GUYS. I’m super pumped to have my amazing friend Amie from Rebelle Nutrition guest posting over here today to talk allll about adrenal fatigue, and specifically, why you STILL have adrenal fatigue symptoms on your ‘perfect’ paleo/whole30/autoimmune/”clean eating” diet! If you remember, we’ve worked together on the Adrenal Fatigue Detox program and are basically the same person…except she lives in tiny house (literally 120 square feet) in Maui, Hawaii. Jealous much? Yeeppp me too.
Hey everyone! I’m Amie from Rebelle Nutrition and I am SO excited to be able to share a bit of my experience with Adrenal Fatigue on the blog with you guys today.
These days, I consider myself a bit of a rebelle (he,he), because my journey to healing adrenal fatigue occurred when I STOPPED listening to the mainstream health advice that led to my symptoms in the first place. (sound familiar??)
However, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, much of my life has been spent as a people-pleasing perfectionist who HAD to be the best at everything…most specifically, my diet and exercise routine.
it was this obsession with “health” and maintaining the perfect diet that I now know was the culprit of my digestive, hormonal, and adrenal fatigue symptoms.
I know some people might be shaking their heads, like, how could a “perfect” diet do anything but good things for you?
BUT, those of you (like pre-rebelle Amie) who NEVER miss a workout or GASP! eat a paleo cookie now and then, totally catch my drift. And, in my experience as a Nutritional therapy practitioner, most adrenal fatigue sufferers are more likely on this end of the spectrum.
This post is going to explain why you might still be having symptoms of adrenal fatigue, even while eating a “perfectly” paleo diet.
First things first:
How did I know I was suffering from adrenal fatigue?
Once my “perfect” health regimen started going downhill, there were a few red flag adrenal fatigue symptoms I noticed…
- Extreme difficulty waking up in the morning and then getting a second wind at night -feeling “wired” around 10 PM.
- An inability to handle everyday stressors (that used to be no big deal) without a meltdown, plus feeling easily overwhelmed
- Craving salt like a CRAZY PERSON (I would literally put salt on EVERYTHING and eat multiple pickles every day- as you can imagine this one also led to severe water retention)
- Getting dizzy and sometimes nearly blacking out every time I went from seated to standing (a classic symptom of low blood pressure).
- Frequently missing periods
- Unable to do ANY sort of physical activity without feeling extremely fatigued – after YEARS of running 5+ miles EVERY SINGLE DAY, you can imagine how much this frustrated me.
These days, we are being constantly bombarded with tips and tricks about how to “hack” our bodies, our diet, and our health. These days, i’m still very interested in this type of information (part of my job is staying up to date with this info!) – but I now realize how easily it can cause us to become disconnected from our own bodies in lieu of “trying out” whatever the new health trend is this week.
Bulletproof! Keto! Intermittent fasting! Carb-cycling! Fasted cardio! IIFYM! (Ugh. This gives me adrenal fatigue just to type out)
When I finally decided I had enough with the acid reflux, crippling fatigue, and insomnia, and started to listen to what my own body was trying to tell me, I took a close look at my daily habits, dietary intake, and stress levels in order to begin my own healing.
What I discovered was that there were 4 main habits, all of which are encouraged on a “healthy” paleo diet, that were causing my adrenal fatigue symptoms.
1. Drinking coffee:
Okay, so maybe this one isn’t considered universally healthy, but I personally don’t think everyone needs to avoid it, either. Good quality coffee can have some great antioxidant and cognitive benefits! Especially when you add some good collagen and healthy fats to it – yum!
My problem with coffee (caffeine, specifically) is that I personally have a tendency to abuse it (#teamnomoderation).
For example, at the height of my adrenal fatigue I was probably drinking around 32 ounces per day (spread out throughout the day, but still. Don’t judge me.) Unfortunately, the more of it I drank, the less it actually worked. I decided it was time for an intervention and cut out caffeine cold turkey, which was a terrible decision (think flu-like symptoms, horrible headaches, and waves of hopelessness and depression – WTF coffee) – but it taught me something very important: caffeine had been masking the true state of my adrenals for the past few years (which I now knew were completely tanked).
This also led me to do some research on the mental health effects, since I do not take symptoms of depression lightly. What I learned: caffeine actually increases levels of serotonin and dopamine in our bodies – which could explain why many of us literally feel happiness when that cup of coffee hits our lips.
Adrenal Fatigue RX: Cut out coffee completely
This is a great way to witness the true state of your adrenals and might just be the motivation you need to begin a healing protocol. OR back off slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms, but know that this will only prolong your healing process.
2. Eating too low-carb:
Carbs often get a bad rap. Most nutritional recommendations even say to limit “good” carbs like sweet potatoes and fruit. Especially when you hear success stories of people thriving off of nutrient dense, high fat, low carb diets, it is easy to begin to “fear” the blood sugar spike that may occur when carbs are consumed. And i’m not saying that these diets are not effective for some people, but the worst of my adrenal fatigue symptoms coincided during a time that I was eating a moderate amount of carbohydrates. Yes, I said moderate – I wasn’t even considered “low-carb” at the time, and I was eating around 100 grams of carbs per day, and this was still way too low for my body.
I started to view my body’s cravings for carbs as information, rather than something that needed to be “fixed” or sugar-detoxed away. I began to incorporate as many whole food sources of carbs as I wanted (plus occasional white rice) and quickly noticed a marked improvement. In fact, upping my carb intake was probably one of the most important aspects of healing my adrenal fatigue that I tried. I now know from experience that eating too low-carb (which for me is anything less than about 150-200g a day) was viewed as a chronic stressor to my body, causing me to have sky high cortisol levels, messed up hormones, and more digestive issues than I could count. This is why determining YOUR bodies specific carb tolerance is so important (we teach you how to do this in the full AF detox course!). Maybe YOU actually do better on a higher fat, lower carb diet. Or maybe you’re like me, and you need the permission to carb the F up.
Carbs are extremely important in the body, specifically their role in signaling to the hypothalamus (the main hormone-signaler in the body) that you are in a fed, relaxed state. When we under-eat carbs (or food, period) this is seen as a stressor to the body: calling on the adrenals to produce the stress hormone cortisol. Constant output of cortisol from the adrenals leads to the disruption of every other hormone, leading to things like fatigue, PMS, cravings, and weight gain.
Adrenal Fatigue RX: Aim to eat nutrient dense carbs at every meal: fruit, starchy veggies, potatoes, or even white rice and beans/legumes if you tolerate them.
If you suspect adrenal fatigue is an issue for you, I recommend never dipping below 100g of carbs per day – but the best thing to do is follow an AF protocol that helps you determine your specific carb tolerance. You can also experiment with different amounts of carbs and see how you feel! Many of my clients have needed to increase carb intake to 250g per day in order to start healing.
3. Eating eggs
I think eggs are one of the most perfect, nutrient dense foods available, especially when from a good source! But, ANYTHING can be harmful to your body if you’ve developed a sensitivity to it. For example, when I first started eating paleo-ish, it was not uncommon for me to eat 2-3 eggs for breakfast, followed by some sort of paleo baked good in the afternoon (that also contained multiple eggs). Although this was extremely delicious, I started to notice fatigue and hormonal breakouts occuring again, after the initial euphoria of eating paleo wore off.
Unfortunately, even the healthiest, paleo foods possible may cause a reaction in your body. This could be due to a true allergy, where a histamine response causes things like itchy mouth, eyes and throat, OR a food sensitivity. Food sensitivities are very likely to develop
when we continue to eat the exact same foods, every single day, without rotating them (a common practice for regimented food-prepper’s like myself ;)). When we fail to rotate the foods in our diet, our bodies can start to create antibodies against these foods. When we have an antibody response to a specific food, the immune system is activated- putting us back into a state of sympathetic stress (aka “fight or flight” mode) that calls upon the adrenals once again – when they really shouldn’t be involved in the first place.
Adrenal Fatigue RX: Rotate your meals. If you are stuck in a food rut (i.e. eating the exact same things every single day) start mixing it up!
Also – TEST don’t guess! The best way to know definitively if you have a sensitivity to a certain food is to test your reaction to it. Other options to mix it up include trying out some new veggies or cuts of meat that you’ve never tried before. Look for local, in season fruits and veggies. Summer Recipe Idea: Greek Shrimp & Veggie Skillet!
4. Working out
We all know that working out is good for you. Duh. But when you are a #nomoderation perfectionist like myself, “good” things often get taken a tad too far. For example, for years I ran 5-6 miles per day with only a handful of rest days. Then, I decided to train for a half marathon, and incorporate hot yoga, and become a personal trainer so I could basically live in the gym…you get the idea. I think this one is pretty self explanatory, but years of what MY BODY perceived as over-exercise (this threshold is different for everyone) were the icing on my adrenal fatigue cake.
I share this because it seems like everywhere we look is encouraging us to work out more, harder, faster. And while this might be OK for some, an intense amount of physical activity- combined with lack of sleep, too few carbs, food sensitivities/leaky gut, and other life stressors are often the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and sends us into adrenal fatigue.
Most likely though, your adrenal fatigue symptoms have been nagging at you for months. For example, I had months, maybe years, of signals from my body that I needed to take it down a notch (no period, hair falling out, extreme fatigue, reliance on caffeine to workout) but I didn’t listen. Hopefully, this blog post will be the wake up call you need to start listening to YOUR body, before you reach the I-can-barely-get-out-of-bed stage of adrenal fatigue.
These days, I stick with walking, yoga, and bodyweight only workouts. I am definitely still a work in progress though, and the effects of just one workout that is too intense will still leave me fatigued for days afterward.
Adrenal Fatigue RX: Try incorporating mind-body movement, walking, things you love that do not leave you feeling depleted.
Give yourself permission to NAP! Especially if you feel like you’ve hit a weight loss plateau, despite eating well and exercising hard – what you might need is more REST. Is rest/sleep an issue? Join us inside the adrenal fatigue detox course for an entire lesson on sleep optimization, natural sleep aids, and how overexercise is effing with your hormones.
Lastly, just because something is considered “healthy” for one person, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy for YOUR body.
The best thing we can do to heal adrenal fatigue is tune in to the signals from our own body, do the necessary testing, and stop comparing our diets, exercise routines, or life stressors with everyone else’s.
Amie Tollefsrud is a nutritional therapy practitioner, minimalist, and world traveller currently residing in Maui, HI.