Over the past few years, I've endured a series of unforeseen events. Originally diagnosed with anxiety and depression at 14, I spent the majority of my life working through a condition that I immediately attributed to my environment. It wasn't until 12 years later that things took a turn for the worst.
I was officially diagnosed with severe Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder at 26— a disorder that psychologically and socially crippled me. I battled a two-year drug addiction to my anxiety meds, and survived an accidental overdose due to a combination of anxiety pills and painkillers, both of which were prescribed to me.
I was fighting a war within myself that I was desperately losing. The day I contemplated taking my life was the day I recognized the importance of it. After hitting a dead end with my doctor, I set out on a quest to not only change, but save my life.
Today, I'm an author, a motivational speaker, a mindfulness coach and a wellness expert, specializing in the healthier management of anxiety. One of the first things I did when I embarked on this journey was research the role my diet played in my anxiety. The information was overwhelming.
Immediately I adjusted my diet, and I've never looked back. Over the years, I've learned which foods feed my anxiety and which foods don't.
Below is a list of the top 10 foods that I personally avoid in the management of my anxiety:
A known stimulant and psychoactive drug, caffeine has long had a reputation for triggering the body's fight-or-flight response. Very similar to the symptoms associated with anxiety, caffeine can also make its users feel nervous, nauseous, light headed, jittery and yes, even anxious. If you're suffering through anxiety, I recommend reconsidering that morning cup of coffee and instead opt for an herbal tea or a green juice.
2. Artificial and refined sugars
This is one that seems hard to ignore simply due to the fact that sugar hides in everything! Studies have shown that although sugar does not cause anxiety, it does create changes in your body that can exacerbate anxiety symptoms and impairs the body's ability to effectively cope with stress.
A sugar crash is similar to a caffeine crash, and can also cause mood changes, heart palpitations, difficulty concentrating and fatigue— all of which can be interpreted as the beginning stages of an anxiety or panic attack.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye products. For many anxiety sufferers, gluten can also be a huge trigger for anxiety symptoms. Research has now confirmed that people with Celiac disease and gluten intolerances (like myself) are at higher risk for anxiety, depression and mood disorders. Talk to your doctor about getting tested for Celiac or a gluten intolerance. Cutting out gluten could be the difference between living with anxiety and managing it for the better.
4. Processed foods
Generally, processed foods are high in the previous two items mentioned on this list, as well as a bunch of additional additives and preservatives. Refined flours and sugars are said to feed the harmful bacteria and microbes in the gut. With more research being conducted, the general consensus is that gut health is a major contributor to chronic anxiety, and many mood disorders can be treated by proliferating good bacteria in your gut. So, next time you're at a family BBQ, avoid the grilled hot dogs and opt for the fruit salad.
We all enjoy an occasional drink, right? But what happens when that one glass of wine at dinner turns into three glasses of wine and dessert? Alcohol in excess or at all (for some), is said to induce the symptoms of anxiety. Alcohol is a toxin that leads to improper mental and physical functioning, by negatively impacting the levels of serotonin (the feel good chemical) in the brain.
Alcohol also affects the body and nervous system, and can cause hypersensitivity, increased heart rate, lowered blood sugar levels and acute dehydration. If you're going out to dinner with a few colleagues, you may want to skip the drink menu this time around.
I'm sure we all remember those Got Milk ads that popped up during the commercial break of our favorite TV shows. Well research shows that people who have anxiety say they've noticed an increase in anxiety symptoms within minutes of consuming dairy products. About 10 percent of adults are lactose intolerant, and even more are thought to have difficulty digesting the casein found in cow's milk. Have I mentioned its impact on children?
The truth is, dairy is inflammatory. It wreaks havoc on the digestive system, causing, bloating, diarrhea and constipation, among other things. So if you're looking for ways to manage your anxiety, I guess the answer to the question Got Milk?, should be a big, fat, NO!
Don't think for a second because you started a sugar cleanse a week ago that you can still indulge in America's favorite soft drink. In addition to the artificial food coloring and additives found in soda, aspartame is one of the most common (and possibly dangerous) ingredients found in things like diet soda and chewing gum. In addition to blocking the production of serotonin in our brains (like sugar), Aspartame is also believed to be responsible for headaches, insomnia, anxiety, mood swings and has been linked to certain forms of cancer. Still thirsty?
8. Fried foods
Not only are fried foods difficult to digest, but they also have very little nutrition. Combining poor food choices with unhealthy cooking processes is a sure-fire way to exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. Most fried foods like French fries, chicken and onion rings are cooked in hydrogenated oil. It not only does a number on your waistline, but it's also terrible for your heart.
Fried foods also may increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Moderation is key. The next time you find yourself at Five Guys, try the kiddie size fry instead of the large.
9. Fruit juice
Fruit juice, just like soda and other store-bought beverages is packed with sugar. There are three different types of sugar: sucrose, glucose and fructose. Fructose is the sugar naturally found in fruits and vegetables, and is usually added to fruit juice and fruit flavored drinks. The problem is the body only processed fructose in the liver and is not the body's preferred energy source. What protects us from absorbing too much fructose when we eat fruits and vegetables is the fiber. When we get rid of the fiber, we put our bodies at risk of overconsumption.
So if you want fruit juice, make it at home, and if you're an avid juicer (like me), I recommend limiting the amount of fruit you put into your green juices. Stick to the 80/20 rule and you'll be good to go.
10. Foods high in sodium
By now, we should all be aware of the fat-free craze of the past few decades. The sad reality of this fad is that most foods that are fat free are actually high in sugar and/or sodium. Researchers have concluded that too much sodium in our diets can have a negative effect on the body's neurological system, causing fatigue and damaging the immune system. A restful sleep is a major key to a healthy mind, mood and body. Not to mention, the overconsumption of sodium leads to weight gain, high blood pressure and water retention.
Salt is essential in maintaining good health and a balanced diet, but too much can trigger panic episodes and send you down a slippery slope of anxiety, panic and depression.