Updated: Jul 6
Ahhh... the low carb diet. Originally made popular by Mr. William Banting, a London undertaker, the low carb diet promises easy and dramatic weight loss, reduced triglycerides, controlled blood sugar, and balanced moods. Low carb diets enjoyed a resurgence in the United States in the 1970s, with the popular Atkins Diet Plan, and then at the turn of the millenium, with the South Beach Diet. Timothy Ferris, Dave Asprey, Andreas Eenfeldt, Tim Noakes, and Mark Sisson all tout the benefits of replacing carbohydrates and sugar with fat and protein.
While most of the leading low-carbers are healthy males, women are enchanted by the idea of cutting out major food groups and losing The Last Ten Pounds. Perhaps we whisper to each other about the benefits of cutting out sugar- clearer skin, better mental focus, less irritability- but what we really mean is, "I feel skinnier." Bolstered by the pride we feel at having more self control than all of the other girls, we continue to cut carbs. Mark Sisson may tell us to stay under the 150 gram mark for optimal blood sugar and weight control, but we are better than that. We can do 100. Maybe 50. And now the ketogenic diet people are telling us to cut to 20 grams of carbohydrates a day? And cut out breakfast and lunch? Yes! Intermittent fasting sounds so... skinnifying. No problem.
Until it is a problem.
The problem starts slowly. You lose some energy, where as formerly you were bounding about the house. It's just the low carb flu, you tell yourself. So you drink some water and some coffee and apologize to the kids for snapping at them. Your hands and feet feel chillier. So you add in a quick workout to warm up. Americans don't move enough, you think. It's good that I'm exercising. You post your workout on Instagram so everyone can see your dedication. The feedback feels so affirming. But then your spouse gets home. He looks at your new body and wiggles his eyebrows. You shoot him dagger eyes and shut down his advances immediately. He doesn't understand all of the effort it takes to look this way, you decide. I have no interest in darkening that bedroom door- not tonight or any other night! And it hurts every time because you're so dry. Besides, you fall asleep at 9:30 pm, only to wake at 2 am and lie there, restless, until 5 am. That's if you can even fall asleep to begin with. You're exhausted and he doesn't get it.
But then your hair starts falling out. You push down the nagging feeling that something is not right. You drain your Bulletproof coffee, slam down your HIIT morning workout, and then walk over to your standing desk to obsess over the reviews on Amazon, desperately searching for the perfect collagen powder. Not only will my hair be stronger, but so will my bones, ligaments, and joints! I can work out harder! How can 1346 reviewers be wrong?
So you add more fat, cut back on that dirty protein, and decide to drink your coffee black. How could you have been so blind? You didn't realize heavy whipping cream has 1 gram of carbohydrates per serving! Ugh. No wonder the scale hasn't moved in three weeks. You check in with a girlfriend, making sure that your intermittent fasting goals are met for the day. The camaraderie helps you swallow your hunger. Your stomach has been killing you lately anyway. Everything you eat makes you feel bloated and sick.
What happened? How did you get here? You are doing everything right! No sugar. Good! HIIT workouts instead of debilitating chronic cardio. Yes! Nourishing, satisfying fats instead of wrinkle-causing sugars and gout-inducing protein. Absolutely! Then why do you have a belly that won't shrink? Why are you so exhausted emotionally and physically, mentally and sexually? Why do you feel hopeless and depressed?
You need a break. A real break. Not a week off of working out. Not 200 more calories a day. Not a quick vacation where you simply change your workouts by pretending not to work out.
You've depleted your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands as part of the HPA Axis. The hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands all speak to each other constantly. The brain perceives stress and sends that information to the adrenal glands, which create and pump cortisol into the bloodstream. We need cortisol. Cortisol bolsters our body through periods of acute stress. It is anti-inflammatory. It regulates blood sugar. It creates an alarm clock of sorts, rising to optimal morning levels just before waking so that the body has enough energy to get out of bed and start the day. But the body has a finite supply of cortisol. A healthy body should produce between 20-25 mg of cortisol over a 24 hour period. If the hypothalamus and pituitary tell the adrenals to produce more than that for an extended period of time, eventually the adrenals "burn out" and symptoms of low cortisol start to appear. We liken the analogy to that of the gas pedal on a car- if you slam down on the gas pedal for an extended period of time, eventually the gas runs out. You can keep pushing the pedal, but the energy source is spent.
But how do we lower stress? How do we build the adrenals back up? How do "get healthy" and still feel good about our bodies? Will we get fat if we stop exercising and start eating more carbohydrates?
Maybe. For a period. Speaking of which, are you having one? How long has it been since you have menstruated regularly?
If your body is expending all of its precious energy to stay alive, there is very little vital reserve left to grow new hair, to make a baby, to have a good workout, to digest food. Cortisol's action is that of "breaking down". It breaks down the body if it is not in balance with its antagonist, DHEA- your "building hormone".
Suffice it to say, your hormones are out of whack. Wacky. Maybe there is a supplement you can add, or two or three. Maybe. But for how long will those supplements mask your symptoms? That's all they are- symptoms. They are a sign. They point to greater disorders, upstream. Why are you here in the first place? That is what I want to know.
That is what I do. Get ahold of me and we can dive deep into your hormone panel. I use a urine test to measure hormones. There is no blood- don't worry. Let's work together and figure out what is going on with your body at the most fundamental level. I could give you some supplemental hormones, but that won't fix the problem. We will need to work on all aspects of your life. Besides, you are unique. What works for your friend may not work for you. If you are ready for that, reach out to me. It is my passion to help fatigued women find hormone balance.
If you are not ready for that, then here are a few suggestions for adrenal support:
Add fruit back into your diet.
Some of my clients may raise their eyebrows in surprise at this blog post, considering that we start out many of them on a lower carb diet. But our diet is to be used therapeutically, for a short period of time- a month or two, at most. Because low carb diets are extremely effective short term. They actually do all of the tings they say they are going to. Most of my clients need blood sugar regulation. They need to lose a few pounds. They need a reduction in blood pressure and triglycerides. Many of them have been fed so many lies that they don't know the correct definition of Real Food. A boneless skinless chicken breast is not Real Food. When you work with me, you will be eating some low glycemic fruit at every meal because your liver needs glucose to effectively balance Phase I and Phase II detoxification. So add some fruit- not too much. (We will talk more about fruit and vegetables, and diet in the next post on Low Carb Diets and Estrogen Dominance.)
Eat plenty of protein.
Even my younger clients are to eat 20 grams of protein at each meal and snack. Children have great protein needs, as do adults in adrenal fatigue (now commonly referred to as "HPA Axis Dysfunction". Don't let the Ketos tell you to restrict your protein too much. Protein breaks down into amino acids, which your body uses to build new tissue (unless you are high in Indican and are not digesting protein properly, but that is another post and test!) Adult women, eat between 80-120 grams of protein per day, especially if you are recovering.
Supplement with Vitamins B and C.
The adrenal glands use more vitamin C than any other gland in the body. Since Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, the body does not store it well and it is lost easily during times of stress. I prefer my clients to use food as medicine, so I recommend one orange or two mandarins per day, eaten with fat and protein. If you would rather supplement, do so. The B vitamins are also important to support the body during taxing times. B Vitamins are found best in animal proteins- liver, grass fed beef, and pastured eggs. Again, if you prefer to supplement, please do. Just know that supplements are not as bioavailable to to the body as is actual food, so you may not be getting the 1000 mg of vitamin C that your EmergenC pack says you are getting.
Go to bed one hour earlier tonight.
And shut off electronics an hour before that. Modern electronic screens stimulate the pineal gland, which produces melatonin, the antioxidant hormone that lulls you to sleep properly. I make my clients practice sleep hygiene. One hour of sleep before midnight equates to two hours of sleep after midnight, so accrue your sleep in those important hours of 9pm-12am. Of course, sleep for a good 8 hours. Just know that going to bed at 1am and waking up at 9am is just as deleterious for your health as is only sleeping for 4 hours.
And know that you can feel better. This life is not a race. Slow down. Read. Play. Fellowship. Pray. And for heaven's sake, eat. Let's reform your metabolism together.