How many times have you come across a message like this one?
You should stop drinking/eating/consuming (fill in the blank) if you struggle with anxiety, panic disorder, or agoraphobia.
And it can be such a frustrating message because you’re likely thinking one, or both, of these things…
I’m already struggling with something that is making my life so challenging, I don’t want to give up anything that I enjoy.
Like heck giving up that thing is actually going to help relieve anxiety and panic.
Trust me, I get it!
But the more informed I became about how our minds and bodies are connected, specifically the mind and gut connection, this message started to resonate with me, and not in a negative way!
And before I dive into the diet stuff, I do want to say that you can definitely experience anxiety and the symptoms unrelated to your diet. Things like your thoughts and stress are major contributors of anxiety and the symptoms, and all of this is stuff that I cover in my course, Pushing Past Your Anxious Thoughts.
Okay, so I’m no doctor or nutritionist, but stick with me! I’m simply going to dive into my personal experience with anxiety and stomach issues. Gut health is a real thing, and what you consume affects how you feel, mentally and physically! And if you’re consuming things that make you feel bad, it’s likely leading to anxiety.
I used to experience nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, and cramping daily. I’d have to run to the bathroom frequently, and I had developed severe panic surrounding finding a bathroom. If somebody asked me to go somewhere and I knew that a bathroom wouldn’t be accessible, I didn’t go. And riding in cars, well, that was a whole thing! I had so many panic attacks in cars because I was so scared that anxiety would kick in and I’d have to go to the bathroom and wouldn’t be able to find one in time. Such a debilitating and embarrassing fear!
And here’s the thing, I used to blame all of my symptoms on anxiety. I’d always convince myself that everything was due to anxiety because I was “just an anxious person.” If this is something that you have, or are telling yourself, this is a lie that I don’t want you to believe. You aren’t just an anxious person. There are reasons why you’re struggling with anxiety and you are capable of healing.
Throughout my recovery journey, I learned that my diet was actually contributing to some of my symptoms, and it was the symptoms that were actually leading to the anxiety. Here’s an example… A bagel and cream cheese was often a go-to for me. I’m talking, it was sometimes breakfast and lunch (I know, not healthy). A bagel and cream cheese is processed, contains gluten, and dairy. And I didn’t know it at the time, but all of these things are things that my body was actively rejecting. Meaning, I’d experience symptoms after eating a bagel and cream cheese but I’d always think that it was “just anxiety.”
I truly believe that the symptoms we experience when consuming things that are bodies are actively rejecting, are signals that should be listened to and not ignored. If you experience anxiety after consuming something (I’m talking minutes after, hours after, or even the next day), you should look at what changes you can potentially make to your diet that will prevent the symptoms and just help you to feel better.
Here are some things that I eliminated from my diet because they often led to symptoms:
Sugar (I still have some in moderation)
Greasy/overly processed foods
Again, I didn’t eliminate these things because of anxiety, I eliminated them from my diet because I felt bad when I consumed them. And I know that this probably seems like a lot, but I didn’t eliminate all of these things at the same time. I made a plan and I did it gradually. And it was so worth it for me! I no longer struggle with awful symptoms, and I just generally feel better and have more energy. And it helped tremendously with my toilet anxiety!
And I know that some people put the message out there that symptoms are simply triggering an anxious response and you just need to get better with responding to the anxious response, and although I somewhat agree with this, sometimes your body and mind is just gently asking you to please take a look at what you’re consuming because it’s making you feel unwell.
Here’s my bottom line - If you feel bad after consuming something, you should dig deeper! Don’t just blame it all on anxiety. Keeping a food diary and/or doing an elimination challenge can help you to see what foods may be causing some of your symptoms.
You have to make healthy decisions that are best for you. And making healthy decisions really starts with listening to the signals that your mind and body are sending you.