After Doing Whole30, I Can Tell You Exactly What Food Triggers My Anxiety

Photographer: Jae Payne
POPSUGAR Photography | Jae Payne
POPSUGAR Photography | Jae Payne

I've been taking a low dose of anxiety medication since finals week of my senior year of college. For a long time, it was exactly what I needed to keep my symptoms at bay. Unfortunately, though, as I made my way into my 30s with a full-time consulting job, a side hustle, and a new marriage, I found myself settling into my old anxious ways even with the medication. That's probably why I found myself consuming a few too many sugary treats to ease the stress of my busy days. (Hey! There's nothing a pack of Sour Patch Kids can't cure, amiright?)

When I finally decided to kick my habit of overindulgence to the curb, Whole30 seemed like the best approach. If you haven't heard of Whole30, it's an elimination diet that requires you to remove processed foods, dairy, alcohol, legumes, and grains from your life for 30 days. In short, I would be eating a lot of meat and vegetables for the next month!

I'd heard so many inspiring stories from people who had successfully completed the challenge and gone on to have healthier, more fulfilled lives. So, I cleaned out my cupboards, bought a ridiculous number of avocados, and gave my husband a fair warning. I was about to begin Whole30.

Throughout the challenge I experienced most of the same struggles and benefits that most people experience throughout the 30-day program. I was tired in the beginning, but then super energized for the last 10 days of the program. I slept better, my stomach was flatter, and my skin was clearer. I didn't have a lot of cravings, but my husband will tell you that a glass of Rosé was all I wanted for the whole 30 days.

But the most surprising part of Whole30 happened at the end. I noticed that I wasn't feeling my usual anxious feelings throughout the day. In fact, sometime around day 25, I realized I couldn't remember the last time I even felt anxious! Even more surprising was that my anxiety was gone even though I didn't have my usual comfort foods on hand.

After reintroducing each eliminated food group one by one, it became really obvious that sugar was the culprit of my heightened anxiety. Sometimes the negative effects of my beloved Sour Patch Kids lasted well into the next day. And that glass of Rosé I'd been craving? Even the sugar in that left me feeling uncomfortable.

Have I completely eliminated sugar from my diet? I have to admit the answer is no, but the awareness of how sugar impacts my anxiety has been extremely eye opening. Now, instead of checking the calorie count on the foods I eat, I look first at the amount of sugar. This has helped me avoid foods that I once thought were healthy, but were probably making me feel bad. I'll probably never cut sugar completely out of my life, but now I know that when I'm feeling extra anxious, I should avoid sugary snacks.