How Changes to My Diet Helped to Relieve Anxiety

When people ask me why I don’t consume gluten, dairy, caffeine, or alcohol, the short answer is - I feel bad when I consume these things so I don’t consume them.


And the long answer - Throughout my anxiety journey I learned that gluten, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol were all contributing to my struggle with anxiety and panic. I thought that many of my symptoms were just due to anxiety and panic, but some of my symptoms were actually caused by things that I was consuming.


A huge anxiety trigger for me was if I felt physically sick or off. If I felt physically sick, my mind would start racing and it would ALWAYS lead to panic. So I set out to figure out why I was feeling sick all of the time.


I learned...


Dairy - It caused stomach pain, cramping, made me run to the bathroom, caused bloating, and just general discomfort. I removed it from my diet for a couple of months and then tried reintroducing it back into my diet… It did not go well. I instantly experienced all of the above symptoms, which of course triggered anxiety and panic. After removing dairy from my diet completely for months, I also learned that it was the cause of my back pain. I would experience mid-back pain fairly frequently, and this went away after eliminating dairy from my diet.


Gluten - It caused all of the same symptoms as dairy and also fatigue. Gluten doesn’t affect me nearly as severely as dairy does, but it still caused symptoms that I’d much rather live without, especially anxiety! I also discovered that I had more energy (and sustained energy) once I removed gluten from my diet.


Caffeine - It caused heart palpitations, anxiety, fatigue, as well as affecting my quality of sleep. And because of the lack of quality sleep, it also affected the clarity of my thoughts. I used to be a HUGE coffee drinker, and not even for the caffeine boost. I grew up with a grandmother that would hand me a cup of black coffee as a kid and let me go to town. I loved the taste of coffee!


But coffee, and any caffeine, causes me to feel anxious pretty much instantaneously. And I didn’t truly notice this until I removed it from my diet and then tried reintroducing it again. I honestly thought that I was going to have to go to the ER because it felt like I was having serious heart malfunctions. Without caffeine, all of these symptoms went away, and I sleep much better and have more energy!


Alcohol - It caused major mood swings! Just ask my husband. =) I’d experience anger, sadness, and anxiety. Unlike coffee, I never drank because I enjoyed the taste of it (aside from spicy margaritas). I drank alcohol to help me cope with social situations, and to try to escape from the constant anxiety and panic that I was struggling with. Back when I drank alcohol, I knew that it was having so many negative effects, but I kept drinking because I was convinced that it was helping me ‘in the moment.’


Alcohol never helped me. Hours later, the next day, and even sometimes in the moment, I would be a complete mess. I didn’t even recognize myself when I drank. I was hiding, and alcohol seems like a good friend when you are hiding. I haven’t drank alcohol in 3 years and I’ve never felt better. Aside from an occasional drink at an event (like a wedding), I will never go back to abusing alcohol.


All of these things triggered anxiety and panic for me. And without them, I am much more at peace, free of awful symptoms that led to anxiety, and my mental and physical health has never been better.


If any of these things caused you to have a light bulb moment, and you’re thinking that one, two, or all of these things are also contributors of anxiety for you, start small and make a plan to eliminate these things from your diet! Set a date and slowly work to eliminate the item from your diet. I’m sort of an all or nothing kinda girl, so I eliminated these things from my diet and didn’t look back. It was hard, but I was willing to try ANYTHING to stop the awful symptoms from continuing that were contributing to anxiety and panic.


If you're thinking, nothing that I consume causes anxiety and panic, I encourage you to start a food journal. We often think that if something is going to cause anxiety and panic, it's going to happen quickly after whatever the thing is that caused it. This isn't always the case. Like with stress, you can go days, weeks, and even months before stressful events catch up to you and cause anxiety and panic. And with what you consume, sometimes your body is just so used to you consuming it that your brain doesn't even have the opportunity to really recognize how it's making you feel.


A food journal will help you to recognize if there are any connections between heightened anxiety levels and what you consume.


And if you experience physical symptoms but you aren’t sure what is causing your symptoms, start a food journal. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy! Just write down what you consume and track how it makes you feel. If it makes you feel bad, make a plan to eliminate it from your diet.


What you put into your body directly affects your mental health. Make sure you’re listening to your body and not giving it things that will cause anxiety and panic.

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