The Importance of Finding the Right Diet for You
How many diets can you name, off the top of your head? Mediterranean. Keto. Paleo. Carnivore. DASH. Vegetarian. The list goes on. How many of these have you, personally tried? Chances are you’ve tried at least one and it didn’t work. You might think that’s because you don’t have enough self control, or it was too hard, or you just weren’t ready to diet. Any of these could be true – but more than likely, the real answer is that it wasn’t right for you. Our lives aren’t one-size-fits-all, and your diet shouldn’t be, either.
Let’s say you tried the keto diet, which has gained massive popularity within the last few years. You got rid of every hint of carbs in your house, stocked up on meat, and went full force at it. You suffered through the keto flu, looked up how to make keto brownies (c’mon, you can’t just call something a brownie and expect it to taste like the real thing), and watched with sorrowful eyes as your friends happily ate ice cream and pizza and drank beer. Between the temptations and the calorie counting, not only did you not feel healthier, but your anxiety seemed to get worse. What gives?
Anything that is highly restrictive is guaranteed not to be fun. When something isn’t fun, we don’t want to do it – especially if we’re dealing with anxiety on top of everything else. You have to work within your limits, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all have different needs, react differently to situations, and prefer different foods. That’s why the diet culture is inherently unsustainable – it attempts to take very specific programs and fit them to very different people. A true diet should be as unique as you are. If it’s tailored to your wants, likes, and needs, you’ll be less likely to abandon it. So stop trying to fit into a box that’s not meant for you, and leave the cookie-cutter diets to reality TV stars. You’re about to embark on a journey of discovery, and at the end of the path is a lifestyle made just for you
Defining Inflammatory Foods
Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism of the body. It is your body’s attempt at guarding itself and an essential aspect of your immune system that heals wounds, infections, and damaged tissues. There are two general types of inflammation. Acute inflammation applies to the healing process. It is often associated with physical trauma, infections, dermatitis, high-intensity exercise, sore throats, and other such illnesses and injuries. This is the good type of inflammation that you want and need.
On the other hand, chronic inflammation is the enemy of good health. One example of chronic inflammation is rheumatoid arthritis, which we all recognize to be a hindrance to a quality life. We often think of chronic inflammation as a hiccup in the body’s response, as if it were a computer with a glitch. In reality, our body responds to what is in and around it, and chronic inflammation can often be traced back to what we eat. Just as there are certain foods that reduce anxiety, there are some that cause or promote inflammation. Most of these contain high amounts of sugar or are refined and highly processed. Some of these foods are:
- white bread
- white pasta
- processed meats
- drinks with excess sugar
- junk food/snack foods
- desserts like pastries and cookies
- processed oils like vegetable oil
Most of the main offenders contain refined grains, excess sugar, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and carbohydrates. Many of them have also become staples of the Western diet.
The Best Food to Include in Your Diet
The good news is that it’s incredibly easy to eat fulfilling and delicious foods while avoiding those that trigger the body’s inflammatory response. While a list is provided below, the key thing to remember is that the closer to its natural state something is, the healthier it will be (in general). The words “refined” and “processed” indicate a change has taken place or there were extra steps involved other than grow, harvest, sell. Our ancestors may have had a lot to deal with (bears, famine, no running water or water stored in bottles), but at least they got one thing right – the hunter/gatherer lifestyle.
While we no longer have to sharpen a spear or go foraging ourselves, thanks to our modern society, we can still approach meals the same way humans of the past did. If it wouldn’t have been possible to make something a few hundred or thousand years ago, chances are your body won’t like it. Corn on the cob? Safe. Packet of chips or other snack food drizzled in high fructose corn syrup? Not safe.
In short: the closer you are to nature, the closer you are to the way humans were meant to eat. Some of the best (natural) foods for avoiding or reducing inflammation include:
- fruits such as apples, plums, and cherries
- veggies like kale, broccoli, spinach, and artichokes
- beans: pinto, red kidney, black
- various nuts (unsalted) such as walnuts
- dark chocolate
- certain spices, namely ginger and turmeric
There are so many more, of course. In fact, there was a study back in 2010 that looked at 3,100 food products to determine which were highest in antioxidants, which are basically the anti-anxiety pills of nature
Considerations in Your Day to Day Diet
So, what does knowing all of this do for you? For a start, it tells you what you definitely should eat every day, and what you should immediately toss. Even if you’re not sure whether or not inflammation is behind a lot of your pain or anxiety symptoms, eliminating the foods that cause it is a good place to start. Constant inflammation can trigger stress hormones, and when your body is stressed your brain often turns that stress into anxiety. By taking care of one of the possible root causes, you’re not only helping your anxiety, you’re aiding your overall health, too.
Before you can start on any kind of diet, you need to have some parameters set. It’s a good idea to know how much of each nutrient you should be getting every day, and in what proportions. The following sections will address these two considerations.
The accepted nutritional guidelines for an adult are almost always in flux, but the basic idea is still valid. In general, your diet should include:
This is a very vague list that gives you categories, but not quantities. What kinds of grains? How much oil? These questions can lead to a lot of confusion that sabotage a healthy diet before it even begins.
The key thing to remember is that these are just categories and recommendations. They tell you what you should be eating, not necessarily that you have to eat all of these every day. To break these guidelines down further, consider the following tips:
- half your plate at each meal should be taken up by fruits and vegetables
- meats should be lean
- get your protein from sources other than meat, too
- stick to whole grains
- sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat foods should be kept to a minimum
This makes it a little bit easier to grasp the general idea. Every meal should have fruits and veggies as the majority, whole grains are best, protein is important and can be gotten from various sources, and anything that’s deep fried, salted, and smothered in sugar is probably best left alone.
If you really want to get into the specifics and find out the exact percentage of each food group and/or vitamins and minerals that fulfill dietary guidelines, there are tons of resources online, many provided by the government. However, to avoid overwhelming you, we’ll leave it here for now.