I grew up in a family where home-cooked meals and healthy snacks were standard and mandatory. My mom never packed my lunch with sugary snacks, and fast foods were reserved for trips and special occasions only. All this began to change when I first moved away from home and arrived at university. Suddenly, I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It didn’t take long before I realized I missed my mom’s homemade recipes, and noticed how changes in my diet affected how I felt. There’s no question about it. According to the Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, experts agree that what you eat has a very direct and significant impact on your physiology and biochemistry.
Over the past year or so, I realized that drinking mochas every morning increased my anxiety significantly. I would rely on my daily espresso to combat my morning fatigue, but then I would find myself unable to sit still. I became hyper, jittery and had racing thoughts. This made it very hard to concentrate. Eventually, I made the decision to quit caffeine entirely. Since then, I’ve tried my best to change my unhealthy eating habits in the hopes of maximizing my ability to function and maintain consistent levels of energy throughout the week. There are plenty of ways to adjust your meal plan to reduce anxiety. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Reduce your intakes of stimulants
That includes caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines and other drugs. Stimulants aggravate anxiety symptoms and are notorious triggers of panic attacks. Increased physiological arousal and release of adrenaline will lead to feeling alert and awake — hence the reason stimulants interfere with sleep.
Reduce your intake of salt, preservatives and meat hormones
Now, I acknowledge this is easier said than done. Especially if you eat processed food like I do, it can be challenging to find healthier options. The main thing to remember is that chemical additives and other artificial substances are detrimental to your health, and that you want to be eating whole, unprocessed foods, if possible.
Modify your eating habits
Eating slowly, not eating too much to the point of feeling bloated and mindfully chewing on your food — these are all small habits that can make a difference in the long run. The problem is that we often feel rushed and don’t take the time to properly sit and enjoy a meal. This can lead to indigestion and physical symptoms such as cramps and bloating, which can then increase our anxiety.
Try vitamins and supplements
Every few months, I request a comprehensive blood panel test to make sure I’m not missing any important nutrients. I highly recommend getting a blood test if it’s been awhile, and especially if you feel fatigued all the time. If you suspect you might be suffering from low iron levels, for instance, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor. If you suspect you are suffering from vitamin deficiency, you can try including B-complex supplement or vitamin C in your diet. Calcium, antioxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids, certain herbs and amino acids can also be beneficial. To learn more about those options, reach out to a professional.
I wish I could tell you that changing your eating habits is an easy process, but in reality, it’s a hard one. I struggled with proper eating habits for years. Even today, I still have my bad days. I hope that the dietary guidelines listed above will give you something to think about, and I want you to know that it’s okay to start small. Baby steps are better than no steps at all. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t implement new eating habits within a few months — hell, I’ve been working at this for years. Also, remember that if you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, it’s totally appropriate to reach out to a professional. Speak to a nurse, contact a dietician or make an appointment with your family doctor. Those people are there to help you improve your health — both physical and mental.
Dial 811 to speak with a dietician.
For more information about food and nutrition.
To make an appointment with Student Health Services.
The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency, call 911.