Eating The Right Foods When Stressed
Do you know what to eat for fatigue? In order to recover from adrenal fatigue, it is crucial for you to understand that diet and lifestyle play a critical role. When your adrenal glands respond to stress the metabolism of your cells speeds up, burning many times the number of nutrients normally required. Dr. James Wilson, in his book Adrenal Fatigue, The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, mentions that a person with adrenal fatigue is often lacking sufficient essential nutrients they need to meet the increased demands their cells experience under stress, and they are best supplied by way of a healthy . Chapter 13 of the book outlines that “good quality foods are the best source of these nutrients, there is no substitute”, but also that “nutritional supplements described in Chapter 15 can increase your ability to heal and speed recovery, but without a foundation of nutritious food intake, you will not progress much”. If you wish you can click on any of the links below which can take you straight to the topic, or just read all the way through.
When you suffer from adrenal fatigue, one of the best places to start is by paying closer attention to the choices you make about food. From my own experience and that of my patients, I know just how difficult it is to make sound nutritional choices when we’re going through periods of stress, and I’m talking not just about what you eat, but when and how you actually eat it. Not only are our minds pre-occupied with the stress at hand, but our bodies are telling us they desperately need support, so we may inadvertently reach for foods that provide quick energy like sweet snacks, a quick coffee or convenience foods like muesli bars, chocolate bars, sticky buns or sweets like licorice.
Particularly at the end of a stressful day, overeating, drinking alcohol or making poor choices generally can be so easy to do. You may have come home after a busy day at the office or work, your children are ’starving’ and so are you. It can feel overwhelming to think about changing your eating patterns from a ‘quick fix’ to making more sensible choices, but believe me, small, incremental changes can really support better adrenal gland function and your day-long energy reserves. You will find that you don’t have to drag yourself through the long afternoon or dread your alarm clock every morning. Let’s look at some options for supporting your adrenals nutritionally, so that you can enjoy great and sustained energy all day long, and get a fantastic night’s sleep as well. The difference can be really amazing, your whole life can change dramatically if you only could give it a good try.
A Healthy Life Depends On Healthy Adrenal Function
As the great balancer of about 50 hormones in the body, the adrenal glands have a broad impact on your health and energy. The adrenals are primarily responsible for activating your stress (“fight or flight”) response, shifting energy away from restorative processes like digestion and toward the organs of action — your heart and skeletal muscles — by pumping adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream. But they also synthesise numerous other hormones, including the ‘androgens’ and their pre-cursors, such as testosterone and DHEA, as well as estrogens and progesterone, and this is why it becomes even more important than ever to support your adrenal glands as you approach menopause, a time when our bodies come to rely more heavily upon the regulation of hormones. This is often a time in your life when the kids are older and you tend to slow down a little, you may even be feeling a bit jaded and ‘worn out’ at this stage of your life after embracing the stresses of your life during the past 20 years.
But aside from the life-critical job the adrenals play in activating your stress response and supplementing healthy hormonal balance as we age, the hormone cortisol itself has a powerful hand in so many other regulatory processes across all your systems: protecting the body from stress by regulating blood pressure, normalizing your blood sugar levels, helping to regulate the immune and inflammatory responses, and influencing mood, memory, and clarity of thought.
Maybe this helps explain why, when your adrenal reserves are depleted, you might feel a little crazy, and your sleeping and eating habits seem a little crazy, too! With persistent stress, we become increasingly less grounded, which can increase stress even more, and the constant demand for stress hormones means the adrenals become depleted and ultimately exhausted. But my clinical experience with women over the years has shown me that you can provide stronger grounding and support to the adrenal glands by making some simple choices when it comes to healthy eating and nutrition. Will your food choices make or break your adrenal function? Not exactly — stress is the number-one major offender when it comes to adrenal depletion, and you can read more about this in Dr. James Wilson’s book, regarding the effects of sustained high cortisol and then low cortisol in time as these glands become compromised. Good nutrition, well-timed meals and snacks, can significantly relieve the strain on your adrenal glands, and Chapter 13 of Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome will explain all about the best food choices you can make with regard to your adrenal function, and is well worth of a read.
Think about your car. You try to buy good quality fuel, oil, have your regular 6-monthly mechanical checks, and even insure your vehicle. You know that by maintaining your vehicle it will be reliable and give you good long-term service, you’ll get better petrol mileage, your car will respond better when road conditions are slippery, and your vehicle will last longer too. The same goes for adrenal function. By you selecting high-quality foods, building a strong nutrient base, and paying attention to when and how you eat all make for more efficient and healthy adrenal function, and better health all around. Just as neglecting to maintain and service your car may not immediately compromise your safety or your car’s efficiency, your adrenals can take a lot of strain before you begin to see the effects on your body.
Timing Your Meals and Snacks is Most Important
Are you one of those 25% of women who skip breakfast and have a coffee instead? One thing I often tell my patients is to never allow themselves to skip meals or to get too hungry. Low blood sugar by itself places a major stress on your body and can really tax your adrenal glands. You may not realise that your body is in constant need of energy — even as you sleep. The primary adrenal hormone called cortisol serves as a kind of moderator in making sure your blood sugar between meals, especially during the night, stays adequate. It does this by signaling to the liver to release glycogen, its stored sugar, when there isn’t food on board. Long periods without food make the adrenals work harder by requiring them to release more cortisol to keep your body functioning normally. This is why people with compromised energy levels fair better by eating smaller meals more reqularly. So eating three nutritious meals and two to three snacks that are well-timed throughout the day is an excellent way to balance your blood sugar and lessen the adrenal burden, and your moods will be more stable too! When you eat can also make a difference in preserving, supporting, and restoring your adrenals.
Circadian Rhythm and Your Cortisol Cycle
Cortisol has a natural cycle that works with your circadian rhythm. Normally, it begins to rise around 6:00 AM and reaches its highest peak around 8:00 to 9.00AM. Healthy people have LOTS of energy in the morning. Throughout the day cortisol gradually declines — with small upward bumps at meal times in preparation for night time rest.
Small snacks at 10.00am, 2.30pm and around 9.30pm can be very important for those who are very fatigued and who want to better help regulate their blood sugar levels throughout the day. You will fell better, have more energy and actually be nicer to those around you! Just make sure you don’t snack on Twinkies, chocolate bars, donuts or soda drinks. You will feel a lot worse if you do. Make the RIGHT choices.
Eating Regular Meals and Snacks Supports Your Adrenal Glands By:
- Optimising and ’smoothing out’ daytime cortisol levels
- Prevents the highs and lows of cortisol – your energy levels will be more consistent
- Helps to minimise night time cortisol levels – ensures a more restful, restorative and satisfying sleep
It is ideal to work with this natural cycle to keep the tapering-off of levels as smooth as possible as the day progresses and to avoid dramatic ups and downs. To do this, it helps to get the majority of your food in earlier in the day, preferably up until lunchtime, and to eat an early dinner (by 5:00 or 6:00 PM). If it’s difficult to eat early, as it is for many of my busy patients, at least try to make your evening meal the lightest one of the day, to prevent a surge of cortisol from increasing your night-time metabolic rate and disrupting your ability to fall or stay asleep. Many of patients tell me that they have developed a tendency to over-eat in the evening. This “night-eating” habit is due to the appetite-stimulating effects of residual cortisol, and unfortunately, it only further disturbs your hormone axis.
Keep in mind that cortisol will also rise a little with exercise, and can stimulate or appetite as a result. But don’t worry, your metabolic rate will have increased a well – ensuring that your body more efficiently burns up fat in the process if you exercise long enough and make it a regular thing in your life. Lighter activities, such as a walk after dinner or a bit of gentle stretching before, will not subvert this natural tapering-off process. But to work in harmony with your body’s natural cortisol cycle, more intense exercise is best planned for the morning.
But Eric, I’m not just hungry in the morning…
There could be many reasons WHY you don’t feel like eating breakfast in the morning. I learned years ago to “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”.
But maybe you don’t feel hungry in the morning, and if so, it could be for the following reasons:
- The hormone called Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), has an interesting effect on your desire to eat foods, it kind of dulls the desire. It tends to be secreted at higher levels in the morning thus “blunting” your appetite or desire for foods.
- You may need to get your liver working a little better. Those with adrenal fatigue may well be drinking too much alcohol or caffeine or refined carbohydrates which all can tend to congest the liver. When the liver becomes sluggish (which is often so with reduced adrenal function) it can also dampen the desire for foods first thing in the morning, especially so if your bowel function is not optimal.Those who drink morning coffee and evening alcohol will most certainly have a compromised liver function, and a good detox is certainly suggested in these instances.
Health Tip – Even if there is little desire to eat in the morning, try to eat some protein within an hour or so after getting up, it will help to stabilize your cortisol levels early on in the day which will help to balance your metabolism. This will keep the extra pounds off and give you a nice level of energy throughout the day.
Simple Ways To Support Your Body’s Natural Cortisol Cycle
- Eating your breakfast early. This is the most important meal for those who suffer from morning fatigue because it will help to boost up those blood sugar levels which have become depleted overnight. Eating a nutritious high protein breakfast is one of the most important things you can do if you have adrenal fatigue, and the earlier you eat breakfast after rising the better. Why do you think they call it the “break-fast”? Because you are breaking an 8 hour fast!
- A good time for a snack is between breakfast and lunch, this will help to compensate for the natural drop in blood sugar between meals. If you get up at seven in the morning, have a snack around 10.00 AM.
- Be regular with your lunch, don’t eat lunch too early or too late. The breakfast and snack you just had can be used up rather quickly, so be sure to eat your lunch around 12.00 PM to 1.00 PM. Regularity is the key to balancing blood sugar levels.
- Just like in the morning, try to eat a healthy snack between 2:00 and 3:00 PM to get you through the fatigue that often kicks in around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. This could be a few high quality nuts like Brazil nuts, almonds, or a rice cracker with avocado, there are many options here. Get some good cook books from your library, take a look at some recipes or just ask Google.
- Eat your evening meal around 5:00 or 6:00 PM, you don’t want to be eating your evening meal too late, like 9.00 or 10.00 PM. Your evening meal should be your lightest meal of the day, this is the time when you don’t want your body powered up with lots of blood sugar as your working day will have ended.
With a bit of thought with regards to the planning and timing of your meals and snacks, it is easy to support your body’s natural rhythms thereby preventing dramatic dips in blood sugar. This will not only minimizes any unnecessary adrenal cortisol output, it allows your adrenal glands to perform their secondary functions which will give you a more sustained energy level throughout your day. You will find that your life can become much more enjoyable when you have the energy and stamina you need and when you need it.
Eating and Drinking Sensibly Supports Adrenal Gland Function
It is not only important to think about when we eat, it equally important to think about what kinds of foods and drinks we consume when it comes to balancing our blood sugar levels. The most popular foods of choice for those with fatigue are the refined carbohydrates, and it makes sense why we crave these foods – it’s because they give our system the instant sugar it is looking for top boost our flagging blood sugar levels. After having seen patients with fatigue for many years, I have got used to them telling me that the foods they like to eat the most when they are tired are foods like cookies, cakes, doughnuts, white bread, canned spaghetti, 2 minute noodles or pasta dishes. These foods contain highly refined carbs such as sugar and flour, and allow a great surge of energy, but generally the surge is followed by an even greater dip in energy, causing you to feel worse.
Many patients with adrenal fatigue tell me they reach for foods that give them an instant burst of energy — foods like en contain gluten, a protein that is found in many grains (including wheat, rye and barley, and oats) and frequently used as a food additive, too. I have found in my practice that many people with adrenal fatigue can become increasingly sensitive to gluten as their immune systems become more and more compromised due to reducing cortisol levels . For this reason, a gluten-free (essentially grain or wheat free) diet is one of the first things I suggest to my patients with symptoms of adrenal fatigue, particularly those with severe fatigue, and these patients often report feeling much better when they get the gluten out of their diets.
Coffee and Adrenal Fatigue – a Common Fatigue Combo
In most all cities in the Western developed countries you will never have to look very far for a cafe. Many men and women with adrenal fatigue drink coffee in increasing amounts, or other caffeinated or carbonated beverages throughout the day just to stay pepped up and awake. They may think it’s not affecting their sleep patterns, but research has linked higher caffeine intake to classic “night owl” or “eveningness” behavior. Caffeine can pick you up in the short term, but it can also over-stimulate the adrenals, which only compounds fatigue as it wears off.
If you find yourself craving caffeine or sugar, it may be that your cortisol is too low, but it also simply may be that your body needs to rest. I encourage you to honor your body’s request and take a break, instead of always trying to step it up another notch. Take a quiet moment and treat yourself to some deep breathing or a ten minute walk. And if drinking a cup of coffee is a relaxing part of your routine and you don’t want to give it up, drink it in the morning before lunch time when your cortisol levels tend to be higher anyway, and preferably with something nutritious to eat.
On a recent trip to Seattle I was blown-away at how much coffee was being drunk, even by those driving in their cars! A doctor mentioned to me that there is so much caffeine in the town water supply in Seattle, it was virtually impossibel to filter it all out. A spin-off effect? Babies with insomnia, overstimulated kids and adults who just keep on recycling this caffeine. We now not only have to contend with prawns on prozac or psychiatric drugs in our water supply, but caffeine as well. Enjoy a cup a day, but – please be cautious with coffee – for it can become a real trap for those with fatigue.
Choosing The Right Drinks
Just as with food, your choices about drinks can contribute to the support or strain on your adrenal glands. Here are some good and not-so-good choices. Are you a soda drinker? You will need to DROP this habit if you want to recover from adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal depleting beverages – alcohol, coffee, black tea, Gatorade, fizzy (soda) drinks like Coke, Fresh-Up, Mountain Dew, Red Bull, etc.
- Adrenal restoring beverages – Teas like Ginseng (especially morning), licorice, Rooibos (Red Bush Tea) , vegetable juice like V8, or a quality Green tea.
Every day we make choices about what we eat and drink. Some days those choices are helpful for the body and other days — or meals — aren’t so helpful. What I encourage you to focus on is balance. Nourishing your body with balanced meals and snacks can do wonders for your energy and feed your adrenal health at the same time. Yet, you don’t want to be so stuck on eating “right” that you cause yourself more stress! I always tell my patients to follow the 80/20 rule – eat their best 80% of the time. The other 20% is up to them, relax!
Eat Meals And Snacks That Are Made Of Fresh Whole Foods
Locally grown foods, without colors, chemicals, preservatives or added hormones are best to strive for. Go for organic where you can, and try to grow at least some salad vegetables for yourself! But please, don’t be anal about wanting to eat everything as much “organic” as you can – this type of diet anxiety can be an illness in its own right, I have seen this many times. Including some protein in all your meals and snacks (especially in the morning) will have a stabilising effect on your blood sugar, which in turn can help you overcome caffeine and sugar cravings.
To lessen the stress that often comes with trying to eat healthfully, think about preparing nutritious foods on the weekends so you have them ready and available on busy weeknights, or stop at a health food store to pick up some healthy snacks and ingredients to help you make nice tasty and healthy dishes during the week. Don’t feel guilty if your food isn’t homemade every day in your own kitchen, but do avoid “junk” if you eat out or get take-away foods. I always go for Thai or another similar healthy alternative to greasy foods like fish and chips of pizza. Guilt is the last thing your adrenals need!
Salt, Aldosterone and Adrenal Fatigue
People with adrenal fatigue may well crave salt or salty foods like potato chips, olives, crackers, pretzels or savoury foods in general, and many patients are surprised when I tell them to honor this craving. Yes, salt can increase blood pressure but only in the rare few, and low blood pressure (hypotension) is a very common sign of adrenal fatigue — at all stages. I like nothing more than to watch a DVD movie with a bag of potato chips, and I’ll bet I’m not alone! But it is the salt I crave, I used to lick the salt off the chips before I ate them, and then wanted the crumbs at the bottom of the bag to. Sounds like you? Maybe your choice is pretzels – and you nibble the salt off them. The sodium is what many crave with adrenal fatigue. Maybe you like olives with some sun-dried tomatoes, some soft cheese and a nice glass of wine? You get the point.
If you feel lightheaded when getting out of bed in the morning, standing up quickly, or getting up out of a bath or hot tub, you may very well have low adrenal function, and including more salt in your diet could be helpful. But try to make it good-quality sea salt or the Celtic salt. Please do bear in mind that if you are a vegetarian, your blood-pressure may well be on the low side which in your case may not be indicative of adrenal fatigue. Are you a vegetarian? Then get your iron and vitamin B12 checked if you are tired, I’ve given up counting how many vegetarian patients I’ve checked over the years with low B12 and iron who were exhausted, especially women. Monthly menstrual cycles with no red meats spells anemia – and resulting fatigue.
Craving for salt in people with adrenal fatigue is a result of low aldosterone. Aldosterone is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland, is part of the complex mechanism that regulates blood pressure in your body. Levels of aldosterone go up and down in much the same pattern as cortisol does, and likewise go up as a normal response to stressful situations. Production of aldosterone by the adrenals depends on how much cortisol-stimulating hormone (ACTH) is being sent from the brain. The brain takes its signals from the amount of circulating cortisol — not circulating aldosterone — so high cortisol tends to lower the brain’s ACTH production, which in turn decreases aldosterone secretion, leading to lower blood pressure. Another consequence of low aldosterone is electrolyte imbalance and cell dehydration, which both have negative effects on almost all physiological reactions in the body: aside from salt cravings, low blood pressure and light-headedness, patients with adrenal fatigue often experience an irregular heart beat, lethargy, muscle weakness, and increased thirst. These are all a result of imbalance in sodium and other minerals, including potassium and magnesium. Increasing your salt intake is one way to help restore these imbalances. Chapter 22 of Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome outlines the ‘Anatomy and Physiology of the Adrenal Glands’, and has much more detail about aldosterone and the regulation of the body’s electrolytes.
A Nutrient-Rich Foundation Is Essential For Healing Adrenal Fatigue
If you decide to do nothing else for your adrenals, I urge you to provide your body with a strong nutrient base. The vitamins, minerals and other micro-nutrients available in Dr Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Programs are absolutely essential for healing adrenal fatigue — as well as for the everyday workings of your adrenal glands. For additional support for adrenal health, my recommendations are for you to try Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue products. We can assist you with Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Questionnaire, and if appropriate recommend a program that best fits your personal needs — dosage, timing, blood pressure, cortisol levels, and other factors should be taken in to consideration.
A strong nutrient foundation also supports the hormone system overall. There is great synergism between the different organs of your hormone system (including the adrenal glands), where each organ and its secretions interact with the others to up-regulate and down-regulate activity to keep us in balance. But as hormonal levels become deficient or excessive, the natural response of our cells is to compensate by increasing or decreasing their receptors for those molecules. To do all this optimally, they need nutritional support!
Small Things Can Make Dramatic Differences
Your adrenal glands are tiny in comparison to many other organs. They are roughly the size of a walnut, yet they have enormous responsibilities in your body. When they are functioning at their peak, these small glands can help you feel energised when you need to be and relaxed when it is time for rest. They contribute to the production of estrogen, testosterone, progesterone and so much more. But life’s demands can slowly drain the balancing power of the adrenal glands. Even the healthiest person’s adrenals, though evolutionarily equipped to handle periods of stress, become fatigued under chronic, unrelenting stress.
You have the power to lessen the burden on your adrenals — and your whole body. It doesn’t take much. The small choices you make in regards to your nutrition and eating patterns will make a difference. Here’s my advice to you: support your foundation with a high quality nutritional supplement and eat good food in harmony with your body’s natural daily rhythms. Soon you’ll find the energy you thought you lost — and it’ll be here to stay!
Claire Johnson (California, USA) said,
“Thanks Eric, your article “Eating for your adrenal glands” is an excellent source of information for you to make the right choices in the kitchen. Much useful information on this website. Also good to see that your web site is not full of products making ridiculous claims”
Joanna Warwick (Sydney, Australia) said,
“Great article Eric, and very timely for me too. I have been drinking between 5 to 7 cups of coffee a day (and three of those was in the morning before lunch!) and couldn’t work out why I was so tired all the time. Now I know, I’ll have eggs for breakfast instead of a coffee and a doughnut”.