Stressed, Tired and Binging - Here's Help

I don't know of anyone who hasn't experienced more than the usual amount of stress in their lives over the past year.  Whether you've been stressed about your health, suffered losses, had financial stressors, working long hours or had a relationship breakup, stress has become a constant irritant for many of us.  If you're struggling with binge eating, emotional eating or food addiction, your eating behaviors may be the first sign that you are stressed to the max.

Adrenal glands (little glands on top of each kidney) put out hormones to help us deal with stress - cortisol and adrenaline.  These are the fight or flight (or freeze) hormones that prepare us to go into one of these three reactions.  But they also produce over 50 hormones including 40% of a woman's estrogen and progesterone and 40% of male testosterone.  Because of this, any depletion in the adrenals can cause dysregulation of many important hormones.

When the triggering situation is resolved quickly, your adrenal glands get a break from regulating these hormones, and the rest of your body gets a respite from their effects. But when the situation goes on for weeks or months, and the stress becomes chronic, the adrenal glands burn out from chronic production of cortisol and cause what is called adrenal fatigue syndrome.

What are the causes of adrenal fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is caused by chronic or long-lasting stress.   When stressful situations go on for weeks or months, the adrenal glands burn out from chronic production of cortisol and cause what is called adrenal fatigue.These can include positive stressors like having a baby (during a pandemic!) or negative stressors like being laid off (esp. during a pandemic!).  Here are some of the typical causes:

1. Emotional or physical stress - these include any overwhelming emotions like fear, shame, guilt, anger or grief.  While being active helps with stress, doing too much exercise, especially if you're tired or ill is actually a cause of adrenal fatigue.

2. Poor dietary habits - overeating stresses the body as does yo-yo dieting.  Low blood sugar which can be caused by low calorie dieting or restricting food can also put stress on your body.

3. Intense stress followed by chronic infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, parasites or COVID-19 can also tax your adrenal glands.  Overuse of antibiotics can also reduce cortisol production.

How do you know if you have adrenal fatigue?

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue may include:

  1. Salty and sugary food cravings
  2. Feeling tired (especially on awakening) that doesn't get better with sleep
  3. Difficulty coping with stress
  4. Depression and anxiety
  5. Trouble thinking clearly or "brain fog"
  6. Increased energy in the evenings
  7. Overuse of caffeine and other stimulants
  8. Compromise of the immune system

How does adrenal fatigue affect binge eating, food addiction or emotional eating?

Chronic, long-lasting stress that causes the release of cortisol which increases appetite.  Stress also affects what you may binge or overeat.  It is thought that high insulin levels and high cortisol leads to eating foods high in fat and sugar or both.  Stress can also lead to the use of alcoholic beverages, getting less sleep or low physical activity and all of these may also impact eating behaviors.

How is adrenal fatigue syndrome treated?

If you think you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue, consult an integrative or naturopathic physician, who can do the proper testing and advise you about treatment. Then make a commitment to caring for yourself. Here are some simple yet powerful strategies for regaining your energy and feeling better:

  • Practice relaxing: Use meditation, guided imagery or breathwork.  Download a free meditation here.
  • Make sure you are sleeping well.  Take magnesium or the homeopathic remedy Calm Forte
  • Drink beverages that help your adrenals - ginseng or green tea, V8 juice (with salt), licorice
  • Eat well - eat lots of fruits and vegetables, protein and fiber.
  • Take vitamins - vitamins C and B5 help with cortisol production, vitamin D can help support the immune system.  

Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Give your mind and body a chance to heal. With time – and with good self-care – you can regain your energy and your sense of well-being.

All the best,
Dr. Carolyn

PS:  If you're tired of being tired and stressed out, tired of binging, emotionally overeating or obsessing about food or your body, the Anchor Program(TM) can help.   Schedule a free consult.

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