I just want to start by saying thank you to everyone who has left comments, emails, and messages on social media sharing their stories about adrenal fatigue. I’m so glad to hear that this series has been helpful and I hope the posts continue to be inspiring and informative. 🙂
In my last post on adrenal fatigue, I wrote about my process of reducing stress and increasing sleep in order to heal my adrenal fatigue (if you missed the previous posts, read part 1 and part 2 here.) When I first began experiencing the symptoms of adrenal fatigue (e.g. weight gain, exhaustion, anxiousness, irritability, unable to sleep through the night, blood sugar crashes, etc), my automatic response was to look at my diet.
Adrenal fatigue can cause other symptoms
If you’ve been a reader here for awhile, I think it’s apparent that I eat really clean overall and am physically active. I cook the majority of the food I eat and all of it is made from real food and fresh ingredients. Each meal has at least 1 – 2 servings of veggies, quality fats, and healthy sources of protein. So, when I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes earlier this year you can imagine how shocked I was.
I wrote about this in more detail in part 1, but a big part of my journey was simply getting doctors to believe me and understand that my food choices weren’t the cause for whatever underlying health issue I was dealing with. I completely understand why a doctor’s first response to hearing that I had gained 20 pounds and was struggling with blood sugar issues/hypoglycemia would be to tell me to eat healthier and exercise more.
However, this is exactly why I want to emphasize that adrenal fatigue can be the catalyst for other health concerns:
“As [adrenal fatigue] worsens, it lays the foundation for other seemingly unrelated conditions such as frequent respiratory infections, allergies, rhinitis, asthma, frequent colds, and a number of other health problems such as fibroyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrom, hypoglycemia, adult onset diabetes, auto-immune disorders…” – Dr. James L. Wilson, author of Adrenal Fatigue: the 21st Century Stress Syndrome
Why adrenal fatigue causes weight gain
Before I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, I cannot even put into words how ashamed I felt. I had gained a ton of weight and felt terrible all the time. To make matters worse, I felt like a complete fraud. Who was I to be talking about health when I had gained so much weight?
I’ve definitely dealt with self-esteem issues about my body throughout my life and this experience brought those feelings back in full-force. And, the thing that somehow made it worse was my utter confusion about how this was happening. Every night I would look at my dinner plate that was loaded with veggies and then a serving of protein and turn to my partner to ask, “Am I overeating? Am I causing this somehow? You see everything I eat – please be honest with me here. Am I missing something?” Yeah, let’s just say that conversation got super old for my significant other really fast.
I also began increasing my already intense workouts out of desperation, which is just about the worse thing you can do when you have adrenal fatigue (I’ll talk more about this in part 4).
So, here’s why adrenal fatigue is linked to weight gain:
Body weight is regulated primarily by our adrenal glands. When we are stressed, our adrenal glands release cortisol into the bloodstream and being in this “survival mode” tells our body to store the fat. (Which makes sense if you think about our ancestors who typically felt stress as a result of physical danger, a famine, or some sort of crisis.)
The bottom line is that people who have lots of cortisol in their bodies will gain weight, regardless of their diet or activity. (Source: The Adrenal Reset Diet by Alan Christianson)
Basic Dietary Tips
In my research, I keep coming across the same basic diet-related guidelines that are pretty common sense:
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar
- Eat lots of high-fiber foods
- Drink enough water
- Restrict caffeine
- Avoid alcohol
Since I have always struggled with my blood sugar, I already avoid refined carbohydrates, sugar as much as possible (this includes sugary fruits), eat a ton of veggies, and drink lots of water every day. In an effort to make my diet even more adrenal-friendly, I stopped drinking caffeinated coffee and now only allow myself one cup of decaf coffee once a week (usually with brunch on Saturdays).
The other days I have a cup of yerba mate or green tea in the morning, then switch to herbal tea for the rest of the day. (Note: if you struggle with giving up coffee, teeccino is an amazing herbal coffee substitute.) I also wasn’t big on drinking alcohol, but enjoyed a glass of red wine about once a week. However, I’ve now reduced this even more and only have wine on special occasions.
The Adrenal Reset Diet
If you are struggling with adrenal fatigue, I would highly recommend reading The Adrenal Reset Diet by Alan Christianson. I stumbled upon this book before I even realized I had adrenal fatigue and began following his protocol. His approach focuses on certain macronutrients at specific times, in combination with lifestyle management (e.g. stress reduction and better sleep).
He recommends limiting carbohydrates in the morning, but having (healthy) carbohydrates at night. The reason is that if we eat too low-carb at night, this can actually raise our cortisol and blood sugar:
“Unstable blood sugar levels occur exactly when people are struggling to fall alseep or are spontaneously waking up at night. Carb cycling helps keep the cortisol levels where they should be during the day but is critical to keeping them low enough at night to allow for deep sleep.” — Alan Christianson, author of The Adrenal Reset Diet
Here are the basics of the Adrenal Reset Diet:
- Protein: 25 – 30% of your calories; each meal’s protein serving is about the size of the palm of your hand.
- Carbohydrates: 35 – 45% of your calories (90 grams per day is best for most adults); carbs should increase throughout the day with 1 serving at breakfast, 2 at lunch, and 3 at dinner.
- Fats: 20 – 35% of your calories; each meal should have a healthy source of fat.
- Avoid fructose and toxic proteins (wheat, dairy, eggs)
(You can find The Adrenal Reset Diet here online, or in most bookstores.)
Since I had been dealing with such extreme blood sugar fluctuations, I had reduced my carbohydrate intake and I think part of my sleep issues were actually caused by eating too few carbohydrates at night. I’m still working to determine the best percentage of macros for my body, but I’ve found that eating more fat in the mornings and evenings has helped to increase my energy throughout the day and help me to sleep better at night.
I’ve also found that having a snack (e.g. almonds or almond butter) right before bed helps with my sleep, and that if I wake up in the middle of the night hungry, having a small snack helps me to fall back to sleep easier. I’ve also been adding bone broth to my morning routine to help me feel full in-between meals.
Have you tried the Adrenal Reset Diet? Please share in the comments below!
P.S. Stay tuned for part 4 of my journey that focuses on exercise and supplements!