Depression/Anxiety? Any Whole30 successes?


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Okay so maybe not a reality series but a business idea...

When I started my Whole30 I had this fantasy that I had the wherewithal to hire a live-in Paleo chef to do all the shopping, cooking, etc. because I was truly stunned by how little support there is out there for anyone who wants to eat real food. And I live on the Left Coast where we supposedly embrace these "radical, hippie" food movements. When I shop I literally go to three or four different places in the brick-and-mortar world and a few online just to get non-processed, healthy, fresh, food and ingredients. Even at farmer's markets the non-organic vendors outnumber the organic ones about 6 to 1.

So because I'm not Lord Grantham having a personal Paleo chef will likely remain a fantasy for a while longer (besides I do like to cook). And, it probably defeats the whole idea of "changing one's relationship with food" anyway.

As for my nephew...we're still in negotiations about the whole moving in plan. Mostly because while my wife and I did Whole30 together, she's decided to continue but make it an autoimmune protocol (AIP). She has thyroid issues and gets nasty migraines. Whole30 helped, but didn't eradicate the migraines so she's thinking of upping the ante and going AIP. But that's a whole other story...or possible YouTube series. :)

So I'm not sure adding a third party in the mix will be a wise move right now. Plus, since I do all the cooking, shopping and menu planning, it'll require enough major adjustments between me doing my "bicycle" version of Whole30 and her more restrictive AIP. Either way, we'll be offering whatever support we can while my nephew navigates his way through a new eating regimen, if he chooses. Maybe getting together to cook, or having him over for dinner for the first few weeks.

I'm curious though why you say he "doesn't have to quit caffeine." I'm hearing the opposite from most commenters so far.

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Some people react badly to caffeine, others it doesn't seem to bother. The W30 program recomends conscientious consumption. The W30 coffee mainfesto is here

and will give you all the info.

Thanks, Kirsteen. I realize in the general Whole30 scheme of things, it's an individual choice. In this case I'm more interested in caffeine as it relates to anxiety disorder in particular. Most of the feedback I've received on this post topic warns against caffeine as an anxiety trigger. @xacerb8 seems to think otherwise. Could just be one person's experience but I'm curious as to why.

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Sorry, I should have realised. I'm sorry. It's not something I have any experience of directly but googling it brought up a whole plethora of articles, most of which seemed to recomend giving it up. One doctor did suggest having a cup of coffee, when you had time to simply sit and note your heart rate and monitor any sypmtoms you had to see if coffee was causing them or making them worse. Whatever you do, I do wish all your family the very best.

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I think that quitting caffeine AND doing a Whole30 is too much to ask of a person. Every practitioner I've ever seen has told me that caffeine can contribute to anxiety. And I agree. I stayed caffeine-free for years because of that. But after my divorce, when all of a sudden I was the only driver and I had to do an 8 hour drive at night by myself....well..hello Red Bull!

So, what I mean is, if your nephew is drinking coffee now, and the idea of quitting caffeine is anxiety-provoking and might cause him to not even try a Whole 30, maybe he should approach this journey in stages.

Get through the Whole 30, feel the benefits, and then tackle the caffeine.

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You make a good argument. I know his morning cup of Peets is pretty much a sacred ritual so if it comes down to that being a deal breaker...

He may have to get used to drinking it black(ish) like I did, but that's better than abstinence. What do they say...progress not perfection? Thanks for your input @xacerbr8.

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As a fellow anxiety sufferer I would agree that getting off of caffeine is imperative to help overcome this. Chocolate can also be a trigger for anxiety because of the caffeine / sugar combo. If he can start doing 3/4 of a cup and then 1/2 cup etc of coffee to ease himself off of it and try drinking other "hot" drinks like herbal teas as a substitute this might help. I have been off coffee over 10 years now.

Klopin (aka rivitril, aka clonazapam) is one of the worst benzodiazapene's on the market in my opinion. (Google benzo withdrawal for more info on this nasty drug). It causes awful side effects and screw up the brain even more and is highly physically addictive. It is a an anti-seizure medication so it really targets the whole central nervous system, including the brain. Klopin is usually only prescribed in the UK as a anti-seizure med, in North America it is prescribed for anxiety frequently. If he needs a med, try and get his doctor to prescribe an old school benzo like Valium. Prof Heather Ashton of the UK has been doing work on benzo's for years and is a good place to start for information ) .

Anxiety is usually a combination of food or other allergies and amino acid depletion (the brain food found in meat).

Getting of grains and sugar and caffeine, uping his amino acid intake (meat), and getting some exercise in any form and fresh air and sunshine will go a long way to helping this young man out. Maybe you could offer to throw a football around together once the weather warms up, or go on a bowling night occasionally.

You are a great uncle and I wish both of you all the best (and your wife too!).


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@Purple. Thank you for your insights and good wishes. I believe my nephew isn't on any anxiety meds at the moment but has tried Klonopin, Zoloft and a few others to no avail—side effects always outweighing any benefit.

I've been encouraging him lately to monitor his sugar and caffeine intake and observe changes in his anxiety level. Coincidentally, he had a major attack at 3 a.m. a days ago after eating a plateful of chocolate chip cookies around 9 p.m.. No rocket science required to assume that a hypoglycemia-induced anxiety attack probably woke him up.( Interesting too that chocolate chip cookies contain caffeine AND sugar). Clearly, he's not in control of his cravings, especially sugar, so I've suggested that might be a logical place to start with some self experimentation and hopefully even out the blood sugar roller coaster. The Whole30 idea is still pretty daunting to him so maybe one substance at a time, a day at a time.

Also, we're planning a weekend where he can come over and eat 9, compliant meals, get involved in the cooking, do some meal planning, even some shopping, then send him off with a plan—maybe not Whole30 right away, but a kickstart. At the end of the day all we can do is offer some tools and support, though. The rest is up to him.

FYI...I agree with your description of anxiety. I also tend to agree with the amino acid/neurotransmitter connection put forth in the Diet Cure and Mood Cure by Julia Ross, based on the pioneering research by Dr. Kenneth Blum. I've always wondered why there hasn't been more funded study in this area. The results of amino acid therapy with Blum and Ross in their clinics are pretty amazing for relieving depression, food cravings and making it possible for some people to even attempt detox/elimination type eating regimens like Whole30.

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Hi JPKetz,

I used to wake up with those 3am panic attacks when on clonazepam (rivitril/klonpin), so depending on how long ago he stopped taking them it could also be a factor (the rebound can last YEARS and it does not take long on this med for it to have this effect). The sugar / chocolate / grain will not help this.

I have not heard of Blum or Ross, but did follow the Dr. Marty Heinz amino acid protocol for about a year and a half. While it did lessen my symptoms (which are rebound effects from taking benzo's btw), it not eliminate them.

I think the only "cure" is a complete lifestyle overhaul with the main focus on food. But that is just my opinion of course.

I have also heard that cognitive therapy is also a good treatment, but I have not tried it so I cannot comment on that.

Keep us posted for your 9 meal trial run and let us know how he does.

All the best.

(PS anyone taking a benzo now thinking they should just stop... DO NOT DO THIS... seizures, convulsions, involuntary muscle spasms, hallucinations, major rebound (severe increased panic) and other nastiness await you. You need to taper very carefully off a benzo drug. See the link to Prof Ashton's research above for guidelines and find a doctor schooled in the Ashton protocol and eat well to rebuild those neurotransmitters!).

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  • 3 weeks later...


So, I thought I'd give you an update. Sorry it's taken me this long, least I have something good to report.

I'll spare you reintro details but will just say that so far gluten seems to make me feel exhausted and dairy has no effect on me.

But the biggest thing is that I went off my Citalopram and have been absolutely fine! It wasn't intentional. I was just tired at bedtime so I kept falling asleep when I lay down with my kids and so I'd miss taking my pill. Then, when it had been five or more days I was like, well, why not see what happens?

I have started taking cod liver oil (1 tsp a day), but again, I probably end up taking it every other day, because I forget. Also trying to get some exercise each day, either Bikram yoga or a walk with the dog. And just started doing a couch potato to 5k running program with my 11 year old. He suffers from anxiety as well, but we have not put him on any medication. He is doing a 14-week CBT program at a place here in Boston and it seems to be working really well.

I think that I will start testing myself a bit with some exposures to the things that generally made me go off the rails. #1 will be riding the T. I intend to do this in about two weeks, when my kids are with their dad. I will let you know what happens. I've been trying to work myself up into a panic attack when I walk the dog and am in a remote area (my fear: what if i stop breathing and nobody is there to help me?) Yesterday I could feel some anxiety building and I did in-out nose breathing and the waves receded.

Yay! How is it coming with your nephew? Any progress? Did he move in?

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@xacerb8. Thanks for the update! It sounds like things are much more manageable. So are you still eating pretty much a W30 but with dairy added? The gluten finding never surprises me—everything I read about it supports the theory that not many people can tolerate it without consequences...even if they're low level and systemic. And reintroduction after a hormonal reset is such good feedback. You have to wonder if gluten's role in a lot of anxiety disorders.

Great news about the Citalopram! Have you ever read the Mood Cure by Julia Ross? She's had some clinical success treating SSRI users with amino acid therapy, sometimes enabling allowing to them to reduce or stop the SSRI's altogether.

As for my nephew...what can I say...he's 26. The long and short of it is he wouldn't commit to moving in, which I think may have been a good idea in the long run. We live only a few miles away though, so we're in close contact.

Right now we're working on his nutrition, which he's improving little by little. I can't convince him to try a Whole30 so we're starting with a more Primal version of Paleo, trying to keep it simple and if nothing else reduce his sugar/carbs consumption. Of course I only move as fast as he wants to, so progress is slow, but steady.

The bad news is he started drinking again after a good stretch of sobriety. He's convinced himself that he needs alcohol to get to sleep (he has bad apnea, a breathing machine, the whole nine yards) and of course drinking before bed is THE worst thing you can do to promote good sleep, but again...he's 26, immortal, yadayadayada.

So, I'm trying to be careful not to be codependant and enable his destructive tendencies while still offering support for the positive stuff he's still willing to embrace. I'm in the middle of putting together a meal plan that will make it easier to shop, cook and eat a clean diet, while at the same time making it clear that his drinking may negate some or all the benefits. I'm all about "Information is Power" so hopefully it'll get through to him but at the end of the can't want someone's sobriety more than they do.

Meanwhile I'm dealing with a lovely combo of young adult + alcoholic behavior i.e. not keeping appointments, staying silent for days, not answering email, etc. so (sigh) it's a work in progress.

Thanks so much for checking in and please keep me posted!! Sounds like you're on the right trajectory...and I love hearing that!

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Hi jpketz,

I remember you commenting on one of my posts possibly at the end of my whole30 or early in reintroduction. I just had a few other comments, seeing your interest in this for your nephew.

First, caffeine. I used to drink coffee (1cup/day max). I am very sensitive to it, and it would definitely affect me. But I liked the taste and how it woke me up in the morning. I went of caffeine in the fall because i knew it contributed to anxiety. So I didn't drink it at all during my whole30 in January. During reintro, I added decaf coffee briefly. I was very sensitive even to that! Maybe it's just me, but it seems like doing the whole 30 has made me more sensitive to caffeine in general (or at least decreased my anxiety enough that I can tell how sensitive I am to small amounts).

I found the Whole 30 to help my anxiety greatly. I am not on any medications, but that is because I'm trying natural measures first. My mind felt much more calm and clear. But I also think you pointed out something that there is a lot of anxeity in the process of trying to help our anxiety! Committing to a vastly different lifestyle for a month with no promises that it will help is anxiety-producing!

I'm a person who normally thinks a lot about what I'm going to eat. I've been obsessive about it in the past (eating disorder) so I was worried that this would be bad. However, it's actually reduced my food anxiety. With the plan, I was not overly worried about what i was going to eat or if I was going to eat something. Either it fits with whole 30 or it doesn't. It's actually pretty simple. Part of it is also planning meals ahead and knowing I wouldn't be left "scrounging" for whatever junk food I could find (which now I can't find because it's not there!)

During reintro, I found that my anxiety was worse when I added sugar (obviously!), grains of all kinds (not just gluten), or simple carbs including white potatoes. I did not immediately notice a connection with diary, but that's just my experience. And I didn't do much dairy re-intro because I really could care less for it now.

Also, the sugar dragon causes a lot of anxiety. Any time we have a disordered relationship with food, it increases anxiety. During my reintro, I struggled with sugar and chocolate. I was completely satisfied to eat compliant all day; then after dinner, bam! The sugar dragon was out and I was more powerless than ever over what I ate. The combination of the sugar/carbs and the fact that I knew what I was doing but was helpless, created some intense anxiety! I'm just starting another Whole 30 with very little fruit, nuts and snacking to try to kill off that sugar dragon for good.

Finally, I'd like to mention a website I've found helpful and contains some ideas similar to whole30. This website is specifically about sugar sensitivity, which is what I believe my anxiety issues primarily stem from. And that's why a grain-free, sugar-free diet has helped me so much.

All the best to your nephew and to you, as you so compassionately and sensitively try to help him! I am so touched by that because I am his age and don't have that kind of support from anyone. It's really rare for someone to care that much...good for you.

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@katyroq. Thanks so much for the update. What you're saying further reinforces my suspicion that sugar is the culprit in my nephew's case, in all its forms, from morning bagel to after dinner cookie dough. And now, a fairly recent development, drinking in order to get to sleep, which is a setback, unfortunately. It's hard to watch him resort to short-term fixes that will certainly make his issues worse in the long-term, but there you go.

So I've decided to keep on providing him as much information as I can (unless he asks me to stop), hoping that the old adage "Knowledge is Power" works in his case. He is making strides to clean up his diet a little, so there's hope, but the new drinking revelation is a step backward. Oy. Kids. ( I mean that in the nicest possible way :) ).

Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. I'm encouraged by your thoughtfulness and courage in the face of all this. Hang in there and know you at least have support from this forum and me in particular.

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@katyroq. Thanks so much for the update. What you're saying further reinforces my suspicion that sugar is the culprit in my nephew's case, in all its forms, from morning bagel to after dinner cookie dough.

I respectfully disagree. I believe the gluten is his #1 contributor (especially in regards to sleep apnea, but also the anxiety) as it is more damaging to the digestive tract than sugar. And the gut is the second brain. Sugar will follow as a close 2nd. Then caffeine.

If he can do only one thing for one month- remove gluten! Even if it means paleo treats. Or unlimited date rolls. As his gut heals from the gluten irritation, his mind will start to return to him making other transitions seem more doable.

There is a great podcast on Chris Kresser's website a out the gut-brain connection. Google it.

P.S. I wish you were my uncle a decade ago

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I should be more clear...I regard sugar and gluten to be interchangeable for the sake of most discussions. The fact that wheat turns to sugar in a few seconds after entering the mouth and that a piece of whole wheat bread has more of a glycemic impact than a Snicker's Bar means for all intents and purposes, it's the same stuff. For me, that Snicker's bar and a half a loaf of sourdough bread have the same power to create a binge. And I see the same pattern in my nephew. I think it's almost a slam dunk that if sugar is a problem, gluten is too, and giving up one without the other is like saying you're going to get sober, you're just going to drink beer. (I've actually heard that one more than once!)

I complete agree with Kresser, btw.

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Both gluten and sugar are damaging dragons. I believe gluten is easier to give up, as you can still have breads, pasta, and GF "treats". Of course that's not optimal, but since we're talking about a young person, perhaps encouraging a GF diet would be easier at first, but would still create a positive impact on anxiety and overall health. Sometimes the only way to progress is in steps and things like the Whole30 are too big to tackle. The potential for great imrpovement on a gluten free diet may be the impetus needed to subsequently back off sugar.

Once we start to feel better, our emotions want it even more and our brains can supply the strength to ramp it up. Each step helps.

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@NatPatJen. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. I appreciate the point you're making.

A this point any movement toward a cleaner diet would have tangible results for his anxiety, I'm sure, at least in terms of frequency. When he eats a pound of cookie dough at 9 p.m. and then wakes up at 3 a.m. with an anxiety attack...uh..yeah...that comes under the heading of "if it hurts don't do that."

The longer term solution requires a more solid commitment to changing his relationship to sugar and gluten, et al, and if W30 wasn't so effective at producing those results, I'd recommend a more incremental approach. But as they say in the book, "it's just not THAT hard". It's a few weeks of feeling like crap (probably not a lot worse than he already feels) but it gets better. And with all the support he has at his disposal, I think the resistance is part anticipation of an increase in anxiety, and part because none of this has become painful enough (hit bottom)...yet. And I'm framing this in "addiction" terms because I'm sure that's largely what's driving him. It's a Catch 22, no doubt. And it's hard to watch, not just for me, but especially his dad, his siblings, and friends.

I feel a little like I'm bending some boundaries by talking about this so much in public but for me, this forum, and the comments I've received on this thread, have been tremendously supportive. It's great to be able to share the insights of folks who have a more intimate experience with anxiety, eating disorder, addiction, than I do. Well maybe anxiety. The other two, I know from.

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I didn't read through this whole thread, so it may have been suggested already, but get him tested for Celiacs if he hasn't dumped the wheat already.

I have decades of depression under my belt, and plenty of years of anxiety. Medication was the worse thing I ever tried. I tried eating "healthy" by conventional wisdom standards and exercising, like they tell you to do and it didn't do enough. The ONLY thing that has ever helped is sticking to a very clean diet, taking a vitamin D3 supplement (despite the fact that I get outside all the time), and taking a quality fish oil supplement for a time. It has taken a lot of experimenting with diet to fully see exactly what foods I react to. I've spent more than a year experimenting by eliminating then reintroducing. But, now I know exactly what food does what in me and that is incredibly valuable. I know for a fact that wheat is my number one contributer to both depression and anxiety. And, if I have a little wheat it can take weeks of clean eating for that side effect to fully lift. I am a night and day different person when I eat clean versus when I let wheat and sugar back in my diet. And those are words from my husband.

I suggest the Celiacs test because depression and anxiety could very well be linked to wheat intolerance and it is good to find out if he has this issue.

If I remember right, I believe the book Primal Mind, Primal Body talks about the wheat-mental health connection in it. that might be worth a read, too.

Sorry if I'm repeating anything already posted here!

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  • 4 weeks later...

Just wanted to update any of you who have generously shared your thoughts and concern about my nephew that there is good news to report. He's just finished his seventh week of eating Paleo and is having some dramatic results; he's sleeping better, has his anxiety under control (no significant attacks since eating Paleo), has lost some weight (he's a big boy, former wrestler and football player who was pushing 320 a few months ago). He says he can now actually "use" his bathroom scale because he doesn't max it out.

We didn't ended up having him live here or do much hands on beyond preparing a pretty expansive PDF with recipes and shopping tips for him (which may end up becoming a min-Paleo cookbook for picky eaters).

Anyway, it may be a while before he attempts a W30 but at least he's off sugar and wheat and has severely limited his caffeine and dairy. And, the boy is learning to cook vegetables, which for a single guy who has eaten a "beige" diet his whole life, is huge! An adjective he may no longer use to describe himself if he keeps it up. But most important, the anxiety attacks/panic attacks are being managed with diet alone, finally, which is opening up a window for success.

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