The big anti-anxiety meal plan
The purpose of this meal plan is to help you kick–start your anti–anxiety food journey by making it super easy to prepare the right meals that will help you feel calmer and more at ease.
Preparing meals itself can be an anxiety–inducing activity.
Anxiety can also drain our energy, so you may not feel like preparing a difficult meal.
I know the feeling and this is why I have only added super simple and quick recipes to this guide. None of the recipes takes more than 30 minutes to prepare. Some take no more than five minutes. But all of them are bursting with flavours. They are some of my favorite recipes and many of them are adapted from Dale Pinnock, The Medicinal Chef.
My portion sizes are mostly for 1 or 2 people so please make sure to adjust them for your circumstances.
To save you time and energy, I also recommend doubling portions for yourself and keeping left–overs in the fridge for the next day.
My lunch usually consists of left–overs from last night‘s dinner!
Finally, recipes here are in grams. If you are used to ounces, simply remember that 1 ounce equals roughly 30 grams andyou‘ll be fine!
It’s remarkable how much the foods we eat can impact our brain chemistry and emotions. What and when we eat can make the difference between feeling anxious and staying calm and in control. But most of us don’t realize how much our diets influence our moods, thoughts, and feelings until we make a change.
InThe Antianxiety Food Solution, you’ll find four unique antianxiety diets designed to help you address nutritional deficiencies that may be at the root of your anxiety and enjoy the many foods that foster increased emotional balance. This helpful guide allows you to choose the best plan for you and incorporates effective anxiety-busting foods and nutrients. You’ll soon be on the path to freeing yourself from anxiety—and enjoying an improved overall mood, better sleep, fewer cravings, and optimal health—the natural way! The book also includes an easy-to-use index.
In The Antianxiety Food Solution, you’ll discover:
• How to assess your diet for anxiety-causing and anxiety-calming foods and nutrients
• Foods and nutrients that balance your brain chemistry
• Which anxiety-triggering foods and drinks you may need to avoid
• Easy lifestyle changes that reduce anxiety and increase happiness
Just in case you’re new here: Hi! I’m Serena, and I have an anxiety disorder. I had my first panic attack almost 9 years ago, and I’ve been working on managing my anxiety ever since. It’s a constant (and super annoying) struggle. I like to talk about it from time to time.
To my Internet friends, who are all too familiar with this weird blog lady’s favorite topic of conversation, WASSUP. Let’s dish.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I’m a big believer in a multi-faceted approach to taming the anxiety beast. Therapy is great. Exercise helps, as do certain supplements (snaps for magnesium!). You gots to stay hydrated and get enough sleep. Take plenty of alone time. I’d also like to stress the awesomeness of gathering and employing an arsenal of personal tips and tricks to both prevent and calm anxiety attacks. Sometimes you might need medication, and there ain’t no shame in that. (For the curious folks—no, I’m not currently on meds, but I think they can be a game changer for many peeps.)
With all of that said, the single thing that has had the largest impact on my generalized anxiety is diet. Certain things make me feel weird and panicky, while others have a soothing effect, and even when I’m the most well-rested, hydrated, talked out, #fitnessjourney fabulous version of myself, everything goes to hell in a hand basket if my diet sucks. Given how impactful nutrition can be on anxiety, I thought it could be helpful to run through some potentially harmful and helpful foods/nutrients, in case you too are grappling with similar issues. (Fun Fact: SO MANY people are.)
*I’d like to quickly preface the rest of this discussion by saying that everyone is affected by food in different ways, so the following lists of bad/good foods and nutrients are subjective and simply true for me (although there is some decent research to back a girl up—hair flip). xox, Captain Obvious.
Lets start with the stuff that make me feel icky on the anxiety front. There are three major thangs:
1. Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, and since anxious folks tend to be hypersensitive to any form of stimuli, it can be triggering. (Some people get the jitters after too much coffee, I get a full blown panic attack.) I’ve found that I do well with one cup of coffee in the morning, but I recommend doing some personal experimentation to find your sweet spot, which sadly could be zero…
2. Refined Sugar. Like caffeine, it’s a stimulant. No bueno.
3. Alcohol. This one is a biggie. Alcohol is a depressant, and since anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, it doesn’t do us anxious folks any favors. The annoying thing is that alcohol is the best you often feel calmer after a drink or two, but ultimately the sedative effect wears off, and the “withdrawal” tends to heighten anxiety and depression. (My anxiety when I’m hungover is straight up TERRIFYING.)
To be clear, I still get down with caffeine, sugar and booze (I have to LIVE, dammit!), but I feel better when I keep my consumption in check. And when I’m going through a particularly anxious phase, I will often cut out all three completely. It’s brutal, but sacrifices must be made.
Moving on to the good stuff! Certain nutrients have been shown to improve the symptoms of anxiety, and I tend to mainline foods that are rich in the following:
1. Antioxidants (like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, etc.). Antioxidants help protect your brain from free radicals that cause inflammation. And since inflammation can impair neurotransmitter production and affect your mood, we want to keep it to a minimum. Duh.
Foods rich in antioxidants: blueberries, acai, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, kale, citrus, red pepper, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, almonds, avocado, cashews
2. Omega-3s. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that’s known for promoting heart health, but it has also been shown to have fabulous effects on the brain—reducing inflammation as well as depression and anxiety. (Some studies shown it improves the function of serotonin,the neurotransmitter that helps regulate your sleep and moods.) Your body doesn’t synthesize omega-3s naturally, so you need to get them from your diet.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: walnuts, avocado, spinach, grass-fed beef, eggs, wild rice, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, red lentils, salmon, albacore tuna, sardines
3. B Vitamins (like vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and Folate). B vitamins are essential for healthy nerves and brain cells, and many of us are deficient. A B vitamin deficiency, especially a B12 deficiency, has been shown to increase mood swings and depression.
Foods rich in B vitamins: sardines, shrimp, salmon, lamb, nutritional yeast, grass-fed beef, poultry, eggs, leafy greens, avocado, feta, cottage, and Swiss cheeses
4. Magnesium. A magnesium deficiency can manifest itself as fatigue, insomnia, muscle tension, and—you guessed it—ANXIETY. So, I make a conscious effort to hit my recommended daily value. You can eat magnesium rich foods, but honestly, I like to drink it. I mix Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm (a calcium-magnesium powder) into warm water and drink it once or twice a day when I’m feeling anxious. It could be in my head (which is fine by me!), but I swear it works.
Foods rich in magnesium: spinach, Swiss chard, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocado, yogurt, bananas, whole grains like rolled oats
5. Tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body needs to produce serotonin.
Foods rich in tryptophan: turkey, nuts, seeds, beans, eggs
I know that was a lot of info, but in short, I feel best when I consume a lot of greens (I try to eat them at every meal), blueberries, chia and hemp seeds, avocado, sweet potato, nuts, eggs, chicken and fish with a couple servings of whole grains (mostly in the form of oats, quinoa, and sprouted grain bread). Oh, and dark chocolate.
In case you need some ideas for delicious meals that are chock full of anxiety-reducing nutrients, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite soothing recipes below. These are all things that I make and eat on the reg, and I rely on them to help keep me happy and healthy. I hope they’ll work some magic in your life too.
“You’ve got a pacer in your office,” my medical assistant told me. I took a deep breath and entered the room to feel a palpable tension where I found my 29-year-old patient Thom pacing restlessly as he gulped from a giant coffee cup.
I get patients like Thom more often these days. They’re overworked, underslept, sometimes feeling spiritually empty, and oftentimes wanting to discuss tapering off pharmaceutical drugs (like Xanax or Prozac) their conventional doctors prescribed, preferring a more holistic, natural regimen to alleviate depression or anxiety (of course, never go off prescription medicine without a doctor’s guidance).
As a medical doctor who specializes in gut health, I regularly see how the gut microbiome affects these and other mental conditions. Among its roles, optimized gut health improves depression by reducing inflammation and boosting hormones like serotonin. About 95 percent of this feel-good neurotransmitter, in fact, gets manufactured by your gut.
Newer studies show your microbiome can also influence other emotions like anxiety, which I see far more often among patients like Thom these days.
“Anxiety has become our everyday argot, our thrumming lifeblood,” writes Alex Williams in a recent New York Times article titled “Prozac Nation Is Now the United States of Xanax.”
The most striking statistics mentioned by Williams include:
• According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, some 38 percent of girls ages 13 through 17, and 26 percent of boys, have an anxiety disorder.
• A 2016 national study of more than 150,000 students by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University found anxiety has taken over depression as the No. 1 mental-health concern.
• According to Google Trends, the number of anxiety web searches has nearly doubled over the last five years.
For Thom and other patients, I take a comprehensive approach to treating anxiety that focuses on a multifaceted approach, balancing sleep, stress levels, exercise, nutrition, and of course, gut health.
Among the science-supported tactics I use to reduce anxiety and restore calm are:
• Deep breathing
• Eight hours of quality sleep every night
• High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
All of those things improve long-term anxiety, but Thom also needed fast relief. Like with most patients, I started with his diet. That’s because food significantly affects your anxiety levels, and foremost among its anxiety-inducing culprits are sugar and caffeine.
Thom’s breakfast usually entailed a muffin and several cups of cream-and-sugar-infused coffee. Working in a hectic high-stress job, he often skipped lunch and grabbed a few slices of pizza or Chinese takeout before he hopped on the subway.