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The Anti-Inflammatory Diet for OCD: Week 2 Update 

 August 24, 2020

By  Jaimie Eckert

Kale…avocados…turmeric…I’ve finished the first week of my anti-inflammatory diet for OCD, and I’m super excited to tell you about it! The bottom line is, I’m feeling way better than I expected.

If you didn’t catch the first post in this 4-part series, hop over and read about why I decided to try out an anti-inflammatory diet for my OCD. I found a study demonstrating a link between brain inflammation and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Then I discovered a guy who has been campaigning about how he cured his scrupulosity by changing his diet.

That’s how I decided to try it out for myself. If researchers are able to demonstrate a 32% increase of brain inflammation in people with OCD, could I actually reverse that inflammation with my diet?

Sure, it’s a question that begs clarification on which came first, like the chicken and the egg. Do we have brain inflammation because of the OCD, or do we have OCD because of the brain inflammation? Brain inflammation has also been noticed with other mental health disorders like depression, but in that case it would appear that the inflammation does precede the disorder: in a study of twins, who share identical genes, the twin with higher brain inflammation was more likely to develop depression years down the road.

But just how much impact could a simple anti-inflammatory diet have on my OCD? That’s what I’m pursuing in this 4-week experiment.

antioxidant fruits are good for reducing the inflammation associated with OCD

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet for OCD

It’s the end of the first week, and, like I described in my previous post, I’ve eaten tons of food meant to reduce inflammation. On a typical day, here’s what I ate:

Breakfast

  • Chia pudding with soy milk
  • Fruit, especially antioxidant-rich fruit like strawberries and apples
  • Almonds or flax seeds
  • Side dish of breakfast beans

Lunch

  • Kale salad with various colorful vegetables, avocado, and boiled eggs (whites only)
  • Tahini-based dressing
  • Edamame
  • More fruit

Supper

  • Seed-based tortilla with bean spread or eggs (whites only)
  • Fruit salad or smoothie

When I started the diet a week ago, my goal was 20% protein, 40% fat, and 40% carbs. For a non-meat eater, this was tough. The only “pure” protein in my diet has been egg whites, and once I started tracking my macronutrients, I found it difficult to find any plant-based food that wasn’t high in carbs. Even protein-rich beans are higher in carbs than protein!

(By the way, if you’re looking for a free app to track your diet, I use myfitnesspal.com.)

So here I am at the end of the first week, and I ended up pretty close — at least still in the ballpark. My macro averages were 42% carbs, 41% fat, and 17% protein.

But hey, 17% protein is still a hefty 73 grams, and that’s what you could get from a 9-ounce steak. Not bad.

Increasing protein and decreasing carbs has been suggested as an important step for decreasing inflammation. Refined carbohydrates and fried foods, particularly, have been accused of increasing inflammation (along with causing other issues like skin problems, constipation, diabetes, and weight gain).

inflammatory foods might contribute to OCD

So no rice, bread, or pasta for me. No sweets, no crackers, no breakfast cereal. And certainly no french fries. You might think this sounds like a low-carb diet, but it could be much worse. At 40% carbs (180 grams for my size person), it’s nowhere near the restrictions of a ketogenic or truly “low-carb” diet.

But it was a big enough switch that I expected to have toxic withdrawal symptoms. I, after all, am a Highly Sensitive Person — the kind of person who easily gets hangry if I skip a meal. I wondered if I would have extreme carb cravings, headaches, or dizzy spells. But, I was in for a pleasant surprise.

Withdrawal Symptoms from a High-Carb Diet

The first three or four days after cutting all grains and refined carbs out of my diet, I experienced a lot of physical weakness. Even lifting my arms felt like an effort.

I also felt a constant gnawing hunger, and I couldn’t achieve a feeling of fullness after eating. I missed that heavy, full feeling of satiety I was used to getting after a plate of pasta or a sub sandwich. Within 15 minutes of eating — not kidding — I would literally feel hunger pangs. I knew they couldn’t be real hunger, because I’d just eaten 800 calories. But my stomach seemed to be hungry for something else, and made sure to express it.

But was it my stomach that was hungry, or my mind?

avoiding high-carb diets might be helpful for OCD

I pushed through. My husband joined me in a lot of what I was eating, like huge kale salads and sprinkled turmeric, but he didn’t hold himself to the same restrictions. I watched him eating sandwiches, crackers, and my last Mars bar.

But I kept pushing. My curiosity propelled me. I wanted to know what I would observe about an anti-inflammatory diet. And surprisingly, I had much less negative reactions to the diet change than I expected.

By the end of the first week, I felt about as energetic as before, and I realized I barely had any food cravings.

OCD Reduction from an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

Dietary changes can have an almost immediate impact on certain body functions. Triglyceride levels, for example, can drop noticeably only a few days after a significant change of diet. Blood pressure can drop within a week. Positive effects of healthier eating habits will start to be clear at the 2-3 week mark and again after 3-6 months, but it’s still possible to notice an impact in one week.

Here are a few observations about my mind and emotions after just one week:

  • Noticeable feeling of increased calm
  • Feeling more positive, cheerful (several times my husband asked me why I’m so “hyper”)
  • Decreased “background noise”

In general, I would describe the difference as an obvious upward tick in emotional well-being. However, this seems to relate more to the balance of positive/negative emotions than to my obsessive patterns per se. I have always struggled with repetitive thought cycles, whether they are on good or bad topics. Fretting about my salvation and planning a friend’s baby shower can be equally as obsessive and hard to switch off.

nuts are full of omega-3's, which could be helpful for an anti-inflammatory diet for OCD

After one week of working hard to reduce brain inflammation, the change that I notice is that I’m clearly more cheerful, and when my brain decides to get obsessive, it’s obsessing about nice things.

Last night, for example, I was researching online for a family project, and I had a very hard time switching my mind over to a different topic. That item just kept coming back, rather obsessively. I kept thinking about how much fun the project will be, how long it might take, whether we can involve friends from further away…Definitely, I had a hard time switching off, but it did not have any negative emotions attached to it. It was probably a manifestation of my underlying OCD patterns, but it wasn’t causing me distress.

Is this diet-related? Is it a coincidence? Only time will tell whether this positive trend continues.

To Be Continued…

Next week, I hope to be able to share more good news about my anti-inflammatory diet and OCD. Do these improvements sound like they’re worth the trouble? Do you think you would experience any benefits from an anti-inflammatory diet?

Stay tuned and let me know about your own dietary experiments for OCD!

Best wishes on the journey,

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