I have been trying to spend a little less time on my phone recently and more time relaxing, away from the pressures of modern day social media platforms. I have been taking some time to myself, either reading, listening to a podcast or doing a lot of gardening with the good weather recently.
Caroline Foran, author of no.1 bestseller of Owning It: A Bullish*t Free Guide to Living with Anxiety, has begun a podcast this January: Owning It: The Anxiety Podcast. I have been listening to the odd episode here and there and from an episode in April they were discussing how important diet and healthy eating is for a healthy mind.
This I already somewhat knew, as I am very aware of the effect blood sugars have on your mood, due to my boyfriend having Type 1 Diabetes. In March 2019 I did a ‘Live Like a Diabetic’ for the month where Ed and I reduced to the minimum amount of carbohydrates and eliminated sugar from our diets. After only a month, I could feel the incredible impact that reducing artificial sugars and simple carbs (the bad ones!) has on your mood. You feel less groggy and tired – I found I was sleeping better and falling asleep faster.
Sugar in food either comes as ‘added sugar’ or ‘natural sugar’ and for a normal person’s healthy diet, there should be a balanced amount of natural sugars. Added sugars can be eaten but this should be as a treat or the odd occasion. Added sugars will have a larger effect on your blood sugar levels, and this can make you feel jittery and shaky which will contribute to feeling anxious.
That said, if you blood sugar levels are on the low side, then you might experience what is close to a ‘hypo’ (hypoglycaemia). This, again, feels very jittery and shaky, struggling to string a sentence together and feeling very dizzy and out of place. If you have ever had a panic attack, some of these feelings may sound familiar. As someone without diabetes, you are unable to experience a genuine hypo. If your blood sugars are low-ish then you may, however, begin to feel panicky and anxious. This can be controlled and negated by eating a healthy balanced diet.
So what should we be eating to balance our diets?
Fruit and Veggies:
The NHS and numerous health organisations recommend 5 portions of fruit and veg everyday. This could be all fruit, all veg, or a mixture, and the latter is probably the easier and better option. I know, however, that it isn’t easy and I can’t remember the last time I consumed 5 portions of these even once. That said, I do eat more vegetables and fruit than a lot of people my age, so as long as you are getting some form of fruit or veg at least once a day then that is a good start.
These are often described as ‘starchy’ foods and should be about one third of your daily diet. These include things like potatoes, pasta, bread, rice, etc. These are all great sources of fibre, and when choosing, try to go for wholewheat or wholemeal alternatives, such as brown rice or wholemeal bread. These will be a big chunk of where your ‘all-day’ energy comes from. As someone with anxiety, you can often suffer with a feeling of low energy or tiredness, so eating a healthy source of carbohydrates could impact this brilliantly.
Dairy is something our generation probably doesn’t eat enough of, due to the ever increasing numbers of dairy allergies and intolerances. But, soya milk and other dairy alternatives do have the nutritional values that ordinary milk would contain, so don’t panic if you don’t drink dairy milk. Other good sources are yoghurt and cheese. Be careful not to go overboard with your dairy intake though, as it can be very high in fat! Moreover, excess amounts of dairy have been linked to heightened levels of adrenaline which may lead to a feeling of higher anxiety. So although dairy is important, we need a balance.
A good source of protein can come from meat, fish, beans, pulses and eggs. I found when I cut down on carbohydrates, I replaced them with a lot of protein, as these give energy and are good at helping the body heal and repair itself. For this reason I eat protein before and after going to the gym or doing exercise, as not only does it give a slow release of energy throughout the exercise, but it helps my muscle repair after stretching them. Anxiety can be hugely helped by doing a small amount of exercise everyday. Just a walk down to the shops, or with a dog (if you have one!). Or, if you’re feeling particularly energetic, you could for for a run or go to the gym! It is recommended that everyone gets 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, so thats about 20 minutes everyday!
Although you should try and stay away from saturated fats, like meats, dairy, butter, biscuits and cakes, as well as many others. These can be eaten (obviously!) but in small quantities and your sources of fat should come from unsaturated fats such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and healthier cooking oils. There are not too many papers linking anxiety to fatty foods, but it has been linked to heart conditions and poorer health as you get older.
Of course, there isn’t an out and out list of foods that can cure anxiety! But, I cannot stress enough that a balanced diet can help your mental health improve! Your brain and your body are linked and that means the more you take care of your body, the more it will take care of your brain!
This has been my first post for my new topic on my blog, and I hope that you have enjoyed reading and it may have given you some insight on your diet and how it might be affecting your mind and mood. I am not a healthcare professional, neither am I a dietician or a chartered psychologist (yet!) so my words are not coming from a scholarly background as such, but more experience, Caroline Foran’s book (The Confidence Kit: Your Bullsh*t Free Guide to Owning Your Fear), her podcast (which I would H I G H L Y recommend listening to, whether you have anxiety or not!) and just reading online!
Thank you again for reading, and I hope to be adding some more posts including some of my favourite recipes which I will be sharing!