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Do's and Dont's of Diet - Brien Cole

By Brien Cole

They say we are what we eat and this is never truer than for those of us who suffer from anxiety. We suffer anxiety when our bodies flight-fight response goes into over-drive. As part of the flight fight response the body shuts down the digestive system, shifting its focus on increasing our heart rate, tensing our muscles, constricting and tensing our stomach. Unfortunately anxious people are constantly in a state flight-fight or vigilance, and therefore their digestive systems are in a constant state of go-slow. It is little wonder then that anxiety is often associated with digestive complaints, irritable bowel, stomach ulcers, gastric reflux and eating disorders.

It is well known that some foods place more demands on the digestive system than others. Red meats, for instance, tend to take longer to digest than vegetables, lighter meats and lighter foods in general are recommended. Try to eat foods which are easy for your body to digest. If you feel heavy and bloated after a meal it probably wasn't right for you. Look towards food which releases energy slowly to avoid peaks and troughs of energy and look towards those foods which are non-stimulating, avoid caffeine, rich flavourings and spices.

Juices, soups and salads can nourish us without placing too much demand on our bodies. Asian style dishes with small portions of thinly sliced meat and ample vegetables are preferable to the meal dominated by meat. Here are some do's and dont's, they are the basis of a good diet whether you suffer from anxiety or not.

The Do's of diet.
  • Drink ample water. An adequate intake of water enhances many body functions including the way you react to stress. Too little water consumption induces feelings of lethargy and fatigue and lowers your resistance to anxiety.
  • Eat fish. It is high in omega-3 oils which not only fight cholesterol but act as anti-depressants.
  • Eat whole grains, they are high in vitamin B's essential anti-stress vitamins.
  • Eat eggs (in moderation), eggs are high in amino acids, the serotonin pre-cursers.
  • Eat green leafy vegetables, they are high in magnesium and therefore calming.
  • Drink herbal teas.
  • Drink vegetable juices.
  • Eat fresh, in season, fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat organically grown produce in preference to commercially grown produce. It ishigher in bio-flavonoids and nutrients and lower in chemical residuals. It is both easier to digest and better for you.
  • Vary your diet, not so many years ago food was seasonal, and our diets varied as food came into and out of season. Now everything is available all of the time, making it much too easy for our diets to become restrictive especially when we lead stressed lives.
  • Take your time over food. Take some ownership over food. Eating poorly, eating on the run, eating too much or too little are signs of a life out of tilt. If you say, "I haven't got time to eat properly," recognises it as a sign that you may be doing too much. Prioritize your life.

The "don't's" of diet
  • Avoid sweet, refined food which can lead to excessive energy and mood swings.
  • Avoid stimulants, Caffeine in coffee, tea, coke and energy drinks can stimulate an adrenalin response in your body which can provoke anxiety, nervousness and insomnia.
  • Avoid nicotine as stimulants increase physiological arousal. Smokers tend to be more anxious than non-smokers and sleep less well.
  • Avoid white rice, white flour and over-refined products. Over refining simply strips the nutrient value out of foods.
  • Avoid processed products and products high in food additives.
  • Go easy on meat. Meat is harder to digest than fruit and vegetables and people under stress have digestive systems which struggle.

Diet is not just what we eat but how we eat. Eating on the run, filling up with junk between meals and skipping meals are signs that we are living on over-drive, in a stressed and anxious state. Not only is your diet exhausting you, so is your life-style. Anxiety management is about managing your life in the broadest sense making healthy choices balancing life's demands, including saying "no" to unwanted demands.

Re-gain control of your life, beginning with what you eat.

Take your time over food, enjoy it. Choose the fresh, "organically produced" foods over the mass produced nutritionally depleted foods whenever possible. Choose to care about what you eat, about how you eat.
Recovery is about choosing what makes you feel better over what you have always done, even if it is harder, even if it takes that little bit more effort, even if it is a little bit more uncomfortable and unfamiliar to begin with. And what you eat is a very fundamental beginning.

Brien Cole suffered from anxiety for most of his life. Attending Bev Aisbett's anxiety recovery program (an ADAVIC program) began a journey of discovery.

Brien brings his personal experience and understanding to his treatment of anxiety disorders. The aim of his approach is based on the knowledge that you cannot be anxious in a relaxed body, to relax the body and calm the mind through natural therapies and teachable skills.


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