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Getting Started: The Anti-Anxiety Basics

When making the decision to eat for a calmer, clearer mind, please understand that this is not a fad diet. This is not a magic lose-weight-quick formula or an unhealthy "crash" diet. Please understand that I am not a doctor, and that my suggestions, tips, and hints are all from my own experience and from information gleaned from many sources.

The anti-anxiety diet is a life change, and it will take a conscious effort on your part to curb portion size, to cut harmful foods, and to eat in a nutritionally balanced way. My goal is to provide you with the tools to make that transition as easy and seamless as possible, and to keep you on track by providing encouragement, recipes, and tricks.

The best part of the anti-anxiety diet is that it is quite simple. Although keeping a food log and a calorie count will be a good idea in the beginning, it is only necessary to do so until you can keep track of those things somewhat intuitively. If you are attempting to lose weight, try to keep your calories around (but not under) 1200 per day. If not, then talk to your doctor about maintenance and what your daily caloric intake should be for your height, weight, and age. It is very easy to under-eat on this diet, so you may want to monitor yourself every few weeks, even during maintenance.

The Do's:

The basic premise of the anti-anxiety diet is simple. Eat whole grains, vegetables (especially dark, leafy greens), fruits, lean meats, and legumes. Keep your food as close to it's "whole" form as you can. Drink lots of water, take your vitamins, and make exercise a part of your daily routine at least three times a week, preferably five. Of course, this brings with it a whole host of "Don'ts", but we will get to those in a bit.

You will want to pay extra attention to how your meals are put together, how things are cooked and seasoned, and your portion sizes. Ideally, you should eat six (small) meals throughout the day, but if your work schedule is prohibitive, just be aware of portion size. If you are already overweight, it's a good idea to consider your normal portion and then divide it in half, keeping in mind your calorie allowance. When putting meals together, always base the meal in a whole grain. This can be a slice of whole wheat bread, some brown rice, quinoa, barley, whole wheat pasta...there are so many possibilities! For more information on whole grains, please see my page on whole grains.

Once you've determined the whole grain base of your meal, add a protein. Lean meat, eggs, cheese, yogurt are all great for this purpose, or you can use legumes (beans, nuts). Then add your vegetable. Try not to make this a starch, but rather dark green, fresh veggies of some sort, carrots, squash...anything whole and natural and delicious! If this is one of your larger meals, you can top this off with a fruit (or drink a glass of juice!), or you can always drink a cup of herbal tea or water.

This may sound complex, but it's actually quite simple. For example, breakfast could consist of almond or soymilk in whole-grain granola, a banana, and a cup of green tea. Lunch could be a sandwich on a whole grain bagel, raw broccoli, and a cup of yogurt, and dinner could be short-grain brown rice with lemon-butter tilapia, a fresh baby greens salad with avocado and tomato, and if you feel like something sweet, a square of dark organic chocolate. Snacks can be a handful of walnuts, a small apple, a few slices of cheese and whole wheat crackers, baby carrots...there's so many possibilities, and it can be customized almost any way you like!

As far as beverages, drink a great deal of water, first and foremost. Green tea is very, very good for you, and though it contains caffeine,  the content is a great deal lower than a cup of coffee. Vegetable and fruit juices are a great way to fill out your meals or snacks, just make sure you are drinking 100% juice, and always check the ingredients list. If you hate the taste of plain water, you can always drink Propel or one of the other flavored waters, just make sure that you keep an eye on the calorie and sugar content.

The Don'ts:

The "don'ts" of the anti-anxiety diet are just as important as the "do's". Though much of our anxiety can be attributed to our culture, lifestyle, and circumstance, it's surprising how much our diet can factor in. For example, did you know that being just a little bit dehydrated can cause feelings of anxiety or heighten already existing stress? Also, when our body is struggling (either because a lack of nutrition or an excess of toxins) we can feel it mentally and emotionally. Cutting certain popular things from your lifestyle can be difficult, but it's certainly worth it. After a few months of eating in a healthy, balanced way, you wont want the "don'ts" any more.

So what should you avoid?  

- Fast food. Just do yourself a favor and don't eat this junk. Even the "healthy" options often have an excess of sodium, and even if they are low on calorie or fat content, they are probably low on nutrition as well. It is inconvenient not to have this option open to you, but you can always keep a Luna or Clif bar with you for a snack. If you usually eat a fast food lunch, you will save a huge amount of money by packing your lunch each day.

- Over-Processed food. "White" anything should be avoided. White flour, white rice, white and processed sugar, anything with a bunch of ingredients that don't sound like real food, food that is "bleached" or "enriched", food with sugar substitutes such as aspartame, food with partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated fats...all of this is bad for your body, adding toxins to your system and gumming up the gears of your mind. The food that you eat should be as close to it's natural form as possible!

- Sugar. It's important to keep your sugar consumption to a low level. If you want to get very strict about this, you can cut sugar completely, but I often find that moderation works better for me. I don't like having an option completely cut out for me if it doesn't have to be. When you eat something that contains sugar, eat a very small portion, and save these sorts of foods for special occasions. A square or two of organic dark chocolate makes a great dessert, and dark chocolate has been proven quite healthy! The key with sugar, as with most things, is moderation.

- Caffeine. If there's anything that increases anxiety, it's caffeine. Before I started the anti-anxiety diet, I would drink 3-5 cups of coffee per day. Talk about exacerbating the problem! Now, I still love coffee, and I still drink it...on occasion. Cutting back coffee was one of the most difficult things for me, but it was certainly worthwhile. I still drink green tea, which contains caffeine, but not nearly as much. It's ok to have some caffeine, but this, like sugar, should be very limited.

- Alcohol. Another thing to add to the "moderation" pile, alcohol is well known for taking a toll on the liver. However, it also contributes to overall mood instability after it has been metabolized. A glass of wine here or there wont ruin you, but drinking to excess (or drinking daily) should be avoided.

The main trick here is to cut out the over-processed, over-sugared "convenience" foods that have become so prevalent in the American diet and replace them with nutritionally whole food that will actually provide your body with what it needs. In my blog, I will be offering hints, tricks, tips and recipes to help you along, but eating for a calmer mind is a change of lifestyle and basic habits, not a fad or an "easy weight loss solution".

Congratulations on your decision for a healthier, calmer you...and good luck!

-The Calm Cook