The 90-Day Diet That Drastically Improved My Sleep, Energy & Anxiety
It's usually easier to give advice than to take it. But over the last year, I've made an increased effort to incorporate into my own life the health advice I give my patients. After all, life and work stress can get to the best of us.
That's why, when I started showing symptoms of fatigue, trouble sleeping, and other symptoms of adrenal problems, I wanted to find out if adrenal fatigue was to blame. So I ran an adrenal fatigue lab that I've run on countless of patients over the years, but never on myself.
Turns out it was adrenal fatigue, as I expected, and I realized I needed to start dealing with my brain-adrenal stress issues. Because I saw great success with my 60-day reset diet to find out what food intolerances I had, I wanted to then use diet to work on my adrenal fatigue and support my MTHFR methylation gene changes.
So I embarked on a three-month diet to rehab my hormones. Why 90 days? It takes time to recover from hormonal problems. It's not a magic cure-all number, but I knew 90 days was the minimum amount of time I would need.
While my particular hormonal issue was adrenal fatigue, I'd also recommend this plan to anyone dealing with common hormone problems, including thyroid issues, sex hormone imbalances (such as low testosterone), and leptin and insulin resistance.
You might have hormonal problems if you're experiencing some of the following issues:
- You're slow to start in the morning
- You crave salty or sugary foods
- You have a low libido
- You're fatigued in the afternoon
- You get a "second wind" in the evening
- You can't stay asleep
- You experience dizziness when standing up quickly
- You get afternoon headaches
- You have blood sugar issues
- You have chronic inflammation
- Your nails are weak
- You're often moody
- You have difficulty losing weight
Of course, you don't have to struggle with hormonal issues to try out this diet. If you're simply looking to boost your energy and feel better, I recommend following these guidelines:
What I Ate for 90 Days
Vegetables: At least 6 cups per day
I wanted to be intentional about filling my plate with some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables for hormone production and methylation, which is essential for brain and hormone health. For example, many of the vegetables I focused on are good sources of iodine, needed for thyroid hormone production, as well as sulfur and B vitamins necessary for healthy hormone production and detox pathways.
Examples: sea vegetables (dulse, nori, kelp, arame), green leafy vegetables (spinach, kohlrabi, watercress, Swiss chard), sulfur-rich vegetables (onions, garlic, asparagus)
Starches: 2 servings per day
In my patients, I often see a lack of healthy carbs, in the form of safe starches, as a missing piece of the equation when it comes to balancing hormones, boosting energy levels, and supporting the thyroid.
Examples: sweet potatoes, yams, plantains
Fruit: 1 to 4 small handfuls per day
I wanted to focus on low-fructose fruits, since sugar can contribute to hormonal problems.
Examples: berries and citrus fruits
Protein and healthy fats: 1 to 2 palm sizes of protein per meal, and 1 to 3 tablespoons of oil per meal
I chose clean fats and proteins with über amounts of nutrients needed for thyroid hormone synthesis.
Examples: wild-caught fish, organic liver, shellfish (such as oysters), pasture-raised eggs; coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, avocado
Nuts and seeds: 1 handful per day
Selenium and magnesium are essential for thyroid hormone conversion and optimal hormone health.
Examples: Brazil nuts (especially high in selenium!), walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds
Tea: 3 to 5 glasses per day
I wanted to focus on calming teas that promoted healthy brain-hormone communication.
Examples: chamomile, rooibos (African red bush)
The right dosages depend on the individual. The list below is what I found works best for me, but please discuss what supplements might be right for you with your health care provider.
- Maca: A tuber in the radish family that is known for balancing hormones.
- Methylation support: Taking activated forms of B12 and folate can be an effective way to support healthy methylation pathways, which help balance the melatonin-cortisol rhythm.
- Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin is actually a pre-hormone that's essential for healthy hormone function.
- Adaptogenic herbs: Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Holy Basil, and Eleuthero Ginseng can have a regulating effect on cortisol rhythm.
- Magnesium: Think of magnesium as the original chill pill. It helps support the adrenal glands, relaxes stressed muscles and nerves, and promotes quality sleep.
- GABA support: Your calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter is GABA. Herbs like passion flower and amino acids such as theanine, glycine, and taurine can help you relax by acting on the calming gabaminergic pathways in your brain.
What a Typical Day of Meals Looked Like
Breakfast: Eggs with sweet potatoes, onions, and spinach in coconut oil
Lunch: Kale salad with wild-caught albacore tuna and olive oil dressing and avocados
Dinner: Grass-fed liver and onions with asparagus and sweet potatoes
Snack: Two Brazil nuts, seaweed snacks, or plantain chips
(I will be posting recipe ideas on my Facebook page.)
4 Lifestyle Strategies That Also Helped
I made sure I was eating enough throughout the day
Intermittent fasting doesn't work for many people struggling with hormonal problems like adrenal fatigue.
I worked on paying attention to my hunger levels throughout the day. If you get ravenous or "hangry" for sugar, you need to eat more protein and fat in the morning. If, after lunch, you can hold off eating until dinner, you probably ate the right amount for you.
I got at least seven hours of sleep.
Sure, it was tough missing Scandal or How to Get Away With Murder on Thursday nights, but I made a point of getting enough sleep every night, since it's essential for rehabbing our hormones. I aimed for at least seven hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep.
I practiced calming exercises.
I focused on stress-reducing exercises, such as hot yoga, as many times as I could fit into my busy schedule, usually three times a week. I also brought mindfulness meditation into my daily routine as a way to calm my mind and bring presence into my life. I recommend starting with just a few minutes of meditation every day, and then slowly increasing the amount of time.
I tried to avoid toxins.
Finally, it was important to be mindful of using nontoxic products in my house and on my body. Many common household products are sometimes linked to hormonal problems.
The End Result
After the 90 days, I noticed I had more energy, slept better, and was less anxious overall. I know this is just the first step to continuing to support optimal hormonal health, but I'm happy with the results I've seen so far.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He has holds a level 2 Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) certification. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and bestselling author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting.