It might be surprising for some of you to hear that your food can have an impact on your anxiety and feelings of stress.
However if you’ve been getting my newsletters for a while, you won’t be surprised to hear me say that everything is connected. 😉
The trouble is we’re not taught this stuff at school so most of us just don’t realise this.
In previous blogs I’ve focused on reducing cortisol – the stress hormone – by managing stress levels and taking time out.
Today I want to remind you about the impact our diet can have on our mood and levels of anxiety. I hope it might be useful for some of you.
Introducing the blood sugar rollercoaster!
When you eat sugar and refined carbohydrates your body will break it down into glucose and you get a blood sugar spike.
The pancreas releases insulin in response to the sugar spike and a few hours later you get a blood sugar crash.
You might feel shaky and weak and so you eat a sandwich/ pasta salad/ crisps/ chocolate bar and it all happens again. It can be very difficult to break the cycle.
If this is at all familiar to you it probably means that you have an over-reliance on sugar.
And this doesn’t just mean obvious sugar in cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks. Any form of refined carbohydrates – even wholemeal bread or pasta – can contribute.
Other symptoms of an over-reliance on sugar (or being on the blood sugar rollercoaster) include:
- feeling the need to eat every 2-3 hours
- a drop in concentration mid-morning
- an afternoon slump
- feeling shaky or dizzy
- feeling irritable
- having a slump or boost in energy after a meal
- craving for sweet food or more refined carbs between meals
But how do blood sugar levels link to anxiety?
Your body sees all these blood sugar highs and lows as stressors.
The way your body deals with a stress response is to activate the fight or flight response. As you probably know, that means that cortisol is released into the blood stream.
You see the fight or flight response can be in reaction to anything that the body interprets as a stress factor. It isn’t just about what we might consider a stressful situation.
If you want to remind yourself a bit more about the fight or flight response and cortisol then you can read a related blog post here.
If you want to get off the rollercoaster and end your reliance on sugar in all its forms, it all comes down to managing your blood sugar levels.
The biggest tips here are to have protein at every meal and move away from regularly eating refined carbohydrates. Instead of refined carbs think wholegrain and wild rice, quinoa and carbohydrate rich vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash and peas and, less frequently, white potatoes.
A few tips to help you manage your blood sugar levels
These ideas will help you remain more balanced as well as helping you to avoid the other common symptoms of an over-reliance on sugar.
- Rethink breakfast. I found breakfast the most difficult meal to include protein. If you feel the same I urge you to forget about what you think of as breakfast foods and experiment, being sure to include protein.
- Try chia seeds (a good source of plant-based protein) soaked in a plant- based milk with berries and cinammon and some nuts or nut butter if you like. You can even mix this up in your cereal bowl or a pot with a lid the night before so it’s an instant breakfast in the morning.
- Eggs in any form are great but try not to have toast with them as well, at least not every day. Poached or scrambled eggs with avocado, tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach is a favourite of mine and quick to prepare.
- If you’re a smoothie person get some plant-based protein powder in there and some green veggies or cauliflower too. If you make your smoothie thicker and eat it out of a bowl, adding some cinammon, nuts or nut butter on top it can make it seem more substantial.
- Salmon, chicken, halloumi, beans or hummus with some avocado and greens are all great ideas too!
- Snacks are the other area I struggled to find the right balance. Since starting on my detox I’ve been following the guideline of having a healthy fat or protein as part of my snack. My favourites at the moment are sliced apple or thawed frozen berries with some almond butter, carrot or cucumber sticks with hummus or homemade pesto or homemade protein balls which have chia seeds and plant-based protein powder in them.
- For lunch and dinner think lots of vegetables or salad with as many different colours on your plate as you can. Tinned wild salmon, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, shredded chicken, hummus, chick peas, are all easy proteins that you can use. Also think a lot more veggies and less carbohydrates than you might traditionally have grown up with! Introducing some ‘switches’ can be a great way to get things like pasta and rice off your plate.
Try courgette ‘spaghetti’ (I just peel mine into strips) or lightly cooked greens instead of pasta. Cauliflower rice has become one of my new favourite things and works really well with something like a chilli or bolognase sauce.
You don’t have to be perfect all the time
It’s so important to remember that we don’t have to be perfect all the time.
As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts I try and stick to an 80/20 rule. So 20% of the time I’ll really enjoy some of the things that I know aren’t so good for me knowing that the majority of the time I’ve been nourishing myself with really good food.
If you observe how you feel after you eat different things – the same day and the next day – you’ll soon get to know how your body copes with different types of food and you can find the best balance for you.
If you try any of these things I’d love to know how you get on!
By the way, I mentioned the book ‘The 4 Pillar Plan’ by Dr Rangan Chatterjee a few months ago. One of these pillars is ‘Eat’ and there is a whole chapter about this topic. He breaks it down in to a lot more details and offers helpful tips. It’s well worth a read if you’re interested in making some changes.
I hope you’ve found this helpful.
If you’re keen to make some positive changes in your life and you know you need some support then I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
You can book a free 30-minute Discovery Call with me to find out more – just click this link and find the ‘book now’ button or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.