Eat Happier: How Your Diet Contributes to Anxiety

Eat Happier: How Your Diet Contributes to Anxiety

Person on a Diet Having a Meal

If you are on a diet, chances are it makes you more anxious. Here’s what you need to know about how diets affect your anxiety level.

For decades we have been developing a diet mentality, turning it into a dieting cult — all thanks to the weight loss and diet industry.  

What is a diet to begin with?

For most people, it’s a temporary alteration of their eating patterns to achieve short-term goals. But traditionally, the word diet means a way of life, and every animal on this planet has one.

Nutrition expert Eric Edmeades explains we all have certain nutritional requirements. There are certain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids we need, and your health is far more determined by making sure that you meet these requirements.

This is what diet essentially means — satisfying all your nutritional needs to keep your immunity strong, mind and body active with the power foods.

If you fail to have a human diet, you get physically and mentally sick and can even develop anxiety. 

In other words, instead of following some popular diet that can be detrimental to your overall health, you want to have a human diet. 

Here are key things to know about how diets affect your anxiety levels.

Can Dieting Cause Anxiety?

Experts all agree that dieting can promote anxiety in multiple ways:

  • It causes you to have obsessive thoughts about food.
  • It causes your mood to drop. 
  • If you diet for an extended period, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol, making you more irritable and anxious. 
  • Dieting promotes negative body image and low self-esteem. 

Christy Harrison, MPH, CDN, anti-diet registered dietitian nutritionist, says, “Worrying about your weight, dieting, restricting food, restricting calories, fasting, overexercising, and other dieting behaviors can cause emotional stress in many different ways.” 

Can Dieting Cure Anxiety?

Fruit and vegetables don’t fight disease. It’s the absence of them that makes us susceptible to disease.

— Eric Edmeades

If dieting causes anxiety, is there an anti-anxiety diet?

Dr. Craig N. Sawchuk, psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavior therapy for anxiety disorders and medical fears, clarifies that there aren’t any diet changes that can cure severe anxiety, but watching what you eat may help.

He recommends trying these steps:

  • Eat protein at breakfast as it can help keep your blood sugar steady to have more energy as you start your day.
  • Eat complex carbohydrates to increase serotonin levels in your brain, which has a calming effect. Opt for whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain bread, and cereals. Starchy vegetables like potatoes and whole fruit should also be on your list.
  • Drink plenty of water as even mild dehydration can cause your mood to drop.
  • Eat fatty fish or take an Omega-3 supplement.

On the other spectrum, you might also want to limit or avoid these anxiety diet foods and drinks:

  • Alcohol can also interfere with sleep and cause inflammation. 
  • Caffeine and caffeinated drinks can make you feel jittery and nervous.
  • Sugary drinks and sodas
  • Cakes, cookies, candy, and pies
  • Processed meats, cheese and ready-made meals
  • Gluten
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Hidden sugars
  • Processed vegetable oils

Anti-Anxiety Diet Foods

There are specific foods that have been shown to reduce anxiety, according to nutritional psychiatry:

  • Leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains: foods naturally rich in magnesium.
  • Oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks: foods rich in zinc such as 
  • Fatty fish like wild Alaskan salmon: foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Pickles, pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir: probiotic foods rich in good gut bacteria
  • Asparagus: natural functional foods with anti-anxiety properties
  • Avocado and almonds: foods rich in B vitamins

Also, include foods high in antioxidants in your anti-anxiety diet:

  • Beans: Dried small red, Pinto, black, red kidney
  • Fruits: Apples (Gala, Granny Smith, Red Delicious), prunes, sweet cherries, plums, black plums
  • Berries: Blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries
  • Nuts: Walnuts, pecans
  • Vegetables: Artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli
  • Spices with both antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties include turmeric (containing the active ingredient curcumin) and ginger.

Anti-Anxiety Lifestyle

Changes to your eating patterns may improve your general mood or sense of well-being, but they’re not a substitute for treatment. 

What can and will make a difference is turning healthy eating into your lifestyle.

Eric emphasizes that healthy eating is paramount for overall physical and mental health. And having a healthy human diet isn’t about not eating bad foods. It’s about satisfying all your nutritional requirements.

So eating more whole foods, fruits, and vegetables is a lifestyle that will meet all your short-term and long-term health goals and be your best anti-anxiety diet for life.

Apart from meeting your nutritional requirements, what’s more important is making lifestyle changes.

11 ways to live life anxiety-free:

  1. Get regular sleep: irregular sleep patterns are linked to anxiety and depression. It also affects your mood and cognitive abilities.
  2. Move more and get regular exercise: when you exercise, your brain releases feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of wellbeing.
  3. Socialize with friends and family: our human need for connection plays a vital role in supporting our health. We thrive when we are with other people.
  4. Breathe deeply: shallow breathing communicates to your body that you’re in danger. It increases your cortisol production, making you more fearful and anxious than you need to be. On the other hand, deep breathing naturally calms your nervous system.
  5. Walk outdoors more: while you can survive without food for weeks, the air is something much more urgent and vital for your survival. Getting quality air is paramount for your health and overall wellbeing.
  6. Have a cold shower in the morning: cold shower brings your blood pressure down, increases the feel-good hormones in your brain, and decreases cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone.
  7. Play with a pet: dogs and cats can reduce anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health.
  8. Hug more: when you give someone a long hug, your body releases oxytocin, a “cuddle hormone” that helps you relax and lowers anxiety levels.
  9. Meditate: meditation induces an altered state of consciousness when you feel relaxed and calm. It can also reduce chronic pain, depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
  10. Laugh more: laughter activates and relieves your stress response, putting you in a good, relaxed state. Watch your favorite comedy show, and don’t take life too seriously.
  11. Grounding: Grounding techniques also help with mental health issues such as anxiety.

If you can implement at least one of these changes into your life, you will be much better off than before. A healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to cost you a dime. Rather, it’s the small incremental changes you make each and every day that have the most life-changing results. 

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Written by
Irina Yugay