Chocolate donuts. Peanut butter cups. Caramel slice. Cinema popcorn. Strawberry milkshakes. Chocolate cake. Sugar-covered mood-altering tasty treats of any description. Just throw some sugar on it and call me buzzed!
But also, call me anxious. (But don’t actually, cause my name is Katherine).
Because if there’s one ingredient sure to send my mind racing, heartbeat soaring and anxiety over the edge, it’s sugar.
Sweet, delicious, toxic sugar.
And I know I’m not alone.
Many people with anxiety and an abundance of nervous energy get even more ratty, more wired when they have a taste of the sweet stuff.
We tend to crave more sugar when we’re at our anxiety peak. So, the time when we need it least is the time we want it most!
And let’s not forget our menstrual cycle and our PMT-lead urge to stuff sugary goodness into our mouths to stop the hormonal rollercoaster. But, of course, the sugar only makes it worse. So we spiral, spinning fast and faster, and feeling more out of control. And then, naturally, comes the crash. As if living with anxiety wasn’t enough of a wild ride!
My sugar story
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m on a mission to try different tools and techniques to help anxiety. Diet and nutrition is a BIG part of that experiment.
Because all throughout my life – and yours too, perhaps – my diet and emotions have been inseparable. I just couldn’t see it til now.
On a hunch (and to save myself from a breakdown), I tuned up my diet. I’ve been eating more healthy fats and vegetables, and far less sugar and processed foods.
And after significantly cutting back on sugar, I now only need one lick of it to feel jittery.
Yes, ONE LICK.
Take last night, when my man decided to bring home Nutella to make pancakes. As a pre-dinner snack! I wear it was some sort of cruel psychological experiment. To him, it wasn’t. To him it was just ‘eating Nutella pancakes time!’ To me, it was ‘please don’t bring that giant jar anywhere near me, or I’ll shove my face into it and end up feeling sick, anxious and sorry for myself’ time.
I resisted. Because I know that one spoonful of sickly sweet stuff isn’t worth it. Not after how far I’ve come in my anxiety-busting journey.
Why and how does sugar feed anxiety?
So, what’s the connection between sugar and anxiety?
Just last month, I Quit Sugar author Sarah Wilson wrote a post entitled ‘Does quitting sugar help anxiety?‘
I can’t possibly put this as eloquently or well-informed as her, so I’ll paste part of it here:
“Possibly the most exciting work is being conducted on the link between gut health, inflammation and anxiety. As you’ve no doubt heard, we have a whole community of bacteria in our digestive tract – our microbiome – which not only plays an important role in our metabolic and immune systems, but also our nervous system. Recent research shows that these microbes influence emotional behaviour and how we respond to stress.
Sugar, of course, totally stuffs up the microbiome, which can trigger a cascade of inflammatory molecular reactions that feed back to the central nervous system, causing inflammation in the brain. And it’s this inflammation that messes with our neurotransmitters, leading to anxiety. Put simply,
If you have fire in the gut, you have fire in the brain.”
It’s that simple.
Firey gut = firey brain. And vice versa.
How to ditch sugar
I’m no nutritionist, so I’m not going to tell you how to follow a low or no-sugar diet. Or whether it’s right for you.
But reducing my sugar intake (that’s sugary snacks, as well as hidden sugars in sauces, packaged foods and even fruit) has helped enormously in taking back control of my anxious mind.
And a lot of that is thanks to swapping sugar for fats (like making my own peanut butter cups. My favourite recipe is at the bottom of this Amazon page.) As well as cleaning up my diet – focusing on fresh foods, mostly plants, with a little protein. Plus, healthy fats like salmon, avocado and coconut oil.
It works for me.
It may or may not work for you.
But there’s enough research out there to show a strong link between sugar and anxiety. And, on the flip side, a connection between a whole-foods diet and lower anxiety.
The proof is in the (sugar-free) pudding.
At least, it is for me and many others.
Have you quit or cut back on sugar? Has it helped with your mental clarity and calm – or haven’t you seen much difference? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.