jpketz

Depression/Anxiety? Any Whole30 successes?

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I've searched the forum for "anxiety/depression" discussions but am hoping there are some additional ,compelling stories out there that credit Whole30 directly as a key source of healing. I have a young nephew with diagnosed and severe sleep apnea combined with anxiety disorder. He turned to alcohol (and food) to stabilize his anxiety until drinking became THE issue and he stopped 4 months ago, which immediately made his anxiety worse. In lieu of alcohol, food's now his go-to mechanism for calming himself down, (no prescribed meds have worked). Quite the full plate for 26 year-old.

I'd like to point him to some food-related success stories to bolster the case that maybe Whole30 would be a good way to identify any sensitivities that are compounding his anxiety issues, and maybe other conditions as well. It's been a tough sell so far—food, sugar mainly, seems like the last bastian of comfort for him, so he's reluctant to consider doing without it. I get it, I'm a fellow sugar/carb addict, on Day 10 of my own first Whole30, but a long time "foodie" and Paleo cheerleader.

This is a brilliant, gentle, funny, talented kid whose life is being stolen by daily struggles with what could be his own biochemistry. If that is the case, I'm sure Whole30 could have a dramatic impact. I've evangelized all I can, hoping some of you have some personal and/or relevant anecdotal experience I can share with him.

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I see testimonials of reduced anxiety and/or depression on grain-free diets semi-regularly. It seems that our gut flora and diet has a meaningful relationship with our moods, but our understanding of the relationship remains in its infancy.

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I am only about 13 days in, and my anxiety/focus issues are starting to stabilize. I suffer off and on from crippling agoraphobia. I get claustrophobic in places and have been medicated for panic attacks and severe depression in the past. Over the past year I have been on and off Paleo. When I am not actively eating whole foods (Paleo centered), and let especially wheat and sugar in, I get severe mood swings, focus issues, terrible insomnia, and intense periods of anxiety. I have soothed myself with alcohol and food. It is a hard road to recovery, but I'd definitely give this a go in addition to other therapies and support that he may need. I wish you the best of luck. My heart is full of ache hearing this young man's story. Life is so hard already, without the addition of these kinds of complications. There is hope though! I think it is great that you are bringing this to his attention and that you live this lifestyle as well. Being a positive example of change is sometimes more powerful than any words we can express. And sometimes it just has to hurt bad enough to want to change. That was the case for me. I am thankful for all who reached out to me and helped me along in this journey with information. Best of luck to you and your nephew!

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I've had major success for my lifelong dysthymia and occasional anxiety. I went nutritional off-roading (as the Hartwig's say) around the holidays and now I'm doing the Whole100 with the forum group. I'm experiencing some dysphoria as well as unpleasant dreams. I'm thinking of this as a kind of purging, however, and I'm journaling, talking to friends, and trying to stay within the guidelines of W9. I'll follow this topic and let you know of my success later.

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I've had major success for my lifelong dysthymia and occasional anxiety. I went nutritional off-roading (as the Hartwig's say) around the holidays and now I'm doing the Whole100 with the forum group. I'm experiencing some dysphoria as well as unpleasant dreams. I'm thinking of this as a kind of purging, however, and I'm journaling, talking to friends, and trying to stay within the guidelines of W9. I'll follow this topic and let you know of my success later.

Thank you. @Dragonfly7 and @Suzy.

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I too and on my first W30. I have been able to stop (for a week now) my anti-anxiety medication that has helped me sleep since 2009. That is HUGE for me! My sleep continues to improve and I feel more rested. I am on Day 21 and am feeling much more stable, although I am still on my zoloft.

I have to say that I know some of my stability and improvement in my mood is due to stopping alcohol, sugar and grains. I haven't felt this in-control of my emotions in quite awhile. I am doing a W100 but will continue to update you on my progress (if you like). I think it is so admirable of you to try and help your nephew.

Have a great week!

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I have GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), and it's definitely less of an issue on Whole30. In general, any time I'm eating less sugar, my anxiety is lower -- it's a total vicious cycle, otherwise, because I (like many people) find food treats comforting, but they also cause anxiety spikes, so then I crave them more.

I'm rarely soap boxy about things, but if he gets nothing else from this: please tell him to cut out caffeine. I can occasionally have A cup of coffee, but I usually stick to decaf, because caffeine causes me to have anxiety attacks if I'm not really careful.

My general regime for dealing with my anxiety is this:

  • Work out 3-4 times a week. (I just do Zumba for 20 or 45 minutes, I really think anything helps, including walking).
  • No caffeine.
  • Sleep 8 hours a night at regular times (I try to do 11-7). If I don't sleep at times that "normal" people sleep, I feel more removed and weird, so I try to stay on a schedule as if I have a regular 9-5 job, even though I don't.
  • Klonopin for anxiety attacks. I don't have as much constant anxiety as some people, I tend to have kind of spiked attacks that last a day or so. Klonopin knocks these out. I know it's often not the first thing doctors prescribe, because it has a high risk for abuse. For me, the daily pills (all SSRIs) did not really work as intended. It's better for me to treat things occasionally. Several of my friends with anxiety swear by various mood stabilizers; I think those are great for a lot of people, and a lot of people for whom SSRIs alone don't work alone find a mood stabilizer is great. Basically, it's worth it to spend time sorting out your meds, even though the process totally sucks.
  • Eat at regular intervals. Do not skip meals. Eat adequate meals. Avoid any foods that cause blood sugar spikes or crashes or anything else like that. I can go out for ice cream once a month, or have dessert on an important anniversary if I want to, but I can't/shouldn't stop at the pie shop on the way home just because it smells good -- it always smells good.
  • Interact with other people, even if it's just walking to the corner store for a coffee. If I spend too much time alone in my head, I get weird -- and this is even though I live with a spouse. I need to interact with strangers or people I don't know well. It's often really scary for me, but doing it more often makes it less scary, and it keeps me from obsessing over terrifying social scenarios, because I get a lot of regular feedback that I'm actually fine, I can talk to people.

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And let's all of us remember the all-important supplementation of vitamin D this time of year. Unless you live in a sunny area and are exposing all of your limbs in the sunshine for a couple of hours a day. :) Please get some D. It will turn things around within weeks.

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And let's all of us remember the all-important supplementation of vitamin D this time of year. Unless you live in a sunny area and are exposing all of your limbs in the sunshine for a couple of hours a day. :) Please get some D. It will turn things around within weeks.

YES! I am low on this (have been tested.) I take a more therapeutic dose in the winter, 5,000 a day. In the spring and summer I bump it down to 1,000 - 2,000. I also find if I don't have my fish oil, I get a bit blue.

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And, I'll totally echo the Vitamin D recommendation. I have a therapy light I use a few days a week; when I first got it, I used it daily for about 30 minutes. It made a marked difference in how I felt -- and, there's research backing that up. Therapy lights work for about 80% of people who use them.

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I have GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), and it's definitely less of an issue on Whole30. In general, any time I'm eating less sugar, my anxiety is lower -- it's a total vicious cycle, otherwise, because I (like many people) find food treats comforting, but they also cause anxiety spikes, so then I crave them more.

I'm rarely soap boxy about things, but if he gets nothing else from this: please tell him to cut out caffeine. I can occasionally have A cup of coffee, but I usually stick to decaf, because caffeine causes me to have anxiety attacks if I'm not really careful.

ALL OF THIS. Also Whoop Whoo to the GAD team in the house.

Sugar out. Caffiene out. Routine in. Not a magical cure all but pretty damn amazing impact.

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I'm with everyone on the sugar and caffeine (and for me, dairy and grains) having a major impact on my anxiety. Without those things in my diet, I still take my anxiety medication, but I have to say that I feel that it works for me. Before, it just kind of knocked me out and left me feeling hung over. Now, I get the anti-anxiety effects, but without the knocked-out/hungover feelings. It's been pretty impressive. I may go off of the medication at some point, but for now I'm happy that the Whole30 eating plan just makes it work. Ya know? It's a very positive feeling.

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I see testimonials of reduced anxiety and/or depression on grain-free diets semi-regularly. It seems that our gut flora and diet has a meaningful relationship with our moods, but our understanding of the relationship remains in its infancy.

My doctor told me just a few months ago that most of the serotonin that our body's produce is used in our gut for peristalsis.... Leads me to believe that the healthier our gut is the more serotonin we would have to feel good..... ???

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Thanks to all of you!! This is great stuff and I'll be compiling all of it to make a compelling case for Whole30. Plus, I'm on Day 22 of my first Whole30 myself and although I don't struggle with anxiety/depression, (did in my 20's but not since), I do have an epic sugar addiction, which as of today seems manageable.

So if hear a consensus in your comments, it seems that Whole30 has had an overall calming effect, while not necessarily a "cure". That staying away from sugar and wheat is important in most cases and that caffeine is a trigger almost universally, and the negative side affects of anxiety meds can be made less intense by eating this way.

While these are all "anecdotes", my nephew tends to suffer from "analysis paralysis", so quoting science sends him into overwhelm. So this is all good. Real people, real stories.

Thanks again for taking the time.

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Yes to everything above. The most important things for me personally are:

  • Supplement with Vitamin D like crazy — I take 8000 IU daily. This alone made a world of difference.
  • No gluten, no sugar — I was gluten-free before my Whole30 and that really helped even out my mood, but being sugar-free has just multiplied that positive effect.
  • Get out of the house — This one is tough, because when I'm depressed I just want to curl into a ball and watch bad movies all day. But being out in the world—especially if it's to do something moderately active like going for a walk or playing with my son at the park—reminds me that I can function pretty normally and get sh*t done, even though I have depression.

I'm on Day 26 of my first Whole30, and really the only major change I've noticed so far is with my mood.

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While these are all "anecdotes", my nephew tends to suffer from "analysis paralysis", so quoting science sends him into overwhelm. So this is all good. Real people, real stories.

Thanks again for taking the time.

I don't know if this is something you can talk about with your nephew, but I found trusting myself and taking advice (medical, but also often anecdotal!) all with a grain of salt, to be super helpful in getting better.

There's actually still so much science doesn't know about treating anxiety and drepression....even exactly how antidepressants work! I went on them for a little while for GAD, and while I think they got me through a rough patch, they weren't the solution forever, except doctors weren't giving me the solution forever, I had to find that out for myself.

I think doing something like whole30 can be really empowering because you physically feel the effects of treating your body with respect...its a pretty powerful feeling to wake up and go 'holy shit, I haven't feel anxious all week...maybe this is awesome?!' Especially if he's got some one there to help him like you (and you let him lead how much help is given/taken.)

One personal point is, as some one who also used to suffer an eating disorder (I guess this could be relevant to anyone who gets obssessive behaviours)...I'd tried googling the negatives of whole 30 and the ONLY thing I could come up with is that it makes some people obsessive about food. So at the start I told myself I was going to eat whole30 style, but not beat myself up about finishing things off in my cupboard, or obsess over restaurant menus....but I planned lots of meals well, and then found myself being compliant really easily! So it turned into proper whole30 without any obsessing at all! And now I feel so good sugar cravings (the only real craving I still get) are easy to beat, because I don't want to feel shit, it's as simple as that.

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I am only on Day 6, but I am doing this Whole 30 mostly because of my struggles with Anxiety/Panic. I had severe post-partum anxiety after both of my kids' births. I took Paxil and gained 40+ pounds each time. I blame the resulting yo-yo dieting and binge eating to those meds and the anxiety. I was always able to quit the meds after six months, but I'd have periodic flare-ups. I have a scrip for Ativan that I used when they came up. Last summer my anxiety skyrocketed and I ended up on generic celexa. I'm now 30 pounds heavier and walk through life in a fog. I know the drug didn't make me fat, now. It is my addiction to sugar and salty/fatty processed foods.

So, I will let you know what happens. My goal is to get off the meds in 2013. I will do this Whole 30, combined with daily yoga and see how I feel. I don't want to go back to the usual.

Also, my 11 year old son suffers greatly from anxiety/panic. He is not on any meds though he's just started a 14-week CBT course. If I see good results, I am going to get him to try an elimination plan. Though, like the OP, I wonder if he'll freak out when he thinks everything he likes is now "forbidden."

Thanks CAK911 for the caffeine reminder. I had gone off it for awhile last summer and just got sucked back in. I limit myself to two 6-oz cups in the morning, but....that's probably a bad idea.

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@xacerb8. Thanks for sharing your story and being willing to keep me posted. I'm starting to see so many common threads in these posts. I'm also seeing that as with your 11 year-old, the anxiety around "deprivation", is a common issue, or what my nephew calls "anxiety about anxiety."

The latest is my wife and I have asked him if he'd like to move in with us for 30 days to give him a leg up while he does a Whole30. He currently lives with his dad and neither of them really cook. He really wants to take us up on the idea but confesses he's scared to death that a radical change in his sugar/caffeine laden "comfort food" routine will set off his anxiety. So the challenge is getting through those first few weeks (which was hard enough for me during my Whole30) but may be a whole different animal with an anxious person. He is doing CBT and one-on-one therapy so maybe the "village" can get him through the rough patches to some sort of tangible, positive effect on his anxiety. From everything I've gleaned from the responses to this topic, I'm optimistic.

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I've got nothing constructive to add, I just wanted to say that I'm truly humbled reading all your posts and I wish each and every one of you all the success in the world. Look forward to hearing how you all get on. Take care and all the very best.

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My thoughts on my mental health post Whole30: I was questioning whether or not my meds needed to be increased prior to this, but I don't think they'll need it if I mostly stick to this way of eating. My mood has been level, and the majority of the physical symptoms of my depression are gone. Losing some weight and feeling stronger doesn't hurt my self-esteem, either. :) However, I still have an extremely poor relationship with sleep, so I am doing another Whole30 from Feb. 15-Mar. 16 with a special focus on establishing a regular sleep schedule. I'll come back and comment again in mid-March!

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@jpketz I am beginning to see the glimmer of a very awesome YouTube original reality series "Whole30 House." :) Participants come and live together in a house as they progress through the Whole 30.

<not to make light, of course>

I love that your nephew would even consider moving in for a month. And, tell him he doesn't have to quit the caffeine.

Also, I wonder if he could supplement the maintenance meds if his anxiety spikes. Someone else mentioned Klonopin, and I take an Ativan when/if I have breakthrough symptoms. Knowing that he has that in his back pocket (like when you quit smoking but keep a pack of cigarettes in the freezer) might be helpful.

My plan is to do this Whole30 and gradually try the reintroduction. I'll most likely end up being pseudo-compliant after that (glass of red wine at night, cupcake at a birthday party once in a while, but otherwise on plan). Then, I'll wean off the Citalopram starting in May. My PCP recommended the summer months. She says it just works better for people because they're more likely to get out and get sunlight and exercise. I will take the summer to slowly come off.

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