Email of the Week: On Emotionality and Carbohydrate Intake with Ellen

YOU LADIES ARE REALLY QUITE AMAZING. I AM SO HONORED TO RECEIVE THE BEAUTIFUL, HEARTFELT EMAILS THAT YOU SEND. WHILE EACH ONE OF US IS A UNIQUE WOMAN WITH HER OWN STORY, THERE ARE MANY, MANY THOUGHTS THAT WE ALL SEEM TO HAVE IN COMMON. WITH THIS IN MIND, I AM GOING TO SHARE SOME OF YOUR EMAILS AND MY REPLY HERE ON THE WEBSITE. (NAMES AND PERSONAL DETAILS HAVE BEEN CHANGED BECAUSE YOU'RE MY PEOPLE AND I LOVE YOU.)

Ellen has gotten her period back, but is still not able to count on a having a regular cycle. She believes that increasing her carbohydrate intake will improve the situation, but is concerned for a unique reason. In her experience, when she eats more carbohydrates, she feels more emotional. Coming from a stressful childhood, she relied on being able to avoid emotions in order to survive. Now faced with introducing an element into her life that could bring emotions to the surface, she is apprehensive. 

I am including pieces of our email exchange on this topic because it really made me dig deep. I had not considered this connection before, despite clearly acknowledging that my nourished brain did feel different with regard to emotionality. Perhaps this can help some of you looking to make sense of this whole process...physically and mentally. 

The following exchange is not complete, but provides excerpts of our emails back and forth.

ELLEN:

I am also a bit nervous because I am a bit more emotional when I eat more carbs. I don't know if you have had that experience, but I seem to feel a bit more easily moved to different emotions when I get more calories from carbs.  It is a bit of a nervy thing for me because I grew up in a really stressful situation where I learned to numb out and it feels safer to not feel as much up and down (to be honest) and to feel like I am in control of my emotions (when all I need to be in control of is how I deal with them).

 

Have you heard of others with that same experience?  Did it work like that for you?

 

JILL:

I have experienced a change in my mood and emotionality since taking the time to rest and recover, but I am not sure if that is a result of eating more carbohydrates or just now having a nourished mind that isn't constantly being thrown into panic mode. For me, being undernourished created lots of blood sugar problems, anxiety, mood swings, fears, etc. Emotionality was high, but uncontrolled. Once my body had enough calories to sustain itself with no struggle, my mind and emotional state began to calm down. I found myself able to feel more deeply and be aware of my emotions, but there was more control because I did not feel the panic and anxiety. I didn't feel like I was "all over the place" anymore. 

 

Of course, I do know the science behind carbohydrate intake and serotonin release. This is a complex reaction and varies greatly from person to person, so there is no telling what might work/not work for everyone. Anecdotally, I always feel happy and satisfied after eating a starchy carbohydrate in a way that I do not when just having vegetables/fruit or a protein. When I was starving in the past, I would reach for something like almonds thinking that the fat would keep me full. Now I reach for popcorn or a sweet potato because I find that I feel better mentally and physically... for a longer time. Again, everyone is different. 

 

So I guess I would ask you if you are afraid of emotions or the lack of control thereof? Looking back, I used to say that I didn't want emotions. Now I know that I was actually uncomfortable with the idea of having uncontrollable emotions.

 

ELLEN:

I can for sure relate to the all over the place feeling. I used to have that a lot and found that I calmed down as well when I put on some pounds and my body wasn't putting me in panic mode.  I still get a bit hyped up on occasion.
 

I think some of the fear around emotions is also probably because it is kind of an "undiscovered country" for me for the most part. 

 

Also, in pondering it, I realized that part of the reason I was not eating enough carbs was to keep my weight lower.  Since I have been out of the very obvious eating disordered stuff for maybe 7 years and had thought I had gotten over most of that I was pretty surprised that I still have some really funny ideas about how I should look and what the numbers on the scale mean.  That is probably another factor in my tending to keep cutting the carbs lower when I shouldn't.  At least now I know I can't totally do that.  I think that may have been even more frightening than the idea of emotions, which is a bit humbling as I know it is not that overly crucial.

 

 I also can relate to the not responding emotionally the way I should a lot of times and also desiring to be more emotional myself.  It is not as natural for me to show empathy and to listen reflectively.  I think I may be internally processing and don't really pick up on emotional cues as much.  I wonder if there a lot of people who feel that way? I had never pondered that before.

 

JILL:

I can totally understand that the old shadows of "what we should and could look like" continue to have an effect on us long after we think they do. I think that some of us get so habituated to manipulating calories and exercise that it can invade an otherwise healthy situation without us really realizing it. I have definitely caught myself saying "I'll have another glass of wine, but I'll just skip the extra helping of X food to compensate" or some such nonsense. Those are the moments when I pour the wine and have another scoop of whatever and say "eff it"! Just like alcoholics are never NOT alcoholics, we must always remain mindful of our tendencies. We have to call ourselves out from time to time, but that's ok with me. I'd rather be aware than fall into complacency. 

Emotional cues...man this is a hard one for me too. But, you know what else is weird? I will be thinking something emotional or that I want to share something heartfelt and then become completely distracted or forget or somehow get diverted and it's GONE. Like, POOF! I think it's that I am not used to the emotions and kind of don't know what to do with them sometimes. I guess we learn to protect ourselves SO WELL...even from ourselves. Yikes. 

 

Have you struggled to balance emotions while recovering from amenorrhea? How has it affected you or the people around you? Do you feel that it is connected to food intake? 

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