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Dr. Elana Roumell interviews Ali Miller, registered dietitian and author of The Anti-Anxiety Diet. Ali believes wholeheartedly in food as medicine. Today she shares what foods will help calm our thoughts, some foods to avoid, and supplements to support your mood safely while pregnant and/or breastfeeding.
We’d like to say a special thank you to May’s Podcast Partner: Coconu, an organic coconut-based lubricant. Get 15% off your order on their website with the code WHOLEMAMAS.
Ali Miller 0:03
We have to be mindful of not pulling that type-A ‘change everything at once, do all of the buzz worthy health things at once,’ and listening to the feedback of our body. And if we see impacts with our sleep that are unfavorable, that’s where we want to bring in things like strategic carb cycling and maybe just go to a low glycemic diet to get some of the benefits without the risk factor.
Elana Roumell 0:29
Welcome back to Whole Mama’s Podcast. We’re here to give you tools, resources, and evidence-based information, so you can make the best decisions for yourself and your family. Whether you’re trying to conceive, or navigating life with a toddler or a teenager, we got you covered. Hi, I’m Dr. Elana Roumell, pediatric naturopathic doctor and creator of Med School for Moms – an online resource where I teach moms how to safely be a doctor mom. My co-host is Stephanie Greunke, registered dietitian and Program Director for Whole30 Whole Mama’s Club and co-creator of Whole30’s pregnancy program: Healthy Mama, Happy Baby.
I’m excited to bring Ali Miller, registered dietitian and author of the Anti-anxiety Diet book. She believes wholeheartedly in food as medicine and teaches us what foods will help calm our thoughts and stop anxiety for good. One of the main topics I cover in my new program in Med School for Moms is the fact that us moms are vulnerable to anxiety. With so many decisions to make day in and day out, it’s just so easy for us to get overwhelmed, doubt ourselves, and make some choices that aren’t ultimately, something that makes us happy. Stephanie and I we both love sharing Ali’s passion about helping mamas who experience anxiety, and you are in for a treat to learn some of the ways Ali likes to approach this condition with her clients.
Now before we dive into our interview, I’d like to take a moment to thank our partner for today’s episode, Coconu, a safe natural lubricant made from coconuts. It’s available as an oil-base or as a water-base. Now personally, I don’t mind talking about sex. As mamas, we’ve all had it. And although what I like to call “adult play time” changes quite a bit once we become parents, it still happens and we can use all the help we can get as mamas transitioning our postpartum bodies. For many months, sex was really painful for me after having my daughter. Now while nursing, I had extreme vaginal dryness, and it wasn’t until I went to go get a pelvic floor physical therapy series of sessions that sex started feeling better again. Now for moms who are interested, I recorded a great podcast on this, so check it out, it’s Episode 81. For more info, it’s called “Sex After Baby.” But well, I have to say, is that a good lube was also essential. And I’m picky, I will not put anything inside my body that I wouldn’t actually eat. For years, my husband and I would use straight coconut oil, we would have a jar in our bathroom for ease, whip it out and go for it. However, there are some cons to this first, if you’re you condoms, you can’t use an oil based lube because it can tear the latex. I don’t know if you knew that or not, but maybe you had your baby because of this mistake, who knows? But now you know. Now that’s why there are water based loops available, and Coconu has both – they have a water and an oil-based one. Another kind of using straight coconut oil is it’s messy. I really love our sheets, we actually just got new ones. And the last time I had sex, I was more worried about getting the sheets dirty, then actually enjoying sex and that is not okay. So it’s been so great using Coconu now as it performs just as well, if not better than, coconut oil. And it has just a safe ingredients. Plus it did not make anywhere the mess that coconut oil usually does. So that really helped my mind stay focused on my husband and not dirtying the sheets. And I’m sure many of you are giggling because I’m not the only one who’s had these thoughts.
Anyway, it’s definitely worth a try mamas. Both Stephanie and I, we’ve really enjoyed using it, and our husbands also give it many thumbs up. And I’m sure if they had more thumbs, they would be for sure using them. This is by far their favorite product for them to try out and we have such supportive husbands who help us do business during play time. So now as a reminder, if you’re interested in trying out a Coconu product, head over to their website, coconu.com, and use code WHOLEMAMAS for 15% off. It’s our gift to you, Mama. So have fun. Now let’s start our interview and bring Ali on today’s show.
Welcome back Ali to our show. It’s so nice to have you now for the second time, you did a great interview with Stephanie with your natural C-section just a number of months ago. And if a listener has not heard that that was such a great episode, how you just navigated through that time. And, you know, we all we all don’t necessarily plan that or expect it. But you just did it with such grace. So thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. And now today we’re actually going to talk about something completely different, although I suppose a C-section can cause some anxiety. But we’re going to we’re going to do a little bit of a deep dive into your anti-anxiety diet. So before though we go ahead and ask some of these questions, as you know, we always start off the episode with how did you nourish yourself today. So Ali, do you mind just sharing what you did either today or sometime maybe the last week that really nourished yourself to inspire some of our mamas?
Ali Miller 5:28
I would love to and it is my pleasure to be back on. I think it’s so funny to hear that I navigated my C-section with grace, because it sure didn’t feel like grace like you said, but I nourished myself today by taking intentional, purposeful breath. And I focus so much in my clinic and my day to day practice on you know, functional therapeutic foods and geeky elements of biochemistry and whatnot that I would love to say some of those compound as how I nourish myself, which is true. But I have found, especially with my research with the anti-anxiety diet, that intentional, purposeful breath is the best way to really rein in the wild stallion of the brain and start to swing that HPA fight or flight access into a more parasympathetic, rest, digest, reproduce and balanced place. And I use what is called a 4-7-8 breath. And this is the work done by Dr. Andrew Weil, where it’s in for four, hold for seven and whoosh out for eight. And I do this in transitional times to really, again, kind of harness that stress response whether I’m finishing up a complex case and transferring to a new client, or whether I’m in the carpool lane, waiting to pick up my daughter, or just now before our call when my Skype had timed out and I needed to update the new server and all of the drama with technology. So breath is today how I nourish myself.
Elana Roumell 7:05
I love that, you know, it’s so interesting. I think we take it for granted how powerful something so involuntary is, we do it all the time all day long. And I think that’s really a great technique that you use yourself that you could teach to some of your clients. I know at my Medical Center, we have multiple doctors there, I think there’s now seven of us. Anyway, one of our doctors, Dr. Astrute he does these breathwork workshops with his patients and with the community. And I hear such incredible things about it, and I’m like, ‘Cory, what are you doing?’ And I’m like, I have to go and attend one because I’m just hearing so many great things about the power of our breath and what we can really do with it on such a functional level. So I’m really intrigued. I don’t do a ton of breath work, but I appreciate you sharing that, that it kind of inspires me to kind of get to one of his workshops and just you know, be more mindful about that. So thank you.
Ali Miller 7:57
Yeah, it’s a great way to really, like I said, harness in that both wild stallion of the brain as far as racing thoughts, but like you said, on a physiological level, that autonomic nervous system, the vagas nerve that goes from the brainstem, all the way down through the colon, you can really feel a physiological change when you move into that parasympathetic breath work. And I think the trickle effect can be really powerful.
Elana Roumell 8:21
Absolutely. I love it. Thank you. My topic, I guess on how did I nourish myself was totally not my breathing. But here’s the thing, the other day I woke up with like a really stiff neck. And you know, I’m sure this has happened to you, this happens probably like, once a year to me. It doesn’t happen often, but you know, you just sleep in a weird position and your neck kind of gives out. And so I saw my foam roller there, it’s actually more so my husband’s foam roller that I borrow from him, and I got on it. And it just like it felt so good to roll out. And I just started realizing, I was like, ‘Gosh, Elana, why do you wait for pain to roll?’ Why am I working waiting to react to something before I just get out the foam roller that I just know helps me so much, and it helps my posture, and it just helps me feel so good.
Ali, I don’t know if you know, but I’m actually 14 weeks pregnant with my second child as we’re recording this. And so it’s just so interesting to me that I’m like, I want to be so proactive to keep aches and pains away as my belly grows, and as my body changes. And so lately, I’ve been really taking out the foam roller and getting on it, even if it’s like two minutes This morning, I try to wake up a little bit before my daughter Aviva, and she ended up getting out of bed and she just came right up to me and she laid she like right on my stomach as I’m on the foam roller. So if you can imagine I’m literally lying on this hard foam roller, and now I’ve got this two year old lying on my chest. And I was like, ‘You know what, I can still roll out. Even just like cuddling with her and being with her. This isn’t like such a difficult task.’ And so that’s kind of the new nourishing practice that I’ve been doing for myself, whether it’s in the morning or in the evening, and, you know, Aviva watches, she now gets on the foam roller and kind of I mean, she doesn’t really roll but she tries to and it’s so cute. So that’s really a lot for me. I want to be proactive. I just I’m not one to wait for pain to get on the foam roller or to start being proactive with my diet or, or my exercise routine or any of that, so it’s like, why am I waiting? So I’m excited to bring the foam roller back into my life as a little bit more of a routine for myself.
Ali Miller 10:26
I love that and just the focus on self touch. And that, you know, connectivity and love and intention and purpose now with growing babe in the body has to be really powerful too.
Elana Roumell 10:38
Oh, yeah, it’s so wild and it’s so fun, because I’m just starting to show, my little belly’s like popping out much earlier than it was with the Aviva. My first pregnancy, I didn’t show until six months, I was like, ‘Where is this belly?’ Right? Everyone’s so different. My sister popped at two months, we’re all different. And so with this one now I’m 14 weeks, and I’m just starting to see something and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, here it is !’ But you could tell there’s differences in my body, and how I’m sleeping, and my positioning. I think that’s why I woke up with that stiff neck. So just all great things to be mindful of. And to be honest, I appreciate it and I celebrate the pains in the sense that it it gives me awareness to then be proactive and do these type of exercises and mindful movements, and even taking those deep breaths. All of these are are reminders to us that all right things are speeding up. Or I love how you said the “wild stallion brain” or you know, there’s always signs, we all get signs in different ways.
So let’s go ahead and really jump into this anxiety. And I love this “wild stallion brain” because, you know, it happens to all of us, especially for us moms. I just recorded a podcast talking about overwhelm, and how all these micro stresses build up and causes overwhelm for us. So a very similar topic, but what I loved about your approaches that you’re really taking a diet approach to how we can really manage and, and cure our anxiety. And also from like a supplement approach, you know, what’s safe during pregnancy and nursing. And so we’re going to really pick your brain about this because it’s such an important topic that all of us moms deal with, whether it’s during pregnancy or after pregnancy. There’s just so many multiple variables that come up in the game of motherhood. And so I just think this is such an important topic for us to really, really understand. So thank you for your time and all your work with this, you’ve got great resources.
Ali Miller 12:34
Thank you. And you know, so I put this together in my 10th year of clinical practice, when I decided that as a functional practitioner, we are always looking at the root causes of chronic illness, and I decided that anxiety is the Achilles heel. Whether we want to deem it as anxiety or just feeling frazzled, or you know, feeling like we have “mom brain,” or rolling with the punches, but not thriving with the day to day demands, I often use the visual of like, hanging onto the bumper of the vehicle of your body, right, like just being dragged day to day, running on adrenaline, and not being in that driver’s seat. And I really found that if we can harness and manage anxiety or be more resilient to our day-to-day stressors, that we can have more of a foundational balanced approach within our entire body’s expression. And within that, that there’s also a chicken and egg relationship of drivers of anxiety. And so my book takes a six R approach, where we look at removing inflammatory foods, resetting the gut microbiome, repairing our GI lining, we look at restoring micronutrient deficiencies of focus, and then rebounding the adrenal and finally rebalancing our neuro transmitters. Whereas you know, with allopathic medicine, often we start at the neuro transmitter modulation before any of that foundational whole body work.
Elana Roumell 14:12
Oh, I love this, this is great. And because I also am a functional medicine practitioner, I see how important the gut function is to the brain health. And it’s something we cannot look over. And so it’s just so important that you really highlight that in your book and in your approach. So I like th six R’s, we do a lot of the four R’s when we’re doing gut right here, but there is there’s more. So I really I appreciate that so much. Tell us a little bit about then some of the foods that we just absolutely know trigger anxiety. I mean, if someone’s having any type of issues already, we just need to get rid of those, or if we just want to really want to prevent anxiety, what do we do?
Ali Miller 14:51
Yeah, so just anxiety alone, I guess I’ll isolate first and then we can talk about the pro-inflammatory foods that drive anxiety, because I think of that as more of like a chronic exposure. But the immediate or acute driver of anxiety, the first two that I pull out are caffeine and sugar, you know, so you just have to go there. And I know tired moms, I’m sorry. But it’s so true. We do get an epinephrine response from caffeine. And so this is where I really feel you know, something like matcha is going to be superior to coffee or espresso, because we will get a little bit of caffeine in the matcha from the green tea. But we’re getting a nice complimentary delivery of L-theanine and L-theanine does modulate the way that that caffeine impacts our epinephrine, and epinephrine is that adrenaline. So if we’re thinking of that fight or flight, stress anxiety surge, and so some women will do better with tea, because of that L-theanine over coffee. So maybe you try replacing first before you like pull the leg out from the stool. If you are a caffeine drinker, you might try replacing and then you might try adding fat to your matcha like grass-fed butter, or ghee, or coconut oil, or full-fat coconut milk, because the fat can help to also make you feel a little bit more grounded, less wired or jittery.
And then sugar would be a big one too, because we can get this refractory hypoglycemic drop, you know, we get a blood sugar spike from a refined sweetened food or refined grain product, and we get that insulin surge and then we get the blood sugar drop. And that can create this really dynamic impact on blood pressure, especially with pregnancy, the blood volume is a lot more delicate. We can also get a surge of anxiety based on bacterial impact from the body with the high refined sugar foods, if they feed bacteria pathogens that drive things like CBOE or dysbiosis, because we know in a state of gut bacteria imbalance that these bad bugs thrive on refined sugars. And these bad bugs actually put out more epinephrine as well. And in a balanced symbiotic state, the good pro bacteria in a balanced diet and balanced bacteria status are going to make more serotonin or a mellower-outer. So pulling out that sugar can help to basically not feed the beast of imbalance as well, as far as a gut biome as well as blood sugar control.
Elana Roumell 17:30
Great, thank you. That was a really great explanation. You know, I’ve heard this time and time again, why caffeine and sugar are not necessarily healthy foods for us, but I never actually heard it in that regard. And so I love your explanation. Thanks for being so thorough, think it’s important for us to really understand what it’s doing to us, right? And not only us, but you know, to our kids and to our our spouses, and you know, to everyone just so we could see, wow, they’re really reacting in this kind of way. I think maybe a first step for moms who do love their coffee or love putting their sugar in their coffee is just to start being mindful about it, you know, try to track is your anxiety worse after a cup of coffee? Or is your anxiety worse later in the day when you tend to have two cups of coffee? I think everyone we metabolize caffeine so differently. For some one cup a day really is not going to be a big issue. But the minute they have that second cup, that’s when it’s going to trigger their anxiety. Would you agree with that?
Absolutely. And so, you know, we have different genes that play a role with our metabolism of caffeine, and some of us are rapid, and some of us are slow. So that would play a contributing factor. And then yes, I mean, there’s also I think, the environmental cues. If there’s also build up of a stress-driving event, maybe it’s a performance review at work, maybe it’s public speaking, if we’re wired to be in more of a sympathetic state, maybe we had an argument with our spouse, and they’re coming home that evening and we are anticipating or ruminating on a past conversation. We’re more hardwired on those days to be already in a higher adrenaline state. And we will likely have more of a negative impact from caffeine on those days. So it seems like those of you sometimes cramming for an exam, right, and those types of anticipatory stressors, that we’d want to go for the caffeine. But that’s where we may want to go for something that’s more grounding, and helps to keep us feel very stable, instead of that refractory stress response.
Great. Yeah, very well said. I have to be honest, I’m one of those who cannot tolerate caffeine. I’m like, the funny lady that goes to a coffee shop. And I’m like, ‘Can I please have a half of a shot of decaf?’ and they need to like repeat it to me, because I’m so sensitive to it. And this is like maybe once every six months, do I even get that? You know, I actually really like matcha. So if I do feel like I need that little pick me up, I really do well with matcha. And so I think it’s interesting that my genetics and just my susceptibility to caffeine and coffee, it’s just so strong, but matcha it is really much more mild and it feels good to me. So maybe for moms, if they haven’t tried matcha to play around with it, to see how they do with that. I just think that’s a great substitute.
The other thing that I just wanted to add, if you don’t mind as just from another clinicians perspective, I’m such a believer also in like root cause medicine. So I feel like when people are tired, I really want them to listen to their body and take a nap right now. That’s not always possible. And I get it life doesn’t always allow for a nap. I totally honor that. And, if like day after day and morning after morning, you’re feeling that like absolute need and that craving for coffee for that pick me up, it’s really time that we step back to see, ‘Am I getting to sleep on time? What am I eating at night that may not be helping me get too deep sleep? or, What can we do to rearrange my schedule so that I am able to wake up more refreshed?’ Or maybe that’s not the issue, you’re getting your 12 hours of sleep and you’re still tired. Well, it’s time to really get to the bottom of this and figure this out. So we’re just not so dependent on grabbing coffee. So again, I think we’re very similar kind of geeks in this way. We’re always looking for, well, what is happening in the body? Why are we craving our coffee for pick me up? Or why are we looking for that sugar at 2pm. Because all of this is just feeding a cycle. And especially if you’re susceptible to anxiety, these are foods that we definitely want to avoid, because they can definitely trigger. So I figured you would agree with that kind of philosophy but so important that we really take the time to look into that.
All right Ali, so let’s go ahead now into learning about what foods can help reduce anxiety. So we kind of talked a little bit about what foods trigger anxiety, but what are some of the foods that we know if like you’re feeling anxious, what can we do and maybe using food as medicine in the moment?
Ali Miller 22:01
Yes. So aside from that, L-theanine, and that’s our matcha, which is super powerful, most definitely, I go to my first mineral of magnesium. So magnesium is like the ultimate chill pill, and also a really safe supplement tool to use in prenatal health. So magnesium is going to be found in our leafy greens and nuts and seeds as great whole food forms. And we also get a really balanced approach when we’re eating, I recommend two to three cups of leafy greens a day in my anti-anxiety diet, because that’s also going to provide a web of natural folate, which we know plays a big role with our use of methylation. It plays a big role with neuro transmitters signaling and function and production of feel good chemicals like serotonin. And we know that also beyond magnesium and folate, we can use nutrients like zinc. Zinc plays a big role in balancing copper. And so there are even conditions like pyroluria, which is a condition where we see functionally low B6 and zinc. And these two nutrients are very powerful in helping mood stability and B6 is one that plays a big role as a co factor in our neurotransmitters. So this is one that we would be getting our zinc from our mineral foods like our shellfish, we also get zinc from red meat, like grass fed steak can be a fantastic source, pepitas or pumpkin seeds and black strap molasses also are going to be complimentary in both B vitamins and mineral.
Elana Roumell 23:46
Great. So do you think they’re as effective literally in the moment? If moms feeling anxious, can she expect to feel that reduced anxiety literally after the first few bites? Or she kind of expecting that this may take a little bit of time?
Ali Miller 24:00
It’s a double edged sword, you know? And so the question is in relationship to what. So it’s both the removal of the pro-inflammatory foods and then those primary drivers of anxiety peaks, like I said, and then it’s going to be those that aid in this blanket foundational approach of nourishment, reducing inflammation and also aiding as nutritional building blocks to make neurotransmitters. So I think something like protein intake is going to have a more dynamic, more immediate, if you will, like grounding impact on the brain and on the mood. I don’t tend to see leafy greens being as immediate but I do have clients that say a green smoothie, or a large leafy salad within two to three hours that they feel really stable. And they do notice that that helps with cognitive function and mood stability. But I find protein to be my go-to if I’m dealing with or especially with my toddler I love keeping like really good quality meat sticks on hand. I even have like Pederson’s single packs of bacon. Bacon mellows out a fit all of the time in my household. I go to that’s a great source of choline, which we know acetylcholine is a you know, conductor for neurotransmitters in the brain. So proteins are really great tool to be a more I would say light-switch effect on an anxiety impact.
Elana Roumell 25:26
That’s really great. You know, and personally, I feel the same way – when I have protein I feel much more stable. And I think I would reach more for protein and fat combo, usually our proteins do have some fat, but I do the same thing with my daughter is that’s the first thing I would give her if I just see she’s either hyperactive or you know, just kind of bouncing around or whatnot, although she would probably want the carbs. I really tried to hold off on those and really give her the proteins and she actually loves it, you know, she does so well with them, and we do too. I don’t know if I ever shared with the listeners, but I was actually vegan for about seven years of my life and I was struggling a lot with more with anxiety at that time in my life and depression. I wanted to be vegan and vegetarian so badly from an ethical standpoint from so many different reasons. I love the philosophy with it, you know, just made so much sense. I love whole foods and plant-based foods. But, my body was also telling me otherwise. So over the years when I decided to kind of be just what I call like a mindful carnivore. And you know, I would eat more just very mindfully raised and grass fed and just really good quality meats. I just felt so much better. And my anxiety and depression truly just like went away, I was in disbelief. Not only did I just feel better, my thyroid symptoms were better, I was able to lose weight and build muscle and my constipation was gone. I mean, there were so many other symptoms, but really what was I think, overriding everything was really my anxiety, that was wild stallion was really taking over. And I bring this up because you mentioned protein, and it was just so hard for me to get enough protein out of my lentils and beans. And yeah, you know, I was eating soy at that time, and I did my best. I mean, I was a very mindful vegan as well. I was really focusing on my complete proteins and making sure I got my grains and my and my beans. And I also have a lot of patients who come in and they thrive off of being vegetarian. And I said, Great, as long as you’re feeling well, and I go through all the lesson. I ensure that they’re not just saying that, that their biomarkers are healthy, they are feeling well, they’re thriving, and I say wonderful. And then there’s some vegetarians that come in and I just say, ‘Look, I can really relate. This is what worked for me, perhaps we want to give this a try.’ And we slowly bring in eggs or we slowly bring in fish. And we you know, we add in some of these proteins. And I find that a lot of them really do feel well specifically with their anxiety. And so I’m so glad you brought up that point with protein. And I was I’m happy to share that story of mine. And I love that I was able to go through it on my own so I can really empathize and share. Because I know from an ethical perspective, it is such an awesome feeling. I mean, I really didn’t want to give it up. And I also just I feel better than ever. And so I’m just so glad that I was able to listen to my body and give it what it needed at that stage of life.
Ali Miller 28:20
Yes, and I can absolutely relate. In fact, my book talks about my first onset of a panic attack was when I was raw vegan. And I also believe that my vegan diet did catapult my Hashimoto diagnosis because I was doing vital wheat gluten. You know, that was the protein, seitan was the protein and that was soy and all the things and I transferred into a gaps diet and never looked back. As far as the the it was a very strange change right to go from us now like from a vegan to snout to tail philosophy of eating bone broth, and all of these things that seems so foreign. But I do find because of the impact, you know, amino acids are protein building blocks, which Yes, you can get from vegetarian sources, but they tend to be more bioavailable in animal products. And they are the direct building blocks to make our neurotransmitters and like I said, I find that to be the most fast acting or rapid acting in both children and adults influence for mood stability.
Elana Roumell 29:22
I love that we have such similar stories. And I unfortunately, I hear this often. So this isn’t, you know, uncommon. And again, I think if maybe there’s a mama listener that is vegetarian or vegan, there’s nothing wrong or right about this, really, there’s no judgment around it. These are just stories that, you know, work for us. So I would say if maybe that mom is feeling anxiety, or depression or other symptoms, to consider potentially adding a little bit more animal protein into the diet. But if she’s thriving and doing great, then awesome, you know, rock on, just keep on doing what you’re doing. This is really just our experience that we’re sharing. So thanks for sharing yours. Yeah, I’ve, I’ve come a long way as well. And I feel better than ever. So it’s just it’s nice to have both experiences, I would say. Now, I’ve got a lot of great questions from our community, we reached out on Instagram. So I would love if you don’t mind I’m going to do a couple of theirs is one of them, I thought was so good is like how do I even just change my diet, if I find that some of the foods I’m eating is contributing to my anxiety? What tips do you have, it’s such a habit forming thing that we do multiple times a day, what are some of your tips that you give to your clients?
Ali Miller 30:28
So I think intention and purpose and kind of connecting to what feels right in your body is really important. Because anything if you follow the protocol in my anti-anxiety diet, or if you follow a Whole30 or if you follow any form of a diet prescription, and it doesn’t feel right, you have to take a step back and reconnect with your body, right? It’s just information, food is information for our bodies and our brains. And it’s important to be mindful in the connection in our process and we’re all coming at a different entry point. So we want to be very mindful about the equal power of both avoidance and abundance. And so I would just say start slow and steady. I highlight five pro-inflammatory foods in my protocol. And so it does pull out gluten and dairy because of the opioid impact on them. And so I would say of all the five, beyond sugar and caffeine as consideration, those would be the two that I would strongly commit to if dealing with anxiety, because the casomorphine and glutoemorphine can interfere with your opioid receptors and we see this with research studies on schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.
So in your household for your children as well, if they’re acting out, and you’re at the point of dealing with psychiatrists, and considering drug therapy, gluten and dairy free would be a staunch decision that I would say as a removal. Then as an abundance world of things, you know, we’re looking at it with children and then with moms, how do we enjoy the power of produce, so incorporating seasonal eating and trying to get in our anti inflammatory berries, which are also very rich in vitamin C. These work beautifully in supporting our adrenal glands – of all of the organs in our body, our tiny adrenal glands store the most vitamin C, and this is used to regulate cortisol, that primary stress hormone. So citrus in the winter, berries in the summer is a really great way to eat in abundance and try to eat within budget of seasonality. And then also looking at like I said, those leafy greens beyond salads, blending those into your bone broth and incorporating protein fat throughout the day.
One big mantra, I’d say, for any entry point is no naked carbs. And so if you’re having a carbohydrate food, whether that’s a peach, whether that is a slice of sprouted grain bread, if you’re doing breads, whether that is a form of a sweet potato, or starchy vegetable, having fat, especially if you are still vegetarian, at least add fat to mitigate that blood sugar spike. So adding coconut oil to your roasted sweet potato, or adding nut butter to these fruits and such, or nuts and seeds, or different forms of proteins and fats are going to blunt the blood the glycemic impact and give us that grounding. nutrient dense influence.
Elana Roumell 33:27
Great. I completely agree with you. I love it. I think my sister makes fun of me when she sees me feeding my daughter. She goes, ‘Oh, you just pair to carb and a fat.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I did.’ And she said, ‘Well done. Yep, I see. I’m learning.’ I like how you call them ‘naked carbs.’ I’ve actually never heard that term that’s very sweet and cute for especially for a kid. Right, you want teach them? In fact, even I’m teaching my husband and I’m teaching even my nanny, ‘When you do our daughter snacks, like you need to combine this. I don’t want you to just give her those blueberries and then the orange and then the mango.’ And I’ve heard him say this and I go, ‘What did she eat?’ ‘The blueberrie, the orange and the mango.’ I’m like, Babe, those are great options. You know, like they’re right there. Right? But but we need to add a fat.’ He goes, ‘Oh, yeah. Okay, got it. Thank you. Okay, next time.’ And now today, he then would do a fruit and then an epic bar. And I’m like, ‘Good job.’ You know, that was good. So we have to teach people how to do this. And I just think answering that question, how do I change my diet? It may not even necessarily be ‘how do you take things out?’ It actually may be how do you combine things in different ways? How routinely are you eating foods? And what are the combinations of foods that I think is really more important than anything. And I love though, how you talk about those inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy. And that actually leads us to the next question that one of the moms asked is does this all tie back to inflammation? Right? We hear this word so much. And is there a big correlation with inflammation and anxiety? And what does that look like? What does that really mean?
Ali Miller 35:05
Yeah, it is, it’s actually super strong. It’s interesting to see in research studies that we use a marker, C reactive protein as a blood marker of inflammation. And there is trends of individuals that have higher CRP levels to be more prone towards anxiety and depression. And it’s because inflammatory chemicals, so whether they’re prostaglandins, cytokines, you know, name the geeky term, inflammatory chemical mediators cross the blood brain barrier. So they actually can interfere with the way that our neurotransmitters fire and the way that our neurotransmitters signals are received. It’s like as if those neurotransmitters are trying to get through jello in an inflamed brain, right, they’re not getting that clean, rapid acting influence, it’s more of a foggy situation. So reducing inflammation systemically in the body by following an anti-inflammatory diet. And for some individuals that have other large symptoms of inflammation, so let’s say they’re also dealing with chronic joint pain or inflammatory bowel conditions, or other inflammatory disease states, they may even want to go into an elimination diet approach to really tailor or fine-tooth comb, what foods in their body are their kryptonite versus super foods because our immune system is going to be the determinant of that surveillance of what is friend and what is foe and how that gut responds in that gut blood barrier, right, that’s where we absorb our nutrients. And that does tie back to this process of gut integrity, so by keeping the gut lining intact, and supporting gut integrity, then we’re going to have less compounds in or less large particles in the bloodstream, which generally means less circulating inflammation.
Elana Roumell 36:57
Great. Again, well said. Man, I could listen to all day. I love this stuff. I geek out on it, but it’s so neat to hear how other people explain it, because we talk about this all the time, too. I love the jello metaphor, I love the kryptonite, you know, all of these things are great, because, again, it just takes a lot of repetition to really understand and learn what this stuff does. Especially when those foods are tasty. My sister says to me, ‘I really, really want to lose weight. And I really, really like those foods.’ And and when she said it, to me, I was like, man, that has to be so challenging. Like, for me, I think I’m just so fortunate. I just I really love healthy food. And I really love eating good wholesome food. And I have no problem eliminating gluten and dairy from my diet because I just know what it how it makes me feel. But I can understand how when people want to change their diet, even though they’re feeling that anxiety or their depression, those are the foods they go to, because for a hot second, it can actually quench those symptoms, but then they still feel worse afterwards. But they are so addicted to and they love it, they would rather just eat that then actually feel better for the majority of the time. You know, there takes a lot to make changes. And so I just want to almost like honor that in people because I hear it a lot with patients. I really feel for them. I think it’s such a true testimony to like how much you want something enough to really use diet alone as your as your true medicine. It takes a lot. But then once you really start eating those foods that work for you, you really get clear on what your body benefits from, what foods in your body are like kryptonite, I loved how you said that. And then you just feel so good., I think it’s just so much easier to then continue that lifestyle. But it does take some time to get there. So I understand that. And I think some of our lab testing can also help. I do a lot of food intolerance panel in my office, I’m sure you’re familiar with that, I do a lot of IGG mediated reactions. They’re not necessarily gold standard. I think elimination diets are definitely more gold standard approach. However, they do take a lot of work to do. But it’s so important for a person to understand what foods benefit them and what foods don’t so that they know how to navigate. Oftentimes we don’t and it’s so individualized that it’s sometimes can get very overwhelming.
Ali Miller 39:27
Yes. And I think that if you go into this with like a white knuckle effect, if you’re stressed out by your anti-anxiety diet, you’re probably not going to have a good time, right? You have to be mindful about your entry point, as I said earlier, and I think it’s very empowering to have a structured jump-in approach, like a Whole30 or like my anti-anxiety diet, which gives you rules and guidelines of a timeline, my program is 12 weeks that you commit to have these five foods that you remove that are pro-inflammatory, and then we talk you through reintroduction and what have you. But I always say that when you’re going from mediocre to crummy, if you’re not feeling awesome in your body, and you binge or you eat something very processed or refined, you’re not going to get as much feedback as feeling amazing to crummy. Then you’re going to know what impacts your body. But it does generally take that cold pool of water jump-in entry point that you can wring out the inflammation so you can start to hear the feedback of your body because otherwise you’re kind of in this mucky space of mediocrity. And like I said, it’s not as big of a leap to crummy whereas awesome, you know that you want to stay there and you don’t want to let things that you back much further.
Elana Roumell 40:39
Yes, I completely agree with that. How many weeks would you say to give people to really feel that amazing? Is it one week? Is it two weeks? You know, how many days would you say to do that elimination diet that you could say, okay, now you can go ahead and assess your amazing to mediocre scale.
Ali Miller 40:56
Yeah, so I say a minimum of six truly, if we’re looking at like metabolic changes. So my anti-anxiety diet program also does layer on a form of nutritional ketosis. That itself can take three to four weeks to really get the body fat adapted. And a lot of people that are coming from a standard American diet have to first layer in the anti inflammatory as they’re bringing carb control, doing no naked carbs, and bringing up the fat and protein and then shave out the carbs, you know, versus everything at once. That can just be a little bit too overwhelming and lead to failure versus success.
Elana Roumell 41:33
Great. I actually had a question about ketones and ketones. But before we jump into that, I just wanted to confirm I agree with you, I say to patients, six to eight weeks. And it needs to be really truly committed to that. We’re not going to see the outcomes that I know we could get and so we just have to commit to that. So I’m so glad that you also recommend that in your book just as far as realistic expectations go. Because again, being mediocre is not going to motivate somebody, we really need to get them feeling amazing. And you will feel that within six to eight weeks. And if you don’t, then we got to look at something else underlying you know, then we just gives us more information. Great. Well, let’s talk a little bit about ketones and ketosis because I think this is such an important topic. You know, it’s been such a hot buzzword for many, many months now. And I was curious how that is actually incorporated in in your anti-anxiety diet.
Ali Miller 42:29
Sure. So just as I mentioned, inflammatory chemicals crossing the blood brain barrier – nutritional ketones or ketones in the bloodstream that the body makes from a carb restricted, higher fat diet, also cross the blood brain barrier. And so we have known the power of ketones in the central nervous system via the influence of the ketogenic diet and epilepsy. And one of the mechanisms of action there is that these ketones cross the blood brain barrier, and they doc to receptor sites that up regulate gabba influence and down regulate epinephrine. So if you think of something as dynamic as convulsions or seizure activity of a high epinephrine, adrenaline surge and low gaba, gaba is also the same neurotransmitter we think of with like Parkinson’s disease, right, when individuals are dealing with spasm and tremor in their muscular system. Gaba has a very powerful anxiety effect. And it has a very powerful influence on our neuromuscular system in release and relaxation. And so the influence of ketones on the ability to up regulate gaba is one that’s very powerful in grounding the stress response.
Elana Roumell 43:49
Okay, great. Again, very well said thank you for explaining that. I wanted to share my experience in when I personally attempt go into ketosis, I tend to be more hungry and more stressed, because of that restriction of anything. I don’t know. That’s just how my brain works. I think because I came from an eating disorder background, I had orthorexia many, many years ago. And anytime I restrict anything, it actually creates more anxiety, because I think I go back into that type of disordered thinking. And so I just wanted to also mention, I think this could be amazing for some people. And I think for other people, it actually could cause more anxiety. And I just again, I think it’s just how awesome and how unique people are, it goes right back to if this anti-anxiety diet is stressing you out. Clearly, this is not working for you, right? Or if Whole30 is stressing you out, this is clearly not working for you. And so, again, just tuning in, to really what works for your body is what we’re trying to do, right? I mean, all of these amazing passionate people out there, Ali you are included, who come up with these great ideas, these 12 week diets and such, they’re working with people who are specifically designed that this is what’s going to work for them. And if it doesn’t work for you, then that’s okay. Because there’s a lot of other techniques or or situations. So I wanted to share that. I think ketones can be such brilliant ways to up regulate gaba receptors. And it makes complete sense scientifically. And again, it’s just great for someone to understand where their starting point is, and what really works for them or not.
Ali Miller 45:31
Yes, can I share in my clinical experience, where I see that the pitfalls of keto because it’s a big influence on my practice. And one of the big concerns I have for women listening that may have had an unsuccessful approach to keto, or may hear something and want to try it but haven’t tried it yet. We really have to be mindful that the ketogenic diet is hormetic. And what that means is that it is a hormonal stress to the body, just like the use of infrared sauna, just like the use of intermittent fasting, just like exercise, right? So all of those things isolated, sauna, exercise, keto, are wonderful healing therapeutic for the diet. But all of those things can also equally drive dysfunction in the body, if used inappropriately, or in synergy that drives imbalance. And so when I do a 12-week virtual program where we use a ketogenic diet, and I have different phases of restriction and I put pregnant women on a low glycemic diet, not a tight carb control keto diet, I put breastfeeding moms in the middle. But what I do is I have to negotiate with you have if you can even dip your toe into the world of keto, based on your lifestyle factors, because if you are doing CrossFit or spin class, and you’re having more than that one cup of caffeine and you’re under sleeping, and you’re over stressing, that could be the nail on the coffin that drives you to hair loss that can drive your thyroid to burn out that can drive dysfunction and your HPA axis and drive hypothalamic amenorrhea, just as much as ketones can aid with PCOS and drive balanced fertility, right. So it’s just important to note that it has hormonal and stress influence on the body. And we have to be mindful of not pulling that type A ‘change everything at once, do all of the buzz where the health things at once,’ and listening to the feedback of our body. And if we see impacts with our sleep that are unfavorable, that’s where we want to bring in things like strategic carb cycling, and maybe just go to a low glycemic diet to get some of the benefits without the risk factor.
Elana Roumell 47:48
Ali, I love you. And I love your philosophy and your approach. Really, it’s just awesome. And I think it’s challenging when you’re working with so many patients virtually and you’re doing group, how you really tailor and you’ve really designed this so well, I just want to commend you for that. I think that’s excellent that you’re really looking in to each individual person to see, is this going to benefit them? Or could this do more harm, and it’s perfect. And that’s really how we’re designed, right? We’re so unique, which is what makes us just so beautiful. And we all need a different approach. So thank you so much for mentioning that. Okay, I see we’re at 45 minutes. So there’s one more question that I just don’t want to miss that a community member asked. And then we’re going to go ahead and I just want you to share all this great stuff that you have to offer. The question is really is diet enough? Or what supplements can I take? Are there supplements that can help with my anxiety that are safe specifically during pregnancy and nursing?
Ali Miller 48:45
So diet is a wonderful foundation and can be a way once you’ve harnessed that wild stallion to maintain on the pasture or out of the rocky world I suppose, if you will. Diet is a very powerful tool as a family. But it may not be enough of a true intervention if you are at the stage of considering medication or you’re looking to wean medication and are coordinating care with your your practitioner and looking at supporting a healthful pregnancy and maintaining breastfeeding through the process. So I do find supplements to be a fantastic strategy. I use the natural medicines database as my tool of classifications of herbs whether they’re a class 1-A are the area that I recommend in clinical practice – those that have long standing traditional use, have no concern of toxicity and are proven to be safe or otherwise considered as safe, based on no negative studies seen. Adapted genetic herbs, which are you know going to be herbs that help us to adapt to stress demand and aid in stress resilience, adapted genes can fall all the way into class C. And so it really just depends on the classification and then we look at nutrients in the similar light. So adaptogens that I love working with with pregnant and breastfeeding mamas are medicinal mushrooms like cordyceps and rishi, these are fantastic tools that aid with resilience. I love using, as I mentioned, that L-theanine, which is that modulator of our neurotransmitters. That’s what’s in matcha. But this also has a favorable influence on the alpha brainwaves which aid and creative focus, concentration, meditation, and aid with alpha brainwaves, which can help with sleep. Magnesium bisglycinate, you know, I said magnesium was the ultimate chill pill, this is fantastic for even eating with preeclampsia and blood pressure control. And magnesium is one that is a very safe tool. And the bisglycinate is more neuromuscular and mood-impacting over the citrate form. And then optimizing the vitamin status and ensuring that the forms in your prenatal are methalyated and in a bio-available form would be another thing that I would say as a strong consideration.
Elana Roumell 48:45
Excellent. I love these all. I agree with them and they’re all so safe and gentle. So I think that this is something that we could safely say are something for pregnant and breastfeeding mamas to really consider. So thank you for that. Great, well, I can talk to you for another hour easily. I have really enjoyed my time with you. Thank you so much for just coming on the show and sharing your knowledge with us. For moms and listeners who just want to understand what are these virtual diets that you do with patients, or where can they find the Anti-Anxiety book, give me a little bit of idea of where we can direct these listeners so they can find out more?
Ali Miller 51:36
Sure, my pleasure. So everything is very simplistically under Ali Miller RD. So my website is alimillerrd.com. All of my social handles are @alimillerrd. Then my book is sold where all books are sold, you know, Barnes and Noble, you name it, and also on Amazon and on my website. The Anti-Anxiety Diet Cookbook comes out in the fall. So I’m super excited about that. It is going to be at beautifully photographed recipes. It has more intensive pantry staple guides and meal plans. And it does have this phase 1.5 protocol, which is an add on to the anti anxiety book specifically for pregnant and breastfeeding mamas. So you can definitely look forward to that in the fall. And then on my website, I have a section called ‘Books and Programs’ and that’s where I have my virtual 12-week Food as Medicine keto class and other ebooks and resources.
Elana Roumell 52:38
Oh, excellent. Thank you and you really have a lot of resources on your website. You’re just like Stephanie and I, we just have so much to share. So I think it’s great. It was again, just such a pleasure to talk to you. Hopefully we’ll have you on again in the future to talk about another topic. You just have such a great wealth of knowledge. So I appreciate your time.
Ali Miller 52:58
Oh, it’s my pleasure, it was such a fun conversation. Thank you for having me on.
Elana Roumell 53:06
Thanks for joining us on today’s episode with Ali Miller talking about her Anti-Anxiety Diet book. We hope that this helps you learn some tools on how to manage some anxiety or even to prevent it in the first place. And also thank our partner Coconu. Please remember to use the code WHOLEMAMA when you checkout over at Coconu.com to get 15% off your first order. If you enjoyed this episode, please help us out by sharing our podcast with your mama friends and writing us review on iTunes. Let us know what you enjoyed about this episode and help us grow our village. You can also visit our website wholemamasclub.com/podcasts to review show notes, find past episodes, and leave comments and questions for future shows. Please remember that the views and ideas presented on this podcast are for informational purposes only. All information content and material present on this podcast is for informational purposes and not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation diagnosis and/or a medical treatment with a qualified physician or health care provider. Consult with your qualified physician or health care provider before starting any diet supplement regimen or determine the appropriateness of the information shared on the podcast, or if you have any questions regarding pregnancy or prenatal treatment. Alright now go on, have a good day, and nourish and nurture yourself and your family.
- Foods that may trigger anxiety
- Foods that can help reduce anxiety
- Ali Miller’s 6-R approach to reducing anxiety
- Why matcha tea can be a great substitute for coffee
- How inflammation and ketones affect anxiety
- Safe supplements that can help reduce anxiety for pregnant and nursing mamas
This episode's guest
Ali Miller is a registered dietitian (RD), certified diabetes educator (CDE), certified weight management specialist, and therapeutic lifestyle healthcare practitioner. Ali has dedicated her career to revolutionizing food-as-medicine in treatment and prevention of disease. She has a passion to create public awareness regarding the significant role diet plays in our overall health with her philosophy of Food-As-Medicine. She is the author of Naturally Nourished: Food-as-Medicine for Optimal Health Cookbook and the Reset, Restore, Renew: Real Food Detox program.