Whole30 Success Story: Janet W. and Chronic Urticaria (Hives)

We’ve heard more than a few Whole30 succes stories that stop us in our tracks: Jessica O,Summer WBrian M. But today, Janet’s photos are what stopped us cold—you have to see them to really understand the horror she was going through while suffering from this condition for more than seven long years.  We are blessed to have played a role in her recovery, and so grateful that she agreed to share her story with us. Read, be inspired, and share our Good Food word with those who need it.

Janet’s Story

In 2006, I was diagnosed with chronic idiopathic urticaria and angioedema. This is medical-speak for unrelenting hives and facial swelling—like, when your eyes swell shut and your lips blow up—without a known cause. It’s classified as autoimmune, meaning that my body was basically attacking itself.

I had been on high doses of prednisone, unbelievably high doses of antihistamines, costly monthly shots of trial drugs, and other old-school medications to suppress my immune system. All of these medications provided little to no relief, and since 2006, I had gained 50 pounds of medication weight.

I had a spontaneous remission for a few years, but in May 2012 they came back with a vengeance. I had to take my rings off every night in fear that I would wake up with my hands swollen and my rings painfully stuck. I had painful joints. I couldn’t exercise or go for a walk with my family without my feet swelling like crazy. Wearing sneakers was a nightmare.


I had a doctor appointment in March, when it was recommended that I try taking Prograf—an immune-suppressing medication that keeps organ recipients from rejecting their transplant. The side effects are terrible, and the risk of getting sicker or getting an infection (because my immune system would basically shut down) was very real.

I had recently a lot of reading about “leaky gut syndrome” and “clean eating,” and was ready to make a change. During my reading I came across the Whole30. I told my doctor about the reading I had been doing and asked if I could have six weeks to decide what I wanted to do. She agreed, but made me promise to get an EpiPen because my facial swellings were getting dangerously close to full-on anaphylaxis.


I went home, did a ton of research, and went to the bookstore. I picked up It Starts With Food and got started right away.

At my next doctor appointment, I was 20 pounds lighter and so much better. I hadn’t had any facial swelling in a few weeks, and my hives were dramatically improved. I left that appointment with my doctor’s blessing, and without a new prescription.

By July 2013, I was 26 pounds lighter and had greatly reduced my medications. Now, in September 2013, I am off all medications with the exception of the occasional over-the-counter Zyrtec. No more swelling, no more joint pain, no more fear of wearing sneakers or rings….and best of all, NO MORE HIVES!


The Whole30 put me back in charge of my body and my life. I am beyond thankful for the knowledge I have been given through the book and website…you have given me my life back! Regarding the photos, I took a photo journal so that if I was having a bad day, I could remind myself that my worst day now is better than my best day was then. These pictures are before and after, 100% related to the Whole30.  I made no other changes other than following your AIP (autoimmune protocol). That’s it! Incredible!

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    • Jackie says

      In your after picture, your face is positively glowing!!
      So happy that you were able to get off of all of those meds!

  1. says

    Author : bonnie

    “I took a photo journal so that if I was having a bad day, I could remind myself that my worst day now is better than my best day was then.”

    This is a great message to people who get frustrated because each day isn’t better than the previous! But the general trend is up up up!

    Thanks so much for sharing – you are a brave rock star!!

  2. says

    Author : Stephina


    This is amazing! I shared your story on my FB wall hoping it will reach the people in my life who need to see it. You are an inspiration. What a beautiful gift you have given yourself.

    Thank you for sharing!

  3. says

    Author : Cindy

    WOW! Over the years I have suffered from strange swelling and hives that could not be explained, but nothing like what you were suffering. So HAPPY that you found an answer and have your health back. Congrats and thank you for sharing.

  4. says

    Author : Sharon

    I have been suffering from undiagnosed hives and swelling for over two years and just discovered it was Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Autoimmune disease – caused by gluten creating antibodies attacking my thyroid! Hives also caused by tomatoes, citric acid and alcohol – I am normally a very healthy eater but could not figure out what was causing this for over two years and am doing so much better following Paleo and clean eating! Spread the word – so many people are dealing with autoimmune disease and the diagnosis for celiac doesn’t include hives and swelling so it’s hard to track it back to gluten since I don’t have any of the classic stomach/digestive issues that usually help diagnose gluten problems.

  5. says

    Author : SueJ

    This sounds like my story! I have suffered for 7 years with chronic hives/inflammation, a debilitating ailment, to say the least, and they are painful and scary. My doctor and an allergist could not diagnose it, or give me much relief, except to take antihistamines every day, not an acceptable solution for me. I went to a naturopath in May and she started me on a lot of supplements, and changed my mostly vegetarian diet to a mostly Paleo one. In the next few weeks, during a lot of researching things on my own, I came across a reference to the Whole 30 way of eating, decided to give it a try, and am so grateful that I did. It has changed my life and made me so much better. I have eaten that way most of the time since finding it, and the times when I go “off” of it slightly are times when I have problems and start feeling worse. I do need to try the AIP and see if I can knock out the remaining few episodes. I have lost 43 lbs so far and cannot believe how much better I
    feel. I cannot say enough good about this way of eating!!

  6. Annie B says

    God bless you! You look wonderful, healthy, happy and like a weight has been lifted from you. I’m sure that your Whole 30 paved the way for not only your physical health, but also your emotional well being. Well done.

  7. Steph says

    It is just unacceptable that the medical community is failing us so miserably, especially for situations like this that are solved so quickly (it seems) by dietary changes!

  8. says

    Very inspiring story! I’m thrilled to hear of your success through this program. What is your diet like now? Are you continuing to keep all the rules of the Whole30 and autoimmune protocol? Or have you discovered any specific trigger to avoid? I am trying to overcome an autoimmune disorder as well, I have RA. I will remember your story when I feel discouraged as I continue to stay committed to eating for health, not just for satiety or socialization.

  9. Lina says

    As I’m typing my feet itch so bad and burn from wearing boots today. I came across your story while researching this chronic illness of idiopathic hives that’s so awful :-(
    I feel like giving up cause there doesn’t seem to be any more dr to see or any hope. Changing my diet is the last thing left and it know I have to do it! Glad to have found your post and see your results!


  10. Pamela says

    I too have had hives for close to 5 years now. They are horrible. I don’t get the facial swelling but I do get the same welts and burning hot prickly itchy skin every single day and occasional angioedema if I do very hard lifting or work . I call it the “big big pain” because it hurts so bad and lasts so long. (8 hours) Sleep is almost impossible. Antihistamines barely have any effect if I am lucky.

    I have been avoiding known triggers for a few years but I have only somewhat diminished my symptoms sometimes. I have been eating super clean for a month but it seems that no matter what I eat, I still get hives. I am riddled with hives this very moment. It’s also hard on family members who see you suffer daily and can’t help.

  11. Sheryl says

    I have suffered with hives for 16 years. I was diagnosed with Rhuematoid Arthritis at age 32, 9 years ago. I just exist and don’t feel like doing anything. The fatigue is horrible. I am thinking of trying this but worried I can’t stick to it.

  12. Karin says

    My own story is a mirror of Janet’s–literally. The Whole 30 is the only thing that worked for me as well. I have maintained a mainly Paleo diet for a year now and have had only very minor hives since. Through additional medical testing I’ve been able to identify a large range of foods that I am sensitive to which has allowed me to add foods that are on the auto-immune protocol back into my diet and just avoid those that I know I react to. I also found out I am highly allergic to aspirin and NSAIDs which was why so much of the medication originally prescribed made my situation worse. If you are worried you can’t stick to the Whole 30 you are wrong. You can do anything you set your mind to–especially if it makes such a marked difference in your health and allows you to feel SO good everyday!

  13. Courtney says

    I suffer from this!!! Reading this has given me hope of getting of year round drugs. I’m starting this now and super excited about hopefully getting past my hives for good :)

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  15. Jenny says

    What did you learn? Did you figure out the trigger foods and go through that process? Were allergen identification diets never tried? This would be a more helpful testimonial if it provided that kind of information, or does it just become never eating dairy, grains, and legumes ever again?

  16. Nikita says

    In 2007 I suffered from idiopathic urticaria. The doctors weren’t convinced what it was as I only ever got swelling on my face. The first one was in March that year and was an egg size lump near my hair line. I got them about every 2-3 weeks, varying in size from ones that only I noticed to ones that closed my eye and they lasted for approx 5 days. I took strong antihistamines daily. The last one was September that year – the size of half a tennis ball right between my eyes. I looked VERY strange. Then that was it. No lifestyle changes they just went away. Four days ago a lump appeared above my eye. It’s driving me crazy. I can’t believe its back. I pretty much eat the WHOLE 30 diet anyway with the occassional cheat. Just don’t know what to do. a bit scared.
    Did you think the antihistamines helped at all?

  17. Sarah H. says

    My heart is breaking looking at what you went through. I’ve dealt with this on a much smaller scale and it was so depressing and frustrating. I’ve been fortunate enough to discover and largely avoid my main trigger, which is Red Dye 40, used in a surprising number of foods, cosmetics, and household products. I’m so glad Whole 30 did this for you and urge anyone else suffering from these kinds of problems to try it out, as well as to pay close attention to the additives in all of the products they use, especially dyes and preservatives.

  18. Mary says

    This made me want to cry! I too suffered for years with chronic urticaria. I stopped taking prescription medication a few years ago because I didn’t like the side effects. Instead, I took Zyrtec in the mornings and a few Benadryl at night. I finally found Whole30 this past summer. I was on it for the month of August and haven’t had hives since!!

  19. Samantha Persavich says

    This story hits very close to home. I have the same thing, I was diagnosed with idiopathic angioedema in 2002. No one who hasn’t experienced it knows what it is like to wake up with your eye swelled shut, your face all messed up or your lips swollen for no apparent reason. Having to face people all day and get the “looks”. It sucks not knowing the cause becasue you can’t do anything to help yourself. It has had its ups and down, gotten worse and better with seemingly no rhyme or reason. I have been on so many drugs (currently off them all) but the latest doctor thinks it is probably hormone related and took me off birth control with has honestly helped the most. About a year ago I learned about Paleo through crossfit, it has helped too. Your story was wonderful, it has given me even more incentive to stay with it and keep with Paleo. Congrats, I am so happy to hear that you are better now!!

  20. says

    This is so encouraging to me! I suffer from this as well, not nearly to the extent that Janet suffered but hives, swollen lips/eyes/cheeks etc. I take over the counter allerclear but hate that I have to take an over the counter medicine so regularly.
    So, so thankful to Janet for having shared her story!

  21. Melissa says

    I have a very similar story of symptoms and lack of diagnosis for 2yrs. I felt like it was somehow physcosomatic and felt so trapped. I was put on a high dose of steroids and 5 different antihistamines all at the same time. Gluten and stress reduction have helped but would love to try whole 30 top see if I can fully rid myself (symptoms only mild now). Thank you for sharing your story!

  22. sonya says

    I have suffered years with angioedemia. I gave up hope I would ever “feel” like me again. As bad as the swelling became, the worst part was the mental strains… not being me. The guilt ate me, I wasn’t the wife/mother I wanted to me. My husband came across Whole 30 and we have been on it for 20 days. I felt WONDERFUL just three days after being on the program. By weeks end, I felt like I was on cloud 9… however, the last few days, my swelling returned and yesterday my mental irritability returned. Not as bad as before- but I fear the future… I got a glimpse of a real life and I’m scared of losing it. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Couple concerns: I’m not sure if I’m get enough nutrients… anyone taken juice plus? Is it something I ate? Where is a good start to eliminate foods that may be problematic?

  23. Erin says

    I loathe the term idiopathic. I’m a nurse myself and I know better. Nothing is truly idiopathic. There is always a cause. The medical community, in general, seem to want to treat symptoms, not discover causation. I’m on month 3 of urticaria and angioedema. I stayed AIP for 5 days and have had a DRAMATIC reduction in symptoms. Been off for 5 days and I’ve had daily flares again, worse than before. I can’t fool myself into eating the SAD any longer. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m going shopping and stocking up on AIP foods and starting again.

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