Throughout my corporate career, I was a sugar addict and cookie monster.
A chocolate chip cookie monster to be specific.
Not only did I have a sweet tooth, but I also had an unhealthy habit of consuming sugar every time I felt stressed, which was pretty much all the time. Such and such client just yelled at me for x… solution = going to the grocery store and buying chocolate chip cookies, chocolate, marshmallows and anything sugary that caught my eye.
The outcome being that I would feel great for all of about 5 minutes while I munched my sweets, only to then feel guilty shortly after that for consuming such items, to suddenly having a sugar “crash” an hour later. I would then repeated the cycle of eating more sugary treats. Sugar was my feel-good, comfort food of choice, and since I was on a continuous quest for comfort during my career, it was my primary source of nourishment.
I knew that to regain control of my mental health and to optimise on my physical health; I had to quit my sugar addiction and implement a balanced nutritious diet. I read that sugar makes anxiety worse because when blood sugar levels spike from high to low, and back again the body releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to deal with the sugar. Since my anxiety made me feel jacked up and jittery from the excess adrenaline and cortisol that was coursing through my system, I recognised that adding more adrenaline and cortisol from sugar only exasperated my symptoms.
And so, because I was desperate to cease having panic attacks, I quit all refined sugar cold turkey.
And, I felt awful for it. I had migraine headaches, significant mood swings, a real lack of focus and the shakes. It took me almost a full month for the effects of the sugar detox to wear off, and once they did, I then went to work on giving up coffee.
My decision to do so was because I had read that like sugar, caffeine makes anxiety worse. Coffee and I didn’t get along at the best of times and caused me to feel jittery like I was jacked up on drugs. Yet, over the years, I had developed an unhealthy habit of consuming loads of coffee to cope with the perpetual tiredness I felt because of my long working days.
And so, I gave up coffee and again had withdrawal symptoms – this time in the form of headaches, fatigue, and feeling depressed. These symptoms lasted roughly a week or so.
I am not suggesting giving up all refined sugar and caffeine as a path for everyone. Nor do I advocate a particular nutritional diet as I believe everyone’s bodies and needs are different. However, I do recommend gaining awareness of your dietary habits as this will help you to understand if there any consumption habits that are not serving your mental health.
Key questions to ask yourself:
Consider keeping a food diary to gain a complete understanding of your consumption habits. Record what and when you eat, and also write down commentary on any needs that the food is meeting. I.e. comfort eating rather than hunger eating.
Once completing this exercise for a week or two consider what changes you need to make with your diet.