Anxiety impacts lives in a unique way—like an unseen torture. Anxiety chooses a place to land and—just like that—it becomes necessary for life’s decisions to be built around the anxiety. It takes a spontaneous, open life and builds a box around it that gets smaller and smaller if the anxiety is left untreated.
In my practice, I use targeted supplements when anxiety symptoms surface, so I know that targeted supplements can have a huge impact. And as a Nutritionist, of course I know that what we eat can impact mental health symptoms, including anxiety, but it took a client of mine to teach me just how true this is.
Jenny was an elegant, thin woman who worked in a helping profession. She was a vegetarian who was hoping to get pregnant and she was dealing with anxiety.
No Supplements Please
Many of my clients who have anxiety are hesitant to take a supplement, mostly because anything new creates more anxiety—as any of you surely know if you have experienced anxiety yourself. This was my first client who was not willing to try any supplements but was willing to change what she ate in any capacity as long as it fell in the vegetarian category.
I had not used a “Food Only” approach before so I was skeptical about how good our results would be.
Raising Serotonin with Food
Jenny was very deficient in zinc (common in vegetarians), a mineral which is a necessary co-factor for the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are responsible for feelings like calmness and pretty much any feeling that would be the opposite of anxious.
In creating Jenny’s “Food Only” treatment protocol, we formed her diet around foods high in zinc and foods high in tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that converts to the neurotransmitter serotonin in our bodies. Normally I would have a client who suffers from anxiety try tryptophan as a supplement and would see great, quick results. This is especially true for the kind of anxiety that is accompanied by worry, obsessions, and/or panic attacks.
When I saw Jenny three weeks later, her self-rating for worry/anxiety had gone from a 9/10 to a 3/10. I’m embarrassed to say that I was shocked! I see this kind of change all the time with supplements, but did not expect to see it with food alone. Because of the power of suggestion, my clients cannot see (and never remember) how they rated symptoms on their initial visit. Jenny knew she was feeling better but had forgotten how bad her anxiety had been.
If you are suffering from anxiety, or any uncomfortable mental health symptom, begin with the obvious. Our diets—the way we nurture and heal our bodies—should be the obvious. Eating has become about how we feel in the moment instead of about caring and nurturing ourselves.
Start simple if you want to make some changes. Make sure each meal has some form of quality protein, and, of course, make sure you aren’t skipping meals. Skipping meals only leads to havoc with your blood sugar and severe cravings for the wrong foods. Focus on food that is in the same form nature gave it to us. If most of your meals come from a box, bag, or even worse - wrapped in a fast food wrapper, it’s time to make some changes.
As with any change, start with something small that is achievable. If you skip breakfast, try making a simple protein shake. If you always eat fast food for lunch, try something healthier and less processed and note how you feel that afternoon and evening. If you drink half a dozen sodas a day, try switching to an herbal tea and cut that down by half. Change doesn’t have to be radical to be effective.
Our diets and our mental health are more connected than any of us are ready to acknowledge, least of all those in the mental health field. I am hoping to change that, at least in my corner of the world. Experiment for yourself and see how powerful small changes can be.