Diet and Lifestyle Management of Depression

What you eat can help prevent some forms of depression and studies have shown benefits associated with a healthy balanced diet along with regular exercise and stress management. Although there is no definitive diet to cure depression dietary change can bring about positive changes to the chemical and physiological function of the brain to improve mood and mental outlook. The following dietary advice has been shown to help in this respect:

  • Drink sufficient fluids- aiming for 8-10 cups a day, this is important as dehydration can be detrimental to mood. 
  • Try to include oily fish as some small studies have indicated that the omega 3 contained within oily fish can help to improve mood. While further research is still required, it is sensible to include oily fish because of the proposed benefits and also due to the proven benefits of oily fish in reducing heart disease and stroke.
  • Eat regular meals including slow release carbohydrates. Regular meals are important as fluctuations in blood sugar levels can affect mood. Slow release carbohydrates are beneficial as they help to increase the level of serotonin in the brain. An increased level of serotonin has a calming effect reducing anxiety.
  • Include good sources of protein in the diet e.g. milk, cheese, meat, eggs, beans and fish. Protein foods provide an essential amino acid called tryptophan which can help to improve mood. 
  • Increase intakes of fruit and vegetables and wholegrain cereals. These foods are rich in vitamins and minerals which provide essential nourishment to the brain and also release glucose slowly providing a steady supply of glucose to the brain. Fruit and vegetables are also good sources of antioxidants which can also reduce depression. Particularly good sources of antioxidants include apricots, broccoli, melon, carrots and spinach which are sources of beta-carotene, blueberries, oranges, kiwi, potatoes and tomato which are good sources of vitamin C and margarine, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds which are good sources of vitamin E.
  • Be careful with caffeine intakes. Caffeine can effect mood and cause withdrawal effects such as headaches between intakes of foods and drinks containing it. Foods containing caffeine include chocolate, coffee, tea and carbonated drinks such as cola. 
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol can add to the detrimental effects caused by dehydration and can itself lower mood making a person feel more depressed.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders are a type of mental illness characterised by obsessive concerns with weight and disturbances in eating behaviour such as an extreme reduction in food consumption or severe overeating. Types of eating disorders include Anorexia nervosa, and Bulimia nervosa which can be defined as follows:
Anorexia nervosa- involves self starvation where a person becomes preoccupied with dieting and thinless causing them to lose an excessive amount of weight.
Bulimia nervosa – involves recurrent episodes of binge eating, that is eating an excessive amount of food in a short period of time.

Medical diagnosis and treatment

Medical diagnosis of an eating disorder can be through a physical examination and through questions aimed at assessing a person’s weight history, dietary intake and any other related problems such as excessive exercise regimens, vomiting or laxative use.
Eating disorders are very complex psychological disorders and can result in mood swings, fertility problems, physical problems and even death where they are not managed appropriately. A person suffering from an eating disorder must be encouraged to seek professional advice and a specific care plan will be required to address and improve current eating patterns, to help restore a healthy weight and treat psychological issues such as poor self esteem, low mood and distortions in a person’s body image.

Nutritional management of an eating disorder

Again it is essential for patients to received tailored nutritional advice from a qualified professional ideally a registered dietitian, who works alongside other members of a multidisciplinary team including psychologists, physicians and other members of a mental health team such as nurses who have specialised in this area.

Specific roles of a dietitian include:

1) Taking a thorough dietetic Assessment- this will help to determine a patient’s current and previous dietary intake and weight history. A dietitian will also check for disordered eating behaviour such as purging and use of laxatives and check for a patients willingness to change unhealthy habits. After completing their assessment a dietitian will then calculate a patient’s nutritional requirements which will be based on their current weight adding additional calories required for weight gain.

2) Providing Nutritional education- this education should help teach patients about any nutritional deficiency in their present diet and enable them to find solutions to move towards a more balanced diet. Dietitians will also work with a patient to set realistic weight goals and advise patients how to achieve these goals e.g. through a high protein/ calorie diet to gain weight with the possible addition of nutritional supplements. Nasogastric feeding may also be required in severe cases of anorexia where a patient’s weight and nutritional status has become severely compromised.

3) Providing support- this is a major component of effective dietetic advice. It is essential that a dietitian shows empathy to a client’s personal situation and also provides support to help clients move towards dietary change


These are notes from an ebook on Therapeutic Nutrition by staff of the school
This and other ebooks can be found in our bookshop at\
If you want to learn even more about Therapeutic Nutrition; take a look at the 100 hour distance learning course we offer on this subject.  see