During a bout of anxiety, hunger either revs up or disappears. For many people with anxiety, not only does hunger disappear, but so does any motivation to eat or prepare meals. At the same time, we know many important nutrients can actually help support an anxious mind. This is why building an anxiety pantry is so important.
Hunger and Anxiety
We know food is important, so why are we so disinterested in food when we’re anxious? There are many reasons.
When we have so many thoughts running through our minds, food can seem to be the least important.
As we prioritize everything else, food gets left behind.
When we experience stress, we also experience an increase in our stress hormone called cortisol. This increase in cortisol can cause stomach aches, nausea, and decreased appetite, all of which reduce our interest in food and eating.
How an Anxiety Pantry can help
I always recommend preparing to stay well-fueled and nourished during these times of heightened anxiety by stocking your kitchen well.
Having quick meal options on hand helps reduce some of the barriers to eat.
I call this the ‘anxiety pantry.’ In building your anxiety pantry, you are caring for your future anxious self, who will likely really appreciate it.
How to Build an Anxiety Pantry
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#1 Stock Up:
Stock your anxiety pantry with dry goods and freezer-friendly items.
Some of my favourites include whole-grain crackers, canned fish, dry grains (like pasta or rice), shelf-stable veggie-based tomato sauce, canned beans and lentils, canned soups, frozen fruit and vegetables, whole-grain breads (these are easy to freeze), or shelf-stable nutrition drinks.
It is normal not to be interested in elaborate or large meals when you’re feeling anxious, so keep it simple here if that’s what you prefer.
If you like to cook, consider making a few extra portions when you’re feeling good and well energized. Freeze these portions so you have a home-cooked meal ready to go when you’re feeling lower energy.
Doing this works particularly well with soups, sauces, and stews because they stay at a high quality in the freezer.
#3 Plan for Favourites:
Be sure to include some of your favourite comfort foods in your pantry, along with some nutrient-rich choices.
Think about the foods that provide you comfort. Is there a favourite family meal you can learn to make yourself? Cooking for ourselves is a great act of self-care.
Work mealtime into your schedule. If our bodies are not going to remind us to eat, someone has to, which is where your planner or calendar app can come in handy.
Eating on a consistent schedule helps ensure you’re meeting your needs and regularly eating throughout the day, no matter where your anxious thoughts are going.
What about Food Security?
Having access to enough food that is culturally appropriate and safe is a serious concern for many, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you are concerned about access to food, I recommend keeping a list of food pantries, community kitchens, community fridges, and shelters that offer free or low-cost meals.
Add it to your anxiety pantry. This way, you know where to go in your area to find food or a warm meal.
Explore your community; there are many great organizations that can be incredibly helpful.
Is an Anxiety Pantry Right for You?
Does your appetite disappear when you’re anxious? If so, creating an anxiety pantry can be a helpful strategy to keep you well-nourished during these more difficult times.
If you’re interested in learning more about how specific foods and nutrients may be beneficial to support anxiety and mental health, reach out to your doctor or dietitian.
Your counsellor, psychologist, or social worker may also have helpful information on this topic for you.
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