An Anxiety Nutritionist’s 3 Most-Asked Questions During Lockdown By Charlotte Faure Green

Charlotte Faure Green is a registered nutritionist who provides expert one-to-one guidance both online and in-person at her Brighton clinic (when we’re not in lockdown!). She helps stressed bodies and minds regain balance through real-world sustainable changes. 

“I love coffee, but during lockdown one cup snuck to two, maybe three – is this bad for me?”

We are all aware of the potential for caffeine, particularly when consumed late in the day, to impair our sleep quality but did you know that that jolt of energy comes from a triggered release of adrenaline and cortisol (our stress hormones)? And for many, the consequential increased heart rate and blood pressure can simulate panic. If you suffer from anxiety, be aware that caffeine is an anxiogenic drug, meaning that it enhances anxiety.

Often clients are reluctant to say goodbye to their treasured ritual (despite recognising the negative impact on their mental health) and that must be supported – self-care and joy have its place too! For most, one cup in the morning isn’t too problematic (and can be beneficial even), after food so as to slow down absorption, and always before midday. If there is a desire for something post-lunch, green tea before 2pm is a great idea.

Green tea contains less caffeine than coffee but is still not negligible. It does, however, contain l-theanine, an amino acid that has been shown to increase the production of dopamine and serotonin (our happy hormones), and GABA (our calming neurotransmitter).

And don’t forget your black (or builder’s) tea, whilst loaded with health benefits, also comes with a considerable dose of caffeine, and consumption levels should be monitored if you’re worried about the impact on your mental health.

“I’ve read about ashwagandha as a great supplement for stress and anxiety – should I try it?”

It would be wonderful if there was a magical silver bullet, in the form of a supplement, to eradicate our feelings of anxiety, stress and overwhelm, but rebalancing an anxious mind takes more than just popping a pill. Indeed, anxiety is a necessary signal that something is out of balance and may require full exploration of the food we eat, our lifestyle, our thoughts, our gut microbiome and our genes.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an ancient herb, traditionally used in Ayurveda, that is having something of a revival in the West at the moment. It is hailed for (amongst many amazing properties) its ability to reduce cortisol and adrenaline, thus reducing feelings of anxiety and stress, as it mimics our calming GABA.

But it’s not necessarily for everybody. Some studies have shown supplementation of ashwagandha to increase levels of the hormone testosterone, which is potentially bad news if you have elevated levels related to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), for example. Elevated testosterone has also been well-documented as one of the many causative factors for acne. 

Rather confusingly, some women with PCOS find they fare brilliantly on ashwagandha due to its adaptogenic properties, but it’s not a given how you will react. Just because it is “natural” and available to buy on the high street, does not necessarily mean it is harmless, and it is important to seek professional advice from a nutritionist or herbalist before undertaking supplementation.

“I gained weight in lockdown and my self-confidence is low – what do I do?”

The bombardment of online memes referring to “lockdown snack attacks” and now “post-lockdown weight-loss plans” indicate that this is a concern for many. All compounded by harmful rhetoric that we need to somehow earn our right to eat – “I better run off that pizza” or “I don’t deserve the cake”.

Emotional eating is a valid, normal and very human response to emotions. Provided it is not controlling or overpowering your every thought, it is very normal to have emotional feelings surrounding food. After all, food is not merely fuel for the body, but connection, nourishment, joy and comfort, amongst boundless other things. 

For some, it can be hard to shake off the feeling of guilt and stress caused by eating something you feel you shouldn’t have. If you experience a sudden hunger for a specific food, maybe wait 20 minutes. Physical hunger tends to creep up on us and doesn’t feel urgent. It’s an itch that can be scratched by a variety of food options and is often accompanied by physical signs, such as a stomach rumble or lightheaded-ness. Emotional hunger often comes on very suddenly, and only one specific foodstuff will do. By tuning into what your body is truly feeling, and maybe holding off for 20 minutes, you can recognise what type of hunger you are experiencing.

If after 20 minutes you determine that only chocolate will do, and the urge is real, please don’t deny yourself. Restriction can further feelings of desire, and you deserve to eat. You deserve joy!

It’s ok to feel frustrated about having put on weight in lockdown, you’re not bad or shallow for doing so, but it’s also important to recognise where these thought patterns come from – diet culture is insidious. It is not your life’s work to be smaller. Many of us will have put on weight in lockdown – trying times will do that. As our normal habits begin to resume, we can choose to embrace our evolved bodies or make sustainable changes, if necessary for our mental health – with awareness and self-kindness. 

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