The Calming Plate: Reducing Stress and Anxiety Through Your Diet.

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If you are feeling physical effects of stress because of the election or the upcoming holiday season, there are some simple, concrete steps you can take to help yourself feel better.

Stress eating, panic attacks, and worsening anxiety and depression are common and understandable responses to stressful situations. Understand that what you are feeling is absolutely expected from a physiological level, and is not in your head.

When you experience stress, the numbers of pathogenic bacteria in your gut go up, and the numbers of beneficial go down. This shift in bacteria can cause gut issues such as diarrhea, constipation, IBS, and decreased absorption of nutrients. You can also see increased mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and panic attacks because many neurochemicals such as serotonin are made in the gut. You are also at greater risk of contracting colds and the flu because of the hit to your immune system (which is also primarily located in the gut). There are also repercussions from the stress hormones produced.

My best advice for stressful times is to really nourish the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

  1. Expose your gut to beneficial bacteria. Eat fermented/cultured foods such as yogurt, raw sauerkraut, raw honey, apple cider vinegar with the mother, black tea, or miso on a daily basis. Just a little will do. Buy different varieties of produce than you usually do. Different varieties of apples, for example, have different bacteria on them and we want the widest diversity possible in your diet, so if you normally buy Fuji apples, get Gala. If you normally buy spinach, try arugula. If you don’t want to do this, take a probiotic for a month or two. I’d advise something with both bifido and lactobacillus bacteria.
  2. Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Either take fish oil (preferably something with 2-4 times as much EPA to DHA for adults, but more DHA than EPA for kids), or eat omega-3 rich foods like salmon, anchovies, flax, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, etc.
  3. Increase your intake of vegetables and fruits. Your body is experiencing higher than normal oxidative stress, and it needs more antioxidant-rich foods to compensate. In general, the darker the color the fruit or vegetable is, the more antioxidants it contains.
  4. Get some herbal tea. For adults I’d recommend tulsi/holy basil (but not if you have hot flashes), lemon balm, valerian, or ashwagandha. For kids, try lemon balm or chamomile. Steep for 5-10 minutes and try 2-3 cups/day. I like to make one pot in the morning, drink one cup then and refrigerate the remainder to drink cold throughout the day.
  5. Movement, even something as simple as walking, helps a lot. Especially when you combine movement with being in nature. Being near bodies of water also helps increase your relaxation response.

If you are stress eating, don’t feel guilt about it. In a stressed body, the guilt you experience over stress-eating is worse for you than the food itself. Stress eating is an normal physiological reaction because chewing relieves stress. Acknowledge that this is for now, and at some point soon you will stop. You can also try gum and see if that alleviates some of the need to eat.

If you have questions, you are welcome to email me at

Take care of yourselves!

Meg Bowman, MS, CNS, LDN is a clinical nutritionist who specializes in treating mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, addiction, infertility, and stress as well as gastrointestinal and autoimmune conditions.

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