Your question: Why do I get anxiety after I eat?
Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this article, I would like to explain to you why you feel anxiety after eating, writing about the link between food and anxiety and proposing strategies for you to deal effectively with this situation.
Anxiety is a complex and unpleasant feeling that occurs indiscriminately in everyday life. It is a necessary emotion, because anxiety helps our body to stay alert to external threats that could potentially cause us harm and therefore, demand an action on our part, either fleeing or facing the problem.
However, when anxiety occurs in random situations in a very repeated and intense way, it becomes a problem that tends to frighten people into believing that something is wrong with them. Don’t get too distressed, feeling anxious after eating is quite common, and has several explanations both emotional and biological.
In general, since eating is a basic human need, it has an important relationship with anxiety, as well as sleep. Studies have shown(1) that people suffering from anxiety problems tend to have eating problems, such as overeating, feelings of fatigue or panic related to the act of eating.
Anxiety causes dysregulation in your body, therefore, your senses and emotions act abruptly and irrationally. Anxiety related to eating can cause problems, and can even lead some people to stop eating or decrease their food portions believing that this is the solution.
Before I give you some suggestions based on my professional experience with the subject and explain the origin, I recommend that you do NOT alter your diet, much less stop eating thinking that this will reduce your anxiety. This is not the solution and will give you more physical and emotional problems.
You need to first understand the reasons why you feel anxious after eating, as well as recognize the symptoms, before you start applying strategies to help you improve. It is an annoying problem that can be very scary, but I assure you that it is solvable.
What does anxiety after eating feel like?
Anxiety after eating generates specific symptoms, generally related to the digestive system, and can appear automatically after eating or a few hours later. You probably recognize them because you have experienced several of them:
- Muscle tension.
- Nausea and dizziness.
- Choking sensation.
- Fatigue and severe tiredness.
- Weakness in the body.
- Stomach pain.
- Fear of throwing up.
What causes you to feel anxious after eating?
The reasons why you experience anxiety after eating range from the physical to the emotional, and it is necessary that you understand them all because the strategies proposed to feel better and reduce the feeling of anxiety will depend on them.
Previous eating problems
Possibly at some point in your childhood or adolescence you had some kind of eating problem, which either with help or with the passage of time you were able to overcome. However, this previous experience may also be the cause of your anxiety after eating. Many people who have experienced anorexia, bulimia or binge eating experience anxiety related to the act of eating(1).
Certain types of foods
It is possible that only one type of food is the one that generates anxiety in your body. This is common with foods high in sodium, which trigger a response from your nervous system that can make you feel anxious or stressed for no apparent reason(2).
Some foods can trigger gastric reflux in your body, a medical problem that has been shown to be closely related to the onset of anxiety and depression(3).
What can you do to stop feeling anxious after eating?
Some strategies that can help you cope with the anxiety generated after eating are:
Be strict with your eating schedule
You must make room in your daily life to eat adequate amounts at specific times. Eating at different times every day destabilizes your body and mind, so setting a fixed schedule tailored to your responsibilities is a great help in alleviating the feeling of anxiety after eating.
Resting for a moment after eating by doing relaxation exercises is quite helpful in relieving anxiety. Preferably sitting, close your eyes with one hand resting on your abdomen. Inhale through your nose for three seconds and exhale through your mouth for another three seconds. Maintain a calm rhythm as you feel your abdomen rise and fall, and the feeling of intense worry subsides. Applying this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes a day will be very helpful.
Avoid specific foods
All foods contribute something to our diet, but spicy foods and some sugars can be the cause of your anxiety after eating. If you notice that the anxiety appears only after eating this type of food, it is advisable to gradually reduce its consumption.
In my experience…
Experiencing anxiety after eating is closely related to people’s eating habits. Anxiety is a warning signal from the body to something it perceives as threatening, whether it is or not. Therefore, your relationship with food may need to be evaluated to cope with anxiety.
It is a process that can be overwhelming, but you will gradually find a way to cope at your own pace. I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this message proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health
Was this helpful?
Hussenoeder FS, Conrad I, Engel C, et al. Analyzing the link between anxiety and eating behavior as a potential pathway to eating-related health outcomes. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):14717. Published 2021 Jul 19. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-94279-1