You began eating healthy! So why do you feel horrible?

October 26, 2018

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You’ve thrown out all your junk food and have begun adhering strictly to a diet such as Paleo, Keto, or Vegan. You’ve read about all these life-changing stories of becoming fit, happy, and healthy. It is day three of your journey. You wake-up ready to face the day but realize quickly you feel horrible; headache, haziness, general depressed mood, etc. This wasn’t what was glorified in all those inspirational articles and what you had dreamed. You suddenly begin to doubt your decision and that doubt has you thinking how nice a caramel latte would be right about now.

Why did this happen?!

 In general you can lay the blame on one or two chemicals depending on your previous diet: dopamine and caffeine.

Dopamine is part of the source of the issue. Dopamine acts on the reward center of the brain and both creates desire for something, and triggers the reward center of the brain. Any activity that creates pleasure to the user triggers dopamine both before and immediately after the event. Unfortunately, a lot of negative ingredients, such as sugar, trigger the reward center of the brain and help create an addiction to high levels of these substances. Going ‘cold turkey’ can cause the body to hit a wall and begin revolting against the lack of dopamine triggering. Dopamine is one part of the issue, but another can be caffeine.

Caffeine is a mild psychoactive drug and as such, it does come with the possibility of withdrawal symptoms. Why does caffeine cause withdrawal? Caffeine blocks the andosine receptor so your body produces more receptors to try and lower the amount of andosine within the brain. This is why caffeine becomes less effective over time with heavy use. The increased number of receptors causes the body to experience multiple side effects if you cut caffeine ‘cold turkey,’ as the body is more prone to feeling tired, lethargic, and sleepy. Thus, if you were a caffeine user before starting the combination of the lower dopamine and caffeine withdrawal becomes a nasty one-two punch for the body.

How can I fix this?

 The answer to this issue is simple and involves making a decision. Do you want to ease into the change or dive right in?

If you’re more of a “dive right in” sort of person there are still things you can do to help reduce the impacts of the withdrawal. While caffeine might be very tough to replace, dopamine isn’t. One effective method is to replace the dopamine hit from food with another dopamine hit. Watch a movie, go shopping, go hiking, etc. Treat yourself to activities (or good foods) that you love and always feel great about doing and make that a priority the first few days. It’ll help reduce the desire for dopamine your body requires as it begins to adjust to lower excitement levels. It will also help get your mind off of what you’re not doing and instead on what you are knowing.

As for caffeine, there unfortunately isn’t as much to help with here. The two best methods is to treat the headache as it is the only real symptom you can treat easily. The suggestions are pretty basic. If you can break the caffeine habit so that days two and three are when you don’t need to be at work. Rest as necessary as you will be more tired in general when breaking caffeine. Finally, reduce the headache through either topical use of peppermint oil or OTC pain medications.

Remember your long-term goal

After a week or two, depending on the person, you’ll have more steady energy and be in a better position for health. Remember the goal and focus on the long-term over any short-term minor issues. Trust the process and enjoy the journey!

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