Eat Empowered

How Dr. Uma Naidoo Harnesses the Power of Food to Tame Anxiety

By Nutritious Life Editors

At Nutritious Life, we’re big proponents of the food-brain connection, so we were grateful and excited to get a sneak peek of Dr. Uma Naidoo’s new book, Calm Your Mind with Food: A Revolutionary Guide to Controlling Your Anxiety

Dr. Naidoo is a Harvard trained psychiatrist, professional chef, and a trained Nutrition Specialist who has established herself as a pioneer in the emerging discipline of Nutritional Psychiatry. Translation: when Dr. Naidoo talks about the food-brain connection, we listen. 

In this follow-up to her best seller, This is Your Brain on Food, Dr. Naidoo shares cutting-edge research about the ways anxiety is rooted in the brain, gut, immune system, and metabolism. With this understanding, she then explores six pillars of calming the mind, anxiety-busting foods to add to your diet, and even the best diets for managing the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

With dozens of recipes, and guidelines for creating your own personalized anti-anxiety meal plans, Calm Your Mind with Food is one of our top picks for wellness books in 2023.

Thank you to Dr. Naidoo for sharing this excerpt with us. 

How a Nutritional Psychiatrist Uses Calming Foods to Tame Anxiety

Adapted from Calm Your Mind with Food by Uma Naidoo MD

In 2022, I was invited to give a keynote lecture at the first Integrative & Personalised Medicine conference in London. It was a huge honor to be asked to speak at an international conference, and I was delighted that the event’s leadership was interested in my work. I humbly accepted, feeling confident about presenting to a group of like-minded clinicians. It can certainly be nerve-wracking to speak in front of a group of doctors—especially in person after a few years acclimating to video chat—but I have enough experience in similar situations that I trusted my ability to stay calm and professional.

What followed nearly caused me to faint. I received an email informing me that my work had gained the attention of the royal family. Along with three other American doctors, I was invited to meet HRH The Prince of Wales—who has since become the King of England—to discuss our work. It had to be a mistake. I was going to meet Prince Charles? How on earth could this even happen?

Focus on Your Breath

The anxiety I’d brushed off from the original invitation flooded over me like a gushing fire hydrant. My palms were sweating, my thoughts raced, and my heart pounded in my chest. The impostor syndrome I’ve spent years fighting reared its head. Surely the Prince of Wales would see through me. It would be the end of my career! My anxious brain distorted what should have been such a positive moment into something completely different.

Thankfully, I was able to wrest control of my feelings. I couldn’t let anxiety create

failure. I focused myself on the moment and did some exercises from pranayama, or breath

work yoga. It took me time to settle down and be able to fully accept the situation, but by the time I typed out a measured and courteous “yes” to the invitation, I felt calm, making space for excitement and joy.

Using Nutrition to Tame Anxiety

Once I was in London, as my meeting with the prince approached, I had to actively work on separating my excitement from my fear and anxiety. The morning of the event, I woke up early, meditated, and made sure to drink cool water. I ate a breakfast full of calming foods, like tofu scramble seasoned with turmeric and black pepper, with mushrooms and spinach on the side. I managed to stay calm and focused when my roller hairbrush shorted out, even though the prospect of a bad hair day has always been a mood-ruiner for me. As I planned out my dress and practiced my curtsy, I did more breath work and used mindfulness to keep my thoughts from spiraling. Even though I went to the meeting with some butterflies in my stomach, the worst of my anxiety had subsided, and I could walk in with confidence.

You can probably guess how the meeting went. Prince Charles was lovely, as were the other doctors present, and we had a lively discussion about the kind of whole-body approach to mental health that we will learn about in this book. It was not the end of my career. In fact, the meeting was a phenomenal experience that I have a strong feeling will lead to some of my most meaningful work.

Calm Your Mind with Food

(Image: Dr. Uma Naidoo)

On the plane home from the UK, I reflected on how anxiety had nearly derailed such a game-changing moment in my life. It can be easy to minimize anxious feelings, telling yourself to toughen up or get over it. Nevertheless, anxiety is real and damaging. I was thankful that I had been able to calm my anxiety through a combination of practices, an understanding of how the brain works, and a diet that creates a strong foundation for mental health. It made me think of my patients who’ve had similar struggles, whether with specific challenges in their lives and careers, or with the kind of pervasive anxiety that seizes on the smallest details to throw their worlds into chaos.

The whole experience was a powerful reminder of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to help others improve their mental health, and understand and overcome their anxiety through the powerful medicine of food. You must eat to survive; there’s no getting around that simple fact. So by calming your mind with food, you are harnessing the power of one of the most fundamental parts of human life. I encourage you to give careful consideration to your dietary choices, building your lifestyle around healthy whole foods full of the right balance of macro and micro nutrients that will keep you thriving in both body and mind.

Adapted from the forthcoming book by Uma Naidoo MD, Calm Your Mind with Food. © Uma Naidoo MD 2023, reprinted with permission. Calm Your Mind with Food is available for pre-order now everywhere books are sold. Get 30% off by ordering here by December 26, 2023.

(Image: Unsplash)

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