Low-Carb Moody Blues?

      27 Comments on Low-Carb Moody Blues?


“Hello, Livin’ La Vida Lo-”

“Jimmy, it’s Tom Naughton.”

“Oh.  Hi.”


“I already said that.  Hi.  Anything else?”

“Geez … no offense, Jimmy, but that’s not much of a greeting.  I kind of thought you’d be happy to hear from me.  We haven’t spoken since–”

“Oh, zip it.”

“What?  Did you just tell me to zip it?”

“No.  Well, sort of.  Sorry, Tom.  I’ve been in such a bad mood lately.”

“Really?  How long?”

“I’d say about four years.  Pretty much starting around the time I lost all that weight.”

“Wow.  Me too … ever since I went on that low-carb diet Dr. Eades talked me into trying.  I lost weight, my cholesterol dropped, my HDL went up, my blood sugar normalized, and my arthritis went away.”

“It’s depressing, isn’t it?”

“Sure is.  That’s actually why I was calling.  I just read an article on the MSN web site that says low-carb diets are bad for your mood.  The headline even said bread equals happy.”

“Yeah, I was just reading that one myself, and– wait a second.  How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“How did you insert a link into spoken dialog like that?”

“I don’t think I did.”

“Yes, you did.  You just said ‘an article on the MSN web site,’ and it had a link in it.”

“You just did the same thing, smart guy.  Read the previous line.  It’s right there.”

“No, I was quoting you … that was you who just–”

“This sounds like case of people who live in glass houses, if you ask me.”

“Oh, shut up, Tom!”

“You shut up, Jimmy!”

“No, you— oh, sorry.  There I go again. Sorry. I’ve just been in such a bad mood.”

“No, I’m sorry.  Bad mood.  By the way, you probably saw they mentioned Livin’ La Vida in the article.  I bet that made you happy.”

“Nope.  Nothing makes me happy.  Not since I lost all that weight.”

“I understand.  Anyway, since you read the article, I thought maybe we could discuss it.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m in a bad mood.”

“Yeah, me too.  But I’ve got to say, I’m pretty surprised in your case, Jimmy.  You always sound so cheerful in those podcasts of yours.”

“Pure fakery.  Soon as I’m done recording one of them, I crawl in bed and listen to Tammy Wynette songs.  Sometimes I even sit around and watch reruns of Dr. Phil.”

“Wow.  That is bad.”

“Well, who are you to talk?  You made a comedy film, for pete’s sake!  I thought you were a happy guy.”

“I ought to be.  I live in a beautiful little town, and I have a lovely wife and two adorable girls.  But here I am, always in a bad mood.  Probably not enough serotonin.  The authors of the study say a high-carb diet produces serotonin.”

“So does cocaine!  So does beer!  That doesn’t mean they’re good for you.”

“Well, maybe we should both get off this low-carb kick.  We might be happier.”

“Are you kidding me?  You really want to risk gaining weight and developing diabetes, or heart disease, or arthritis, or cancer, or some autoimmune disease?”

“Sure, I’d probably be sick.  But I’d be in a good mood about it.  Plus I could finally get over the social eating impairment.”

“Social eating impairment?”

“The authors of the study think maybe we’re depressed because we can’t eat bread and pasta in social situations.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“That’s because you have cognitive impairment from not getting enough glucose to your brain.”

“That’s not true!  The body makes all the glucose it needs from dietary protein.  It’s called gluconeogenesis!”

“I’m familiar with the term, Mister Big Words!”

“Shut up, Tom!”

“You shut up, Jimmy!”

“No, you …. Arrrgggh!  Sorry.  I’ve been in such a–”

“I know,  I know.  Me too.  But you know, the social impairment thing makes sense.  After my theater group was done performing last Saturday night, we had a cast party at the director’s house, and she served lasagna.  I didn’t eat any.”

“And I bet she felt insulted.”

“Yup.  She pointed me out to the entire cast and said I’d never work in this town again.”

“That’s awful.”

“I’m kidding.  She didn’t even notice.  It was a buffet.”

“That’s not funny, Tom.”

“Just trying to make a joke, Jimmy.  Lighten things up a little.”

“It was a stupid joke.”

“Don’t tell me what is or isn’t a stupid joke!  I’m a comedian, dangit!”

“Well, excuuuuuuse me, Mister Funny Man!”

“Shut up, Jimmy!”

“You shut up, Tom!”

“No, you … ahhhh, there we go again.  Sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry.  It was an okay joke.  I just don’t feel like laughing.  I’m in a bad mood.”

“Me too.  Anyway, I gotta ask:  when you go out to eat, do you feel socially impaired?”

“All the time.  You know how it is.  You take your wife to a nice restaurant, the waitress is all perky and nice while you order your steak, then when you say, ‘No, thanks, I don’t want the potato or the rice pilaf,’ she goes all icy on you.  Next thing you know, other people on the restaurant staff are pointing at you and whispering.”

“And you’re sure it’s not the way you’re dressed?”

“No, I– what kind of a crack is that?!”

“Sorry, Jimmy.  When I get depressed I start projecting my negative feelings about myself onto other people.  I’m the one who’s been wearing the same golf shirt for three days.  Trust me.”

“You know, this conversation isn’t going very well.  You think maybe we should talk later?”

“Good idea.  Let me go whip up a big plate of pasta and I’ll call you back in half an hour.”

“Make it an hour.  I should probably bake a couple of potatoes.”

“Right.  Plus that’ll give you time to drink a couple dozen Cokes.”

“I don’t do that anymore!”

“Well, maybe you should!  You might be nicer on the phone!”

“Shut up, Tom!”

“You shut up, Jimmy!”


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27 thoughts on “Low-Carb Moody Blues?

  1. EdM

    What utter claptrap! I will admit that when I slip and eat too many carbs, that day or two of switching back to ketosys is annoying, headaches etc…

    But over all the last six months being on a high fat, very low carb diet have been the best of my life…

    I would like to know if the regimen was diet only, or if there was a exercise component… If you are following Atkins you are supposed to be more active…

    I’ve also noticed that in other “studies” where they compare low-fat to low-carb, the low-carb group gets many more grams of carbs than would be allowed under Atkins…

    It is all crap… the news simply regurgitates the abstract of whatever study confirms what they already believe…

    I have to admit, a sugar high feels pretty good, but man, I’m not so cheery when it’s over. I think they probably served donuts to the high-carb group before giving them the mood test.

  2. Lori in Portland

    Who wouldn’t be grumpy all the time – I’m hardly ever hungry. My low carb diet means I rarely get hungry, or get carb cravings, or ride the sugar-high/low roller coaster.
    No wonder we’re all so curmudgeonly! >:-(

    Exactly right. But if you really want to see grumpy, just watch one of my kids when they crash after the occasional sugar buzz.

  3. TonyNZ

    I get in a bad mood on low carb seeing this sort of article every few days.

    It actually was a low-carb diet though. The article I read said 6% of calories from carb.

    It also said that one of the main factors of mood for the low-carb group was frustration about not being able to stick to their diet in public places.

    I get woeful for the world sometimes. I believe in the Woods lecture you posted he said something to the effect of “once you learn this, you can’t unlearn it”. So as far as bad moods, yeah, I get em. But I’m happy about my bad moods, if that makes sense. I’d rather be in the know and depressed about it than ignorant and blissful.

    Yup, social eating impairment. It’s just never bothered me. I’ve been to social gatherings lately at both a pizza place and a Mexican place. I still managed to order non-starchy meals, and the only comment I received was, “Man, I wish I had your discipline” — that was when my chicken salad arrived at the pizza place.

    But I also give myself permission to break the diet if need be; if I sit down to dinner as a guest and the host is serving something I wouldn’t normally eat, I just go ahead and eat it. It ain’t gonna kill me.

  4. Dr.A

    It’s definitely the other way round, low carb is best for mental health – I found out about a guy called Jurriaan Plesman, a psychologist with post-graduate qualifications in clinical nutrition, who has written some interesting articles..
    Also Richard Mackarness (of Stone Age Diet fame) also became a pyschologist and found that diet (esp cereals) can cause mental problems.
    Kathleen DesMaisons also wrote a book on the subject.

    Good articles. Considering that ketogenic diets have been used to reduce symptoms of epilepsy and ADHD, I doubt they’re really bad for your mood.

  5. Matt

    Interestingly enough, I recall reading a study on high diets low in carbs can help those who are prone to depression due to an overproduction/poor transport of seratonin.

    All I know is, low-fat diets made me feel lethargic and depressed. Not sure why these people would be responding so differently.

  6. Paul451

    I’ve carried around extra pounds for years that intense excercise was never able to get rid of so, with my doc bugging me to lose, I thought I’d give low-carb a try. I lost 8 pounds in 6 weeks and at least an inch is gone from my waist! At 5′-8″, 195 lbs, I’m finally below the spooky ‘obese’ category on the BMI. I’m totally stoked now to lose more weight. Every day starts with an egg with bacon or no-sugar ham. I do have a question: it seems to be nearly impossible to find grass-fed beef. What can I do?

    You can probably find it at Whole Foods, but it ain’t cheap there. We found a nearby farm that sells a subscription package.

  7. Ms. X

    I read through the study (http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/86/3/580?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&author1=Brinkworth&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype=HWCIT) and what I took away from it was the the only real cognitive difference between the two diets was the High Carb dieters had a greater increase in visual information processing speed.

    How that translates to better mood I do not know. But perhaps I missed something in the read through – I’m not a journalist after all 😉

    I could make a guess at the mechanism though. The authors wrote that the 2 diets were “energy matched”. Now my understanding is that in order to achieve weight loss on a high carb low fat diet, you need a good amount of caloric restriction. So if you have a diet that is low enough in calories to get weight loss from eating carbs and low-fat, and then make low-carbers hold to that same caloric intake, aren’t they going to be hungry all the time?

    I dunno, but I know I have a hard time focusing when I’m really hungry. Oh sure, the Low Carbers still had more weight loss, but I guess the price is all that saturated fat slows down the neuron firing.

    Or maybe they were just hungry (might explain the higher low carb drop out rate too).

  8. Ms. X

    I guess I should note that the study I linked Low- and high-carbohydrate weight-loss diets have similar effects on mood but not cognitive performance might not actually be the study reported, even though they have the same authors. It’s hard to tell from the article.

    I believe that was an earlier study, or an earlier look at the same study group. In the current study, the authors noted that mood improvements were similar early on, but said the low-carb dieters slipped at the one-year mark.

  9. Ms. X

    I think you’re right. This would be the 1 year follow-on report out. Hopefully someone will have a link to that soon, because that would be interesting data. Could they really get people to maintain a calorie restricted low carb diet for a year? And how did the visual processing fare long term? Since it wasn’t mentioned, I would guess it stayed the same or improved more in low-carbers over the course of the year.

    Here it is:


  10. Phyllis Mueller

    If I’m remembering what I saw (an ABC news blurb on this study) the subjects on both diets were limited to 1500 calories/day. That’s not much food, especially for most adult men or anyone who’s active. A very strong point in favor of low-carb eating is that as long as you restrict carbs, you can eat until you’re no longer hungry and you will lose (or at least not gain) weight. But being hungry would make me depressed. And being hungry for a year–wow!

    Re: the high dropout rate–perhaps the low carbers realized they didn’t need the study restrictions regarding caloric intake to become lean. So they quit. Or maybe they lost all the weight they wanted to lose.

    Like you, we are disciplined most of the time but don’t worry about the occasional lapses at social functions. A little dessert once in a while won’t kill you (though celiacs certainly can make a case for not eating cake and cookies).

    On another subject, have you been able to sell “Fat Head” to libraries? I was browsing the videos at my local library last weekend and thought there could be opportunity there.

    Tom Monahan, our composer, went to donate a copy to his local library and discovered that they’ve already got it. Apparently our distributor cracked at least one library market.

  11. Neil Fraser-Smith

    Grant Brinkworth, the author of this rubbish, is a researcher for the CSIRO here in Australia. The CSIRO are the main government agency responsible for disseminating the propaganda about the wonders of carbohydrate. Similar to the USDA. This is their latest contribution to good health http://www.goodnesssuperfoods.com.au/ Barley, the new wonder food. Considering Australia is the 5th largest producer of wheat in the world I can’t see any ‘carbohydrate is bad’ stories popping up in the media here any time soon.

    Well, it’s annoying, but I also look at it as a sign that they’re getting desperate. They can’t claim low-fat diets are better for losing weight, for improving lipids, for controlling diabetes, etc., so now they’re telling us we’ll be happier.

  12. Amy Dungan

    I was interviewed by ABC about this study. She asked what I thought about it and I told her it was hogwash. She didn’t print that, but she did tell how I do best on low-carb and how low-fat actually depressed me. Funny how I no longer need antidepressants because I’m living the low-carb lifestyle. I also find it funny that a large part of the lc participants were already on antidepressants before starting the study. If they’d done the diet correctly most of them could probably have given the meds up completely.

    OH.. and now I’m gonna have to call Jimmy just to hear him yell shut-up! I don’t think I’ve EVER heard him angry before. LOL

    I read your interview when it came out. Here it is for those who didn’t see it. Glad they at least sought some opposing opinions.

    Jimmy is, of course, widely known for his pessimistic outlook and general moodiness.

  13. Kennedy

    When I get in a bad mood, I take it out on a Fatty. Ha ha.

    And can you imagine how this played out:

    Poster: Volunteers needed for study on the effects of diet on mood.

    If you go into this Low-Carb, which would have been rare, you’ll stay happy. Go in high-carb and after taking your crack-a-jacks and cookies from you, they ask how you feel? …Fantastic!! Now hand me that bagel.

    Plus, nobody makes a diet decision based on one article on a website.

    True enough. But it got plenty of play around the media.

  14. chelsey

    Just wanted to let you know, fat head has put my eating disorder into perspective. It’s complicated and here isn’t the place to go through it, but I wanted you to know you’ve helped me out a fair bit, and this thing has been getting at me for 5 years! I’m not so scared of eating fats now.

    I’m very happy to hear that, and wish you the best in overcoming it.

  15. mezzo

    Maybe we should tell them that we don’t get the Moody Blues because we eat the Bloody Moos.

    Excellent idea.

  16. kash22

    The extent of irresponsible reporting makes me really angry. High carb diets are SO dangerous for people with depressive illnesses. One of the first things doctors recommend is EATING LESS SUGAR. I swear, people could sue MSN for this level of irresponsibility. Arg.

    That’s what makes this nonsense so annoying. Sugar and starch aggravate any number of mental problems.

  17. HaleyNZ

    Low carb got rid of my depression, and got me off the anti depressants after years of suffering. I’ve tried going back to low fat once since I’ve been a low carber and all the depression feelings came back. I went right back to low carb and haven’t looked back!

    Low-fat diets weren’t good for my mood either. I don’t know how or if they manipulated their research, but I’m suspicious.

  18. Mark

    Let’s not forget to mention sleeping disorders. I was previously following low-fat, higher carb diets while exercising 4-5 times per week without a good night’s sleep. I visited my doctor who explained I was doing everything right from the dieting to the exercise. The solution – sleeping pills!

    Ever since switching to a high-fat, low-carb diet (bacon and sausages every morning!!) and exercising only 3 days a week I sleep like a baby…without the sleep-aids.

    Good point. I got a lot of those restless-leg nights while living on pasta and bread.

  19. Dr.LaTino

    How can eating a dry sugary cereal during breakfast instead of nice warm egg covered in butter make me sad?

    I guess I must be psychologically disturbed, too.

  20. ethyl d

    Didn’t Dr. Eades mention in Fat Head that depression started becoming common around the same time that recommendations to eat a low-fat diet began to be promulgated?

    Yup, and I think it makes sense.

  21. Todd

    I live in Japan, and they’ve gone quite American in their eating habits. The traditional diet was very low fat, but reasonably high in vegetables and soy products and fish. Now, it is full-on carbs with a lot more rice being consumed, less fish, lean cuts of meat, and pasta, bread, and corn-based snack foods replacing veggies, fish, and soy. Result – a lot more people with so-called metablolic syndrome. There was not much fat in the diet to begin with, and what protein was there is slowing being replaced with more carbs in various forms. And it looks to only get worse, as fruit and vegetables are being priced to where only the upper middle class and wealthy buy them. Everyone else gets snack foods and bread for the low price. Kids get some bread and milk in the morning, school lunches are usually mainly rice, with a tiny amount of meat and vegetable thrown in for color and flavor. Working in the public school system, I see plenty of lunches that are probably 90% carbs. And, behavior problems have been increasing as the traditional lunch disappears (a bit of grilled fish, miso (fermented soy paste) soup, seasonal veg, and tea). Now, kids usually eat a heaping bowl of cheap rice, and potato curry with a few scraps of chicken – often literally one little bit of chicken per bowl. I may be an optimist saying 90% carbs – it may well be 95%. You can have seconds and thirds of that lunch, yet feel hungry a few scant hours later. Then mom gives them some bread or a rice ball when they get home. No wonder the kids are going nuts.

    Sorry to hear that. We import their electronics and cars, they’re importing our diet. They’re getting the bad end of the deal.

  22. Mark Levin

    A quick perusal of the article shows that they randomly assigned people to the diets, used dietitians (!?) to educate them in their respective diets. (Have you seen any dietitians who approve of low carb diets, besides Johnny Bowden?) Most importantly, they did not incorporate any physiological measures to assure compliance with the low carb diet such as testing for ketones in the urine. The results would seem to indicate poor compliance with the diet. The low carb people lost about the same amount of weight as the low fat wing, a negligible 4 pounds over a year. (I go up and down that much in a week!) The most significant item was that the low fatters had lower plasma glucose than the low carb wing. Let me see if I got this straight, one group eats more than 10 times as many carbs (46% or 690 g. of carbs per day vs. 4% or 16g per day) and has the same weight loss, but ends up with lower glucose levels with similar weight loss. A better measure of blood glucose would have HB1AC or the glycosylated hemoglobin to give results over a longer period. The HbA1c level is proportional to average blood glucose concentration over the previous four weeks to three months (Wikipedia).

    I can’t really deal with the jargon based psych tests except to note that 2x as many low carbers were on antidepressants at the start of the study (24% vs. 12%) which the researchers said had no effect on the results when they were excluded. This in itself is kind of strange; reducing the size of the low carb group for statistical analysis from 32 to 24 had no effect on probabilities. It should also be noted that a true randomization would try to match percentages of volunteers who were on psychotropic drugs.

    One final note is that the macronutrient percentages, 4% of total energy as carbohydrate, 35% as protein, and 61% as fat for low carb vs. 46% of total energy as carbohydrate, 24% as protein, and 30% as total fat for low fat. The low fat diet is actually a high protein diet (100 g/day). The carb intake is fairly similar to a conventional diet. The low carb diet is on the lower end of low carb diets which typically allow up to 60 g of carbs per day and extremely high in protein (140 g/day). All in all, another poorly done study used to scare people away from reducing their carb intake.

    Good analysis. I read the study, and it just seemed a little fishy, like they designed it to ge the results they wanted.

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