Food is the most obvious source of our energy. However, when we are depressed, anxious, ill, or overwhelmed by responsibilities, our diet often suffers.
Some people overeat during difficult times. They may report that food doesn't seem any more tasty or attractive than usual, but eating is something to do. Food may seem to fill a void - but never for very long.
Others find that they eat less than usual when things go wrong. They may know that they have to eat to maintain their strength and energy. But they either don't have the time or they experience a lack of appetite.
Recommendation: During difficult times, continue to eat regularly. Even though you may not feel particularly hungry, your body's need for fuel continues.
Tips on keeping up adequate nutrition
- Eat regular meals
It is usually easiest to eat (and to control what you eat) if you keep to a routine. Try to have 3 set mealtimes per day. Ensure that you have enough food at home for all 3.
- Eat by the clock, not by your stomach
If you have lost your appetite, push yourself to eat at mealtimes anyway. If you have been overeating, try to eat only at mealtimes while sitting at the table.
- Make it easy
The effort of preparing a meal can be a barrier to getting enough nutrition. The important thing is to eat, not to cook! Buy foods that are easier to prepare (but keep an eye on their nutritional value). Once your energy returns you can go back to more elaborate dishes.
- Make extra
You can cut your preparation time by making larger amounts than you need and refrigerating or freezing certain dishes for reheating later.
- Make it healthy
Most people find that if they have unhealthy food in the house they'll eat it. If you don't plan to eat it, why buy it? Instead, stock up on nutritious food and snacks.
- Watch your sugar intake
If depression or overeating has been a problem, avoid eating too much refined sugar. Complex carbohydrates (like pasta, breads, fruits, and vegetables) are generally preferable.
- Avoid dieting
Do you really want to lose weight? If so, ask yourself how long you want to maintain the lower weight. If you want to maintain that weight for longer than a few days or weeks, then avoid strict diets. These may change your metabolism so that you gain weight even faster when you end the diet. And ask yourself whether a "miracle supplement" is really likely to do what it advertises - or whether you plan to take it for the rest of your life. It is much better to adopt healthy (rather than excessively restrictive) eating habits and burn more calories by increasing your physical activity. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you will have to change the relationship between the calories you eat and the calories you burn off through activity - and you will have to change your lifestyle in the long term to maintain that new relationship. Also remember that our culture promotes images of unhealthy thinness. Before attempting to lose weight, determine whether you really are too heavy. See your physician for further advice.
Changeways (a program developed at the Department of Psychology, Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre)
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team