A recent study in the journal of Psychological Science reports that turning to comfort foods can improve your mood. Data from this research showed that consuming foods that are associated with good thoughts and warm feelings not only improves a sense of well-being, they also decrease loneliness.
Be it a warm, juicy roast with mashed potatoes, a hearty stew, bisquits and gravy or a lemon meringue pie, when we eat these comfort foods, we reconnect with meaningful associations to others. The research, which looked at the psychology of social surrogates (non-human experiences that make us feel connected) noted that just thinking about a comfort food or writing about it increased emotional well being.
When you're living with depression, it's important to know that there's also a physiological influence to the food you consume. The chemical structure of what you eat communicates with your body, which can affect cognition, influence mood and physical body states. Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neuropsychology at the University of Southern California, says, "Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain. The more balanced you make your meals, the more balanced will be your brain functioning."
Managing my depression requires me to be mindful about my own nutrition. Fortunately, I love to cook and often prepare balanced meals for myself and my family. When I'm out and about, I remind myself to order healthy entrees. When I have a bad day, and my energy level is low, I frequently reach for whatever's around. So, if I have healthy foods on-hand - that's a homerun. However, there are times that such foods aren't available, and find myself striking out by eating high-carb sugary snacks. Regrettably, these leave me feeling blobby and passive, not good states for a depressive-prone person. To offset these derailments, I make sure to take vitamins everyday. I try to eat foods with omega-3, like fish and eggs since I can't stomach the omega-3 supplements...and when it comes to comfort foods, I make a double batch and freeze the rest for "comfort food emergencies".
When working with patients with mood disorders, I educate them to choose foods that vary in vitamins and minerals, contain omega-3 and have other healthy ingredients. I encourage them to make sure to nourish themselves on a regular basis everyday. Keeping power bars or nutritional drinks at home, at the office, a backpack or handbag can help if you've been too fatigued or listless to eat more healthfully. It's also good to note that If you're too tired and overwhelmed to go out to shop, local supermarkets, and other food companies offer online shopping and delivery. There are even farm harvest networks where you can buy a share of fruits or vegetables.
If cooking wisely and well is not your forte, call on friends and family to help you. Keep in mind that local churches, temples, and community organizations offer Meals-on-Wheels programs, which deliver nutritious foods right to your doorstep at no cost. You can also access the Meals on Wheels Association directly should you want to arrange for this on your own.
Remember, when you're depressed, you need to feed your mind, body and soul with all things good.
Derrick, J.L.; Gabriel, S. & Hugenberg, K. (2009). Social surrogacy: How favored television programs provide the experience of belonging. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(2), 352-362.
Ross, B.M., Seguin, J. & Sieswerda, L.E. (2007). Omega-3 fatty acids as treatments for mental illness: Which disorder and which fatty acid? Lipids in Health and Disease, 8: 6-21.
Editorial Note: Dr. Deborah Serani is the author of Living with Depression" by The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.