Food & Diet

Diet and Good Food

I’m making food and diet a separate page from my Recovery Blogs as I think it’s such an important subject in Withdrawal. I can’t offer advice on what we should or shouldn’t be eating as I only know what appears to have worked well for me. Many others have written about this and recommend going vegan or using the Paleo diet and so forth. I feel these are far too big a change for me and could only have added to the stress that my body was already going through.

The digestive system, particularly the stomach, reacts hugely to the withdrawal process. It is lined with GABA receptors and anything that passes into us can be reflected quite dramatically in our symptoms. We have to remember this is a physiological process so our CNS needs to receive no stimulus or inappropriate foodstuffs if it’s to recover as quickly as possible.

Many people lose a lot of weight at this time while others, like me, gain weight. Even if I ate very little, the weight seemed to go on. I decided not to worry and just accept what would be would be and not to add the stress of weighing myself daily or trying to eat less food. Food and nutrients are essential and we need to support our bodies in the best way we can.

First of all I eliminated all sugar, caffeine, alcohol, most processed foods and reduced red meat to once or twice a week. I now try to balance out each meal with some first class protein like eggs, chicken, sometimes cheese or hummus plus a carbohydrate such as rice or potatoes and at least half the meal contains vegetables or salad. I have salad every day and this mostly includes watercress, Romaine lettuce, garlic, ginger, cucumber, celery, carrots and avocado. I often replace potatoes with sweet potatoes for their many nutrients. My favourite vegetables are broccoli, spinach, asparagus, carrots, peppers, cabbage, kale, courgettes, onions and peas.

Fats also play an important part in that the brain needs these to repair itself. I avoid all vegetable fats and margarines and use butter, olive oil and coconut oil. All well documented as good, fats needed for healing.

Fruits provide many nutrients and they are essential in helping us to find balance. Bananas have always featured high on my list and I eat at least one a day often turning to a banana to help me relax in the middle of a chaotic, anxious, withdrawal-fuelled night. They seem to possess magical calming properties but I think it may be the B6, potassium, carbohydrate and vitamin C. Another fruit that I enjoy is the infamous little blueberry. Blueberries are well known for their high antioxidant properties. There has been recent research done which shows that a diet rich in blueberries benefits the heart. Apart from this, I just enjoy berries of most sorts including raspberries and strawberries. I have these for breakfast with my homemade, sugar-free yoghurt and a sprinkling of mixed seeds….yum!

I avoid most grains and only eat the occasional slice of bread and no cereals apart from a bowl of porridge now and again. I’m not sure if this helps but after researching my diet it seems that going gluten-free may be beneficial at this time. I do not go the ‘whole hog’ but I do limit my intake by using plain rice cakes to replace bread and also oatcakes when I feel the need for more substance.

I keep my diet as simple as possible so it is very plain although colourful. The different colours mean I am getting a variety of nutrients from my fruit and vegetables and they also make a simple meal look more appetizing.

I use Cornish sea salt or pink Himalayan salt as a condiment and add flavor with turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, black pepper and other spices. I believe sea salt helps the adrenal glands at this time and both cinnamon and turmeric are anti-inflammatory. Garlic and ginger support digestion and act against Candida which can be a problem for some when the digestion is coping with withdrawal.

Something I have everyday is pure, organic cider vinegar which contains the ‘mother’. I believe this supports the immune system and helps fight off any bugs that may be lurking. It has also cured me if I have had indigestion. Although acid, it will aid in keeping the body alkaline once taken. Of course, it should be diluted. I have at least a tablespoonful of cider vinegar in warm water and sometimes add honey, preferably the very expensive Manuka honey sold in some supermarkets and health food shops.

Finally, a word about ‘dairy’. I do have a little semi-skimmed milk and cheese. I try to limit this but have not really had a problem with them. I do love cheese and prefer to continue enjoying just a little of many different varieties. I also eat a lot of yoghurt for its probiotic contents. It is always bioactive, plain and sugar-free Greek yoghurt and I usually make my own as it is such a simple process and I can be sure it is free from additives.

Not forgetting water, water, water! I drink a lot of water or water-based drinks such as chamomile tea or any other herbal tea that takes my fancy. I also drink rooibos tea with a dash of milk. This is a naturally decaffeinated tea which I have grown to love. A big admission is that I’ve started adding a cup of good Italian coffee to my breakfast. This is quite strong and caffeinated but it definitely has a positive effect. I would not have dreamed of taking this in acute withdrawal but it now seems to wake me up and get me going! It has not caused an increase in anxiety but I would not recommend it until after several months free of benzos. I love my coffee but would stop it if there was a negative reaction in the future.


I have three main meals a day...breakfast, lunch and an evening meal (not too late, usually around 6 pm). I'm aware that eating a small amount every two hours is recommended when in the acute stage and possibly beyond as well. During a wave the blood sugar needs to be maintained at a steady level if possible. I satisfy my own hunger pangs with more natural foods such as nuts and seeds. I like most nuts and always have a ready supply of almonds and walnuts for their nutrients. I also have a pot of mixed seeds to help myself from as well as adding them to my breakfast yogurt.

Other snacks included apples, bananas and any available fruit. I often eat a banana before bed. I have tried eating cherries in the evening for their melatonin but didn't notice any difference in sleep quality. Some people do drink tart cherry juice before bed for this reason.

Although I've severely restricted my sugar intake, apart from the fructose found in fruit, I do occasionally allow myself a square of very dark chocolate as it is supposed to boost the happy endorphins and helps satisfy my craving for chocolate.

The Ashton Manual on Food and Diet

Humans are singularly well adapted through evolution to obtain the nutrients they need from a wide variety of diets and to eliminate unwanted products. A normal healthy diet which includes generous amounts of fruit and vegetables and a source of protein and fats (from meat or vegetables), and not too much pure sugar or "junk foods", provides all the nutrients a person needs. There is no general need for dietary supplements or extra vitamins or minerals or for "detoxifying" measures. All these can be harmful in excess. Advice to cut out white flour, white sugar etc. may help certain individuals but I have also observed that overly restrictive diets can have adverse effects. Some people say they have felt much better after going on a particular diet - this makes one wonder what sort of diet they were eating before!

Individuals may find they are intolerant of certain foods although this is not usually a true allergy. In this case, let common sense prevail and avoid such foods for a while. If in doubt, get the advice of a reliable and unbiased nutritionist, but in general stick to a normal healthy diet without food fads. Before diets became "fashionable" thousands of people successfully came off their benzodiazepines in many different countries with widely varying dietary habits without restriction - and this continues today.

A normal diet includes a normal amount of fluid consumption. Requirements for water and salt vary with body size, environmental temperature, amount of exercise, etc. so cannot be stated categorically. However, there is no need to drink extra amounts of fluid during withdrawal with the idea of "flushing out impurities/toxins". The body is very good at doing this, even at minimal fluid consumption, and surplus water is simply excreted.


I am finding more and more evidence for the controversial topic of should we use more or less salt in our diet? You can easily research this yourself with the help of Dr. Google but this may be helpful....

The adrenal glands need salt; stress causes a need for more sodium in the blood to counteract its effects; a low salt diet can either cause better sleep or worsening sleep but this is individual and something that needs assessing for yourself.

In benzo withdrawal most people have a much healthier diet, I certainly did and still do. Processed foods are limited or completely abandoned and along with this goes all the added salt they contain. A diet full of fresh fruit and veg and good quality proteins and possible low in carbohydrates is going to be naturally lower in salt. While this is good for you a certain amount of salt is needed to balance fluids, maintain healthy blood pressure and is also essential to help muscle and nerve function.

It appears that when salt intake becomes too low then problems can occur for those sensitive while recovering from Benzos. The most obvious result will be seen at night with increased periods of waking, bathroom trips, tachycardia due to high cortisol, muscle pains and general restlessness. This may possibly be counteracted by taking a small dose of salt, no more than 1/4 of teaspoon (or less, experiment) a half hour before bed in a small glass of water or fruit juice. It may help it may not but more and more I am coming to see that salt plays an important part in helping our sleep and maybe other symptoms as well. Try researching for yourselves and see if this may help you a little just as it helps me.

More detailed information for further explanation:
How Salt Can Help You Get Better Sleep

Bottom line: salt, potassium, adrenaline, and cortisol are intimately connected; and there is a clear relationship between inadequate dietary sodium and the purported signs of ‘adrenal fatigue'.


'Magnesium has been shown to modulate GABA activity in the brain. Magnesium ions can occupy GABA receptors acting as GABA receptor agonists to help facilitate GABA neurotransmission. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a role in motor control, vision, and anxiety.

GABA and magnesium bind to benzodiazepine receptors resulting in an anxiolytic effect. These are the same receptors that are targeted with anxiolytic prescription medications like Lorazepam (Ativan) or Diazepam (Valium).'

The topic of magnesium, to take or not to take, in the Benzo communities has been pretty much done to death over the last few years! The choice is yours and nobody else’s. Just be aware of its affects on GABA and its potential to possibly slow healing when in recovery from benzos. There are members on my group that had to taper off magnesium supplements very carefully as they caused withdrawal problems the same as a benzo. For this reason be very careful what you are advised with regards supplementing magnesium (even using magnesium oil) and appreciate that a reaction is a possibiliy.

It is promoted in some arenas as a wonder supplement and must therefore be needed through the addition of a synthetic derivative to our daily diet! Books get written about the depletion of magnesium in our soil so it’s also an emotive subject just like Benzos. However a nutritious diet with plenty of nuts, seeds and green leafy veggies will still go a long way towards providing our daily recommended intake and help us recover from benzos without the dosing of a synthetic, isolated supplement. This is what the Mayo Clinic has to say....

‘Many people don't get enough magnesium in their diets. Before you reach for a supplement, though, you should know that just a few servings of magnesium-rich foods a day can meet your need for this important nutrient. Nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, leafy vegetables, milk, yogurt and fortified foods are good sources. Just 1 ounce of almonds or cashews contains 20% of the daily magnesium an adult needs. Even water (tap, mineral or bottled) can provide magnesium. Some laxatives and antacids also contain magnesium.

Why is magnesium important? Magnesium plays many crucial roles in the body, such as supporting muscle and nerve function and energy production. Low magnesium levels don't cause symptoms in the short term. However, chronically low levels can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

Too much magnesium from foods isn't a concern for healthy adults. However, the same can't be said for supplements. High doses of magnesium from supplements or medications can cause nausea, abdominal cramping and diarrhea. In addition, the magnesium in supplements can interact with some types of antibiotics and other medicines. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you're considering magnesium supplements, especially if you routinely use magnesium-containing antacids or laxatives.’

As always follow your own intuition and do what you believe is right for your own body and brain with full awareness and never take something because of advertising or fear promoting by the media or anyone else. Remember, as always that you’re unique, as is your recovery which is happening all the time as you free yourself from benzos.

Other Supplements

Supplements can help or hinder progress in withdrawal. They are very much a personal thing and I feel may offer nothing other than a placebo effect if they don't have any major reaction. I can tolerate no supplements although I've tried with just tiny amounts of something that's been recommended to help. The CNS is in a major crisis possibly from years of benzodiazepines and in order to recover doesn't need any further drug or supplement input to throw it out of balance.

I don't recommend taking or trying any supplements until well clear of Benzos and mostly recovered. Now after eight years of my own recovery I have seen many people suffering setbacks from trying something and even halting their own recovery. It's one of the most difficult lessons to learn but once I stopped looking and just accepted what was happening and followed a good diet my recovery unfolded.

The supplements generally discussed to be of possible help to those without sensitivities are magnesium, vitamins C and D, niacin, zinc, B12 and others. Always introduce anything you choose to try very, very slowly and up dose over a period of days to prevent any bad reaction. BUT be wary, very wary and don't blindly follow those that recommend supplements but have no knowledge of benzo sensitivity.

Nutrients are best provided through a good diet.

Intermittent Fasting

This concept has recently come into vogue for a variety of health benefits. We are only concerned with those benefits that may help recovery from benzos.

The term intermittent is applied to a period when no food is consumed and only water is drunk or maybe a herbal tea. The period for fasting can be for a specific number of hours each day, two or three days when no food at all is consumed or eating just one meal a day for a couple of days a week. The schedules can be varied to suit. A successful fasting practice, while in withdrawal, is what is known as the 16/8 technique where food is only consumed over eight hours a day. The other 16 hours cover sleep making this relatively easy to manage without stress. If possible having the last meal before 6pm and breakfast the next day around 10am may be helpful and encourage healing from benzos.

Doing this allows for the body to start consuming fats rather than sugar or carbohydrates. It may also trigger a process called autophagy. This is where your body works to remove damaged cells as it doesn’t have to focus on digesting food. There is some evidence to show that autophagy can reduce your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, but more research is needed.

So how may intermittent fasting help recovery from benzos?

  • improved gut health
  • better sleep
  • reduced cardiovascular risk factors, including lower blood pressure
  • lowered inflammation
  • better weight control (but not advised if you have experienced excessive weight loss).
  • Obviously if it causes too much stress it should be discontinued but there may be benefits for those that can manage and tolerate without any problems. Alongside a healthy, varied, whole food diet healing should hopefully be encouraged.

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