Give me your tried-and-true tips on eating (consistently and healthily) when anxious.
I'm a late-twenties woman in the USA who has an anxiety disorder. I already take anti-anxiety medication and sleep medication as needed (which are both helpful), see a psychiatrist monthly, and a therapist weekly. I work three jobs out of financial necessity, totaling 40-50 hours per week and I am an artist-in-residence with certain studio/other commitments connected to that. I'm in great health according to my last physical, though was told I could put on a few pounds. I'm single and shy, with no close friends who currently live in my town.
Now onto the details! Working with my therapist (we do a combination of EMDR and CBT) and taking medication has definitely helped me cope better in terms of sleep, work performance, and to a limited extent, socializing with other people. However, I really struggle to eat when I feel anxious -- and so far attempts by my therapist to help me find strategies to deal with that haven't been very effective.
I often feel anxious about nearly every aspect of eating -- choosing food at a deli counter makes me feel light-headed, walking into a kitchen to boil water and make ravioli seems like climbing Mount Everest, eating a candy bar seems like it has to be done where no one can see me, you get the idea. It's goofy and stressful and totally doesn't match the part of me that is a fan of the Slow Food Movement, enjoys going to the farmers' market, takes canning classes, tries new recipes, and makes a darn good pie crust.
However, unfortunately, I'm anxious almost every day, for most of the day. The result is that I often go a whole day without eating... until an ex-boyfriend checks in and makes me a sandwich, or someone mentions that they're hungry. If it wasn't for inconsistent social interactions like those, I'm honestly not sure if I would "remember" to eat.
The flip side is that sometimes I will wake up in the middle of the night, wander to a convenience store alone, and cobble together whatever snacks I find into a "meal." Let me tell you, that sucks. It was a recent experience like that which prompted me to ask this question.
There are, of course, totally issues related to child abuse that are tied to my behavior, but I'm working through those experiences with my therapist. Growing up, I wasn't given food consistently, was verbally abused about eating "too much," or given spoiled or moldy food to eat. My little brother and I experienced food poisoning routinely and had no idea how unacceptable that was. By high school, I sometimes ate food out of the trash because I was so hungry. Later in life, I would occasionally eat so much at once that I would throw up because I thought on some level that I wouldn't be fed later. I also struggled a lot with venturing out alone to eat a meal in a restaurant.
Last year, I lived mostly alone and unless my neighbor/good friend brought me leftovers, I often ate very erratically. I tried, I really did. I got a CSA share which included butter and eggs -- and I made some wonderful little meals for myself. But most of the time, I didn't do that and I wound up giving the food away to other people.
As of this month, I now live with five other women who are all very friendly and well-adjusted and like to cook. I'm delighted to talk with them and have them as roommates, but I am already irrationally afraid to go into the kitchen. I don't know them very well yet, they're several years younger than me, and I am nervous that they will notice my bizarre behavior. At best, they might think it's awkward that I just make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and go back to my room. I'm trying to be friendly and stay in the kitchen to talk with them. But I also have noticed that I am already hiding in my room until I hear them leave before venturing downstairs. This is not
a pattern I want to continue.
What I want:
*If I can't become the sort of person who actually spends lots of time in the kitchen making fun recipes with ingredients from the farmers' market consistently, I would at least like to eat simple meals that are healthy, high in protein, and consist of mostly whole foods.
*I want to cut down on the sugar and processed food in my diet a lot.
I avoid high fructose corn syrup and sugar generally, but when I feel exhausted from not eating, I totally cave and reach for, oh, I don't know, a couple Little Debbie snack cakes. (I'm fully aware of how dark that sounds, folks.) I'm not interested in meal replacement shakes or other "fake foods" like that. I read this previous question
and a lot of the answers mentioned options like Ensure, which is not really what I'm looking for.
*I want to take my vitamins and fish oil.
I don't because I have found that I try to take them without eating real food and then I throw up because they irritate my stomach. So, I recognize that taking vitamins really needs to be part of a routine where I eat consistently.
*I don't want to waste food or money if I can help it.
I'm on a tight budget and I work three jobs, so eating out for every meal doesn't make sense. But letting another bag of leafy greens go bad in my fridge (because I decide it's easier to sit on my floor than make a salad) doesn't make sense either.
Look, I realize I sound pretty ridiculous. To a large extent, this issue is really just about taking care of myself and building a routine. I am not very good at either task, but I know I am strong and I have survived a lot and I think I can
develop these habits. But I have been struggling with what feels like a tidal wave of depression and anxiety for over a year now. I just don't know where to start and I want this year to be better than last year.
So, please give me your advice, easy meals, links to blogs with grocery lists for dummies, success stories, and so on.
P.S. Shout out to Julia Child
because I really like how positive she was about making food.