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5 Eating Habits That Make Your Anxiety Worse

You might have turned to food to relieve and cope with extreme stress and anxiety at times, but did you know that certain eating habits can actually make your anxiety worse? 

There happens to be a strong correlation between bad eating habits and anxiety which most people do not realize until it becomes a reflex for coping with difficult feelings. 

This ultimately leads to aggravating symptoms that make your anxiety worse letting this endless loop destroy you both mentally and physically. (1)

Solutions like grounding exercises, breathing techniques, etc. do exist and can assist you in managing the symptoms of your anxiety.
However, learning which eating habits have the potential to intensify your anxiety and putting an end to these bad eating habits might help you to prepare yourself with better choices and get one step closer to living free from anxiety.


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Dieting

Dieting has become the norm for people when it comes to weight loss and living a healthier lifestyle. The problem, however, arises when we think it’s convenient for us to hop on and off diets regularly, trying out one regimen after another. 

This style of yo-yo dieting does more harm than good to your body, as suggested by research.
Turns out chronic on-off dieting can increase the chances of having a sudden cardiac arrest by 3.5 times in women, subsequently increasing the risk of death by heart diseases by 66 percent. (2)

Another famous study on calorie restriction in 36 healthy young men observed increased lethargy, irritability, and feelings of anxiety, with two men, in particular, suffering severe psychological stress, one becoming suicidal and another mutilating himself. This study led to the first evidence of the impact of dieting on mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. (3)

What’s also interesting is that one study actually observed an enhanced weight gain in one-third of dieters after two years of dieting, with the researchers officially claiming that dieting might not even be effective in helping you lose weight. (4)

The mental health implications of dieting, including worsening of anxiety symptoms must not be ignored, and with so much evidence suggesting its lack of effectiveness for the purpose of weight-loss should provide you with enough reason to stop the habit of ‘going on diets.’

Emotional Eating

If you turn to food when you feel stressed or maybe just to make yourself feel good, chances are you might be indulging in emotional eating.

Psychologists define ’emotional eating’ as using food to make yourself feel better, mainly to suppress or soothe negative emotions like stress, anxiety, sadness, or boredom, rather than satisfying an empty stomach. (5

Usually rewarding yourself with food to appreciate yourself or your accomplishments can be a good thing. But when you turn to food in the face of emotional distress, it might turn into binge eating, consuming whatever seems convenient and soothing without thinking about what you’re doing.

Apart from increasing your risks for diseases like obesity, emotional eating doesn’t really help fix your emotional problems. Instead, it usually ends up making you feel worse with immense guilt and without any constructive solution to deal with your emotional problems.

This habit of emotional eating has been inextricably linked to feelings of depression and anxiety in obese people with researchers suggesting the best treatment might be developing emotion regulation skills over weight-loss solutions. (6)

Most of us are guilty of indulging in this bad habit and it’s important to identify the personal triggers to emotional eating so we can break the loop of stuffing ourselves with food to cover the negative emotions only to end up feeling guilty with more anxiety and stress.

Eating irregularly or Skipping Meals

When life becomes too busy to eat on consistent schedules, eating on the go, or even skipping meals makes sense. But this habit of irregular eating can set you up for a plethora of diseases like high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.

When you skip meals, your body is devoid of its first energy source which is glucose. Lack of glucose immediately leads to a drop in blood sugar levels. This can cause feelings of irritability, confusion, and fatigue in the body. With less glucose for the brain to use, it starts to dysfunction.

This anomaly in your body triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, leaving you with increased feelings of stress and anxiety. Skipping breakfast is also one of the main causes of morning anxiety.

Moreover, skipping meals also causes your metabolism to slow down, making you susceptible to weight gain while making it difficult to lose the extra weight. (7)

Research has confirmed that people who have an irregular intake of energy during breakfast and between meals have a higher cardio-metabolic risk. (8)

Our body is a very efficient machine constantly at work and it needs to be fueled at regular intervals to keep operating optimally. The habit of skipping meals or irregular eating can end up affecting both your mental and physical health drastically. The only solution is to eat at scheduled meal times and not to stay on an empty stomach for prolonged hours.

Eating Fast Foods

You already know fast foods are not good for health. Here’s another reason to confirm fast foods are literally junk. 

Most of the fast foods that you love binging on are cooked using hydrogenated oils, which contains artificially added trans fat. This trans fat found in hydrogenated oil raises your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lowers your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Consuming trans fat also increases your risk of developing heart diseases and stroke, and type 2 diabetes. (9)

Recent studies have found that prolonged consumption of trans fats can actually make you susceptible to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. (10, 11)

Moreover, most of the fast-food meals are made using processed ingredients like flour, cooking oil, sauce, etc. and contain ultra-processed items with added colors, flavors, and preservatives like sugary drinks, cookies, some crackers, and chips. (12) All processed foods contain high amounts of sugar or salt to increase its shelf life.

Processed foods high in refined sugar affect your mood, energy levels, appetite, cognitive performance and boosts the level of adrenaline to make you susceptible to severe anxiety and panic attacks. (13)

Moreover, consuming large amounts of refined sugar can lead to obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, and affect your emotional well-being leaving you with feelings of worry, sadness, and irritability.

Other processed foods that are high in salt can disrupt your neurological system, which can directly contribute to depression, affecting your immune system response and causing fatigue. Moreover, an excess of salt causes bloating, higher fluid retention, and weight gain over time.

The combination of processed food ingredients and trans fat makes most of the fast-food meals a deadly choice for the body. Make better food choices and try to break up with fast food completely. Instead, prepare fast-food style meals at home with healthier ingredients.

Overeating

Overeating can be of two types: Eating when you’re not hungry and eating too much.

And almost every person has indulged in stints of overeating at least once in their life, especially during the holiday seasons.

What’s really bad is that overeating can end up being the culmination of all bad eating habits from dieting to emotional eating to skipping meals, often mindlessly stuffing ourselves with foods for pleasure, particularly fast foods. 

Needless to say, overeating can be seriously distressing for your digestive system often leading to short-term issues like heartburn, bloating, and making you feel sluggish, tired, and dizzy.

With a massive intake of calories, your blood sugar level will spike up causing the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline which will aggravate your anxiety symptoms.

The long-term implications of overeating on the body can lead to an increased risk of obesity, heart diseases, and diabetes. Moreover, researchers believe overeating can lead to long-term changes in the brain circuits that are comparable to the way drugs affect your brain wiring, leading to claims that food can be extremely addicting if not treated early in life, especially for kids. (14)

Put simply, overeating can mess up your brain and body very badly, without you even realizing it. Identifying your overeating triggers is the first step to stop feeding this bad habit, and integrating the habit of mindful eating during meals at pre-scheduled intervals that can help you live a much healthier life.

Final Word

Take a moment to assess which of these eating habits seem relevant to you and might be silently contributing to your anxiety. 

Apart from following healthy eating habits, look out for foods that can aggravate your anxiety

Always try to include whole foods to your diet and drink enough water to stay hydrated. You should also try to add these 7 foods that help reduce anxiety.

Make the necessary changes immediately because it’s your life that is at stake here. Lastly, never hesitate to reach out for support or consult a mental health professional to understand your anxiety better. 

Online Therapy is not a substitute for face-to-face therapy and please exercise caution before investing in any online therapy platform.


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