And now, for part II of my struggle with adrenal fatigue. Which also could’ve been called…My adrenal fatigue story, part II: how I stopped kicking my own ass into the ground and healed myself naturally by ditching mainstream media bullsh*t advice on how to “be healthy”. But again, google wouldn’t have liked that very long title. Silly google.
After receiving my cortisol panel test results, I decided it was finally time to take a long, hard look at what I had been doing to my health for the past couple of years. Even over the previous year, when I thought I had been doing everything “right” to help my thyroid and leaky gut with paleo and strict elimination diets, I had only been working on one piece of the puzzle – food – and neglecting the others (or even making them worse, with too much exercise and stress).
So here’s what I figured out.
When it comes to your health, it STARTS with food. But it doesn’t and can’t end there if you really want to heal.
Even if you think you’ve got your “clean” diet dialed in, whether it’s a whole30, paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian, or whatever, if you’re still feeling sick, unhealthy, unhappy, and stressed out, that diet might not be exactly right for you.
And I was the perfect example of that.
When I started eating paleo, and even when I completed my first, second, and third whole30 challenges, I realized I was afraid – no – slightly terrified of eating even healthy fats and carbohydrates. When roasting vegetables or dressing a salad, I would only use a teaspoon or two of oil, fearing that “fat makes you fat”, as the media dogma and women’s magazines galore had been shoving down my throat for so long.
Luckily, as I buried my head in research on paleo eating, health, leaky gut, and thyroid conditions, I slowly came to realize that fat wasn’t going to make me fat at all – it would actually help me burn fat. I gradually incorporated more and more healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, and fattier cuts of meat into my diet, which my run-down stomach, thyroid, and hormones welcomed with abandon.
But carbohydrates were another big, scary issue for me…
Just as they are for so many people, even after they have long been eating paleo. Even when I was training for my half marathon and I was eating a lot more sweet potatoes, plantains, and winter squash than I ever had in my life, I was only “allowing” myself to eat them because they were on the list of foods that were safe for my stomach and I was exercising enough to work them off.
While researching adrenal fatigue, I came across an article on Robb Wolf’s website, one of the big-shot gurus in the paleo world, on “Females, Carbohydrates, and Hormones.”
This was my story. I had never read something so entirely accurate to what I had been going through. The author talked about how she had started on paleo and felt amazing going very low carb, even while doing high-intensity workouts multiple times a week. But in time, she lost her cycle, messed up her hormones, and was exhausted all the time. (Source) In addition to symptoms, I also had an extremely weak immune system, felt bloated all the time, was “tired and wired”, and suffered from insatiable cravings.
All this time, a key part of the solution could have been as simple as adding more good carbohydrates back into my diet to fuel my activity level, and taking measures to reduce my stress, especially given my very depleted thyroid hormones.
But how could so simple as adding more carbohydrates back in to my diet be such a cure-all, when we’ve been told so long to avoid them to lose weight?
Basically, when a woman eats a very low-carb diet for a long period of time, whether they’re following a paleo diet or not, her body thinks it’s in starvation mode.
As a result, her body becomes constantly stressed, not knowing when it’s going to get enough food, her hormones get all out of whack, and her system starts holding on to any body weight fat she’s trying to lose, whether she could use to lose it or not. Even if she initially loses weight going low carb, progress will eventually stall, and then she’ll most likely gain some (or a lot) of it back. Along with my constantly stressed out personality and lifestyle, that’s where my thyroid and adrenal problems started.
Ravenous for more information after reading Robb Wolf’s article, I buried my head in more research about using food as medicine, adrenals, stress, leaky gut, thyroid conditions. And everything I read shared a common thread: that in getting your health back on track, nutrition is optimal, but that it only starts with food, and there is so much more to the whole picture than just nutrition alone.
It was also around this time, of doing all this research, that I mysteriously got extremely sick. I was bed and couch-ridden for about three weeks with some kind of parasite (or so the doctors think – no one could figure it out, especially since I hadn’t been traveling or eating out at restaurants), on top of all my other already miserable symptoms. I had hit rock bottom…again. I could barely keep any food down or get up enough energy to walk around my apartment, let alone get up go to work. Looking back, it was a blessing in disguise – I needed that push to quit my job so I could take time off and truly heal.
That’s where my real breakthrough came. I needed a complete lifestyle change, not just another diet protocol to follow.
I took the advice from my research to heart, and really started on my recovery journey.
I’m not going to lie – It was really scary at first, when I ditched everything I thought was “healthy” that I had been doing for years to “get in shape”. But I did a total 180 from where I was even just a few months before with my restrictive, gut-healing diet and rigorous exercise routine.
Instead of focusing on restricting food, I worked on my sleep, stress-reduction techniques like breathing exercises and yoga, and incorporated more healthy fats and carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, winter squash and other starchy vegetables into my diet.
But the most important thing I did to heal from adrenal fatigue was to pull back and gradually let go of my type-A, obsessive, compulsive, self-conscious, every-worrying, inner perfectionist. I had to take about 6 months completely off exercise, which is harder than you can imagine for someone like me, who used to freak out if I missed two days in a row of workouts. But I needed to focus on healing myself. And here’s what I did…
I stopped exercising like crazy and overtraining.
I stopped letting the little things get to me and stress me out.
I stopped restricting my food so much.
I stopped fearing foods like carbohydrates and fats that I thought would “make me fat”.
I started saying NO to things I didn’t want to do, and avoided draining people and situations as much as I could.
I started sleeping more.
I started listening to my body’s signals – when it was tired and needed a break, and what it was really craving – rest.
I started doing restorative, stress-reducing exercise: like walking and restorative yoga.
I started following my passion for nutrition and helping others.
I quit my stressful job.
I finally, slowly, started feeling better.
Going by conventional “wisdom” on how to “get in shape” and “be healthy”, like many people do today, I pushed myself over the edge and ran my body into the ground while pursuing a purely aesthetic goal of getting “healthy and fit”.
And you know what? It wasn’t worth it.
I finally healed myself, not only with food, but by doing a total 180 with my whole life.
With a lot of hard work, I transformed myself from the obsessive, perfectionist, type-A, orthorexic exercise freak to a much more laid-back lifestyle. After years of struggling, I am finally healthier, happier, less stressed, have much more energy, and live a much more balanced life – all by making the simple change of listening to what my body really needed to heal itself.
And guess what? The secret to being happy and feeling great in your own skin doesn’t involve ANY of those mainstream media pieces of bullsh*t they tell you to “be healthy”.
Since I ditched that “advice”, started listening to my body’s core wants and needs, I’ve never felt better and more free of restriction. I’m even back to doing crossfit and working out a couple times a week (because I absolutely love it, not because I’m trying to look like someone in a magazine), without feeling like I’m so exhausted that I can’t get out of bed anymore. And get this – I’m actually stronger than I was before, even after not training at all for 6 months. Karma, maybe? Who knows.
Thanks to the help of my amazing naturopath and countless hours of my own research, I am finally in full-fledged recovery from my adrenal exhaustion. I’m now running my own Health Coaching business and helping clients to with their own health struggles and achieve their goals drawing from my own experience and research, training with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and my current studies at Maryland University of Integrative Health.
And I love it. I’ve finally found my calling in becoming a health coach, studying for my masters degree in nutrition, writing this blog, and helping people overcome their own health challenges. And every single day, I wake up feeling better than the last.
If you’ve ever suffered like me, have a similar story, and aren’t sure where to turn, or think you may need someone to talk to, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or check out my health coaching page to find out how we can work together to overcome these challenges, to help you feel healthy and fantastic in your own skin.
Thanks for listening friends 🙂
p.s. If you haven’t already, check out part I of this story: My struggle with adrenal fatigue.