Do you suffer from Adrenal Fatigue?
Along with the usual reasons – illness, relationship difficulties, work struggles, caring for an aging parent or ailing child – there is the relentless pressure of such fast moving times, we’re always switched ‘on’ with social media, and mobile phones, and often with the financial pressure to boot. All these things can have a very negative physical impact.
We may turn to food for comfort, or we may not feel like eating at all – or we may even turn to alcohol or other forms of stress management.
During times of stress there are actual physiological changes that happen in our bodies – one of which is weight gain. It may not happen overnight, but if we do not pay attention to our body’s needs, over time we may notice we are putting on the kilos.
Our adrenal glands govern our stress response, by secreting hormones relative to our stress levels. When the adrenal glands are overworked, the body prepares for disaster, by storing fat and calories. We crave foods, we lose precious energy, and we gain weight.
In 2005 I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Adrenal Exhaustion. GP’s generally don’t believe in it – which is very frustrating when you are trying to get well. I couldnt’ get any answers from my doctor/s so had a telephone consultation with a US naturopath who specialized in adrenal fatigue. From there I had several tests, and from there I was able to get myself a referral to an endocrinologist here in Adelaide. I didn’t live in Adelaide back then, so it mean a 4 hour drive both ways every time I needed to see him.
My personal symptoms of adrenal exhaustion were:
General fatigue (waking up fine in the morning, but crashing by lunchtime)
Fatigue after training (about an hour after a resistance training session I would crash)
Ridiculous salt cravings (I used to dip my food in sea salt)
Spaced out/dizzy feeling (in the afternoons)
Inability to concentrate
Ravenous hunger (no matter how much I tried to follow a diet, I caved in)
Orhostatic Hypotension (low blood pressure on standing)
Insomnia (unable to fall asleep at night despite daytime fatigue)
I put it down to extreme dieting and training for competitions, along with several stressful events such as divorce, remarrying (try organizing a wedding from one town, to be held in another town, with 10 attendants coming from all over Australia), surgery, and so on. Yes, as much as we just ride with it, today’s life is very, very stressful on our body, sometimes without even knowing.
There are many other symptoms – but the above are the ones that affected me most.
I’ve put together some ideas and suggestions that might help if you feel you may be suffering from some form of adrenal fatigue.
Eat enough, and of the right foods:
Although it sounds ironic, if you want your body to believe that it is not in danger of starving to death, you need to eat healthy food at regular intervals. Since cortisol helps regulate blood sugar, keeping glucose levels balanced will take some of the stress off the adrenal glands. Three protein rich and nutritious meals and two healthy snacks spread out across the day will help keep adrenal glands on an even keel.
Reduce or Remove Stimulants:
Reduce or totally remove coffee and other stimulants from your diet. You can do this by weaning off rather than going cold turkey. If the thought scares you, just try it as an experiment. See how you feel without it – it may make such a marked change you don’t want to touch it again!
*If you DO have to have a coffee, keep it to one, and don’t have it on an empty stomach. Eat breakfast as soon as you get up, and then have your coffee.
Always have healthy food on hand:
Reaching for sweets and caffeine pick me ups for quick energy will actually backfire on you, dropping blood sugar levels rapidly. Instead, lean protein, avocado and other fats (ie nuts), vegetables, some fruits in moderation, garlic, and ginger will more adequately support adrenal functioning.
Supplement your daily diet:
I used a concoction from a naturopath friend to help get my adrenal glands well again, along with a prescription for DHEA (which I am still taking to this day). Herbs such as Damiana, Withania (also known as Ashwagandha), Astragalus, Licorice and Ginsengs are great.
Sleep and Rest:
Adrenal stress can put you in an upside down circadian rhythm, which affects cortisol levels, causing irregular sleep patterns. I find it helps to establish a ‘winding down’ routine in the evening. I do my foam rolling and stretching, and then some reading before going to sleep. The earlier you are in bed, asleep, the more restorative sleep your body will have (no matter how late you sleep in). Try to have at least eight hours of sleep, so your body can rest and regulate your hormonal cycles.
Our adrenals respond to stress, even if we think it is positive. Exercise is positive, and can help us reduce stress, but only if it does not make us feel tired or fatigued. When we are exhausted, our adrenals are already working hard, and exercise can put added strain on them.
If you suspect adrenal exhaustion and you are weight training I recommend you switch to the following:
Short workouts of no longer than half an hour. No high intensity or supersets, drop sets or negative repetitions. Instead, opt for straight sets with moderate weights, rest and repeat.
For cardio exercise, stick to low intensity workouts like walking outdoors. This is also great for the mind and spirit.
Mostly, don’t push yourself if your body is telling you it’s exhausted. Give it the rest it needs, be it a few days, or a week or a month. Pushing through won’t get you anywhere.
Slow your breathing:
A few deep breaths in and out of your nose can not only slow your heart rate down, but will calm your entire body and mind. When we are under stress or holding tension our breathing can become shallow and fast. It only takes three or four deep breaths to feel better. Try to remember that slowing down our breath, as well as our life, even for a few minutes, can make a big difference in reducing our stress level.
Don’t forget that having fun, laughing, and enjoying yourself is a very important way to relax! We all need to make having fun a priority and the benefits have proven to be amazing. It can be as simple as finding a good comedy and curling up on the couch J
Don’t be too hard on yourself:
We put so much pressure on ourselves to meet the demands in our lives and focus on taking care of others. When we forget to take care of ourselves, the stress will appear as a dysfunctioning body and extra pounds.
When we live with continually elevated levels of stress, our body adjusts to the “crisis mode” and sometimes needs help learning how to live in a calmer state.
If you need a break or need help, speak up. If something is bothering you, let it out. If it’s something that’s really not important in the whole scheme of things, just like the theme song from the movie Frozen – let it go! It’s not easy to do, but if you continually remind yourself of it, it gets easier.
The first step is to heal your adrenals. By following some of the tips in this article, giving yourself time, and being patient, you will begin to replenish your energy, lose extra weight, and most importantly, feel better.
Here’s some more information to help you: