Sweet, sour, savoury and... sad? Making sense of the depression meal
Melted chocolate on days-old bread; raw instant noodles with ketchup; chocolate with cheese — these are among the worst of the down meals or depression meals being shared on social media.
If they sound like cries for help, it’s because they can be. Down meals are typically meal substitutions that require no utensils, no heat (sometimes a microwave for a minute or two). They take little to no preparation, and can be a sign that the diner is in a mental or physical dip, if not a crisis.
“The relationship between diet and depression, as well as diet and self-worth, is very intimate,” says Pragya Lodha, a clinical psychologist with Minds Foundation. “What we eat really does affect the way we feel. Down meals a sign of people losing interest in food, which, over a sustained period, can constitute a red flag when it comes to mental health.”
Depression meals, as they are referred to on social media, have become especially rampant among the increased stresses of life in the pandemic. Has dry muesli been dinner for days on end? Start digging yourself out of the cereal bowl.
Pick happiness over hunger, says nutritionist Kavita Devgan. “Food can be your friend when you are low,” she adds. Eating well is an important kind of self-care and self-love. Replacing meals with down meals perpetuates the cycle of low energy. Over the long term, of course, it could create a negative cycle for physical health, mental health and nutrition.
Turn to a beloved comfort food. Everyone has good memories attached to at least one or two simple dishes. These meals aren’t just nutritious, they’re often memories of a time when one felt loved and cared for. As the absurdly popular book put it, they’re chicken soup for the soul. Go back to those foods. Make a khichdi with ghee or a simple aloo sabzi, a curd rice or a pork stew.
Cut back on junk food. Down meals can be the bottom of the slippery slope that begins with day after day of greasy takeout. Stop turning to fast food for comfort. It’s important to remember that you deserve better. “Stick to healthy comfort food instead, and the chances of opting for a down meal are slimmer,” Devgan says.
Don’t buy into the fad. “Because down meals are something people are now making and posting about online, the weirder they are, the more attention they get. Resultantly the person making them gets a sense of belonging and think it’s okay to eat like this,” says Manoj Sharma, professor of clinical psychology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru. This can be the start of a vicious cycle. So, stop posting down meals. Keep track of them instead. And if you find that you can’t break the cycle, ask why. Dial a helpline. Or phone a friend.