The link between anxiety and sugar

As someone who suffers from anxiety I felt both disappointed and reassured to learn of Sarah Wilson’s new book First we Make the Beast Beautiful.  

I was reassured because every time someone writes about their own personal battle with anxiety or any other form of mental illness it goes some way to reducing the stigma, it takes away the feeling that you have to bury or hide your true self from the world. While I am not one to follow celebrity lead, it’s reassuring to know someone who so many people look up to, also suffers from an often-debilitating illness. Cold comfort though it may be for that particular celebrity, it’s very comforting to many us of less celestial beings to know we are not alone.

But I was also disappointed. I have followed Sarah’s work for some time now and in the non-creepiest way I feel like I know her.

I know from reading so much of what she writes that Sarah has done everything “right”. She meditates. She spends a lot of time in the great outdoors. She eats a sugar free diet, in fact she is famous for it. Hell, Sarah is a New York Times bestselling author widely acclaimed for the research and work she has undertaken in eliminating sugar from her diet and helping others do the same. And yet it seems nothing has worked to beat her anxiety.

Sarah says she first attempted to write her book on anxiety six years ago when she was unwell and experimenting with healing her Autoimmune Disease. But she dumped it and wrote I Quit Sugar instead. She claims “My sugar-free life then saw my anxiety improve (exponentially), enabling me to move on to the next chapter of my career.”

While I will be up front and admit I haven’t yet read the book in full I have been lucky enough to read an extract in which Sarah very vividly draws a picture of her battles with anxiety.

She describes in detail her issues around sleep and the rigid arrangements she has in place in order to get the sleep she needs. Her graphic recount of the anxiety she encountered on a recent trip to Hawaii with her partner (The Life Natural) speaks directly and comfortingly into the ear of any person who has grappled with that same anxiety. And it’s not a one off incident.

Sarah writes “After Hawaii, I had several episodes like this with The Life Natural. I tried to jump from a car on a highway. I tried to jump out of a window in an Airbnb in France during a trip that appeared outwardly so Instagram-perfect. We’d been arguing in such a way that there was no end-point and we were bringing out the worst in each other. We were holding mirrors up to each other’s fears, mostly of abandonment if we’re to get all Marianne Williamson about it. We’d descended too far, wanting the other to come up to the rescue. And I could no longer navigate it and get us back onto dry ground. There were too many thoughts. I had to stop the thoughts. I had to flee.”

I know where she is coming from. I know that anxiety she is describing. I live with it. I try my best to manage it. But I am also aware that she experienced this wild anxiety well after her relationship with sugar ended. Yes, it may be “exponentially better” than it was before but it still exists. And it still affects her and the people around her.

I am not pointing a finger at Sarah’s anxiety or even her diet, I just feel a little disappointed, defeated even. This brave and determined woman has done everything she can to eliminate her anxiety and to reduce the pressures of her mental illness. She’s even given up the sugar to heal her anxiety and it hasn’t seemed to work.

In a world where we have such easy access to books and blog posts, videos and podcasts, personal experience on how to heal ourselves we have been led to believe that if we do everything right we will be fixed. If we eat right and meditate and show gratitude our weariness will lighten, our anxiety dissipate. Sarah’s first book, along with many others, sold us that idea. But the reality is different.

I don’t refute the fact that anxiety may be aggravated by sugar but I believe anxiety is bigger than that. Not even the healthiest diet in the world can crush that monster. Sarah is living proof.

We are not responsible for our anxiety. It’s not our fault. And it’s not our diet.

Be kinder to yourself, who knows, that may even help reduce the anxiety. But I’m not sure it will cure it.

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