Planning and preparing healthful meals that meet your and your family’s likes and dislikes can be stressful. So eating healthfully often takes a backseat to other seemingly more important activities during the day.
In my clinical practice as a therapist, I see people every day suffering from relentless low- to midlevel anxiety that allows them to perform their daily functions—except the one that may be the most vital to their well-being: the ability to unwind and turn their minds to something else.
If you feel that anxiety is interfering with your overall health, you can change the way you manage it. Try to become aware of your anxiety before you act on it so you can change mindless responses to mindful ones. Instead of an impulsive response to anxiety, identify proactive, health-promoting behaviors to incorporate into your daily routine.
You can start at dinnertime, and here’s how.
1. Make a serious effort to eat dinner at about the same time every night, preferably between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. Try to complete the meal at least three hours before bedtime.
2. Plan ahead so you can easily prepare a nutritious, well-balanced dinner. Taking into account any dietary restrictions your doctor has recommended, a healthful diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. It also includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars. With this in mind, keep salad fixings, frozen vegetables, fish, chicken breasts, and soy products on hand, so even if there isn’t much time to cook, you can throw together a salad and stir-fry easily and quickly.
3. Think about how the dinner plate will look. Make it colorful. Vegetables and salads should take up about half the plate; one quarter of the plate should be occupied by lean protein such as fish, soy products, or lean meat, beans, or skinless chicken; and the last quarter should be composed of whole grains such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, bulgur wheat, or buckwheat groats.
4. Incorporate some healthful fat, such as olive or canola oil, by using it for sautéing or as salad dressing; a few chunks of avocado or a handful of nuts (unsalted ones, either raw or dry-roasted, are healthiest, of course) also contain natural, healthful fat.
5. Eat fruit or fat-free or low-fat milk products if you have not had any earlier in the day. Fresh fruit, especially in the summer, is a good dessert. Pay particular attention to avoiding spicy or fatty foods, which can cause gas and heartburn.
6. Try to limit or avoid coffee, some teas, chocolate, or other items containing caffeine. They may keep you from getting a good night’s sleep, which can make you feel anxious.
Taking time for yourself is being mindful, and making a healthful dinner is just one good way to manage your response to anxiety.
(From One Less Thing to Worry About: Uncommon Wisdom for Coping with Common Anxieties, Second Edition, by Jerilyn Ross, MA, with Robin Cantor-Cooke; 2009)