Elizabeth Cantrell, ND
Recently I had the opportunity to work with a woman who, from an outsiders perspective, seemed to have the “IT” factor. She is a high level executive at a major financial institution; healthy financially, professionally, and socially. She exudes confidence in all areas of her life, except one – her body. She spoke frustratingly about gaining thirty plus pounds over the year despite eating a healthy diet. She ashamedly admitted to not exercising as much as she used to, but objected that even if the motivation to exercise was there she was just too exhausted to do so. She couldn’t fully explain how she felt or what was wrong but she knew something was. She had lost her Va-Va-Voom.
We hear this story every day. I hear it every day. In fact, many of us can relate all too well – we cut calories, we cut carbs, we follow the newest diet plan and nothing changes. Most of us accept, with a doctor’s nudge, that this is a normal part of growing older – especially if you’re a woman. I call BS on that!
Being exhausted, gaining weight, and feeling like crap is NOT part of the normal ageing process. I’m not willing to accept this and I hope you don’t either. You can get your swagger back. No, really… you can. You may even be able to fit into those jeans again that you’ve been holding on to for all these years (heck, they may even be back in style now).
I’m willing to bet that if you talked to any of your friends about your health concerns they probably said, “Maybe you should get your thyroid checked.” Then, optimistically, you headed straight to your family doctor and explained (very briefly, of course, cause ain’t no doctor got time for that) how tired you feel, how you can’t lose weight, and how you just feel blah. You asked the doctor to test your thyroid and begrudgingly he does, then all your hope of finally breaking out this funk fades when he tells you, “Your thyroid is fine. Try eating fewer calories and exercise more.” And boom, just like that, you’re back to square one. Maybe your thyroid is fine (or maybe not; see Dr. Wade’s blog post about thyroid testing). But thyroid hormone isn’t all there is to this big complicated picture. If you have done much internet searching or ever consulted with Dr. Google you probably have run across articles about cortisol or adrenal hormones. If you haven’t (or have) and aren’t real sure about what it has to do with your problems.
Let me break it down for you: Cortisol is a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands (see Dr. Murphy’s blog for an adrenal gland primer). Its release is triggered by different events including waking, fasting, exercising, and stress – the emotional and physical kind.
Cortisol is most notable for its involvement (along with epinephrine) in the “fight or flight” response. The “fight or flight” response leads to a plethora of physiological changes with the sole purpose to promote survival. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar all increase to supply and distribute the energy and oxygen the body needs to intensify strength and speed.
These physiologic responses worked really well for our ancestors when they were chased by the bear or tiger that threatened them while they were gathering and hunting. Although, terrifying, the stressful event was short lived and our ancestor either survived (by fighting or fleeing) or they didn’t. And then life returned to its usual monotony of normal daily tasks. Cortisol and epinephrine returned to their normal levels, heart rate and blood pressure normalized and appetite returned.
Body design at its best, right? It definitively was for our ancestors but not so much for us. I’m not sure about you but being chased by a bear is not part of my weekly, monthly, or anytime norm. The stress most of us experience is chronic, daily stress like work deadlines, demanding bosses or coworkers, family responsibilities, and the physical stress caused by sitting most hours of the day. This unrelenting stress means that cortisol is being pumped out incessantly in inappropriate amounts at inappropriate times. This constant dumping of cortisol leads to a multitude of health problems including weight gain.
Here’s how it works (in a WINK):
- Stress from work, family, illness, or injury cause the adrenal glands to release cortisol.
- Prolonged excess cortisol causes fat storage, especially around the belly.
- This fat causes inflammation, leading to MORE cortisol release AND insulin resistance.
- Insulin resistance leads to more fat and increased hunger.
- Being in fat storage mode means poor energy production leading to fatigue and exhaustion.
- And finally, to top it all off, this additional fat now starts to produce its own cortisol perpetuating the whole cycle.
This just doesn’t seem fair! It’s no wonder so many of us struggle to lose weight. There is good news though. I promised earlier that IT IS possible to get your Va-Va-Voom back. It all comes down to getting off this tired, fat, feel like crap hamster wheel we get stuck on.
The first step is to pinpoint the imbalances. For adrenals specifically, this involves analyzing your daily cortisol rhythm along with other hormones involved in cortisol production (DHEA, progesterone). Next, we repair and restore function. And the final step is to AWESOMIZE your health. So, if this resonates with you and you’re ready to get off the tired-fat-feel like crap hamster wheel give me a call at Elements. I will guide you in becoming your most awesome self again.