Ironically enough, many people consume a diet that puts a considerable amount of stress on their bodies, in essence creating a chronic stress response. Dieting itself can put a strain on the adrenal glands because it leads to low blood sugar. Americans love to diet; it’s been estimated that 56% of the US population is dieting at any given time and that the average dieter makes four attempts at dieting every year. This can result in wild fluctuations in cortisol levels as the adrenals attempt to regulate your blood sugar. This is very inefficient and sets the stage for chronically low blood sugar, and often, excessive crankiness!
In addition, research has shown that dieting itself not only increases stress in the body (and cortisol production), it may actually “reprogram” how the brain responds to future stress and emotional drives for food. Researches have found that repeated dieting not only increases levels of stress hormones–it alters the DNA and changes the genes that control appetite and stress. These changes lead to subsequent binge eating of high-fat foods. Thus, dieting itself creates a situation where future emotional or stress-induced binge eating is more likely to occur, sabotaging any long-term weight-loss efforts. Once more, the lure of these calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods starves the body of the very nutrients it needs to successfully combat stress.
Consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates (which is extremely common in the US) will cause a different response than dieting, one that is far more detrimental to your adrenals. This type of eating leads to a chronic elevation of blood sugar (which is one of the key contributing factors to the explosion of diabetes in this country), creating overproduction of insulin (and eventually insulin resistance), which stresses the adrenals and leads to the desire to consume even more refined carbohydrate/sugar, creating a perpetual cycle leading to more and more weight gain. It’s like unknowingly fueling a fire that is burning you, resulting in pain and usually lots of weight gain.
During acute stress, the body needs additional nutrients to help deal with the increased stress load. Unfortunately, stress itself often leads to poor dietary choices. Studies have shown that increased perceived stress leads to the following dietary behaviors:
- Decreased fruit and vegetable consumption
- Decreased protein consumption
- Increased consumption of salty foods
- Higher intake of sweets
- Higher intake of saturated fat
Even if you “know” what you should do and eat, this is an instance where biology overpowers knowledge and willpower. Nobody reaches for a salad when they are stressed, although that would be the best thing to do. We reach for comfort foods, foods to soothe our stressed out minds and bodies, foods that will provide some respite from the daily grind, no matter how fleeting. If this happened only occasionally it wouldn’t cause any great harm. That it happens daily for many people is of grave concern.
Thankfully, understanding the causes of adrenal fatigue has provided many resources to help stop the progress and reverse the debilitating effects of prolonged stress.
Learn more about stress and your health: