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More PsychNotes: Depression

July 19, 2017       
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Is Diet a Cause or Consequence of Depression? And How is Impulsiveness Related?
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

Is diet a cause or a consequence of depression?
Although it has been thought that depression can be a cause of weight gain, the initial trigger for both weight gain and depression can be a poor diet at least for some people. For those people, the problem might lie in a genetic predisposition for impulsiveness and carelessness (Stevenson, 2017). What this research tells us is that depression can have multiple origins which may require different methods of treatment.

Much of the approach in the psychological literature to managing weight has focused on how people think and how that affects emotions and eating. Although the evidence is that such an approach is effective, it may be helpful primarily for those who are more conscientious and self-aware.

Yet, those who are susceptible to depression due to poor diet are those who are more impulsive and less conscientious. Unfortunately, the cognitive methods of changing thinking require a certain degree of attentiveness and thoughtfulness to be effective. So using these methods to address the diet/depression relationship may not be as effective for those with a tendency toward impulsiveness. As a result they may feel frustrated and possibly even blamed due to the failure of a method that is supposed to be effective.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is not one-size-fits-all. The appeal of CBT is that there are so many different methods that it can be designed for each individual.

What can be helpful to reduce the poor diet/depression connection for those who are impulsive?

1) Plan but don't over-plan. Frequently, people who are impulsive will develop a strict plan for a diet which will be impossible to follow for more than a few days. Therefore, the first strategy is to develop some plans that are flexible and less likely to fail.

2) Plan to be impulsive. By recognizing your tendency to eat impulsively you can develop some ways to eat more healthy while still being impulsive. For instance, many impulsive people will not eat and then grab whatever is fast and easy. To counteract this tendency, you can stock up on fast and easy healthy foods such as protein bars or fruit.

3) Identify situations that are problematic. By knowing when and where you are more likely to be impulsive you can take steps to reduce unhealthy eating. For instance, eat before going to the grocery store so that you are more likely to stick to your plan of buying healthy foods.

Stevenson, R.J. (2017). Psychological Correlates of Habitual Diet in Healthy Adults. Psychological Bulletin, 143, 53–90. DOI: 10.1037/bul0000065


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