Eating and Fretting: The Inevitable Anxiety That Follows Every Meal
I’m at one of my favorite pubs and it’s half-price wing night. I’ve just eaten an entire pound of those little pieces of drumettes heaven. They were delicious. I’m comfortably full and incredibly satisfied. Then, suddenly, our server swings by and sheepishly admits that my basket of wings were breaded. My breath catches. The panic sets in. I just ate an entire pound of breaded wings?! But I can’t have gluten!? What’s going to happen? Where’s the bathroom? Should I try to take something? Can I make it home before the pain begins? … and just like that I spiral into a craze of anxiety.
We’ve all been there. For those of us who have dietary restriction the thought, ‘did I just eat that?’ enters our minds often. Perhaps after every meal – especially those that we did not create ourselves. Alas, these post-meal questions can plague our minds, linger for hours, and cause major anxiety; however, the correlation between IBS and mental health is often forgotten or ignored by many. But those days are over – we must understand the relationship between our minds and bodies. It should not be a surprise that our physical well being is directly linked to our mental well being. We need to be mindful (yes, I know, we all hate that word) of how our culinary choices affect our emotions and anxieties.
The many moods of food
Food can be uplifting. It can make us feel good after a bad breakup, or comfort us during a stressful movie. It can transform a party from endless hours of boring chit chat to joyful mouthfuls of meatballs and crudité. It can bring groups of people in celebration. Food is universal – we all need it, we all want a tasty treat. Basically, we all gotta eat. But food can also be stressful. It can be depressing; often, it can be disheartening to find out what we can or cannot eat. Food can be limiting and frustrating; going out with friends can become a constant struggle of reading menus, asking for special orders, and getting exasperated glares from friends and servers.
Food can also be incredibly frightening. Whether by complete accident or by choice, eating certain foods that impact our IBS can cause immediate and intense anxiety. Sometimes we simply did not anticipate a reaction. Other times, we assume a food is okay, only to find out that we were wrong. Often, just wondering or worrying about whether a food is suitable for our bodies is enough, and alas, the vicious cycle rears its ugly head. We worry about our food and our IBS, which increases our anxiety. Our anxiety, then, feeds our IBS into a frenzy of symptoms. Sometimes a meal that would normally not cause a reaction can make us feel sick simply because we worried that it could!
Recently, I’ve decided to introduce some gluten back into my diet. Slowly, but surely, I’ve been trying little bites of delicious glutinous magic. A piece of bread here, a marinated meal there. And, so far, I haven't died, though there were times when I thought I might. Sometimes my fears of having a reaction would induce IBS symptoms. Other times, I would remain calm, and feel the amazingness of nothing. Though I’ve not come to any solid conclusions regarding my gluten intake, I have discovered something rather interesting: the existing mindset prior to and post-meal often correlates to my IBS symptoms. This is, of course, specific only to things I am uncertain about, like gluten. For other foodstuffs, like dairy, beans or oats, that I know will cause a reaction, I can decide whether I want to eat them or not and simply live with the consequences; however, for gluten, the mystery lives on. For gluten, the anxiety lingers and questions abound. What will I feel tomorrow? How will I sleep tonight? Will I get a migraine or be in the bathroom for hours? Or both!? Am I doing more harm than good by not eating gluten? Is the gluten free bread I eat filling my body with ridiculous amounts of sugar and saturated fats that I would otherwise not be ingesting? What nutrients am I missing out on by eliminating entire groups of food? How will my body react in the long term as I re-introduce these groups?
Obviously, you’re thinking that no one human can handle insane multitude of such unending questions. No one person could worry this much. Well, I’m here to tell you that one person can worry this much. And, if you think that all this worrying would have a massive affect upon your mental and physical health, you’d be correct. It does. It makes every meal exhausting. Every bite a stepping stone into paranoia. It takes the comfort out of food.
Tips for your quest
So, what do we do about this? How can we stop ourselves from spiraling into insanity after every meal? Well, here’s a few tips that may or may not help you in your quest for delicious treats:
- Communicate – with your servers, your friends and family, with your partner. Keep talking about your concerns, worries and fears. Tell your server that you have allergies. Tell your partner if you’re feeling anxious and let them help you though it. Keep an open mind and just keep talking.
- Research – don’t simply eliminate an entire food group because you think it might cause an IBS flare up. Talk to you doctor, or a specialist. Research local restaurants and see where they get their products from. Search the web for different opinions. Ask questions.
- Eat, Drink, and be Merry – remember that food is not simply a necessity; it is a comfort. We can have dietary restrictions and still go out to restaurants with our friends. We can make our own dietary choices, and though we might feel the side effects from said choices, we can choose not to obsess. We can have reactions and know we can survive.
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