I used to be embarrassed that I suffered from anxiety, but now I’m an open book, sharing my own experience and simple lifestyle tips, along with foods to avoid if you suffer from anxiety. For years, I never put together the connective link between my diet, lifestyle, and my chronic anxiety. During the latter half of my twenties, due to major life events that happened in the course of a year, I was forced to address the anxiety that had always taken a back seat in my life when I was more concerned with developing a modeling career than taking care of myself. I finally learned how diet and lifestyle can truly make or break your success with managing anxiety. Though I was a nutrition major, I was still eating a few foods that weren’t supporting my anxiety, such as taking in excessive caffeine and not eating enough protein or healthy fats. To share just a bit of what I learned about how food can affect your mind, start with getting rid of these 9 foods to avoid if you suffer from anxiety. I promise this is one of the best things you can do to start a successful anxiety management plan and make changes that will last a lifetime.
1. Sugary Drinks
Most of us know that sugar is bad for us, yet what most people don’t know is that sugary drinks are one of the top foods to avoid if you suffer from anxiety, not just the carbonated sodas. Sugary drinks like fruit juices and even homemade pressed fruit juices, bottled sports beverages high in sugar, and even smoothies high in sugar, are drinks that you should avoid if you suffer anxiety. I’m a smoothie nut, along with a huge fan of juicing, but I’ve had to adjust my ingredients so I don’t overload on sugar. Whether in natural or processed form, sugar influences blood sugar levels, which in return sends your blood sugar on a major roller coaster ride. When this happens, cortisol, the stress hormone, floods your body and creates an edgy, uneven feeling that causes anxiety to surface quickly. Be sure to fill up with more fibrous foods, which steady blood sugar, and if you drink fruit smoothies, make sure to use whole fruit and add some protein powder, which will lower the glycemic index of the sugars in the fruits. If you juice, be sure you juice more veggies and leafy greens than fruits and only use lower sugar fruits like lemons, limes, grapefruits and cucumbers instead of higher sugar fruits like apples, oranges and pears.
2. Processed Food
If you’re still eating processed food, please, I’m begging you girls- quit now and thank me later! Processed food, which includes foods that contain ingredients you don’t recognize, or consists of labels that contain multitudes of ingredients that are refined and void of nutrients. These are some of the worst foods you could possibly eat for anxiety. For starters, they contain chemicals that aggravate the neurotransmitters in your brain and they interfere with healthy blood sugar levels. What does this do over time? Basically, it creates an addiction to these foods that leads to heightened anxiety unless you’re eating them. These foods also create weight gain, brain fog, depression, diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and more. If you buy any processed food, try to make sure the ingredient list is only 5 or less ingredients. Oh, and definitely don’t buy any that contain refined or added sugars, refined grains, or overly processed dairy, which has tons of hormones that interfere with your hormones, along with pesticides. You should also avoid buying foods with trans fats. The more natural, raw food, the better. When in doubt, if you can’t pronounce the ingredient, put it back on the shelf!
3. Refined Grains and Refined Bread
All refined bread is an item I advise avoiding if you have anxiety. If you choose to buy bread, be sure to buy 100% whole grain or even better, sprouted grain bread, which isn't refined at all, nor does it contain flour of any kind. Also stick to varieties without preservatives, sugar, or unhealthy fats. Even breads that boasts health properties can be lying to you, so turn over the product and read the label. Stick with varieties that are 100% natural, don't contain high fructose corn syrup, enriched flours, hydrogenated fats, sugar, and that are overall less processed. Remember, unless it says 100% whole grain, it isn’t, so be sure you’re smart about the label. By all means, avoid white bread, which is merely nothing more than sugars and starches that will send your blood sugar soaring, creating a crash later, which will leave you shaky, cranky and full of anxiety. An even better option is to only eat grains in their whole form, such as cooked oats, quinoa, and barley, which are the grain in its most natural form, free of any added ingredients. Root veggies are another great substitute for bread that will give your body the carbohydrates it desires without the blood sugar crash of white bread and other refined grains.
Chips are a big no-no in terms of avoiding foods that heighten anxiety. Chips, which are full of sodium, refined grains and usually unhealthy fats, cause your arteries to clog, can cause overeating, and can cause your blood pressure to rise due to the sodium and processed ingredients. Instead, make your own chips using whole grain pitas or whole grain tortillas by slicing them with a pizza slicer to make them look like tortilla chips, and bake them in the oven. Even better, chop up a sweet potato into slices, toss it with some herbs and spices, and bake the slices in the oven at 350 for one hour. This is a great recipe that will give you your own homemade chips at home that are much healthier. If you really want to take things up a notch, try eating kale chips instead of regular chips and avoid too many carbs altogether.
5. Too Much Chocolate
We all know that dark chocolate is healthy for us, but what you may not know is that those dark chocolate products out there that are marketed as a health food may be deterring your success in beating anxiety. How so? Well, for starters, chocolate is a stimulant, and it can actually quell anxiety if you eat a very small amount. Be sure you choose plain, raw unsweetened chocolate, or buy varieties with at least 90% cacao content. The higher the cacao content, the less sugar it contains. I personally love raw cacao nibs and raw cacao powder, along with dark cocoa power that is naturally sugar-free. I love Hershey’s brand and Frontier Naturals brand of cocoa flavors for the best flavor. You can still have chocolate, but avoid eating too much which can worsen anxiety, and only choose the best quality. Those Hershey’s and Dove dark chocolate bars aren’t the healthy stuff, and even organic varieties can be high in sugar. Stick to the lowest sugar products possible, and avoid those that are more like a candy bar than a health food.
If you suffer from anxiety, chances are you’re a caffeine junkie. I know I used to be. I loaded up on coffee, green tea and chocolate all day to get my fix. Now, I stick with one serving of each and switch to decaf green tea in the afternoons. Caffeine can calm you down in very small doses, but anything above that will have you feeling like a crazy person when your nerves go out of control. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and a little bit isn’t a problem. Caffeine, such as in one cup of coffee per day, can enhance mental focus, ease tension, and even has many antioxidants that nourish your brain and body. These same antioxidants are also found in sources such as green tea, and even chocolate. However, when the brain and body receive too much stimulation, it becomes a little too excited, so to speak. This is where the problem lies. Anxiety-driven people need to calm down their nerves, not stimulate them. Switch to decaf coffee and decaf green tea and try to only have one caffeinated beverage per day.
As I said before, sugar is a big no-no for people driven to anxiety like behaviors. If you suffer from anxiety, think of sugar as your arch enemy. It attracts you, addicts you, and before you know it, has you under its spell, creating you to be lethargic and suffer energy crashes all day long. It also ruins your skin and metabolism, but that’s another topic for another day! If you suffer anxiety, focus more on proteins, healthy fats, and tons of green veggies and leafy greens. Make sure your choices of fruit are lower on the glycemic index. Fruits like these include berries, green apples, and all citrus fruits. Also, be sure that you are feeding your body enough food so you’ll crave less sweet foods overall.
Anxiety and drinking just don’t mix, ladies. Alcohol may relax you, but it is also a natural depressant, which means it not only creates a depressing feeling later, but also creates an addiction for the need to use it to relax. Instead of turning to alcohol, try having a hot mug of herbal tea. I know it sounds hokey, but herbal tea can actually help treat anxiety and can be extremely therapeutic for the body. It can also help put you to sleep ,which many people use alcohol to do. If you’re a social drinker, consider cutting back to only a glass of red wine each time you drink. Your anxiety will lower just by this one action, and your health will automatically improve.
9. Fast Food
Last but not least, fast food is not your friend, girls! Fast food is full of hormones, chemicals, stimulants, preservatives, harmful fats, disastrous refined sugars and grains, and it inflames your entire body. When your body is inflamed, your mental state seriously declines. You’re not only tired, overweight and moody, but your anxiety is also impossible to manage. Try making more of your foods at home. You won’t only save your nerves and your calories, but also your money. If you need recipes for budget savvy ideas, check out the web! The internet is full of great options that will teach you how to love food again and it isn't as hard as you think. If you need some healthy ideas, check out my blog, The Soulful Spoon, where I don’t only share my recipes, but also recipes I find around the web!
If you’re suffering from anxiety, please don’t lose hope and just subject yourself to a life of nerve pills and suffering. You don’t have to live that way with the right diet and lifestyle. Though I’m not a doctor and know that food can’t cure everything, I can promise you that what we put into our bodies is what we get in return. Feed your body well and your mind will thank you! What are your favorite tips for eating healthy to prevent anxiety?