Carbohydrates & depression 2

I do pretty well avoiding the black hole nowadays. Over the years (I’m now 47) I’ve worked through a lot of the emotional components that stem from my own family background & life history, & although I stay informed, I’ve learned not to follow the news too closely because if I’m not careful it can send me into a tailspin pretty fast. I also tend to take a lot on & to expect myself to be productive in one way or another all the time, so I’ve learned to pull back & not expect so much of myself.

But there have always been physical components to my experience of depression & despair, such as getting enough rest (sleep, as well as vege-out time) & also how I eat. My partner noticed pretty quickly after I started eating low GI & making other dietary changes, which included eating fewer carbohydrates than I used to — now at what I call a moderate carbohydrate level (100-125 grams per day) — that my mood seems more stable. I don’t tend to get as irritable or ill-tempered, or to get depressed.

But — on the few occasions where I have started going into a slide towards the pit, even though there have been issues that were bugging me at the time such as finances (perenially broke since February; thankfully, that will be changing with our move to a new & less expensive apartment this week), every occasion has been marked by having for one reason or another eaten slightly lower amount of carbs.

This isn’t a case of “I’m feeling bad, I need a candy bar or a piece of cake to console myself & raise my serotonin levels” (& also cause a spike in blood sugar, to be followed possibly by a hypoglycemic episode, etc. etc.). Probably serotonin levels have something to do with it: but what I need when I feel that way isn’t a candy bar, but maybe an apple, or half a cup of steel cut oats, each taken with some protein… & mostly simply because I had missed getting enough carb in some meal during the day. Doesn’t happen often anymore, because once I became aware of the problem, I became a lot more careful about meal planning, to stay within the range of carbs per day that works well with me. Eating a sufficient amount of carbs as part of a healthy, balanced diet has become as essential a part of supporting myself against depression & despair as getting enough rest, getting enough relaxation & fun time, & not becoming obsessed with the bad news in the world.

Over the time since I began to change my eating habits (late December), I’ve come to recognize that low carb works well for a significant number of people. It doesn’t work for me, any more than the high carb of SAD (the Standard American Diet) did. SAD sent me on up & down swings (no doubt matching my blood sugar spikes & dips); low carb eating takes me down to places in my mind that are debilitating & sometimes downright dangerous for me.

For me, if I go too low in my daily carb consumption, there’s a kind of sensation I feel throughout my body that’s hard to describe… kind of a zapped-out, leached-out feeling. Whereas if I have too many carbs (even if they’re low glycemic), there’ll be a kind of zinging, frantic feeling. Either of those can presage a trip to the edges of the pit for me, often starting with irritability or an explosion of temper — which can be soon followed by implosion & full-scale entry into the pit, unless I take immediate countermeasures like being by myself in quiet, & getting lots of sleep.

Oh yeah, & getting just a little bit more oatmeal, or an apple, or some other low glycemic carb.

I think when I eat too many carbs, as I routinely did before last December, that cautions about blood glucose swings & short-term stimulants that backfire long-term are well-founded & accurate. But these causations do not fit the circumstance of going into a black hole for the lack of one orange or two Wasa wholegrain crackers in a given meal — even though I ate my eggs, my fish, my carrots & onions & kale & celery, my extra virgin olive oil, my chicken, my walnuts. The fact is, the way I eat now, & have been eating for months, keeps my blood glucose level: there are no wild swings, no rebound effects.

My best guess is that my trips to the edges of the pit have to do with the minimum amount of carbohydrate that my body demands in order to manufacture enough serotonin. Perhaps it has something to do also with how much I exercise, & I’d need less if I exercised less. Or maybe it’s just an individual thing, having to do with blood type, body type, genetics, individual history… who knows.

Regardless, anyone who counsels me — as the low-carber of my acquaintance did — to eat low-carb in order to support myself against depression is flat wrong.

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