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The Secret Weight Loss Saboteur – Fight Or Flight in the Modern World
Here’s a scenario I see over and over busy women who complain that even though they exercise and try to eat right, they still can’t seem to lose weight. They are frustrated and make the effort useless. What’s going on? New research now supports what nutritionists and naturopaths have known for years – up to 80% of adult Americans suffer from some level of adrenal exhaustion and this affects our physical and emotional health, causing everything from weight gain to a weakened immune system and insomnia. So what are the adrenals, how do they get into our weight and health problems, and what can we do to heal them today?
The adrenals are star-shaped endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys and regulate various hormones – the two most important being cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline (the fight or flight hormone). These hormones evolved to deal with short-term stress. If our ancestors had to run from a predator, for example, the adrenals would boost adrenaline, to sharpen the senses and make us super focused on survival, and cortisol, to increase the rate protein is converted into energy and release sugar so that our bodies could quickly and react strongly to danger. All in all, the adrenals increase heart rate, reduce metabolism and tense our muscles so that we are lean, mean fight (or flight) machines. When the danger passes, our bodies return to normal fairly quickly. The problem, however, is that our bodies, and our adrenals, are not adapted to the chronic, relentless stress of our modern world. Constant stress is put on our adrenals every day – everything from chaotic traffic and schedules, lack of sleep (the adrenals restore themselves from eleven at night to nine in the morning), to the emotional stress caused by financial, work and relationship responsibilities.
When we are chronically stressed like this, our adrenals pump out too much cortisol and adrenaline. Studies have shown that increased cortisol in the body leads to weight gain, especially around the stomach area. When the adrenals become depleted, it can also lead to low thyroid, which also causes weight gain. In addition, adrenal exhaustion leads to poor immune function, poor hormone regulation, insomnia and chronic fatigue.
How to test for adrenal exhaustion? Of course, a doctor can find this out for you to be sure, but here are some common symptoms:
* Pattern of being groggy and not fully awake for several hours. A dip in energy level between 2-5 in the afternoon and again at 9-10 in the evening.
* Desire for high amounts of salt and fat.
* A high frequency of cold and flu
* Weight gain around the middle and/or inability to lose weight
* Light in the head when standing from a lying or sitting position
* Increased symptoms of PMS in women
* Trembling when upset
While it may take some time to bring your adrenals back to health, it is entirely possible with a balanced and natural approach. Taking care of your adrenals is all about taking care of you – a five-point approach
Sleep: Since the adrenal glands reset themselves between eleven at night and nine in the morning, it is important to sleep during this time and for as long as you can. If you can’t, try to spend your waking hours doing things that are gentle on the body and emotions – listen to calm music, stretch lightly, avoid arguments.
Breathe: Often, good breathing can help to shorten the stress response. Becoming aware of how you breathe is the first step. When you are under stress is your breath short and fast (this is a panic response that increases adrenaline and heart rate) or do you hold your breath (an anxiety response that increases cortisol)? Work to make yourself breathe deeply, filling the entire stomach cavity and especially the lower back, which is the bottom of the lungs and, in Chinese medicine, shares a meridian with the adrenal glands.
Eat well: Cravings for salt, fat and sugar is a hallmark of adrenal exhaustion. We crave salt because the electrolyte balance – another function of the adrenals – is often out of whack. Eating foods rich in potassium, reducing salt and sugar intake, and increasing your water consumption are three ways to help the kidneys recover.
Herbs: Several supplements are great for helping the adrenals recover:
* Siberian Ginseng: An ‘adaptogen’ that helps the body adapt to stress, it also gives us energy and vitality
* Ashwagandha: Is a great nerve tonic that also helps build up the digestive system.
* Rhodiola Rhosea: Improves memory and concentration and reduces stress-induced fatigue.
* Cordyceps: This mushroom is, far and away, the best herb for reducing adrenal stress. It also increases immune, kidney and liver function and increases the use of oxygen in the body.
Gentle Exercise: Exercise is a great stress reliever, but too vigorous exercise can further stress exhausted adrenals, which in turn can lead to exercise-induced asthma (again, because the lungs and adrenals are on the same meridian in Chinese medicine). Gentle swimming, walking, light jogging, walking and cycling are all great ways to cleanse the body and reduce stress while restoring your adrenals to health. Certain yoga poses, such as simple cross leg pose, bound bridge pose, and corpse pose are also healing for the adrenals. In kundalini yoga the adrenals are also tied to the ego and anger and exercises to reduce anger are also wonderful for adrenals.
Although it takes some time and dedication to get the adrenals calm and in optimal shape, it is well worth it. You will be able to lose weight more efficiently, deal with stress better, get sick less often, and in the long run feel more happiness, vitality and energy.
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