I'd just had my second child. Signing up for a half marathon seemed like a great way to get back in shape. I'd been a runner, pre-pregnancy, but never more than seven miles at a time, so the challenge was enticing.
My son was a voracious breast feeder. We were up together all night, every night. If he wasn't eating, he was suckling. My sleep was suffering, and my body was paying the price. I'd already spent the money on the entry fee, thinking that by the time training started, he'd be a better sleeper, and I'd be rested enough to get up early for runs. Not.The.Case. (that kid didn't sleep until he was three years old). I was getting two cumulative hours of sleep per night, at best. In hindsight, I look back and want to shake the hell out of myself for choosing to proceed. River was nine months old when I started getting up at 5am to run somewhere between seven and twelve miles, daily. I was pushing myself hard, keeping a fast pace, and never walking. Eye rolls totally acceptable.
By the time the race arrived, I'd actually gained weight. Unfortunately, it wasn't muscle, it was belly fat. Stress fat.
That was my first clue that something wasn't right. I continued to work out every day, pushing myself harder, thinking that would do the trick, and the weight kept coming. I was eating a paleo diet and working out regularly. WTF? How?
That's when the googling began. Adrenal Fatigue. I had almost every symptom.
If you're a mother in your 30's or 40's, there's a good chance that you're struggling with adrenal fatigue, or have at some point. Weight gain (belly fat), fatigue, hormone imbalance, dizziness, trouble concentrating, caffeine as a lifeline, cravings for salty and sweet foods, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, check, check, check. If you identified with at least a few of the symptoms on that list, this is for you, and there are things you can do about it.
If you're reading this, I hope you're already at a point in your life where you have enough self love to make sacrifices on your own behalf, enough self worth to value feeling vigorous and energetic. If that sleeve of Oreos is more attractive to you than how you feel as you go about your daily life, then you've got some tough questions to ask yourself. One of them being, "what is my life lacking, that food is one of the most fulfilling components of it?" Because, if you can't muster up a little appreciation for your body, and what it requires to keep you vibrantly healthy, sticking with a healing routine is going to be a helluva challenge.
Although I've struggled with a fear of vulnerability, I've never lacked confidence in my ability, and perseverance has always been my strong suit. Changing my diet for healing is a huge nuisance (I'm not a family of one!), but totally worth baring. I place extreme value on my body. Without our vessels, we're done.
Adrenal fatigue had me so exhausted that I would be fighting sleep by lunch time everyday, yet I'd be awake from 1am to 3pm every night. I powered through on workdays, but on my days off, I could barely keep my eyes open. I was dizzy every time I stood up. I'd gained 10 pounds. My thinking was fuzzy, and my memory was nonexistent. How was I supposed to be a parent, or for that matter a person, in this state?
My traditional doctor proved to be useless. My blood tests came back that I was indeed still alive, which I'm convinced, is the only thing they are concerned about. Out of desperation, I sought out a Naturopath. If this isn't something you've done yet, I can't recommend it enough. Naturopaths are licensed physicians who approach medicine holistically, doing more of an investigation than an examination. Your intake questionnaire is several pages long, taking into account all areas of your life. Vibrant health is the name of their game. The markers on their blood tests are indicative of this. Being "in range" isn't a testament of health. They have their own set of acceptable ranges.
The following is taken from Dr. Axe in his web article 3 Steps to Heal Adrenal Fatigue:
Your adrenal glands are two thumb-sized organs that sit above your kidneys and are part of the endocrine system. Also known as the suprarenal glands, they’re involved in producing over 50 hormones that drive almost every bodily function, many of which are essential for life.
Adrenal glands play a huge role in stress response. Your brain registers a threat — whether it’s emotional, mental or physical. The adrenal cortex then releases corticosteroids to dampen processes like digestion, immune system response and other functions not necessary for immediate survival.
Adrenal fatigue is a condition where your body and adrenal glands can’t keep up with the tremendous amount of daily stress many people experience. Sometimes misunderstood as an autoimmune disorder, adrenal fatigue can mimic some precursors to other common illnesses and disease.
Wellness doctors and practitioners believe that an episode of acute stress or prolonged, chronic stress can cause adrenal glands to become overloaded and ineffective. They believe that adrenal fatigue can be caused by:
* Stressful experiences like death of loved one, divorce or surgery
* Exposure to environmental toxins and pollution
* Prolonged stress due to financial hardship, bad relationships or work environment, and other conditions that entail feelings of helplessness
* Negative thinking and emotional trauma
* Lack of sleep
* Poor diet and lack of exercise
I'd like to add overexercise to that list. If your life is already stressful, for whatever reason (likely, children), then the last thing you need to be doing is throwing stress inducing exercise into the loop. Makes sense, right? Distance running, crossfit, boot camp. Nah. If you’re 25 and childless, carry on, but for the rest of us, think twice. Obviously, if you're doing these activities and feeling amazing, you don't have adrenal fatigue. You're dismissed. Extremely low carb diets, great for initial weight loss, not so great long term if you are struggling with adrenal fatigue. Not everyone's bodies thrive on a paleo diet, especially women's. For some of us, it's just another source of biological stress. Carbs are energy, sorta important as a life force.
There are different levels of adrenal fatigue. If you're in the beginning stages, healing isn't as difficult, duh. But, if you've been neglecting yourself for quite some time, the recovery process may be long. It's important to know that certain medications and illnesses can lend themselves to adrenal insufficiency. This is worth investigating if you have an autoimmune disease or take any daily meds.
A few of the things that helped me heal were:
- Reduced exercise; a combo of yoga, weights, mat work, and HIIT a few times per week, for no more than 25 minutes at a time. No more distance running or working out on days my sleep suffered.
-Per the above, waking up early to work out, no mas. Sleep is the priority, always. Cortisol is highest first thing in the morning, that's what wakes us up. Working out first thing is adding fuel to the already stoked fire.
-Go light on the caffeine and alcohol. If you can, avoid them completely. They exacerbate cortisol and inflammation issues, respectively.
- I eat healthy carbs, think sweet potatoes and quinoa. We don't require much, but a good rule of thumb for healing, according to "The Adrenal Reset Diet" by Dr. Alan Christianson, NMD (link below), is one golf ball size serving at breakfast, two at lunch, and three at dinner. Protein AND carbs at dinner are imperative for decent sleep. They give the body sustained energy, so we don't wake during the night. Finding the right balance of carbs is important. Too many carbs equals too much sugar, which in turn creates more stress via insulin responses.
- I had small snacks between meals, like an apple with a handful of almonds, to keep my blood sugar stable, because you guessed it, that means less biological stress.
- I did my best to not get sucked into stressful situations. Our responses to the things we experience are within our control. Deep breathing for a few minutes, sporadically throughout the day, helps keep us more even keeled. Meditation is another amazing tool. Headspace is a fantastic app for newbies and experienced meditators alike.
- I cut gluten, dairy, processed food, and processed sugar. I upped my veggies and greens and kept my fruit to less than two pieces per day. I know, restricting your diet is tough, it's inconvenient. No one else is on board. You just have to do it for yourself. I've been eating a different dinner from my family, several times per week, for years now. You get used to it. Your threshold changes, and over time, so does theirs! I think it's important to start incrementally on this front, or your success is going to be hindered. Take dairy out first, then processed sugar, then gluten, or whichever order feels the least daunting to you.
- I went on an elimination diet to identify hidden food intolerances that were causing further biological stress. I learned SO much about my body from this. I used a book called "The Metabolism Plan", by Lyn Genet Recitas. You can find the link to it below.
-I sought out a Naturopath and had several blood tests run: The complete thyroid panel, TSH, T3, T4, and Free T3. You need all of them for a clear picture. Hypothyroidism can be overlooked if the comprehensive panel isn't run. For further information on hypothyroidism, which goes hand in hand with adrenal fatigue, read here: www.drlam.com/blog/adrenal-fatigue-and-low-thyroid-gland-function/5298/You can have cortisol tested, but it's not always accurate.
- My iron was low, which wasn't related to adrenal fatigue, but exacerbated my dizziness, lack of sleep, and exhaustion. Do not take iron unless you've been tested and know that you are anemic. Iron overload can be toxic. I have taken several different iron supplements over the years. Iron Extra by Vitanica is by far my favorite (link below), no tummy issues, no constipation, and it contains all the other necessary vitamins to help the iron absorb properly. It also has real folate, instead of folic acid, which should always be avoided.
- I added a supplement with adaptogens that are known to help with exhaustion and stress. I've linked the specific brand I used at the bottom of the post. For more information on adaptogens, check out: https://avivaromm.com/adaptogens-beating-stress/
- I put myself to sleep early. 9:00pm bedtime.
- I took quality vitamin D3, B12, kelp for thyroid support, and magnesium (not citrate) for improved nervous system response, which lends itself to better sleep and stress tolerance.
Please remember that I'm only speaking from my own experiences. I'm not a doctor. I have no medical training. I'm just a voracious reader and self experimenter. Seek help from a physician when implementing a healing protocol.
CHECK OUT THE BOOKS AND SUPPLEMENTS THAT HELPED ME HEAL BELOW: