I’ve been struggling to write this post for the past several months and today, I finally told myself I just had to do it.
As I was sitting down and reflecting about it, I realized that I’ve been holding off because this health struggle feels immensely personal and to be completely transparent, I feel really vulnerable in sharing it.
And, this is exactly why I decided it was so critical for me to share here. My hope is that my journey and all of this research can help someone else and if that’s the case, then that’s absolutely worth being publicly vulnerable. 😉
Over the next four posts (maybe more?), I’ll be talking about adrenal fatigue and sharing more about my own health journey and my path to recovery. So, here goes…
A bit of health history…
I went through several fairly dramatic life shifts from 2013 – 2015 (you can read more about it here in one of the most vulnerable posts I’ve written to date). Looking back, I’m really grateful for all of those experiences that helped me to grow as a person, but I also know that it took a toll on my health. During that period of time, I found myself so stressed that there were many nights where I didn’t sleep well (if it all). By the time 2015 rolled around, I was supplementing with melatonin a couple of nights a week to help me sleep more soundly.
2015 was also around the time I started to gain a lot of weight. During the course of just over a year, I put on about 20 pounds. And, it was scaring the heck out of me for a few reasons:
- All of the weight was distributed in my abdomen, which was very different than my typical body shape. (I usually was more of a pear shape and would gain weight in my hips/thighs.)
- I didn’t have any significant lifestyle changes that this could be attributed to. (As in, I was still exercising every day, eating my typical healthy diet, etc)
- I have a family history of thyroid disease and was really concerned this weight gain was a sign of a bigger health crisis.
Around this same time, I was also starting to notice other symptoms like constant blood sugar crashes, feeling dizzy and lightheaded during workouts, becoming fatigued in the afternoon, and completely unable to sleep through the night. My sleep situation was particularly challenging as I didn’t have a problem falling asleep and could easily be asleep by 9 pm each night, but no matter what I did, I would always wake at 3 am and be unable to go back to sleep until about 5 am. Since I had to get up shortly after 5 am for work, I began to feel constantly exhausted, irritable and would get headaches from feeling so tired.
Finding the right doctor
From 2015 – 2017 I saw multiple doctors, explaining in detail my concerns above and even bringing a complete meal plan list so they could see what I was eating in a typical day. The most frustrating thing for me is that whichever doctor I was speaking with would be really concerned about all of the symptoms until my bloodwork came back clear and there was no sign of a thyroid issue or anything else abnormal. Then, the conversation would always shift and I would be told to look closer at my diet or try different forms of exercise.
One doctor finally told me she had no idea what was wrong so she asked me to speak with their dietitian. I was super frustrated as I didn’t think the issue was what I was eating, but I agreed to go in hopes that maybe they would have an answer or could tell me something that I was missing. After looking through all of my detailed meal plans, their dietitian told me my diet was super clean and she didn’t have any concerns about what I was eating. Her only suggestion was to shift my macros as I was eating 35% fat, 35% protein, and 30% carbohydrates and she would prefer to see me eating 60% carbohydrates. (I’ll share more in a future post about why I believe my body functions better on a higher-fat diet.) I left that meeting extremely frustrated and realized it was time to get myself a new healthcare team.
I want to pause here for a second and clarify that I’m not here to bash any doctors or medical professionals, but I do think it’s important that we each act as our own health advocates. I’ve had a variety of health issues throughout my life and it’s become clear to me that I need to trust my gut when I know that something is wrong. Looking back, I feel silly that I spent two years being told that my weight gain was a result of my diet when it’s pretty clear that’s not the case. The bottom line is that if you’re not getting the treatment you need, you need to find a doctor or medical professional that’s a better fit.
During this time I had also been doing my own research and kept coming across the topic of adrenal fatigue. Still looking for answers, I began working with a naturopath who specialized in adrenal fatigue and autoimmune disorders. Our first appointment lasted over an hour as we walked through my current symptoms, health history, supplements, diet, and overall lifestyle. She agreed with my suspicion that I was suffering from adrenal fatigue and ordered a cortisol saliva test and tests to check my neurotransmitters. This is now the doctor that I’m currently working with and she has helped me to make huge progress over the course of just a few months.
And, that brings us to today’s topic: adrenal fatigue.
What are the adrenal glands and what do they do?
The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Their primary purpose is to help our bodies survive and process stress as they are in charge of the following functions:
- Regulating other hormones
- Balancing electrolytes
- Regulating inflammation
- Regulating sleep and waking cycles
- Regulating blood sugar
- Regulating body weight
What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is what happens when the adrenal glands do not make the right amount of adrenal hormones and/or produce them at the right time of day. Modern medicine does not yet recognize adrenal fatigue as a distinct syndrome, but the symptoms can have severe impact on a person’s life. According to Dr. James L. Wilson, author of Adrenal Fatigue: the 21st Century Stress Syndrome, adrenal fatigue “has been one of our most prevalent yet rarely diagnosed conditions for the last fifty years.” Yikes.
Here are some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue:
- Excessive fatigue and exhaustion
- Feeling overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stress
- Craving salty and sweet foods
- Feeling most energetic in the evening
- Waking up tired, even after a full night’s sleep
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sensitivity to cold
- Erratic or abnormal blood sugar levels (e.g. hypoglycemia)
- Increased fear, anxiety, depression
- Decreased sex drive
What causes adrenal fatigue?
The bottom line is that adrenal fatigue is pretty common in our world today because of our modern lifestyle. Experiencing intense stress and trauma over a prolonged period of time can lead to adrenal burnout and fatigue. And, a lack of sleep and poor dietary choices definitely isn’t helping.
So, what can we do?
How to heal from adrenal fatigue
In the next three posts I’ll be diving into each of these areas in more detail, but these are the areas to focus on for healing:
- Reducing stress
- Resting and getting adequate sleep
- Exercise (and reducing exercise in some cases)
- Adding supplements
Do you have any tips for healing from adrenal fatigue? Please share in the comments below!
P.S. Read Part 2 (stress and sleep) here!1