It’s really scary when severe depression prevents a person from wanting to eat; right before your eyes you see your loved-one wasting away from malnourishment.

Clinical depression can destroy appetite and cause a life-threatening issue of malnourishment, especially if the clinically depressed individual is elderly.

Not too long ago my mother developed a bout of clinical depression that is now under control with Cymbalta.

When my mother’s depression first began developing (it was a gradual process, not an overnight event), she commented that she “had no appetite.”

I didn’t take this seriously until I began noticing about two weeks later a visible loss of muscle.

My mother is of senior age, and it is dangerous for seniors, especially women, to lose muscle tissue.

It reached a point where I, and my father, had to prompt her to eat nearly every bite of food, and most of these prompts netted a refusal.

So how did I get my depressed mother to eat?

#1: Buy Walgreen’s “Balanced Nutritional Drink Plus.” Amazingly, I managed to get my mother to drink 1-2 cans a day. One can is 350 calories. Substitutes would be Ensure Plus or Boost Plus.

If you can get your depressed family member to consume two of these 8 ounce cans, that’s a good foundation of 700 calories for the day.

#2: When giving your depressed family member a beverage, include a straw. A straw guarantees more of the liquid will get consumed.

#3: Do not ask your depressed family member if they want something to eat or drink.

My father would ask this to my mother, and every single time, she’d say “No.” He’d then give up. BIG MISTAKE.

I decided to take the bull by the horns and instead of asking if my mother wanted to eat, I’d just bring the food to her mouth.

I strongly suggest that you don’t even TELL your depressed family member you’re going to give him or her some food or drink, because this will give them an opportunity to refuse.

Don’t inform them at all of your plan. JUST DO IT: Bring them the food.

When the food is in front of them, they are likely to take a bite or sip.

My mother has always enjoyed eggs. My father would ask her if she wanted eggs. She’d say no. He’d give up.

I insisted, “Don’t ask. Just make her the eggs. She’ll eat some once they’re cooked and in front of her.”

My father at first didn’t go along with this, but he eventually learned that it was true:

Once the eggs were actually prepared and placed before my mother, she’d eat some.

#4: Don’t be passive. Be kindly aggressive. Again, my father (along with my brother) one evening were enjoying salmon while my mother refused any food at all and sat withered in another room.

I gathered some salmon scraps and not only took a plate to her, but literally fork-fed her.

She consumed six forkfuls (about 15 grams of protein) that she would have never eaten had I not taken an assertive stand.

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO GET ASSERTIVE with your depressed family member who refuses to eat. It really works.

There were many instances in which I just verbally nagged my mother until she agreed to eat something, if for no other reason to get me off her back. Every bite counts. Every sip counts.

#5: When presenting your depressed family member with unexpected food (review #3), don’t just set it before them and walk away. Spoon feed them if that’s what it takes.

I spoon fed my mother pudding, chicken, and placed pretzels between her lips. I also placed cups to her mouth.

  • Do not hesitate to make statements like, “If you don’t eat this, you may have to be tube-fed at a hospital.”
  • I also told my mother, “I’m going to hover right over you until you drink this juice.”

These tactics worked, though often, my mother refused to finish the item. But hey, half a cup of juice is better than nothing.

Don’t assume that a depressed person who refuses to eat, absolutely will never eat while in bed.

I’d bring my mother quite a few nutrition cans with a bent straw, and while propped up, she drank the beverage.

She also ate eggs in bed while propped up; she didn’t ask for the eggs; I brought them to her and told her she was going to eat them.

#6: Don’t get concerned about nutrition; the issue is to just get calories into the depressed family member’s mouth, even if it’s junk food.

I was actually encouraging my mother to eat bacon and sausage  —  these have calories and protein.

BIG MISTAKE: Pointing out to a depressed family member who’s lost their appetite that something they’re suddenly interested in eating is not healthy.

#7: Do not make any comments within earshot of the depressed family member that might discourage eating.

Example: My father poured a can of soup into a pot. I removed another can from the cupboard: one for my mother, one for him.

He told me no, he was going to eat half the soup in the pot, while my mother would get the other half.

He said, “There is too much soup here for your mother to eat; I have to take half of it.”

This possibly gave my mother, in her depressed, vulnerable state of mind, the idea that she could eat only half the can.

She ended up eating half of what was in the pot because my father divided it into two bowls.

Had my father poured two cans in the pot, and then divided THAT into two bowls, my mother would have ultimately eaten more, even if she didn’t finish the bowl: 100 percent of half a can is LESS than 75 percent of one whole can.

#8: Sneak calories into the food. If I poured half a can of the Walgreens product into a paper cup, I’d then give her the remaining portion straight from the can and tell her it was “half full,” when in actuality, I had added a little milk to it.

#9: When your depressed family member, after eating at your insistence, says for the first time, “I’ve had enough,” or, “No more,” etc., this means they can actually take two or three more bites.

This was very predictable — but you’re the only one who has to know. Spoon/fork-feed those two or three more bites.

Thus, do not stop feeding your depressed family member after their first “Enough.”

The above tactics enabled me to get my mother to consume about 1,300 calories a day.

In order to get a depressed person, who refuses to eat, to consume this many calories, it’s essential to include, daily, two cans of the “Plus” Walgreens, Ensure or Boost products.

Secretly add a tablespoon of olive oil or chocolate syrup for even more calories.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.