peanut butter adds calories and protein; Nutella makes it so that you'll actually want to eat it. These can be hard to stir in if it's straight from the fridge, though.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:06 AM on September 18, 2019 [12 favorites]

Step one of eating food is having food around.

Therefore, my level 0 foods would be goods that don't go bad (so I can just keep a stock) and require no prep. Canned baby corn . Canned fruit. Canned peas. Canned lots of things really. Rice cakes (and the aforementioned Nutella). Etc.

Level 1 is anything I can prepare in a single dish in the microwave. (Stovetop is just asking for me to burn down the house.) Protip, you can microwave pasta. Will it be amazing pasta? Probably not, but it will be cooked. You can poach eggs in the microwave. You can make really quite yummy brownies with Nutella swirl in the microwave. (Toaster oven is also an option, especially good for ready made frozen foods).

If any kind of prep (beyond put things together in container and stick into cooking appliance) or perishables is involved, that's already advanced levels. At advanced levels, I do find eating obnoxiously healthy to be helpful because when everything tastes like despair, junk food is like, oh god why, whereas kale wheatgrass smoothies are like, sure, I can totally choke this down, it's not even supposed to taste good.
posted by Cozybee at 9:12 AM on September 18, 2019 [13 favorites]

(I would never consider ordering out to be level zero, like, hahaha, yeah right I'm looking up a delivery number and then calling a person and talking to them and making choices and then waiting for a delivery and arranging payment. no. Plus you need to, like, get dressed to answer the door and pretend to be a human being instead of a glob.)
posted by Cozybee at 9:18 AM on September 18, 2019 [43 favorites]

You know what's great low-effort food: grilled cheese and tomato soup (it comes in these grab and go containers now, microwave it for a minute and drink it). Get some carrot sticks too. It's usually under my energy threshold to make and it's got carbs and fat and even some vitamins too and generally makes me feel better.
posted by JDHarper at 9:19 AM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

I have a depressed friend who keeps canned sardines as a least effort food.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:29 AM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

Rinse some brown rice. Mix equal volumes of brown rice, wild rice, and sunflower seeds in a pot. (I buy them at the bulk food store, so I always have some around.) Cover with water or chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Be prepared to add more liquid if it evaporates away. You can tell that it's done when the wild rice starts to split. You can add anything else that you have lying around, like diced chicken, diced vegetables, soya sauce, or tofu. But, really, brown rice, wild rice, and sunflower seeds work well together by themselves.

Bag of almonds. Just eat them like candy.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:33 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm not a peanut butter fan, and I can't stand Nutella (I know, I know, I can hear the outraged gasps from here). My go-to's are:
- pasta in olive oil and stir-fried frozen mixed veggies with red pepper flakes and granulated garlic (I love fresh garlic, but peeling and sauteeing it isn't always something I'm up to doing)
- grilled cheese sandwich (buttered, no mayo)
- fried eggs
- cheddar cheese and a dash of Sriracha on Triscuits, popped into a hot toaster oven until the cheese is melted
- mixed dried vegetable chips at my local store, which are tasty and give me the illusion I'm eating somewhat healthily
- delivered food if I really can't even, though I try to keep that to a minimum
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:40 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

The one flaw in the "easier than showering" scale for me is that doing the dishes is harder than showering. Any recipe that requires the regular appearance of a clean pot or clean plates/containers for leftover storage can be a hurdle when I'm really in the depths.

Black dog staples for me: paper plates and bowls, cereal and milk, peanut butter and toast, salads (bagged greens + pre-chopped packaged vegetables + nuts + bottled dressing), charcuterie plates (package of sliced salami, olives, cherry tomatoes, baguette with spreadable cheese), hot turkey/roast beef sandwiches (deli meat, bread, and microwaved gravy to pour on top), herbal tea and tomato juice.
posted by northernish at 9:40 AM on September 18, 2019 [11 favorites]

Cozybee, those delivery apps like Grubhub can take care of all that. They save your past orders so you can reorder with one click. You can tip with you card on file, and if you put in the notes section to knock and leave the bag at your door and go away, they totally will. Definitely done this a time or two myself.
posted by ananci at 9:41 AM on September 18, 2019 [15 favorites]

Belgian Depression Salad.
posted by logicpunk at 9:42 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

• Peanut butter
• Triscuits
• Strawberry jam
• Chocolate
• More chocolate
posted by Thorzdad at 9:48 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

• breakfast for dinner (eggs and toast)
• peanut butter
• frozen raspberries
• dry unsalted almonds
• cheese slices & crackers
posted by Fizz at 9:57 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Salsa counts as a vegetable and is great with eggs. Ideally with a few toasted corn tortillas. It's better if you don't set the corn tortillas on fire over the burner.
Canned chili on top of spaghetti.
Sweet potatoes microwave in 8 - 9 minutes and are a vegetable, yay, it's just like self care.
Ramen. Add frozen peas, maybe poach an egg in it; that will make it seem like you tried. The article does not mention ramen, but it is ideal for depression and self-loathing. I actually love it, but hate to admit it.
posted by theora55 at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

Well based on that list, I must always be depressed.

Oh wait...

(seriously though - thanks for this useful list and also the comments within the post.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have to recommend Metafilter's Own!!!! Cooking is Terrible...
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:11 AM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I have to echo that ordering out is a huge anxiety landmine. What's wrong with a jar of Jif and a spoon?
posted by bookwo3107 at 10:19 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Annie Chun's pre-cooked sticky white rice in little microwaveable bowls are a lifesaver when I want a hot meal that feels like actual food but can't be bothered to cook. I have a ton of bottled things I can drizzle on top, as well as canned chicken and/or some cashews, and whatever's in the vegetable crisper (carrots, scallions, whatever). It is ready to go in a minute and it feels like I actually made a food.
posted by xingcat at 10:21 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

A countertop convection toaster oven has been a game changer for me.

English muffins freeze well.
Butter in a covered butterdish on the countertop.
Tupperware thing half filled with shredded cheese, other half with loosened salami slices, frozen.
Pasta sauce.

On a sheet of tinfoil, English muffin halves, buttered, sauced, salamied, cheesed. Convection heat for a few minutes until cheese is melted.
posted by porpoise at 10:32 AM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

Rice cookers have been featured on the blue before, and were it not for mine, me and my depression would have starved to death by now. A $20 one from Walmart does just fine, no need for an instant pot (though an instant pot does far more, but for a far higher price), and importantly, complete meals can be made in it, and without having to pay attention to it. The cooker pot and a bowl to eat out of make for easy clean-up. Since fresh ingredients are off the table, for not-starving shelf-stable options do just fine. The included steam basket opens up additional options as well.
posted by fragmede at 10:32 AM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

At the end of days where I am just Done, I eat microwaved spaghetti hoops with grated cheddar cheese.
If I have just a little energy and no hoops, I make what is known in my house as "sadness pasta" - it's just pasta mixed with baked beans and cheese. Only happens on bad days.

I worked a job once that was long hours and pretty physical, and I had days where I would come home, collapse on the couch and just cry because I was simultaneously hugely hungry, too hungry to sleep, and far, far too tired to actually feed myself. I was lucky enough to have a partner at the time who would make me food, but even asking me what I wanted sometimes caused a meltdown because I was too tired and hungry to even make decisions.
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:55 AM on September 18, 2019 [10 favorites]

I was hoping this would be tools to help me remember to eat. When I am depressed or manic and/or when I was deep in addiction I just don't think about eating for long periods of time. I have found a balance now but when I got sober I gained about 80 lbs because I started eating again. Having food or cooking food was never as much an issue as thinking that it was time to eat.

The things in the article are great to have around when I don't have the energy for preparing big meals but I do have the energy and inclination to eat. Except tomato soup. I'm not a picky eater but I can't eat any kind of tomato soup for some reason.

I'll also nth that ordering delivery or take-out is much harder for some of us than cooking when anxiety is high. It requires some level of personal interaction and usually it's the type that takes a lot of work for me to navigate. Instant meals and self checkout at the 24-hour grocery store has kept me alive more times than I can count.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 10:56 AM on September 18, 2019 [11 favorites]

I was hoping this would be tools to help me remember to eat.

There are a number of apps (if you want those on your phone) that can remind you to eat. This one seems like it will just allow you to state how many meals you want to be reminded of, and it'll set those alarms for you.
posted by xingcat at 11:05 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

stillnocturnal here is some sadness pasta for you.

if by some chance you don't know H&1/2, be sure to read this entire entry.
posted by supermedusa at 11:08 AM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Some of y’all put more effort into depression cooking than I do on good days. For me depressed eats is like:
•Dry cereal, by the handful, from the box.
•Peanut butter, off a knife, from the jar.
•Crackers and cheese.
•Maybe just cheese
posted by rodlymight at 11:13 AM on September 18, 2019 [29 favorites]

In the summertime, cheese+salami+cherry tomatoes is A+ depression food, if I have enough energy to make it through the store. (Winter is annie's mac with the addition of frozen peas.)

Also, these look like some good additions to my list of foods for when food is hard (which is not just about depression, but also not NOT about depression).
posted by epersonae at 11:25 AM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

•Crackers and cheese.
•Maybe just cheese

I also can’t resist a sleeve of plain Ritz crackers when when I’m out of cheese.
posted by sallybrown at 11:34 AM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Water. I'm not a nutritionist, or your nutritionist, but deliberately adding more water to the diet is the fix for dehydration, which may have some effect on appetite. Water can be added with soups and liquid-rich fruits and vegetables as well.

Chocolate. Nutella works in a pinch, but part of a bar of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate (60 % cacao) is a treat. Hershey chocolate ice cream topping or hot fudge work with bananas or apples as an ice cream substitute.

Peanut butter. I am partial to Peter Pan creamy whipped peanut butter (not oily on crackers). Again, good with bananas or apples. There are non-peanut varieties of nut butter, as well.

Cheese. Babybel mini snacks are quick and nutritious and somewhat portable over the day. Blocks of cheddar or other types, sliced off and eaten cool or slightly warmed in the microwave will give a protein shot. Ragu double cheese sauce works as a dip with toast and other carbs.

Fruit. Can say enough positive about snack-sized fruits like berries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, etc. Fresh, frozen, single-serving cups or cans. Canned peaches, pineapple and mandarin oranges are usually in my cabinets. Larger varieties of fruit can be found pre-cut in the produce aisle. Don't forget raisins and other dried fruits.

Veggies. Bagged root vegetables and greens are found in the frozen food aisle and some can be microwaved as needed. Potatoes and sweet potatoes nuke nicely. Canned green beans and sweet peas are convenient sources of vitamins.

Eggs. Boil a dozen and eat as needed, plain with a little salt or sliced into the condiment of your choice, with added meats and veggies (onion and pickle, potato salad, etc.)

The evolution of pouches. Idahoan loaded baked mashed potatoes. Knorr rice and pasta sides. Pouches of tuna and salmon and chicken. The shelf life is good enough for bulk purchase for those "can't be having with it" times.

Sweet Hawaiian rolls. When I know I should eat and nothing is appealing (due to allergies and medication) a roll is a simple solution. Warmed in the microwave with a little butter, or add something savory (pizza sauce, cheese sauce) or sweet (jam, honey, or cinnamon and sugar). Bread stays down without upsetting my stomach.
posted by TrishaU at 11:43 AM on September 18, 2019 [10 favorites]

This is just me and my current food choices, but you will notice that the above list is reducing or leaving out entirely the "Cs" -- cookies, cakes, candy, chips, cereal (Cinnamon Toast Crunch, I'm looking at you) and crackers (sometimes with peanut butter).
posted by TrishaU at 11:54 AM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

and if you put in the notes section to knock and leave the bag at your door and go away, they totally will. Definitely done this a time or two myself.

Wow, I never thought of doing that. No more struggling to make sure my body is covered enough to answer the door!
posted by Sangermaine at 12:21 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

My dad has recently had a lot of medical issues, and just had a pacemaker implanted. We've come to learn that apparently it can affect taste after the operation, and not in a good way.

You know it's bad when my dad can't even eat chocolate.

It's scary because he's not eating and he needs to to recover himself from this past 2 months worth of physical trauma.

But I think he was eating a shitton of Pizza Pringles (basically consisting off that and butterscotch candies) before this all to help cope with some depression and I think that kicked it all off, so uh...

posted by symbioid at 12:23 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]

This just drives home how difficult food therapy is to manage when you are Keto. The road back to ‘normal’ is paved with carbs and guilt.

On the plus side my BMI is not longer a trigger to self loathing.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:53 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]

This is good and helpful and also Costco sells these frozen triangular cheese/spinach raviolis that you can just put in a good no-stick skillet, dump some jar-tomato-sauce and parmesan cheese on top, and stick in the oven at 450 for 13-15 minutes. If you've got a good no-stick skillet this whole thing should just bake into a mass that comes out all at once, so the cleanup is pretty much mostly done for you.

Also I need to learn to stop feeding myself so much when I'm stressed or depressed.
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:55 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Miso has saved me many times when my anxiety has spiked and the thought of food has made me nauseous. I toss a poached egg in too.
posted by Bacon Bit at 12:58 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Cereal. Either dry from the box or with almond milk - dependent on how bad the depression is.

This is why I currently have 7 different kinds of cereal in my cupboard. Easy way to give myself choice, plus I don't get tired of eating only one thing for multiple meals in a row.
posted by twilightlost at 1:07 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is not a contest but I think I win. My saddest food ever was a Thanksgiving I spent alone during college, in which all there was to eat in the room was whipped cream (directly from a can into my mouth) and a handful of sunflower seeds I scavenged from the carpet from a mess I had made a few days before (seeds still in the shell thankfully).
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:27 PM on September 18, 2019 [12 favorites]

ok but what if your depression problem is that you turn into a carb vacuum
posted by Anonymous at 2:05 PM on September 18, 2019

ok but what if your depression problem is that you turn into a carb vacuum

Im right here, you don,t have to talk about me like that
posted by supermedusa at 2:11 PM on September 18, 2019 [22 favorites]

A can of chickpeas mixed with orzo. Or just a can of chickpeas.
posted by pickles_have_souls at 3:54 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, and if you pre-mix cinnamon, sugar, and salt in a shaker bottle, and keep your butter at room temperature, you can make cinnamon toast in three or four minutes.
posted by pickles_have_souls at 4:00 PM on September 18, 2019 [12 favorites]

Screwdriver, 50% vodka, 50% orange juice
posted by kirkaracha at 4:07 PM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

As of this moment, 49 of us have marked this post as a fave. Makes me even moar sad...
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 4:23 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Right now I'm chewing the last piece of a deep dish Hawaiian bbq pizza. Oh - dipped in their own Ranch dressing. It's literally the only place close enough to us that will deliver. That will be followed by some cinnamon bread and coffee from the store. Thank the lord that more places don't deliver here. DH and I have agreed that if I get the job I'm waiting to hear about, we are hiring someone to cook for us once a week. Depression sucks.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 4:30 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

For those of you with depression experience, I'm curious to what extent the basic animal drive to eat is still operating. Do you literally feel hungry less often or less intensely? If some food that you previously enjoyed magically appeared before you, would you not want to eat it? Will getting sufficiently hungry actually force you to get up and eat something?
posted by leibniz at 4:58 PM on September 18, 2019

Routine helps. Always eat the same thing for breakfast in good times, so that in bad times your hands will move themselves.

Meat and mayo sandwiches. A terrible lunch! But few ingredients, quick preparation, and the hands they move themselves.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:59 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sometimes depression kills my appetite, sometimes it makes me incapable of food prep but having appetite (so i wind up eating really weirdly) but sometimes it turns me into a carb-sucking monster and i,ll eat to the point of physical pain (i think this is driven by wanting to supercede emotional pain with fear of belly rupture)
posted by supermedusa at 5:08 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you literally feel hungry less often or less intensely?

Yes. Plus there's a dangerous thing where the light-headed spaciness of not eating enough feels as close to "euphoric" (or even "good") as I'm able to experience at that time, so it seems appealing.

If some food that you previously enjoyed magically appeared before you, would you not want to eat it?

Depends. I might try to make myself eat a few bites, but when in the depths of depression it's fairly common for me to have the experience of food turning to wet cardboard in my mouth after a bite or two. The texture is bad, the flavor is bad, and it feels like forcing myself to eat it would make me ill.

Will getting sufficiently hungry actually force you to get up and eat something?

Get up and eat something? Get up at all? No.
posted by Lexica at 5:22 PM on September 18, 2019 [10 favorites]

I'm curious to what extent the basic animal drive to eat is still operating
This is nothing to do with hunger, this is about low-effort, affordable dopamine reward to plug a hole inside ones self. The original sugar pill that will not cure but minimizes symptoms real and imagined.

See also the economically-disadvantaged propensity for buying for ‘junk’ food over healthy choices.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 5:24 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

When my/our last (final) cat died all I could do was eat bananas one after the other whilst crying and telling everyone around me "It's alright, I'm fine, I'm just really upset!" (verbatim). So bananas, definitely. Or whatever your fruit is.

Zero-effort solid snacking is The Way (OK, My Way). A 1-2cm wide slice of cheese whenever passing the fridge is good. Boiling a kettle for instant noodles is good, but pre-packaged flavoured couscous is better. Tinned fish is godly, stock up on whichever you like most. I don't like tinned potatoes, but when it comes to it I'd eat them cold from a tin where I wouldn't any other veg.

Implicit in the above is the idea of keeping a cupboard, when you're able to.

Tescos sell inoffensive 65p frozen lasagnes, curries, etc which aren't too big and essentially cook themselves in the microwave or oven. Stash a load in yr freezer.

"sadness pasta" - it's just pasta mixed with baked beans and cheese
This actually sounds filling and tasty! I had a friend whose thing was mash, beans, a dash of brown sauce and a bit of cheese in a sandwich toaster toasted sandwich and those worked wonders too when he'd make us them.

Come to think of it, beans/ravioli/spaghetti/chilli on toast always = a solid "eaten something" meal.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 6:12 PM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

My least-effort depression food is the fried egg sandwich, maybe followed by an apple. Also pasta with ready-made sauce (I always make my own sauces when I'm feeling better). Luckily, my nearest well-stocked food shop is directly across the street, so i can get all these things relatively easily, although I may spend a whole day in bed trying to nerve myself to get dressed and go there.
posted by Fuchsoid at 6:23 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you literally feel hungry less often or less intensely?

For me, being on the autism spectrum means that my hunger and thirst cues are just generally kind of fucked. I usually remember to eat by sticking to a routine of regular meal times, but executive function issues (which also affect many people with major depression) can throw those off kilter, and then I will often forget to eat meals on any kind of regular interval. It's not unusual for me to not notice hunger until I'm light-headed and it's been up to 18 hours since I ate something.

When my anxiety is acting up, food can often be actively aversive: there's shame involved in whether or not I "deserve" to eat anything but the most inexpensive food available, ideally something I already own; there's shame in whether or not I am going to be judged for eating what I want to eat, and there's shame in not being able to do a basic function. Sometimes, when my mental health is in a really bad shape, eating can be terrifyingly high pressure and can trigger shame spirals. (My anxiety and my depression are pretty hard to disentangle, honestly.)

If some food that you previously enjoyed magically appeared before you, would you not want to eat it?

I'm going to add a content warning in this section for discussion of the experience of mental-health based disordered eating.

Quite possibly. Sometimes leaving food that smells good near my face helps. Sometimes it helps to not be watched. Sometimes it helps to be gently and lovingly bullied into eating (my entire house will sometimes do this and stare at me if I don't start eating a food, which works only because I trust all three of them). Sometimes it helps to just eat whatever my toddler brain will accept and work on building habits of eating, and then remind myself that I do actually love other foods, too.

Bonus: all of this shit can trigger its own kinds of shame spirals, because what kind of dysfunctional human has this much trouble with eating? What kind of human sometimes can't eat at all? Is this malingering because when I do eat, I'm not always eating things that are "good" for me? If I wind up giving myself type II diabetes, is that my fault, is that another thing to feel bad about? And oh, oh, oh, it is so easy particularly if you are female to get actively praised for not needing or wanting to eat. Oh, it is tempting, sometimes, to just not bother at all. It's healthy not to eat all those bad things, right? Surely eating fewer and fewer things is healthy? I'm not skinny; surely it's right for me to eat less?

Yeah, that leads to bad places.


I have a lot of sympathy for your dad and his current health scare, but: no. Eat whatever you will eat. Eat whatever you can eat. If all you can eat is butterscotch candies, meet yourself where you're at, and do not let shame encourage you not to eat at all. Some of us? Some of us fucking won't, so fucking do not tell people who are struggling with mental health and kickstarting their ability to eat to not do something as basic as eating. That shit, that can make things worse because an unfed brain is not a well functioning one (cf. Lexica's comment about hunger euphoria). Depression is one thing where saying "don't do" can be dangerous when it comes to someone who is having trouble meeting their basic needs, because it's so hard sometimes to do anything at all.

Instead, it helps to find out where hurdles to eating foods that make better long-term fuels are and solve them. So shit like this post can be a godsend; well-meaning exhortations to just eat real food already can instead trigger more shame and make the whole thing worse.
posted by sciatrix at 7:17 PM on September 18, 2019 [17 favorites]

Most of the ideas in the article seem like too much of a pain in the ass for a lazy day, let alone depression.

I know rice-cooker rice is technically "easy" but it involves getting the cooker out, measuring rice and water, and cleaning the cooker afterwards. Just get a packet of Uncle Ben's microwave rice, nuke it for 90 seconds and you're done. It still takes butter and soy sauce just the same.

Fried eggs can be tricky if you don't want them crispy (I hate crispy edges on eggs.) Scrambled are a lot easier, and who's got the energy to fuck with a cast-iron pan? Get nonstick, depression time is no time to be snooty about your pans. Microwave bacon is a pretty easy and appetizing accompaniment if you have the energy to tear off a paper towel and spend 30 seconds arranging the slices.

Canned soups like Progresso are dump, heat and eat. No mucking about with figuring out miso-to-water ratio (plus also being the type of person who just happens to have miso hanging around in your fridge.) You can even buy chicken broth in a big resealable carton to keep in your fridge if you want to heat up a quick cup of hot broth in the microwave.

Pre-cut veggies are a godsend when you want something that feels virtuous, without all the chopping. Dunk some baby carrots and snow peas into a container of ready-made hummus for a filling, nutritious light meal or snack.

A handful of lunch meat straight out of the fridge is a perfectly adequate if not exactly fancy way to get some protein in you. So is a fistful of breast meat straight off of the rotisserie chicken, eaten at the kitchen counter or while sitting at the computer.

If all else fails, there's always cereal.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:39 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

For those of you with depression experience, I'm curious to what extent the basic animal drive to eat is still operating. Do you literally feel hungry less often or less intensely?

Sometimes I literally wouldn’t feel hungry at all, long past when I would normally have eaten a meal (or two, or three), and I would just forget to eat. Sometimes I would only be reminded that I should eat by my stomach making horrible audible-to-those-around-me growling noises. Other times food would be so repulsive to me on a physical level that if I put it in my mouth I couldn’t force myself to swallow it.

If some food that you previously enjoyed magically appeared before you, would you not want to eat it?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. One antidepressant stole my sense of taste for an extended period of time - everything I ate might as well have been sand. I turned down dinner date invitations to my favourite restaurant because it would have been wasted on me (and I would have found eating it without enjoyment even more depressing).

Will getting sufficiently hungry actually force you to get up and eat something?

Sometimes (this is what my emergency stash of Ensure and Clif bars are for). Other times no, and I’d just wind up drinking water and going to bed early.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:02 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

>For those of you with depression experience, I'm curious to what extent the basic animal drive to eat is still operating. Do you literally feel hungry less often or less intensely?


>If some food that you previously enjoyed magically appeared before you, would you not want to eat it?

I would not. Eating food you know you once enjoyed and having it taste like nothing is upsetting. I'd rather eat food I don't expect to enjoy.

>Will getting sufficiently hungry actually force you to get up and eat something?

My worst ever incident, a low I have been careful to never return to, I was lying in bed and I felt physically quite sick and bad and I was trying to understand why because I wasn't having the usual sickness symptoms.
... When was the last time I ate?
Not today...
Definitely not yesterday...
I think I might have eaten something two days ago.
I should probably eat a thing.
Oh look I have no food in the house.
Well I could go back to bed...
(but instead I dragged myself to the store. Nothing looked good. I eventually bought and ate a banana.)
posted by Cozybee at 8:12 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yogurt. Throw in some fruit.

Yogurt. Add salsa. Eat with chips.

Yogurt. Add jam or honey.

Toast. Spread with soft cheese. Add tomatoes.

Bread. Top with mustard, then tomatoes. Put medium hard cheese on top, stick under broiler until cheese melts.

Cheese and nuts and maybe a piece of fruit or whatever else can be eaten with hands and doesn't require cooking.

Frozen burritos. Those organic ones with the chicken & street corn variety.

Hummus and pita chips.

Hummus and precut veg.

On a better day:
Chop veggies. Roast in oven. Smear hummus on a plate. Dump veggies on top. Eat.

Previously I asked a question about depression food and got a lot of answers.
posted by bunderful at 8:13 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the responses everyone (this is turning into a weird kind of ask-meta). It looks like appetite is genuinely suppressed, but it could still be operating at a lower level, and we are generally well-fed enough that it takes a really long time before the the body says - you have to eat right now.
posted by leibniz at 9:17 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I never have an appetite, and I only get the sensation of hunger after I eat. Annoying.

V8 dumped in a cup and microwaved for 45 seconds = soup. Feeling fancy? Add grated parmesan. This might be a little sodium heavy for some of you; me, I don't care.

Stuff they pre-package for harried parents works for me, small meals: washed baby carrots in 2 oz packages, 3 oz of hummus or guac, 2 oz of Jif pb -- and lots of water and pre-cut fruit.

If not for this stuff, I would stand at the fridge, sigh, and pour a glass of water. And I am not even depressed, I just can't be bothered with food (taste disorder).
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 10:16 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

When I'm in a lull, I can't function enough to cook or put something together for myself. It has to be something that I can open and eat immediately. So I keep a couple of those hummus and pretzel snack packs around and those Smuckers pre-made pb&j sandwiches.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 10:44 PM on September 18, 2019

I have both anxiety/depression, and Spastic Paraparesis, which also causes fatigue at times.

I also have about 30 cans of vegetables, because I live in Earthquake Country, and came across a *great* sale a couple of weeks ago, when I had the energy to shop.

My favorite Depression/Low Energy Meal:

Take a packet of ramen - the higher quality the better, but any ramen will do.
Make it as usual in a large pan. I don't have a stovetop or hotplate, so I boil it up in my Instant Pot on 'Saute'.
When the noodles are cooked, add a whole can of vegetables. Add beans or an egg if you want protein. Maybe a sausage; I have frozen whole chicken sausages in the freezer. I can just add one of those, and let it all simmer until it's all cooked through.

It's vaguely nutritious, and I can eat off of it all day if I make it in the morning.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:17 PM on September 18, 2019

Sometimes, I can also plan ahead - I know that tomorrow I'll have to do a lot of studying at home, and I'll be really low energy. So, I splurged on some takeout veggie curry from one of my favorite restaurants (All Hail Cafe Zum Zum), complete with an extra order of rice and some Indian sour mango pickle (achaar). Ate half of it today, will nom on the rest tomorrow while I'm studying and resting.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:20 PM on September 18, 2019

Geez, delivery is about a level six on decision making and anxiety inducement. My personal no effort food for times when I have no appetite due to anxiety or depression is hummus and carrot sticks or cheese and crackers. Or yoghurt.

And it sounds gross but the most effective and least effort food is yoghurt and canned tuna. High protein, easy to eat, doesn't crash blood sugar levels like a lot of carbs. Discovered this when I was both depressed and didn't have a kitchen.
posted by tectressa at 3:02 AM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cereal is a weird one because I find it too much effort to eat. Like, each spoonful is slightly difficult if you have it with milk because it wants to drip, and I don't like it dry. I can never eat cereal when food is difficult because UGH too much effort, and just for cereal which meh. Apples are similar, either I have to cut them up or eat them whole, and that's effort.

Other reasons food can seem too overwhelming:
- It requires more than two or three steps (open, put in microwave or oven, add cheese or sauce. Putting bread in the toaster and then buttering toast is two steps).
- It requires me to pay attention: frying anything, most stovetop cooking. Chopping anything.
- It will produce mess that cannot go into the dishwasher.

I have just eaten plain slices of bread out of the bag and called it a day. My issue is less depression and more that my executive function goes right out the window when I'm worn out. So it's never that I don't have an appetite, it's that I can't handle being hungry and tired at the same time and the steps required to get food seem completely impossible and overwhelming.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:38 AM on September 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

Oh, and I don't know if they're a big thing in the US but - potato scones! They can be done in a toaster, and then just eaten, by hand. They also go great with baked beans and whatever prepared meat or meat-substitute you have in the fridge.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:46 AM on September 19, 2019

I'm not depressed, but my commute is the best part of two hours each way, and I cannot imagine having enough time or energy on a work night to cook. During the working week I live on sandwiches, toast (from frozen sliced bread, so I don't even need to check it's not gone mouldy before sticking it in the toaster), hummus with pitta bread, and M&S microwavable ready meals. (Microwave, specifically, because I don't really have 40 minutes to spare to wait for something to cook in the oven.) Or sometimes literally just a piece of cheese. All of these things, apart from the loaf of frozen bread, I can pick up from the little M&S on the station before I get on the train home. I think I might starve if it closed.

No takeaways, incidentally. A fun thing about living in a small provincial town is that there aren't many takeaways in the first place, and if you don't get home till gone 9pm or god help you 10pm, most of them will be shut.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:47 AM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Frozen rice and veggies in a bag with an egg scrambled (easy fried rice) was one of my old living alone go tos as well as quesadillas in the toaster oven.

Also the aforementioned cheese, fruit, hummus, almonds, etc snack meals
posted by typecloud at 10:42 AM on September 19, 2019

So I realize this marks me as a certain kind of hypernerd, but in these situations I always thank the stars above for the fact that I have no problem subsisting on Huel 75% of the time. Huel is a Soylent-esque meal substitute that's more nutritionally complete, vegan and totally shelf-stable. Admittedly it doesn't really have a taste. But it takes less than 60 seconds to prepare and consume and then you don't have to think about food anymore, or grocery shopping, or whether the groceries you bought are slowly rotting while you eat boxed mac & cheese for the fifth day in a row. And I have a subscription, so the boxes of Huel just show up on my front door. It's legitimately nourishing, I've lost weight and I can devote my sometimes diminished executive function to other things like keeping myself employed. But obviously this wouldn't work for everyone.
posted by zeusianfog at 3:03 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

A slow cooker has been a GAMECHANGER for my depression/illness/fatigue meals. Chuck a whole bunch of random things in the pot in the morning or overnight, wait till later - BOOM. Enough to live on for a week or more.
posted by divabat at 4:32 PM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Trader Joe's frozen dishes and salads, yogurt, cheese/salami packs. That's it. Open, maybe heat in the microwave, eat. The hardest part is going to TJ to buy it. This is basically all I eat at home and my physicals are always great. Win.
posted by soakimbo at 9:15 PM on September 19, 2019

Just chiming in to say thanks for the tips, but also to add that many of these things are exponentially more difficult when you add poverty into the equation. I don't have an answer for that, besides something like cooking on a bootstrap. All I can say is: you are not alone.
posted by Acey at 3:13 AM on September 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Vegemite might only be palatable to Aussies, but it has Vitamin B and a reasonable amount of protein. It goes well on any buttered bread or large crackers you have, although it's nicest on toast. You only need a little bit at a time but a large jar will keep forever. The drawback is that unlike peanut butter most folks won't enjoy eating it off a spoon.

If you have fresh stuff and the energy, slices of tomato and/or avocado and/or any type of common cheese are good with it too and extend the range of vitamins in the meal.

Milo, with or without milk, has also been my friend when I couldn't manage real meals. It was my autopilot breakfast for nearly 20 years and makes a nice topping sprinkled on icecream too. Again, a large tin will keep for years between uses, if need be.
posted by harriet vane at 5:05 AM on September 21, 2019

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