Hormones affect our ability to handle stress, inflammation, blood sugar regulation, metabolism, and more. As health professional, I am seeing younger and younger women suffering with fatigue, poor sleep, weight gain, blood sugar imbalance and hormone imbalances. Why is this happening?
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Why am I feeling burnout?
Of course the answer to this question can look different depending on the woman, but the most common reason I see for younger women reaching "burnout" - feeling tired, overwhelmed, drained, stressed...
Is a result of their stress response. The hormone directly involved in our stress response is cortisol. Cortisol is produced by our adrenal glands, which are two small glands that sit just on top of our kidneys. These glands produce cortisol daily, with the most production as soon as we wake up in the morning.
You should feel a burst in energy and focus within the first two hours of waking up. Do you get this natural burst in energy?
If you don't, there could be an issue with your stress response. Instead of just looking at the adrenal glands for this type of issue though we need to take a look at the entire process - called the HPA Axis. The HPA Axis includes the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands.
The hypothalamus and pituitary are located in the brain. These three areas communicate with one another and signal when the adrenal gland should produce cortisol (and how much).
The adrenal glands are responsible for releasing a normal fluctuation of cortisol throughout the day to give us energy earlier in the day and help us wind down at the end of the day. Our cortisol levels should be low in the evening and throughout the night, allowing us to sleep well.
I've always been a busy person, why all of a sudden do I feel so drained of energy and motivation?
Our body and adrenal glands can only adapt and keep up to our busy, stressful lives for so long before they become overwhelmed themselves. Over the course of our lives we have increased responsibilities and stress from school, work, family, and social expectations.
On top of that, inflammation is technically a "stress" in the body. Inflammation can increase based on our diet, exercise regimen, sleep quality, chemicals in our environment, alcohol, caffeine, sugar...the list is long.
I've been gaining weight, is this why I'm more tired?
Now you know how the HPA axis works to regulate your stress response, mood, motivation, metabolism, energy levels, and immune system.
But more often than not, I work with women who have burnout and frustrating weight gain. Why is this?
Weight gain is a symptom of burnout because if our adrenal glands are unable to keep up with cortisol production, our body is forced to ask our fat cells step in. Our fat cells can help produce hormones, which is why women have a more difficult time losing weight than men. When fat cells are producing and storing hormones, it will lead to stubborn weight gain.
But don't worry, you're not alone and YOU CAN successfully lose weight with some help!
What can you do?
You have likely already tried changing your diet and/or increasing exercise...
These are changes that should give you successful weight loss, but there's a reason they haven't been successful. Diet and exercise can actually increase inflammation and stress on the body which can lead to even more weight gain. How frustrating is that?
In order to successfully lose weight, increase energy, and get back to feeling like YOU - we need to identify the underlying issues and heal the body from the inside out.
This means decreasing inflammation, supporting our HPA axis (stress response), being kind and patient with our body, and yes of course eating a healthy nutrient dense diet. Light to moderate activity, stress management, and sleep quality are all lifestyle areas we want to support also but it is important to do this in a step by step process so that you don't overwhelm your body.
Steps for Healing Burnout and Your Body
Create a Support System - Reach out to friends and family who you can rely on. Connect with a professional who you feel comfortable with and trust their guidance.
Anti-inflammatory Diet - A whole food diet that's mostly plants and a LOT of color!
Support HPA Axis - I recommend starting with a comprehensive hormone panel that measures cortisol through saliva over 24 hours to see exactly how we can best support. I use the DUTCH Plus panel in my practice. If you're interested in learning more about this panel send me a message.
Self Care and Love - I always tell my clients that symptoms are our body's way of communicating with us. We need to listen and give our body what it needs. I can tell you with confidence each and every one of our bodies need some care and attention!
Stress Management - If there are any areas of your life that you can decrease stress (work, home, relationship) this is where you can identify that and make a change!
Sleep Quality - Try your best to go to bed around the same time and wake up about the same time. Help your body wind down at the end of the day with relaxing activities, dim lighting, and deep breathing.
Activity and Movement - Light to moderate activities like walking, hiking, yoga, swimming, etc. can help our body adapt to stress. Avoid too strenuous of workouts right now since your body is trying to heal.
Taking your time with these steps are important so that your body has time to heal. Change takes time, so be patient and kind to your body.
It can feel like our body is working against us, but please know that is never the case!
If you're looking for additional guidance and support, let me know. Now is the time to invest in yourself and your body. You deserve to feel happy, energized, and comfortable in your body!
Liz Riesen, Registered Dietitian
specializes in hormone and digestive health. Often these conditions coexist and share common disruptive symptoms including bloating, weight gain, anxiety, mood swings, irregular cycles, and other inflammatory symptoms.
Liz is trained in identifying and healing food sensitivities, as well as balancing hormones naturally through nutrition and lifestyle. Follow me @TheHormoneHub