5 Tips for an Anxiety-Free Diet
I was at a 21st birthday. Family friends were 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 don’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.
My colleague: They solved the problem of food preferences. All the food was gluten-free, vegan and whatever else it needed to be so no-one could object.
Me: Great idea!
Mt colleague: Not really. It tasted so disgusting that no-one ate it. Nearly all the food was wasted. Most of us went out for take-outs, some got Uber-eats delivered during afternoon sessions. It was a three-day logistic, tasteless food-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 now so complex. Out of our choice, losing weight, bulking up or health beliefs, we’re making ourselves and each other 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?
Here I’ll add my mental-health-led doctorly 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, diabetic, phenylketonuria, severe allergy, hypertension, or other – follow medical dietary advice always. And if you have religious or other convictions, follow those too keeping up all needed nutrition.
2. Realize that 45% of the world doesn’t have the luxury of enough food. Infant mortality rates due to malnutrition are still high, though falling. Keep this perspective to keep gratitude up and anxiety down.
3. Be honest about the real reason for your diet – weight loss, bulking muscle, longevity, keeping trends, personal preference – to guide your goals and how long to sustain your diet. Stick to most of your goals, most of the time, don’t be too hard on yourself. Slow & steady wins the race. Extreme diets may need professional monitoring.
4. Consider what all health diets have in common. No health diet advocates smoking, excess drinking, amphetamines, unpeeled couch-potatoes, blow-outs with fast foods, 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 just a little of your strict-diet personal preferences for socializing now and 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 the culture of food.
Heard of the “Flexitarian Diet?” I’m not advocating this diet in particular, just its name. It’s as healthy as any that will make this year’s Top Ten Diets: common-sense, as-nature-intended-it foods, no bad stuff, sustainable long-term, and broadly comparable to recommendations by the health authorities of many countries. The less-than-subtle mental health message is in its name. Flexible. Be flexible so you don’t drive yourself and others crazy with rules. Loosen up. Let go. Enjoy. Chime in with others 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: