Nutrition / Food

6 Ways to Avoid Letting Your Diet Cause Food Anxiety

Eating healthily shouldn’t be stressful. Here’s how to prevent a diet from affecting your mental health.

It’s an exciting moment when you decide to take charge of your health and change your eating patterns. But, you don’t want your newfound diet to wreak havoc on your mental health.

A new diet should be empowering, not stressful; and, if you’re experiencing food anxiety, you’ll want to adjust the way that you approach your eating habits.

Rather than falling for strict, fad diets that make you miss out on happy hour with your friends, you’ll want to incorporate habits that make you feel good both physically and mentally.

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“Diets frequently cause anxiety due to their temporary and restrictive nature,” says Registered Dietitian Mandy Enright, MS, RDN, RYT.

“Many people approach diets with the mindset that they need to say goodbye to all their favorite foods forever or they’ll never lose weight. There is also the perception that if you don’t follow a diet plan 100 percent of the time that you’ve ‘failed,’” she adds.

Getting rid of these mindsets when starting a diet can help alleviate your food anxiety and motivate you towards healthier—and more enjoyable—habits. If you feel like your diet is causing you stress and unhappiness, you may also want to reevaluate continuing.

“When the stress from worrying about food has become more detrimental than the actual food itself, it’s time to quit a diet,” says Enright. “Remember that you’re on a diet to get healthy, but mental health is also a huge part of your health and happiness.”

To prevent a diet from causing you stress, try some of these dietitian-backed ways to combat food anxiety.

Skip the fad diets

Rather than jumping into the latest diet trend, opt for something more sustainable. Maybe even skip the “diet” altogether in favor of adopting overall healthier habits.

“Skip the diet foods and choose a diet rich in foods like whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables,” says Registered Dietitian Megan Casper, MS, RDN, CDN.

“These foods are nutrient-rich, which naturally reduces stress, plus adding or subbing them into your diet will help you learn healthy habits [that] you can continue long after the diet.”

Partner with a friend

Making any change with a partner can help you feel less alone. “Dieting and working out with a friend can be a lot less stressful. You know you’re in it with someone, and buddying up can increase motivation for you both,” says Casper.

If you’re looking to lose weight, social support from friends and family can help. A study from the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that participants who recruited three friends or family members to participate in their quest to lose weight had better results than those who went at it alone.

Focus on what you can do more of instead of less

Putting an emphasis on making positive changes takes away the feelings of deprivation that come along with many diets. “Can you eat one more fruit or vegetable each day, add one more day of exercise into your daily schedule, or get more sleep?” asks Enright.

“Doing more of something is exciting and motivating—doing less is not.” It can also help to avoid lumping foods into good and bad categories. “Just call it ‘food,’” says Enright.

Let go of perfectionism

Many diets fail because people beat themselves up after one misstep—and they give up altogether. Ditch this attitude, and you might find some of your food anxiety disappear.

“There will be days when schedules go off course. We didn’t have time to go to the grocery store or we’re attending a wedding where we’re at the mercy of what’s available,” says Enright. “This dietitian’s advice? Make the best of the situation and move on. Tomorrow (or the next meal) is another day.”

Create a plan

Want to limit food anxiety when it comes to mealtimes? Create a plan for your meals. “Meal planning has been shown to limit stress around mealtimes, save money, reduce calories, and limit food waste,” says Enright.

“You’ll purchase items you need at the grocery store to have on hand at home to set yourself up for success.” If the idea of meal planning stresses you out and gives you more anxiety, there are plenty of online suggestions to help guide your week.

Bonus: you can also plan your workout using the Aaptiv app.

Work with a dietitian

If you’re starting a diet, you’re likely trying to do something healthy for yourself. But, if it’s backfiring and causing you stress, consider working with a professional.

“Registered Dietitians are not the ‘Food Police’ who put people on restrictive diets (unless there is a medical reason to do so),” says Enright.

“In actuality, registered dietitians are trained to help clients create plans and goals that are realistic and flexible that set people up for success.”

Starting a new diet should be a positive experience. Try adjusting your approach to prevent future food anxiety.

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