Teen Nutrition & Anxiety: What is the Connection & How to Improve Your Teen's Anxiety with Food

Teen Nutrition & Anxiety: What is the Connection & How to Improve Your Teen's Anxiety with Food

"Eating well also helps to prevent various health conditions in the future, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and iron deficiency."

Teen Nutrition & Anxiety

When you have a teenager in the house, it can seem like you’re always running out of food. Puberty aligns with a major growth spurt and your teen needs fuel to keep them healthy and strong. But if they turn to snacks and treats more often than fruits and veggies, you may see some unexpected health consequences, including anxiety. This is because proper nutrition is just as important for your teen’s mental health as it is for their physical health.

Importance of Nutrition for Teens

Following a healthy diet in childhood and adolescence is important for proper growth and development. Eating well also helps to prevent various health conditions in the future, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and iron deficiency.

Proper nutrition also plays a role in cognitive function. According to the CDC, eating a healthy breakfast is associated with enhanced memory, reduced absenteeism, and improved mood.1 Equally as important, adequate hydration can also support cognitive function in teens, which is important for academic achievement.

Can Food Choices Really Impact Your Teen’s Anxiety?

Serotonin, often referred to as our “happy hormone,” is a neurotransmitter often associated with the brain. But approximately 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut. The relationship between the gut and the brain, also known as the gut-brain axis, is a two-way street.2 When harmful bacteria outweighs good bacteria in the gut due to an unhealthy diet, your teen may experience more anxiety and stress. The opposite is also true: if they constantly suffer from anxiety and stress, they may experience more GI upset.

Research has proven several mood disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and even autism spectrum disorders are associated with gastrointestinal disruptions caused by an unhealthy gut. A 2019 systematic review revealed it was positive to treat anxiety symptoms by regulation of intestinal microbiota, either through probiotics or prebiotics and a modulation of dietary habits.3 

Pursuing a healthy diet that supports a balanced gut microbiome is an easy path forward to reduce anxiety symptoms and perhaps prevent them altogether.

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How Anxiety Affects Teens

Today’s teens are more anxious and depressed than ever. Even before the pandemic, research suggests anxiety and depression were becoming increasingly common among children and teens, rising 27 percent and 24 percent respectively from 2016 to 2019.4 By 2020, approximately 5.6 million kids had been diagnosed with anxiety, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. 

Anxiety looks different in everyone, but the most common symptoms in teens include:

  • Persistent worrying
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much
  • Academic difficulties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Severe mood swings
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Panic attacks
  • Restlessness
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, and muscle tension

Rerouting the Source of Anxiety

Excessive social media use, climate change, mass violence, natural disasters–according to the American Psychological Association, these are some of the many factors contributing to the rise in anxiety amongst today’s teens.5 Stack those on top of classic teen concerns like fitting in with peers, bodily changes, and academic challenges, and it’s no wonder your teen may be feeling overwhelmed with anxiety.

Rerouting your teen’s anxiety is not about shutting down what they’re feeling, but approaching it from a new perspective. They may not be able to control what happens on social media, but they can control how much time they spend on there. They may not be able to control climate change or natural disasters, but they can utilize tools that help them manage the emotions that arise when they are confronted with these topics. This may include mindfulness techniques like deep breathing or meditation. Journaling about their feelings or talking with a therapist can also help them understand their anxiety better. Just as importantly, making small changes to their daily habits can significantly reduce their anxiety, like sleeping adequately and following a healthy diet.

How to Find a Healthy Diet that Works with Your Kid

No two teens will be into the same foods. It may take some experimentation to find a healthy diet that works for you kid. If they feel like you’re forcing them to eat kale, they will probably develop a lifelong hatred for the leafy green. But if you let them choose their own vegetables the next time you’re at the grocery store together, they may be more likely to find something that suits their palate. Remind them to choose a colorful variety, or “eat the rainbow.” An easy way to ensure they’re getting all the nutrients they need to support a healthy mood is to eat fruits and vegetables of different colors every day. And encourage them to be flexible. Blending fruits and vegetables into a delicious morning smoothie is just as nutritious as eating them for dinner. There are also numerous herbs proven to help ease anxiety, which can be infused into teas or other drinks. 

Helping Your Kid Develop a Lasting, Healthy Relationship to Food

One of the best ways to help your teen develop a lasting, healthy relationship to food is to model it. Stock your kitchen with healthy food choices and commit to eating nutritious food as a family. Discourage habits that contribute to poor diets like eating while watching T.V., eating quickly, or having meals at different times each day. And don’t expect big changes to happen all at once. Your soda-guzzling teen may not switch to green smoothies overnight, but reducing their intake of sugary drinks is a start. Praise every small step they take towards healthy eating and don’t forget to lead the way.

If you feel your child needs more support for their anxiety, consider trying a medication like Brillia. Free from harsh, synthetic chemicals and harmful side effects, Brillia is a non-prescription medication clinically-proven to reduce symptoms like anxiety, restlessess, irritability, and inattention. Extremely targeted and non-addictive, Brillia gently and impactfully helps your teen without masking their personality, making them feel drowsy, or affecting their appetite. There are also no contraindications associated with the medication, so if they are already taking medication or supplements for their anxiety, you can add Brillia to their regimen without worry. 

Learn more about how Brillia works and explore more resources on managing anxiety at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.

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References: 1https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm, 2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6469458/, 3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6551444/, 4https://ccf.georgetown.edu/2022/03/24/research-update-childrens-anxiety-and-depression-on-the-rise/, 5https://www.apa.org/monitor/2023/01/trends-improving-youth-mental-health
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