I sometimes feel like, as Americans, we often measure our worth against each other by how much more stressed we think we are than the other person. “OH! I am so stressed out…the dog had to go to the vet, and my bathroom sink is leaking, and Haley (no one is named John and Jane anymore) didn’t make her cheerleading team, and I have to host Friday night’s book party, and I am having the worst week at work, and I worked out for 2 hours at the gym this morning, but I didn’t eat any carbs today, so I….” Sound relatable but harsh? Wake up calls often are harsh. We all need a wake-up call (self included)… A lot of this is self-imposed, self-induced stress, and we don’t have to live this way. This saying just so happens to be true- that life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you handle it.
Where do we come up with all the rules we put on ourselves?
I have to workout for two hours everyday. I have to be top dog at my job. I have to avoid carbohydrates at all costs. I have to be the best dressed at the ___________. I have to look great in skinny jeans. I have to, I have to, I have to…. It can turn in to compulsion, and then what we thought was being healthy is just more self-abuse.
We define our own lives. We are the captains of our own ships. If something is just not working, it is up to us to recognize it and change it. We don’t have to exist in the state of the proverbial chicken with its head cut off.
When I was very young, I worked with this “wise old man” from Nigeria. I suppose I would complain a lot to him- about my lot in life. One day he looked me in the eye and said, “April, if something is stressful for you…you walk away from it.” That was it. Epiphany in simplicity. Again, people are thinking- nope, you can’t just walk away.
Well, actually…you can. The walking away part might not be that simple, but if it isn’t working for you and your life- you have to take an honest look at it, and work towards changing it. And, if it really is the dog-the kids-the car-the bills-the kitchen sink stressing you out…try to pause a minute and realize that those things are what make up this thing we call life. How can you try to work with them in a way that is, if not enjoyable, atleast not such misery. It would be much nicer for your spouse, your kids, your dog…if you could just step back, take a deep breath and proceed with calmness and ownness (yes, that is in the dictionary).
When we can’t calm down…when the stress does pile up…it can start to take a physical toll on the body. Mix this with some dietary and environmental toxicity, and we can come up with dirty little cocktail for ourselves.
Does any of this sound familiar to you: Inability to lose weight (in spite of exercising and eating “right”), excess weight around your middle, low energy- especially upon waking in the morning, fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, low libido, cravings for sugar/carbs- oh, the cravings!? While some might initially think they have thyroid dysfunction, it might actually be a precursor to that, which is adrenal fatigue.
The adrenal glands are two walnut sized organs that sit on top of your kidneys. They are responsible for producing cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone), DHEA (the anti-stress hormone, if you will), and adrenaline (the fight-or-flight hormone). When the adrenal glands have to constantly overproduce any or all of these due to the lifestyle you’re living- you may experience adrenal fatigue/adrenal exhaustion.
I don’t want to get too lengthy here and stress you out further, but you can certainly read more about the science of adrenal fatigue here: http://www.drnorthrup.com/womenshealth/healthcenter/topic_details.php?topic_id=94 , and you can even take a self diagnostic quiz here: http://www.adrenalfatigue.org/take-the-adrenal-fatigue-quiz .
I’d simply like to address some of the key ways many of us may be exhausting our adrenal glands, as well as some ways to begin to correct the behavior.
How and what you eat is paramount. Your body likes to be in a state of homeostasis- that’s balanced blood sugar and an alkaline state. Certain foods wreak havoc on our blood sugar, and certain foods are very acid forming. Also- carbohydrates are not a cardinal sin!
There are three categories that foods comprise: protein, carbohydrate and fat. This has to do with chemical structure and the processes that occur in the body to break these foods down, and how we utilize them. You need carbohydrates. Vegetables are carbohydrates. VEGETABLES ARE CARBOHYDRATES. It would best serve us to start looking at carbs in terms of their glycemic loads (not index)- which has to do with how much insulin a food demands our body to produce when we consume it. You are right to believe that white bread and white pasta are not your friend. The glycemic load of these highly processed foods is quite high, causing an insulin surge, causing stress on the pancreas and other bodily systems, including the adrenal glands.
Too much protein is not the answer either. TOO MUCH PROTEIN causes the body to have to produce too much glucagon, which creates an acidic state in the body. This is also not ideal for optimum health- it does not create the optimum acid-alkaline balance. What is too much protein? Well, keep in mind that everything has some amount of protein in it- protein is not isolated to animal foods. Brown rice has protein, quinoa has incredible amounts of complete protein (meaning all the essential amino acids), wheat, beans, nuts…even kale has a little bit of protein. A person does not have to rely heavily or solely on animal foods to get enough protein. While I am neither advocating for or against meat consumption (though I will speak very strongly against factory farming of animals and advocate for free range, grass fed, organic and hormone free…), it is simply the truth that meat is acid forming…and for wellness we need to be alkaline.
Fat is also not a culprit, but type of fat is crucial. Egg yolks do not raise your cholesterol, and there is even new research showing that low-fat diets may be one of the worst culprits in raising bad cholesterol and causing fat storage in our cells. Essentially, fat isn’t what makes you fat, per se. Our bodies need some fat in order to function. (Watch out for genetically modified canola oil…say NO to GMO.)
It almost goes without saying that packaged and processed foods are what to avoid- that is, the entire middle section of your grocery store. There is nothing you need from a box. Processed foods containing excess sugars, salts, corn syrups, hydrogenated oils, etc…will deplete the living daylights out of your adrenal glands. No one needs Oreo cookies, no one needs boxed cereal…and anyone can re-train their palate so that they no longer have a mental or physical need for such “foods”.
How do we eat? Listen to your body. Eat whole food. As Hippocrates said- let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food. Remember that food cravings are your body’s way of telling you something is out of balance. Carb cravings are often a sign of nutrient/mineral deficiency, dysfunction of your adrenals, OR maybe you are simply starving your body of carbs and it is telling you it wants/needs some!! My favorite quote is from Michael Pollan: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” You can explore his recommendations for eating here: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20090323/7-rules-for-eating
Another reason for adrenal fatigue can be that our life is out of balance. Are your relationships stressing you, your job, are you exercising too much or too little, are you connected spiritually? We all need to find ways to take time out for LIFE. We need rest, relaxation and recreation! Some effective tools for physically managing stress are yoga, meditation and breathing techniques. All three are proven to lower blood pressure and create a more relaxed state.
These aren’t luxuries we can’t afford- they are an essential part of our overall health. We can’t afford not to take care of these important areas of our lives. You could eat the purest and cleanest diet of anyone anywhere, but if your very LIFE is out of balance…you will still suffer from physical ailments like adrenal fatigue. Practicing breathing techniques can actually help manage stress immediately (like when stuck in traffic, for instance).
Lastly, I would like to stress (pun intended) that there is no panacea of well-being. What works for some may not work for others. We need to learn to be more intuitive and to listen to our bodies. Try something that sounds like it would work for you, evaluate how you feel after a few weeks, and if it isn’t working for you- move on! Find what works for you and your body, and what will make you happy- not stressed.
Life is not perfection- in fact, maybe it is the opposite. Everything worth doing really does take work! That is what we can all do- start taking an honest look at where we are and where we would like to be…and start working and moving towards that! Rome was, in fact, not built in a day. A stress-free life is not possible, but a happy and healthy life with manageable stress is possible…it just takes many consistent steps to build it.
Let’s do it!