Why Nutrition is Crucial in Helping Prevent or Manage Anxiety
Hello, Happy June, and thanks for reading.
Today’s blog topic is one that has been on my mind for quite some time – even well before this global pandemic, which has undoubtedly amplified pre-existing anxiety in many people, and created the perfect storm for brand-new cases in others.
As a believer in a collaborative approach, and the merging of Western & Eastern medicine, I am certainly not suggesting that nutrition is to be used in place of therapy, and/or medicine to manage anxiety. However, I do know – from my own experience, and working with many patients and clients – that nutrition 100 percent matters when it comes to anxiety management.
I like to think of nourishment as a setting a foundation – putting on an armor, if you will – to help us better deal with anxiety, and really just life in general.
Here are a few reasons why:
When we are not nourished, we are in constant fight-or-flight mode. If we aren’t taking in enough energy from food, our sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) is revved up, cortisol levels (stress hormone) are increased, and blood sugars are low or unstable. All of the above keeps us in an anxious state and makes it very difficult to get grounded and to emotionally regulate.
Nutrition affects the neurotransmitter functions in our brains. This includes serotonin, which is our “happiness hormone.” An adequate food intake is necessary in serotonin production, particularly from carbs, which is ironically the macronutrient that diet culture currently demonizes (ugh)! If we don’t produce enough serotonin, anxiety increases and mood worsens.
Restriction causes obsession. When certain foods or food groups are restricted, this leads us to be preoccupied with said foods, or sometimes even food in general — it’s a physiological reaction to deprivation. And restriction often causes things like isolation and lethargy. We need foods from all food groups and this includes both nutrient-dense (“healthy” foods – fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc.) and fun foods (“unhealthy” foods – cookies, chips, fries, etc.). The way we relate to and think about food is also incredibly important for our mental health, including preventing/managing anxiety. In short, stressing about eating the cookie or not is less healthy than eating the cookie.
Here’s a check-list to ensure you’re putting your nutrition armor on everyday:
You’re eating every 3-4 hours, starting shortly after waking, and you are not going more than 5 hours without food during the day.
You’re eating adequate meals with a relative balance of all foods from each food group (carbs, fat, protein, dairy or dairy alternative, fruits or veggies).
You’re eating 1-3 snacks per day, depending on your body’s hunger cues or your specific needs.
You’re eating foods that make you feel good and that you enjoy.
You’re allowing room for fun foods each day.
I hope this was helpful for some of you! I’d love to hear your observations about how nutrition has influenced your mental health or answer any questions you may have.
If you are struggling with your relationship to food, your body or exercise, I am taking on new virtual clients and would love to work with you. Please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up a free discovery call to see if we are a good fit!
In true health,