Doing These 9 Things Helped Me Beat Adrenal Fatigue — For Good
In my early 20s, I was fed up. I had been constantly tired, run down, and feeling fluish for years. After years of being dismissed by doctors, I went to a functional one who ran an actual hormone panel, which showed that I had what's often referred to as "adrenal fatigue," meaning that, essentially, my cortisol was overall too low and didn't make the healthy curve of starting off higher in the morning and then dipping down gradually as the day went on (instead they looked more like a flat line). I also had very low cholesterol, which can be an indication of overall depletion and is commonly linked to depression in women.
Today, I'm healthy and thriving, a published author (my new book, Super Powders: Adaptogenic Herbs and Mushrooms for Energy, Beauty, Mood, and Well-Being, was just released!) and I even work as a holistic medicine practitioner at Frank Lipman's BeWell practice. Here's what I did to heal my adrenals:
1. I slept more.
I started going to bed earlier. Before midnight, our bodies are most likely to get the deeper and more restorative non-REM sleep; as such, I started going to bed around 10 or 11, and it's a habit I have kept ever since! I also started letting myself wake up naturally, eschewing alarm clocks. It felt decadent and indulgent at first (I was used to rushing out of bed early to hit the gym or "be productive" in some way!) but it was so lovely once I got comfortable with this habit.
2. I did more gentle workouts.
I needed to pull back on cardio and strenuous exercise. Exercise is a stressor on the body, and most of the time it's not a negative or harmful stressor but rather a stressor that triggers the body to adapt and get stronger, which is what we're going for. However, when your body is depleted, run down, and doesn't have the stores necessary to bounce back from a workout, exercise can become pro-inflammatory and lead to further exhaustion. If you feel energized and good after a workout, great! But if you feel more run down, exhausted, and in need of a nap after exercising, chances are you've taken on more than your body could handle at that time.
I found my yoga practice during this stage of my life, and it was a game-changer for me. It made me feel strong, calm, and focused without taxing my body too much. With that, I also discovered what I call active rest—which is not the same as sleeping or watching mindless TV! Active rest means you're taking part in an activity that lets you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, signaling your body to relax on a cellular level. I love doing restorative yoga, which helps train my body to tap into this state more often and teaches me tools to help calm myself down, unwind, and recharge. In a world where stress is inevitable, it was important for me to have the tools to better protect myself and deal with stress when it happens.
3. I started eating meat again.
Blood sugar balance is key for bouncing back from fatigue and depletion. I made a point to eat (as much as possible!) balanced meals packed with whole foods and nutrients. I made sure every meal included a whole food source of carbohydrates, healthy fats, and animal protein.
I had been experimenting with vegetarian and vegan diets in the year(s) leading up to this, and I came to the conclusion that for my body, eating some animal proteins was necessary. I'm Norwegian, and I knew my ancestors all ate a lot of fish, dairy, and some meat. Prior to eating meat, I had been relying too much on carbohydrates for energy and to simply feel full. I had sugar cravings all the time and never felt quite satisfied by my vegetarian meals alone.
4. I eliminated sugar and filled up on greens.
After my diagnosis, I changed to a diet filled with high-quality animal protein and healthy fats from avocado, nuts, seeds, grass-fed butter, and fatty fish. I chose root vegetables, sweet potato, and fruit as my main sources of carbohydrates and started making smoothies with protein, fats, greens, and berries. Good carbs are important for rebuilding energy and strength when you have adrenal fatigue. I also had green juices regularly to give my body an extra multivitamin and mineral boost. I also eliminated refined sugar. I chose real food sources of sweetness, plus some dark chocolate, instead of desserts, pastries, or candy. Refined sugar just spikes the blood sugar, which then comes crashing back down leading to further stress on the body. More on that below!
5. I stopped skipping meals.
Because I wanted to make sure my blood sugar stayed nice and balanced throughout the day, I made sure to avoid waiting until I was ravenously hungry to eat. Getting that "hangry" or starving feeling is also called hypoglycemia and is another form of stress for the body.
The body has to compensate for the low blood sugar levels by releasing more stress hormones, which strains the nervous system overall, making you feel anxious, dizzy, or nervous. When we get very hungry, we also make bad decisions about what to eat or might need to find food somewhere we'd rather not and end up eating poor-quality foods instead or real whole foods. It's also very easy to overeat and eat too fast when we're too hungry. To heal my adrenal fatigue, I knew that skipping meals was just not OK anymore.
6. I cut out caffeine.
For a period of time, I cut out coffee and caffeinated tea. I was not happy about this step originally—I love coffee—but it quickly became clear that too much coffee was really not serving me well. Caffeine increases the levels of stress hormones, which are produced by the adrenal glands in the body. That means my already overworked system was getting additional unnecessary strain from the caffeine—in other words, caffeine was making a bad situation worse. Even years later, as I've added it back into my diet, I'm a lot more aware of its pros and cons! I make sure to have something rich in healthy fats (such as MCT oil, ghee, or almond milk) in my coffee to slow the absorption of the caffeine. Feeling shaky and jittery from coffee means I've had too much for my body, a signifier of added stress I don't want to make my body go through!
7. I identified food intolerances.
Through an elimination diet, I discovered my gluten intolerance. It was such an aha! moment, and, when I eliminated the gluten, I started feeling better way faster. I had to relearn how to cook and eat without it, which is how I myself ended up becoming a health coach. Today, I don't have to avoid gluten as strictly anymore, which is nice, but my body needed that time to recover and heal.
8. I adopted a new mindset.
Maybe the biggest change for me was the mindset around self-care, self-love, and surrounding myself with a supportive, calm, and loving environment. I let go of guilt about taking my time, taking care of myself, and saying no to things I really didn't want to do in the first place! I had worked as a model and then in the creative/fashion world for years. The constant focus on body image and size, pretty faces and consumerism was extremely stressful—not to mention the angry, stressed-out bosses and personalities I had come across along the way. Once I switched careers and refocused my life, I began to see real changes in my health.
9. I discovered adaptogens.
Through a great alternative doctor I was seeing (and still am seeing), I discovered adaptogens. These powerful plants help your body better adapt to stress and support your body to find its happy place, aka homeostasis. Ashwagandha was so helpful in both calming my nervous system yet giving me the resilience to stress that I needed. Studies have found that ashwagandha can help decrease the amount of stress hormones released. It's an overall calming adaptogen beneficial for building up stress resilience. I still take it now, and it's helped me immeasurably.
Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.