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*** Anxiety and diet is part 4 in a series of posts. If you want to read part 1, click here. You don’t have to read the entire series to understand each individual post, but they are written to be complimentary to each other! ***
As usual: I am NOT a doctor, and I am not formally educated on mental illness. You should see a doctor to learn about your options. This post, in particular, is very much my own opinion.
Anxiety and Diet
There is a possibility that your anxiety has nothing to do with your diet. Totally. If your anxiety is a product of a very traumatic experience, maybe it’s 100% a mental disorder. There is no real solid way to determine the cause of an anxiety disorder, unfortunately, because there are so many possible causes. There’s a chance that improving your diet won’t help. But there is also a (good, I believe) chance that it could help. Anxiety is complex, our bodies are complex. I have been absolutely convinced, through experience, that my diet directly affects my anxiety.
We eat mindlessly (well, I often eat mindlessly), with little to no regard for what has to happen to everything we put into our bodies. Each bite of food, chemical compound, glass of wine, needs to be processed and used or stored or eliminated. Everything we put into our bodies affects how they function. For example, consuming mass amounts of sugar and processed carbs can cause insulin imbalances, as your pancreas struggles to keep your blood sugar under control.
There are lots of resources online that reflect this train of thought. CalmClinic.com has a great post on it. Since I’m not a doctor, or even a nutritionist, I can’t really tell you how you should be eating. But I can tell you about my own experiences, and hopefully inspire you to look into this for yourself 🙂
My experience controlling anxiety with diet
When I was 17 or 18 I hit an all time low with anxiety and depression. It wasn’t even about being withdrawn or sad anymore. I felt I was on the verge of crazy. I would have intense panic attacks nearly every night, and my poor mom had absolutely no idea what she could possibly do to help me. My dad was working away, so she got me through the nights by giving me over the counter sleep aids and letting me cry hysterically in her bed while she sat with me, until I fell asleep. I imagine she did a bunch of praying. I wouldn’t agree to see a doctor or a therapist, but somehow she convinced me to see a nutritionist. (I think I was afraid a therapist would diagnosis me with some sort of crazy and send me off to a hospital.)
The meeting with the nutritionist was relatively painless, until she told me that desperate times called for desperate measures. She took away all the sugar in my life, except for fruit. She took away all the carbs in my life, except for potatoes and brown rice and quinoa. She took away coffee, and anything remotely processed or deep fried. I ate tuna salad with an apple for lunch every. single. day. for three months. (Not because she told me too, but because I wasn’t creative or involved enough to come up with anything more interesting. Now that I understand it’s actually not good for your body to eat exactly the same thing everyday, even if it’s a healthy thing, I would do that differently.)
She also gave me supplements to take. B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D, omega 3s, iron, I was on them all. (I I still take these and more today, because I firmly believe they help with anxiety!)
I was absolutely rigid on the “diet” for three months, except I never did cut out salad dressings or sauces (with their sugar ect, I was supposed to) and sometimes on the weekend I would eat french fries or chips as a treat.
After three months, I started eating a little more “normally”, but to this day (more than 10 years later) I don’t drink pop or juice. If I’m going to have ice cream or cake it’s usually just a few mouthfuls. I rarely eat grain based carbs (which is easier now that my husband doesn’t eat grains AT ALL). Many, many of the clean eating habits I worked on in those three months have stuck. Why? Because the diet didn’t just reduce the panic attacks, it annihilated them. They went away. And in over ten years, they have never come back. (I still have environmentally triggered or thought triggered panic attacks on a rare occasion. But no more random constant ones.)
The anxiety didn’t completely go away, and eventually I saw a therapist and that helped even further. But changing my diet was a massive push in the right direction. It absolutely gave me back my life.
(UPDATE: If you aren’t able to see a nutritionist but are looking for more direction as to what your diet should look like, maybe check out The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution, or The Food-Mood Solution. I usually only recommend things that I have personally used, but I feel frustrated that I can’t give more direction here for those interested. These books look really interesting to me!)
Diet and Hormones and Anxiety
If I could go to university and take just one class it would probably be something that would teach me more about hormones. They control our whole LIVES and we practically ignore them. I am convinced that my anxiety can often be hormone related, and as I get older (and more observant) I’ve even noticed that I’m more prone to have baseless anxiety in the 2-5 days leading up to my period.
We know that our diet directly affects our hormones in SO many ways. Most of the ways are pretty over my head, so I need to rely on other people here to support my claims. Dr Mark Hyman writes that most people have symptoms of hormonal imbalance. In fact, he goes on to say that Insulin imbalance can cause panic disorder and is related to our serious over consuming of sugar. He also references a patient that had “severe depression, fatigue, anxiety” along with other problems, whom he helped to cure by “changing her diet, cutting out the sugar and caffeine, eliminating food allergens, taking a few supplements and herbs, and doing a little exercise”.
I read This Is Why You’re Fat by Jackie Warner, not because I was fat, but because it has an absolutely fascinating section on how different aspects of our diet affect our hormones. And then how those hormones affect our bodies. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about hormones and diet. (If you are interested in doing more reading on the relationship between diet and hormones and but you don’t want to spend any money then I would recommend trying Amazon’s KindleUnlimted program FREE for 30 days, and read all you can for a month! You don’t need a kindle, just the kindle app on any device will do… and you can cancel after 30 days – I won’t tell if you don’t!)
So… What should you be eating?
If you don’t have the money to see a nutritionist you can still start with the common sense stuff. We have all heard over and over again about the detrimental affects of sugar on our bodies. We have all heard about the negative effects of processed grains (even if you don’t believe it, I’ll bet you’ve heard it). We all know alcohol is a depressant and caffeine is a stimulant. And we know that eating whole foods (fruits, veggies, proteins, unprocessed carbs, seeds, nuts ect) is what the doctor would tell you to do if you asked him.
Here’s a great post by Health Ambition, on the top ten anti-anxiety foods. I loved reading this because it reiterated to me that I’m doing something right – for starters, I eat raw pumpkin seeds almost every day in my breakfast smoothie. Keep in mind that you can’t just add in the good foods without eliminating the bad though!
Giving up wine and cupcakes always sucks, but anxiety sucks more. I definitely think it’s worth the try. Will it work for you? Hopefully -(and if it doesn’t, you can go back to the sugar). But there’s only one way to find out!
Read Part 1 of The Ultimate Guide to Living (Well) With Anxiety
Read Part 2 – Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Read Part 3 – Understanding Panic Attacks
Read Part 5 – Natural Supplements for Anxiety
Read Part 6 – What can Exercise do for Anxiety?
Read Part 7 – Do Not Feed The Fears
Read Part 8 – Talking About Anxiety
Read Part 9 – For the Christian with Anxiety
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