So I recently started a new certification called Functional Diagnostic Nutrition (FDN). It’s an amazing program that dives deep into people’s foundational systems (hormone, immune, digestion etc…) by using lab work as a starting point, and looks for clues into mal-adaptations within these systems. Then through an all natural protocol (behavior, diet and supplements) I'll be able to help people bring these systems back into balance and ultimately feel better. Pretty cool, right?
One of the many things I’ve learned so far is that keeping these foundational systems running smoothly is a MUST if you’re experiencing unexplained symptoms such as weight gain and/or stubborn weight.
For example, if one of your basic foundational systems are out of balance, no matter how “healthy” you eat, you still won’t be able to lose weight. Of course, eating healthy DOES matter but it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Unexplained weight gain, unstable weight, and/or inability to lose weight are actually common “symptoms” of a dysfunctional system or systems (again, this is assuming you’re eating healthy!).
If you’re micromanaging, counting calories, or even eating smaller portions to manage your weight, what you’re actually doing is managing your symptom (weight) and not addressing the root dysfunction. Read on to see which basic foundational system within you (it was for me!) may be out of balance AND may be contributing to your weight struggles.
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Cortisol, Adrenals and Weight Loss
What is cortisol? Cortisol is a major hormone (steroid) produced and released by our adrenal glands (two little glands that sit on top of our kidneys). It’s released daily and follows what’s called a diurnal pattern; it’s highest in the morning, decreases throughout the day, and is lowest at night.
Cortisol release is our body’s response to ALL stress, both internal and external. Mental, emotional, environmental and hidden internal stressors (i.e. unknown food intolerances) all affect our adrenals which in turn affects our cortisol release.
NOTE: Other cortisol dysregulation factors may be in play here but beyond the scope of this post.
We need cortisol! It provides us with energy throughout the day, is responsible for us jumping out of bed every morning, regulates our blood sugar and provides energy for our central nervous system. It also downgrades inflammation, acts as a pain killer, aids in food metabolism and slows our digestion down by delaying gastric emptying. It also helps us deal with mental and emotional stress appropriately.
However, cortisol is catabolic. Meaning, if our adrenals produce too much, for too long, our bodies will start to break down, not only suppressing our overall adrenal function (where cortisol comes from) but eventually throwing off all our other foundational systems (mentioned above) as well.
How does this relate to weight loss and/or weight gain? In many, many ways! For now, I’ll focus on one; the effects of low cortisol on weight.
If you’re adrenals ARE suppressed and/or dysfunctional you may actually have low cortisol. Sure, at some point you were most likely producing it with a regular rhythm and pattern but like mentioned above, excessive high cortisol (aka chronic stress) leads to adrenal dysfunction which ultimately results in low or extremely low cortisol.
Low cortisol translates, for many, into low energy, blood sugar issues, overall malaise feeling, and inability to handle even the smallest of confrontations. Irritability and unexplained fatigue along with immune suppression are also commonly reported.
This type of adrenal dysfunction will eventually lead to additional basic system dysfunctions (like hormone, digestion, detox, etc.). Mal-adaptations in these systems will then lead to WEIGHT GAIN and/or INABILITY TO LOSE WEIGHT. Hence, why eating right and exercising regularly is not enough for so many people!
In addition, many, actually alter their eating behaviors in response to their low cortisol. How? Here’s a few examples:
Do you often find yourself grabbing healthy food for a boost of energy? Is your body missing the nutrients or do you have low cortisol?
Do you experience hypoglycemia and get shaky if you go for long periods of time without eating, then eat to feel better? Does your blood sugar drop due to lack of food, or does it drop due to low cortisol?
Do you find yourself arguing with people A LOT more than what you used to? Are you then eating for “comfort?” Is it really always everyone else's fault or is it you overreacting due to low cortisol? Then, in remorse, do you eat for emotional comfort?
Last but not least, are you always tired? This one was me. For months I felt tired and would find myself eating (albeit healthy) for energy. Sure, I have 4 kids, work, and do all the other stuff that comes along with life (just like YOU!) but I was constantly using food for energy.
I got my cortisol levels tested and found them to be EXTREMELY low! This totally explained my constant fatigue regardless of my busy lifestyle, optimal diet, regular exercise AND why I was always “snacking.”
Focus on your Adrenals and not the Food
If you eat healthy and exercise regularly AND still struggle with stubborn weight, assessing your adrenal function and measuring your cortisol levels are great first steps in finding out what’s really going on, (unique to you) within your body.
By shifting gears myself, and focusing on my adrenals rather than my food, I’ve been able to lose a few more pounds from my super stubborn baby weight. Yay!
Stay tuned for future posts on how you too, can nourish your adrenals, regulate your cortisol, and ultimately lose the weight.