Can The Ketogenic Diet Help with Anxiety?
Here's my Personal Experience...
While most people familiar with the concept of the ketogenic diet know it as a way to achieve sustainable weight loss. What's often either overlooked or forgotten is that this type of low-carb, high-fat diet was initially designed to help adolescents beset by epileptic seizures. That by itself should be ample evidence that what you eat can have a profound effect on the workings of your brain.
The keto/brain connection has not been lost on everyone, however, because some people suffering from anxiety like myself have turned to it, not necessarily out of desperation, but more as a way to perhaps provide a non-medication based solution to our particular health issue.
A Bit of a Background Story...
The ketogenic diet as I mentioned was developed to help those afflicted with adolescent epilepsy get their condition under control. It was actually fairly effective and only fell out of favor when science came up with medications that could do the job even better. For years the diet languished on the shelf of forgotten medical treatments until someone decided to investigate its weight loss capabilities. Today it’s widely used to achieve sustainable weight loss and has even spurred copycat diets like Atkins and Paleo.
With this particular low-carb diet, you essential fool your body into thinking it's starving. As a result, it looks to burn fats for energy rather than carbs, which is the body's default fuel source. Because you're burning fat, you lose weight more efficiently and keep it off more effectively; as long as you adhere to the diet.
Using the Ketogenic Diet to Relieve Anxiety?
If you’ve suffered from anxiety for most of your adult life the way I have, you eventually work your way through all the potential remedies from meditation to a good glass of wine, or two. But while obtaining short-term relief is not so difficult (whether by way of breathing exercises or the aforementioned glasses of wine), finding ways to leave the anxiety behind over the course of a full day or even several consecutive days (or longer) has never seemed like much more than a kind of fetishistic goal that’s always just a bit out of reach. And so it was that I came to the ketogenic diet (read more) as a kind of last house on the block. My feeling was that I had tried everything else with, at best, mixed results. I had nothing to lose by trying one more approach, even if there was little reason to think it would work.
As I said, I came to the keto diet for anxiety more because I was merely running out of options rather than because I was convinced it might help. But I was in for a pretty big surprise. After several weeks of adhering fairly rigorously to the low-carb, high-fat prescription (with a couple of pasta slips, oops) I had to admit I was feeling better than I had since my grade school days.
The constant sense of impending doom was almost (though not entirely) absent most of the time, and I was aware of harboring a sense of optimism about the future in general and my future prospects in particular: a sense that had been almost completely subsumed by my constant feelings of dread. But how did this happen? And is it sustainable?
It Actually Helped With My Anxiety?
To find an answer to those questions, I rang up a nutritionist friend of mine that I hadn’t spoken to in some time. I explained what I was doing and why and told her about how the diet seemed to have succeeded in lifting the pall of anxiety from over my head when everything else had failed. How can this be? I asked her.
"Well, if I had to guess," she said, "I'd start by suggesting it has something to do with blood sugar levels." She explained how the keto diet eliminates a lot of the foods that cause spikes in blood sugar and how being freed of the roller coaster of these blood sugar spikes probably helped stabilize my mood and thereby eliminated a lot of the anxiety that was generated by them. I hadn’t ever considered that as a potential source of my anxiety but it made a lot of sense. By adopting the famous diet, I had transitioned from fueling my brain with glucose derived from carbs to ketones derived from high-fat foods. By eliminating the glucose, I was also inadvertently helping to stabilize my blood sugar levels. Something I hadn’t even considered when I started this process.
What I Learned From the Whole Experience...
But is that it? Was my anxiety entirely or even almost entirely a function of skewed blood sugar levels? Probably not. The fact is, anxiety has a host of potential causes, and while diet is certainly one of them (as I can appreciate now more than ever), it's not the only one. Other causes of anxiety include financial stress and pressure to perform on the job as well as family responsibilities, societal issues, and loneliness. At some point, I suppose I’ve felt negatively affected by all of these potential stressors and they’ve all likely played a part in my sense of anxiety over the years.
Nonetheless, anxiety is less an issue now than at any previous time during my adult life. I find myself obsessing less about what could go wrong and concentrating more on what I have to do to ensure things turn out okay. And I have to mention that indecision, which used to plague me, has also been greatly reduced since I started on the keto diet. So where do I go from here? I’m not entirely sure only because I’m not used to feeling the way I do now. But I do know this: for me, the ketogenic diet is here to stay for as long as it continues working to reduce my anxiety levels.