Q&A with Karie Cassell Dietitian Coach: What to Eat or Not Eat to Manage Anxiety and ADHD

May 24, 2024

Welcome to my Q&A Series with a Great Question Submitted Recently.....

Hello. I have ADHD and wonder if there are certain foods that worsen my symptoms that I should avoid or have more of? I want to feel more focused. Thank you!

Thank you for the question and know that you are not alone. With ADHD and other similar diagnosis, including struggles with anxiety in and of itself, there can be links to our food intake and or lack thereof.   Let’s talk about staying focused and weave in ways to help with food and beverage choices.  Know that stress management of course too for full-spectrum wellbeing in conjunction with our nutrition is key.  


Staying Focused and Fueled: Nourishing Foods for Health, Goals, and Energy

Maintaining focus and energy throughout the day is essential for achieving our health goals and sustaining overall well-being. The foods we eat play a significant role in our energy levels, cognitive function, and emotional stability. Understanding how to fuel our bodies correctly can help mitigate symptoms such as ADHD and anxiety, turning off the fight-or-flight response and activating the rest-and-digest system.


Foods That Can Create Disturbances

Certain foods and beverages can negatively impact our energy levels and mental health. Foods high in refined sugars and processed ingredients can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, leading to fatigue, irritability, and anxiety. Additionally, excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption can exacerbate anxiety and disrupt sleep patterns. Sleep is often overlooked but may be the small hinge that moves BIG doors 😉



- Effects on the Body: Caffeine can increase alertness and energy temporarily but can also trigger anxiety and disrupt sleep if consumed in large amounts.

- Amount and Duration: A typical cup of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine. Caffeine can stay in the bloodstream for up to 6 hours, so it's advisable to stop consuming it before 12-2 pm to avoid sleep disturbances.

- Recommendations: Limiting caffeine intake and opting for caffeine-free or low-caffeine beverages in the afternoon can help maintain a calm state and make for a better sleep.



- Effects on the Body: Alcohol can initially act as a sedative but later disrupts sleep cycles and causes dehydration, which can trigger the fight-or-flight response.

- Recommendations: Limiting alcohol intake, especially in the evening, can improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety.

 Creating sleep routines can make significant differences!

 Turning Off the Fight-or-Flight Response

 To shift from a state of high alertness (fight-or-flight) to a state of relaxation (rest-and-digest), incorporating certain practices and foods can be beneficial:


Calm Breathing and Mindful Eating:

- Practice: Take a few deep breaths before eating to promote relaxation. This simple act can help shift the nervous system into a parasympathetic state, aiding digestion and reducing stress (the rest, digest, create response).

- Mindfulness: Eating slowly and savoring each bite can enhance the digestive process and prevent overeating.


Stable Blood Sugar Levels:

- Regular Meals and Snacks: Eating every 2-3 hours and not going longer than 3-4 hours without food helps maintain stable blood sugar levels, preventing the anxiety and irritability associated with low blood sugar.

- Balanced Snacks: Incorporate snacks that combine protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates to sustain energy levels. Examples include a handful of nuts with an apple or whole-grain crackers with hummus.



- Water Intake: Staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining energy levels and cognitive function. Aim to drink water throughout the day and limit dehydrating beverages like caffeine and alcohol.


Healthy Eating Habits for Better Sleep

Pre-Bedtime Eating:

- Timing: Finish eating 2-3 hours before bed to allow for proper digestion and prevent heartburn, which can interfere with sleep.

- Healthy Evening Snacks: Light snacks that are easy to digest can prevent nighttime hunger and improve sleep quality. Examples include:

  - A small banana with a tablespoon of almond butter

  - A handful of cherries or berries with a small amount of cheese or handful of nuts

  - A cup of chamomile tea with a few whole-grain crackers and hummus or avocado.


Avoid Heavy Foods:

- Impact: Heavy, fatty, or spicy foods can cause discomfort and digestive issues that disrupt sleep. These foods can also lead to nightmares and morning grogginess, reducing overall energy levels. Not to mention, heavy foods that are still digesting come morning may cause skipping meals that lead to low sugars.

Customizing Your Diet

Every individual’s nutritional needs are unique, influenced by factors such as lifestyle, body type, and health conditions. Working with a dietitian can help tailor a meal plan that supports your specific goals and needs.


Why Consult a Dietitian:

- Personalized Guidance: Dietitians can provide customized advice that aligns with your health objectives and daily routine.

- Nutrient Balance: They ensure that your diet is balanced and includes all necessary nutrients to support sustained energy and mental clarity.

- Addressing Specific Issues: Dietitians can help manage conditions like anxiety, ADHD, and digestive disorders through tailored dietary interventions.



Maintaining focus and energy throughout the day involves a combination of mindful eating, regular meals, and staying hydrated. Avoiding foods and beverages that trigger the fight-or-flight response, such as excessive caffeine and alcohol, and incorporating calming practices like deep breathing can significantly improve well-being. Consulting with a dietitian can provide the personalized support needed to create a sustainable and effective eating plan that enhances your health and helps you achieve your goals. Remember to breathe calmly before meals and listen to your body's needs to foster a balanced and nourishing lifestyle.

Karie Cassell, Dietitian/Life Coach 


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