Are Diet and Anxiety Connected?

healthy food on a dark background diet and anxiety

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Years ago, I spoke with a nutritionist who convinced me by changing my diet, I could eliminate my anxiety. Of course, I was skeptical at first, but I tried it because it seemed like an easy fix, and after years of not being able to leave my home, I was willing to try anything.

The nutritionist had me cut out all meat and dairy (because they have hormones I assume).  I don’t remember how long I went without eating meat and dairy, but it was months and long enough that I should have seen some results. While I did lose some weight, I was still having regular anxiety and panic attacks.

Long story short, it didn’t work. It wasn’t until recently that I realized why. I did everything that the nutritionist told me to, but I was still eating things I shouldn’t have, like sugar and processed foods that didn’t have dairy or meat in them.

I had almost given up on the idea that I could live an anxiety-free life when fate stepped in. That was the day I learned about Betr Health

Did Changing My Diet Eliminate My Anxiety?

As I type this, I’m in my 13th week of the Betr Health program. I have lost just over 25 lbs (with 40 to go). I would have to say I first noticed a change in my anxiety levels around week 4, during my annual doctor’s appointment.

Typically, I have an anxious episode the night before, the morning of, and the hours leading up to any doctor’s appointment. I pace around the house, shake my hands in the air and try to steady my breathing.

I hadn’t driven myself to a doctor’s appointment in years because I was too afraid I would have a panic attack. I made my husband drive me each time and wait in the parking lot for me. It always helped me to know that if I needed to, I could leave at any time.

At this particular doctor’s appointment, while I did feel a bit of anxiety, based on my blood pressure, I never felt the need to leave. When she told me she wanted me to get a blood test done in another office in the building, I went and had no anxiety at all. When I walked out, I realized that my husband’s car was not there.

My husband had left to run an errand, thinking I would take longer and was 20 minutes away. A month before, I would have had a full panic attack at that point. Instead, I walked around outside and called my daughter, who kept me company until my husband returned.

That was the moment I realized that something was different and I started to believe that diet and anxiety are connected.

The Connection Between Diet and Anxiety

That week, I had a series of doctor’s appointments to go to, including a dentist appointment for my daughter. Although I was nervous, I wasn’t pacing. I didn’t have to convince myself that it was okay to get into the car and go to the doctor. I even drove my daughter to her appointment. That was big.

That weekend, I also had my second covid vaccine and there were no signs of anxiety whatsoever. 

Being the skeptical person that I am, I took notice but still kept my guard up. I knew our first road trip in over a year was coming up, and I decided that it would be the actual test.

Road trips are challenging for me because of my fear of being too far from home. But on week 8 of my new way of eating, I sat in our car for the entire 3-hour ride to LEGOLAND and was completely calm.

Theme parks have always been a trigger for me. It’s the crowds and the heat and the lines. But this time, I felt no anxiety in the park. The only moment I thought I might have felt the anxiety creeping in was when we were waiting in line outside, but honestly, it was more agitation because I had a mask on and felt like I couldn’t breathe because it was so hot outside.

I remember driving home after our 3-day trip and realizing that I could very well connect my new way of eating and my lack of anxiety. That’s when I started to do more research. I was surprised to find out that my sugar levels and family history of diabetes (Mom, Dad, and Grandparents) could very well be contributing to my “anxiety.”

First, I should explain how anxiety makes me feel, in case this is the first time you are reading about my condition. The more anxious I feel in a particular situation, the more agitated I become. Once I acknowledge the anxiety, I can’t stop it, and I go into full panic mode. I start to sweat, feel lightheaded, like I’m going to pass out, and sometimes feel as though I’m going to throw up. I have to lay down immediately (no matter where I am) and allow it to pass.

A few doctors have told me that the anxious feelings I have are likely due to a medical condition, and if we can find that condition and treat it, my anxiety symptoms will decrease. They consistently predict the same two things — either a thyroid condition or diabetes. Of course, when they test me, the results always come back in the normal range, so the doctors give up and consider it more of a mental health issue.

I’ve never had a doctor follow through to test me for any other conditions or consider other reasons for my anxiety. But I’ve always felt strongly about this being more of a health condition, and what I found may prove my theory.

The Effects of Cortisol and Insulin During “Fight or Flight Mode”

Let’s talk about the effects of cortisol and insulin during fight or flight mode. I found this great article about the way cortisol impacts insulin that explains it a little better. I’ve included what I found most interesting below.

When in “fight or flight” mode, cortisol prepares the body by increasing blood sugar to provide an energy source to muscles. To prevent blood sugar from being stored, cortisol slows insulin production, allowing blood sugar to be used immediately. 

As a result, blood sugars are elevated, but insulin isn’t able to work efficiently. When cortisol levels are chronically elevated, the body remains in an insulin-resistant state. Chronic fatigue, weight gain, insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental health disorders are just a few of the many health problems related to chronically high cortisol levels in the body.

It says that improving diet and managing stress and other lifestyle factors are the keys to balancing cortisol and insulin levels in the body. So maybe, by adopting this new way of eating, which eliminates sugar and processed foods and all of the things that my body doesn’t need, I’ve balanced my cortisol and insulin levels, which in turn, stopped the anxiety?

I’m not a doctor, and I don’t have a medical degree, but that makes a lot of sense to someone that has struggled with debilitating anxiety for many years. I can’t say for sure that diet and anxiety are connected, but I can tell you that we are on vacation number three and I’ve been driving a lot more in the last 6 weeks than I have in the last 10 years.

This can’t be a coincidence.

If you struggle with anxiety, have you ever tried to limit your sugar intake to see if that made a difference? Have you heard of the connection between diet and anxiety before? Are you a doctor that can give me a medical opinion on this? If so, I’d love to hear from all of you!

If you’d like more information on Betr Health, you can read more here.

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After I changed the way I was eating, I noticed a change in my anxiety level. It made me think that diet and anxiety could be connected.
After I changed the way I was eating, I noticed a change in my anxiety level. It made me think that diet and anxiety could be connected.

Share with a friend!

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Hello There!

I'm so honored that you've found us! I'm Heather, a Mom of 3 who blogs about parenting, food, occasional travel and how I overcame my daily struggle with anxiety. I miss sleeping and rely on coffee and laughter to get me through the day. I hope you enjoy and visit often!

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  1. I 100% think that our diet can impact how we feel emotionally, including anxiety. If you don’t eat enough, anxiety can be heightened tenfold. As can irritability, inability to cope with emotions and situations etc.

  2. I would not be surprised! I feel like everything is connected. What we eat really makes us who we are.

  3. This is a really great insight. I think it can be different for everyone, but the link is clear.

  4. What an interesting post and I’ve never thought of that before. Thanks for sharing this informative post with us.

  5. I’ve heard about this before but I don’t know the details, thanks for coming up with this helpful post!

  6. I think some people overeat or stress eat when they are anxious. That’s their coping mechanism. We all have different coping mechanisms when under stress.

  7. I am actually a doctor (this is not my area and I have no actual research knowledge about this topic) but it sounds like something to further investigate. Many things in our bodies get better when we change our way of eating. I will be interested to hear how you progress and to see if more data on the subject is published. Congrats and good luck!

  8. I think our diet may definitely have an effect on our anxiety and mental health. So happy that you’ve been able to alleviate your anxiety through making changes to your diet. Thanks for sharing!

  9. You know what, I hadn’t thought of it this way. I can see the relationship and how one can affect the other. Great post.

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      Author

      I was too, but it makes sense. Feed your body only the food it needs (protein, veggies, fruit, etc.) and you feel completely different!

  10. I’m with you. I believe diet and stress and lifestyle have a big bearing on anxiety and also the ability to lose weight. I’m working on reducing my stress levels.

  11. Very informative article, and glad to know everything about it. Eating healthy food def effect your over all body nutritions especially when it comes to anxiety. I better choose a healthy food for my everyday diet. Thank you!

  12. Healthy eating has so many more benefits than just loosing weight! I’m so happy it’s helping you with your anxiety

  13. I thought it was because of the caffeine or some sort of vitamins or minerals that we don’t have much. Thanks for the knowledge!

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      Author

      I think vitamins and caffeine definitely play a part in it as well. When I changed my diet, I started eating much more veggies and fruit, so that affected my vitamin levels. I’m actually going for my annual bloodwork this month and will be able to report back on my overall health since I’ve been eating this way for 4 months.

    2. I always believe diet and stress can be connected and in ways affect each other. And one thing I am trying to focus on is reduce my stress level.

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      Author

      The program that we are on reprograms your gut health in three levels. In Levels 1 you are eating meat, veggies, fruits, and a limited amount of other foods (cottage cheese, eggs, almonds, etc.). In Level 2, you slowly introduce additional fruits and veggies and a couple of other things. It’s how you find your food sensitivities. I’ve decided to remain on Level 2 until I’ve lost all of my weight, but typically the entire process takes 12 weeks. It was completely covered by our health insurance, so if you do it, I recommend checking to see if your insurance covers it as well. You can learn more about it here >> https://thesupermomlife.com/food-as-medicine/

  14. It is so empowering to hear from you sharing your personal experience of the connection between anxiety and diet options. Awesome results, GRL!

  15. Yes, I think. When I consume unhealthy food, I find that it affects my mood and overall disposition. I sometimes feel low and anxious.

    1. Anyway, I’d better check Betr Health as I do want to lose a little weight, too (from the pandemic!) and feel lighter overall.

  16. This is great to know. It’s nice to know that it can actually help. I’ve been trying to eat healthier myself, and I have anxiety as well. I’ll have to try harder and see if it helps me out more.

  17. That’s wonderful that things are improving. I know it happy news and I believe our diet (good or bad) is linked to so many things too.

  18. I definitely think that the foods we eat play a part in how our body feels. Whether it be anxiety depression ect. I think for sure due to processed foods and sugars it can cause our moods to swing. Definitely good to be aware of!!

  19. This was a really interesting read. I might need to take a look at what I’m eating. I have anxiety almost all day, and I could definitely benefit from mitigating it.

  20. I absolutely agree that diet plays a huge role in anxiety. Having suffered since I was 12 I can vouch for many items that can trigger an attack. For me it includes caffeine and chocolate!

  21. I can see how they are connected. I personally can’t give up too much sugar as it keeps me cheerful, but I do try to have it in moderation. I get anxiety attacks, but they aren’t terrible. Deep breaths or stuffing my face with chocolate seems to help in my case.

  22. This is definitely an interesting read, and I am glad you found something that really helped with your anxiety.

  23. I’m an example of what diet can do with anxiety. My B12 was extremely low and I drank too much caffeine. I suffered for several years anxiety to the point I couldn’t ride in a car. Finally, after advice from my doctor to start taking B12 and I stopped caffeine, in a couple of months, all my anxiety was gone. I mean GONE! I was so blessed and thankful that my prayers were answered.

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      Author

      That is amazing Tammy! I’m so happy to hear that. I haven’t heard the B12 connection until now. I’ll have to check on that as well.