Because how could I be the writer of a blog without talking about food? Answer: I can’t.
Food and I go way, way back. We’ve had our ups and our downs. We’ve been best friends and we’ve been enemies. You could even consider us “frenemies” at one point.
But seriously, food plays a huge role in my mental health – it makes me happy! I’ve always been a foodie. Chocolate chip cookies are hands-down my favorite thing to eat. I love to cook and I love to eat, and I always have (pretty sure I could finish an entire box of Velveeta mac and cheese at the age of 5 – right, mom?).
But using food to help with my anxiety and panic is something I’ve just recently learned about and have started to implement, and let me tell you – it’s a GAME. CHANGER.
Let’s start by recapping all of the “diets” I’ve tried in the last decade or so:
- The antifungal diet (is that still a thing?)
- That lemon-cayenne-water drink diet thing
- Juicing (the epitome of “hangry”)
- Whole30 (#neveragain)
- Vegetarianism (I lasted like … 3 months)
- Keto (I lasted like … 3 hours)
I’m sure there’s more, but it doesn’t matter because all these diets did to me was make me harder on myself, more anxious and more depressed than I’ve ever felt. And honestly, I didn’t notice that until about a year and a half ago … I was tracking calories with an app and I was over my daily allowance by 100 or so, so I forced myself to go for a walk late at night to break even. My now-fiancé was clearly over it at that point and he said to me,
“Can you PLEASE stop tracking every calorie you consume? It’s all you talk about. It’s all WE talk about. There’s more to life than that.”
He was right. If I hit my “goals” for the day, I was happy and told him about it the second I got home from work. If I “failed” by eating too much, he received negative text messages throughout the day and had to deal with my miserable self in the evenings. Also, when I brought it up to my coworkers the following day, even they agreed that I hadn’t been fun to be around for a few weeks. EEK.
It consumed me. I was no fun. I was miserable. I was anxious. Something needed to change, clearly.
Around that time, I had heard of holistic nutritionist Kelly LeVeque through my friends at mindbodygreen, and her blood-sugar balancing way of eating. She had recently launched her first book, Body Love. I didn’t know where to turn or who to talk to next, so I bought it … and what I’ve learned from Body Love has changed my life.
I won’t spoil the book for you (I highly recommend you read it!), but here’s what I learned in a nutshell:
- Stop counting calories – it’s all about blood sugar.
And also, calorie-counting sucks. Am I right?
2. Eat three, complete meals a day (what Kelly has labeled “Fab Four” meals) to elongate your blood sugar curve.
The book elaborates on Kelly’s Fab Four formula for every meal: a mix of protein, healthy fats, fiber and greens. Each of the four components has a job:
Protein increases muscle tone and signals to your brain that you’re full.
Fat increases satiety, slows digestion and curbs cravings.
Fiber helps your gut detoxify and slows the absorption of glucose.
Greens fight inflammation and provide key antioxidants and vitamins.[i]
3. Sugar (carbs, basically) can really affect your mood and level of anxiety.
Excess sugar intake contributes to blood sugar spikes and imbalances. When your blood sugar is out of whack, it throws off your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is responsible for releasing your stress hormone, cortisol. Basically, if you’re constantly throwing off your hormones with sugar, you’ll never really calm down and can further perpetuate the feelings of anxiety. [ii]
The way I had been eating (or not eating, for that matter) and snacking for years was increasing my anxiety levels. Who knew? Well, now I did.
While I don’t follow any super strict diet or meal plan now, I do make it a point to begin every day with a Fab Four smoothie (you can find some recipes here). They keep me full, but most importantly, they make me feel good – balanced, actually.
My meals are not perfect and that is never my goal. If I can add in a side salad with avocado to hit a Fab Four balance at lunch or dinner, I do. I still love pancakes at Sunday brunch and eat cookies whenever I can get my hands on them. Because truthfully, they make me happy. And why take that away?
I no longer count calories or follow a specific diet, and hope to never do so again. Instead, I use what I learned from Body Love to guide what I eat, and to help balance my blood sugar, my stress hormones and ultimately, how I’m feeling.
While every person is different and every body responds to different things, this approach has helped me a ton with my physical and emotional health. I’m hopeful that it can help others, too!