5 Tips for an Anxiety-Free Diet
It was a 21st birthday. Family friends catering. Beautiful food. Canopy-style rather than sit-down: Italian meatballs, Lebanese kebabs, Indonesian sate chicken, Tasmanian salmon with chips. Lovely. Delicious. But one guest was very annoyed. He bellowed at the service: What’s the vegetarian option? Quick as a flash, the server retorted, mate, the vegetarian option is “don’t eat the meat” but you can eat everything else. The guy fumed. You should cater for everyone!
So I deepened the conversation: Vegetarian out of religion reasons?
-Conscientious about world resources?
-Then why vegetarian?
-I just didn’t want meat tonight. I’ve heard it’s not that healthy.
Weeks later I was talking to a colleague who was at a large conference.
Colleague: They solved the food preference problem. All the food was gluten-free, vegan and whatever else it needed to be so no-one could object.
Colleague: Not really. It tasted so disgusting that no-one ate it. Nearly all the food was wasted. Most of us went for take-outs, some got food deliveries which disrputed afternoon sessions. What a logistic, tasteless mess. I’m never going to that conference again.
Then there was the time my partner served up some favourites at a dinner party.
-Oh, your delicious cookies! I wish we could, but … we eat gluten-free now.
-No, just want to be healthy. Sorry.
Social eating is becoming so complex. Out of our choice, losing weight, bulking up or health beliefs, we’re making ourselves and others sick and tired with anxiety, obsessions and social friction. What diets have you tried? Keto, high protein, low carb, paleo, Mediterranean, DASH, omniheart, intermittent fasting, vegan, gluten-free, hypo-allergenic, others?
To the confusion I’ll add my mental-health-led ponderings. Like every doctor, I’ve sat through lectures on carb, lipid and protein metabolism and I keep relatively up-to-date, particularly in light of growing evidence for the gut-brain connection.
Here are my “Five Tips for An Anxiety-Free Diet.”
1. If you have a medical condition – coeliac, diabetes, phenylketonuria, severe allergy, hypertension, or other – follow medical dietary advice always. If you have religious or other convictions, follow those too while keeping up all needed nutrients.
2. Realize that about 13% of the world’s population is grossly undernourished. Infant mortality rates due to poor nutrition are still too high, though they are falling. Keep a grateful perspective to keep anxiety levels down.
3. Know the real reason for your diet – weight loss, bulking muscle, longevity, personal preference – to guide your goals and your diet. Stick to most of your goals, most of the time, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Slow & steady wins the race. Extreme diets may need professional monitoring.
4. Consider what the diets have in common. No health diet advocates smoking, excess drinking, amphetamines, unpeeled couch-potatoes, fast foods blow-outs, trans-fats, soft-drinks, or processed food with excessive additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners and flavour-enhancers. All lean towards fresh, wholesome, the-way-nature-serves-it-up foods. If you do all this, you do well.
5. Be Flexible. Relax. Let go of your strict personal preferences for socializing now & then. It won’t kill you, I promise. Health gains come from what you eat on most days for most years. The benefits of “longevity diets” may also be in the relaxed attitudes and social companionship surrounding the appreciation of food.
Enter Flexitarianism and the Planetary Health Diet, put together by scientists wanting us to live long (based on evidence) and sustain the planet (some scientists have awfully strange ideas). It’s a healthy common-sense, as-nature-intended-it diet, no bad stuff, sustainable, and comparable to recommendations by national health authorities. The less-than-subtle mental health message in its nick-name. Flexitarianism. Be flexible. Don’t drive yourself and others around the bend with rules. Loosen up. Let go. Live long and enjoy. Chime in with people and make 21st birthdays, conferences, dinner parties, and socializing fun again.
For more on anxiety-free living check out our recent podcast series on how to beat anxiety: