Hi! You seem to have become a sort of dinner consultant/therapist/cheerleader, which is delightful. I hope you don't mind if I ask a downer question--how do I will myself to make good food when I'm depressed, and feel deep down that I may not deserve proper nourishment? Than you, you're well.
I suffer from Depression, Bipolar, C-PTSD, ADHD and Memory Issues and yeah, I really get that feeling of not having the energy/focus/self-worth to make dinner. I’m not a therapist or nutritionist, so all I can offer is things that have worked for me, and hope that some of them work for you:
It’s Better To Eat SOMETHING Than Nothing
No really. There are a LOT of days when I’m too tired, too distractable or just too Blugh to cook. And for days like that, I have microwave meals, or “put in pot and add water” things, like Mac N Cheese. They’re not Organic, or Nutritionally Balanced but everything I’ve been told by every doctor and therapist I’ve had: EATING SOMETHING, EVEN MICROWAVE MAC OR CHIPS IS SO, SO MUCH BETTER FOR YOU THAN EATING NOTHING.
Food is not an all-or-nothing deal. Humans have an amazing ability to take in nutrition from darn near anything that doesn’t kill us, which is part of the reason we’re all over the dang planet. Any food is good food, esp when you haven’t eaten all day because your brain has been playing a shitty surrealist version of reality for you all day.
So when you CAN cook, cook, but if you can’t, don’t worry too much. Just get something down your throat, and live to see the next, better, day.
Related: If you can’t do a full meal, but you CAN add *extras* to things to help you. Tortilla Chips Depression meal? Add Salsa! BAM! VEGETABLE SERVING!! Can of beans? CHEESE. OH LOOK, MORE PROTEIN. whatever you can add is like, extra credit. Good job you!
Actually Learning To Cook
So actually learning about food safety, spice theory, what happens chemically to food when you cook it and how to make different styles of cuisine confers a whole bunch of cool benefits for my sometimes-garbage brain:
- I really like reading and learning new stuff, so making it a “learning a new thing” makes it less like a chore and more of an Interesting Distraction.
- This doesn’t have to be any form of academically rigorous. Like, watching cooking shows, looking up stuff online, or hell, googling stuff in the middle of the supermarket if something is on sale and you’re curious but don’t actually know what to do with it. Good Eats and America’s Test Kitchen are both very educational and soothing to watch.
- Also cooking shows are GREAT for both my anxiety and stimulating my appetite
- Reduces the number of Thinking Spoons to actually make dinner. If I have a general working knowledge of what things taste good and how to make them, it’s a lot less effort than trying to look up and follow a recipe.
- GO AHEAD AND USE SHORTCUTS. No, really. Those frozen cutlets of fish you stick in a toaster oven? GREAT. pre-mixed seasoning? AWESOME. Frozen veggies are already cut up and are just as good as fresh. Like if you don’t have the energy to do something, pre-made stuff is FANTASTIC for getting something healthy into your system for honestly not that much money or less in some cases.
Being Responsible For More Than Myself
The thing that has helped me take care of myself was getting engaged and a dog. My mental illness has a neat shortcut where when I can’t do things for myself, I can magically do them for other people. When I cook, I’m cooking for both myself and for my fiance. Being responsible for making sure he eats a few nights a week is the biggest driving force in getting me to stay on enough of a schedule that I’ll be capable of cooking. (He cooks other nights and whoever cooks, the other does the dishes.)
I realize that getting hitched is not in the cards for everyone and that’s hardly a reflection of one’s worth, but there are ways to add responsibility to your life if that helps with executive function. Prior to meeting my fiance, My family had an elderly German shepherd with a sensitive stomach and I cooked him chicken and rice every night for three years on the vet’s recommendation. Or maybe you cook for a neighbor once a week. Or tie feeding your cat to you having dinner as well, becuase you can’t take care of fluffy if you’ve got low blood sugar, right?
Eating Is Self-Care, Like Taking Meds or Wearing Comfy Jammies
Another thing that helped me: Realizing that eating made me feel better. Literally, if I keep my blood sugar stable (Prone to hypoglycemia), my mood’s better, I get fewer headaches, and so on. What’s Healthy is different for everyone and I recommend talking to a nutritionist at least once to get an idea on what might be unique to you. Most gyms, community centers or clinics will have someone on staff to help, but you should start by asking your GP for a recommendation.
So when I start too feel poorly, my checklist is “When was the last time I ate? Am I craving something?” (Along with “Am I dehydrated?” staying hydrated also helps with appetite issues) and I fin that I usually am. Sometimes it’s salt, sometimes it’s a whole head of broccoli. Food is our body’s main means of getting what it needs to survive and giving your body what it needs (even if it’s fat and sugar and carbs, which yes, you need sometimes) will make you feel better, I promise.
Eating Stuff You Actually Like
Bananas are, allegedly, really good for me. Potassium, vitamins, good fats etc. They also taste like satan’s own diabetic mucus and I’m never gonna eat one if I can’t help it. Just, No. Don’t force yourself to eat things just becuase they’re healthy. That’ll only make you hate eating.
Like I mentioned before, you, presumed human, can draw nutrition and calories from darn near anything. So go boldly, and try new foods and spices and cooking methods and find things you actually enjoy eating.
- Remember all those veggies you hated as a kid? Try them again as an adult, because your taste buds literally change over time and things taste way less bitter than when you were a kid. Try different cooking methods too- anything brassica is like 500% better tossed with olive oil, salt &pepper and roasted on a sheet pan.
- HOW you cook things makes a huge difference in both how they taste and how stressful cooking is. Wanna leave something in a crock pot and forget about it until the timer goes off? AWESOME. Grilling becuase you prefer something more engaging becuase you’re bored? ALSO GREAT. Try out different cooking methids to find out what tastes good and is fun to do,
- Are you one of those people that likes, 3 things, and can have them every night for eternity? GO YOU, with your pre-planned menu! Maybe call up a nutritionist to see if you need to be taking some extra vitamins, but really, this is fine too,
Ok this has gotten a mile long and kind of rambling but I hope it helps you!