Dan Lippmann LCSW. Practical, Sustainable Happiness

Overcoming Anxiety: The Surprising Link Between Food and Mood

Overcoming anxiety may be as close as your next meal! Although anxiety is often caused by traumatic events, anxiety symptoms can also result from nutritional factors.

For some people, anxiety treatment requires nothing more than eating certain foods at certain times. My recent experience shows how strong this link between food and mood can be.

Anxiety or Something Else?

The other day around 11:00 in the morning, I started feeling some anxiety symptoms — shakiness, nervousness, restlessness, light-headedness — you get the picture!. Naturally, I began wondering what was causing these symptoms.

Although I tried hard to figure out what was bothering me, nothing came to mind. Just as I began to consider the possibility that something was subconsciously upsetting me (remember, I’m a counselor!), I noticed that it had been more than four hours since I’d eaten breakfast.

I realized that I was actually experiencing a case of low blood sugar rather than anxiety!

Kristen Allott, ND, a Seattle-based physician, describes this phenomenon. As you read her lists below, notice the similarities between the symptoms of anxiety, anger, and hypoglycemia (a condition that occurs when your blood sugar is too low).

 

Anxiety or Anger Hypoglycemia

Racing thoughts Mild Signs:

Obsessive thoughts Nervousness

Worrying about the Future Trembling

Reliving past events Increased heart rate

Hyper-vigilance Palpitations

Avoiding certain situations Increased sweating

Restlessness Hunger

Angry outbursts

Irritability Moderate Signs:

Muscle tension Irritability

Difficulty sleeping Decreased concentration

Palpitations Fatigue

Sweating Mental confusion

Trembling

Shortness of breath

Feeling light headed

Chills and hot flashes

Fatigue

Dr. Allott explains that the symptoms of these three conditions are similar, because they’re caused by the same hormone: adrenaline.

Adrenaline is the fight-or-flight hormone. When it prepares the body to either fight (anger) or flee (anxiety), your heart and respiratory rate, blood flow to muscles, and blood glucose all increase. Adrenaline also stimulates the amygdala, the part of the brain that prepares for a quick response to real or perceived danger.

Since your brain needs glucose to function, it becomes concerned when your blood sugar (glucose) drops. When this happens, your brain tells your kidneys to release adrenaline, which then leads to an increase in blood glucose.

Although your brain now has fuel, your amygdala has also been stimulated in the process. This causes your brain to go on high alert (despite the absence of any real threat), amplifying your anxiety or anger.

To prevent blood glucose related anxiety and anger, Dr. Allott recommends eating protein every three hours. This will keep your brain fueled and your adrenaline in balance.

Besides the obvious protein sources (meat, poultry, eggs, dairy) that most of us have at meals, she recommends the following high protein snacks: nuts, cottage cheese, low sugar yogurt, hardboiled eggs, or protein shakes. She also emphasizes the need for eating a high protein breakfast.

Try the following experiment. Eat protein for breakfast and a high protein snack every three to four hours for three days. Then leave a comment to let me know if you feel less anxious or irritable.

Every single client of mine who has tried this has reported a decrease in these upsetting feelings. There’s no need to suffer from this non-psychological source of anxiety and anger. You, too, might discover that you’ve been feeling nervous and shaky because you’re hungry, not anxious.

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