Is Your Diet Making You Anxious?

Five anxiety offenders to consider removing

By Heather Lillico

On the final day of exams in University, I had a panic attack. Like many students, I had stayed up late studying in an attempt to cram a semester’s worth of knowledge in a few short hours. That morning, to avoid falling asleep during the test I guzzled coffee and pleaded with my brain to just make it through. But my brain and body had had enough. I felt the familiar feeling of the world crushing inwards, my heart starting to race and panic setting in. I couldn’t help but wonder…had I caused this? I’d always been sensitive to the effects of caffeine and felt jittery if I had too much, but did my excessive intake this time tip me over the edge of anxiety?

Years later I finally accepted that my body functions best without caffeine, and I’ve learned this is the case for many others, especially those with anxiety.

During my own anxiety recovery journey, and while coaching many nutrition clients I started to see patterns. Patterns of foods that contribute to anxiety, and once removed lead to a calmer mind. Consider how much you rely on these in your diet and whether they might be sneaky culprits for anxiety. I’ve gathered them into a list of Five Anxiety Offenders.

  1. Caffeine: It increases activation in your fight or flight nervous system which makes you feel anxious.
  2. Refined/processed sugars: They spike blood sugar which makes you feel anxious, and also affect gut bacteria which have a role in your mood.
  3. Dairy: Many people don’t tolerate dairy well and can’t digest it properly, especially as they get older. As well, the hormones in dairy affect the body’s natural balance.
  4. Alcohol: It can disrupt feel good neurotransmitters in the brain, and also negatively impact gut bacteria.
  5. Red/processed meats: They have been linked with causing inflammation in the body (and the brain), a side effect of which can be anxiety.

Many of the items listed above also happen to be delicious indulgences, but the great thing is you don’t need to be perfect in removing them to see effects. Even a modest reduction can lead to big gains towards feeling calm. If you used to have three coffees a day try tapering down to two, or switching to a lower caffeine alternative like green tea. And if you live for that afternoon chocolate bar, swap it out for a higher quality dark chocolate option instead, or enjoy dates with natural peanut butter. The point isn’t to be perfect, but rather to tune in to how you feel, instead of waiting years like I did to connect the dots.

Heather Lillico is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Yoga & Meditation Instructor. Heather focuses her practice on anxiety and knows it’s possible to get off the hamster wheel of looping thoughts. She teaches others to use anxiety-calming nutrients and stress-relieving mindfulness techniques to get out of the fast lane and find the magic of a clear mind.

For more info visit or follow her on Instagram @heather_lil