Our adrenal glands may be tiny, have powerful abilities to affect how we feel each day and how we manage what comes our way in life. You may have heard of the terms, “adrenal burn-out” or “adrenal fatigue” which mean that the adrenal glands have been exhausted beyond their daily duties. Normally, they process stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to help regulate the body. During times of intense stress your adrenals pump out these hormones to help our bodies respond and not just crash and burn. For instance, when you’re in a state of panic or trouble your adrenals kick into action to motivate you to do something to get out of that state of danger as soon as possible. However, the problem occurs when these glands start to do this and you’re not in real danger. For example, let’s say throughout the day that you consistently feel stressed no matter what you do to try to calm down. Or maybe every little thing overwhelms you, and the smallest things seem to stress you out and make your nerves go haywire.
Caring for Your Adrenals During a Burnout
When this occurs, it’s time to care for your adrenals and get your body back into balance. The two most important things to do are first, prioritize sleep. Most people with adrenal fatigue suffer insomnia, so look into taking magnesium before bed or a natural homeopathic supplement such as Calms Forte which can both help you rest and won’t cause any negative side effects. Make getting 8 hours of sleep your new goal no matter what, because no amount of other treatment will work if you’re not getting enough rest.
Next, be sure you’re not overdoing it when you exercise. Some exercises can help with adrenal gland health like walking and yoga, for example. These lower stress hormones and improve the anti-stress neurotransmitter in the brain known as GABA, an amino acid your body produces when you’re calm and relaxed. Overexercising stresses the body even if it makes you feel good in the moment. So give yourself permission to stop those intense training sessions until you get your hormones balanced again.
The Importance of Food for Improving Adrenal Function
Next, it’s time to turn to your diet. A diet high in stress-inducing chemicals, sugars and certain other properties directly affect your adrenal glands and can disrupt your sleep, hormone function, and your weight and mood.
Let’s take a look at seven things you can do right now to improve your meals to support your adrenals.
1. Start With Whole Foods
A no-brainer, but still one that must be said, whole foods are essential to healthy hormones and an overall healthy diet. It’s nearly impossible to balance your hormones and your stress hormones when you eat processed foods. The reason why? Because just trying to digest these foods and turn them into nutrients your body can use puts a great deal of stress on your system. The best foods for your adrenals are natural, organic whole foods. Sugar directly assaults the adrenal glands as does refined grains and most added sugars even if natural. Highly processed food is also high in refined sodium which taxes the adrenals; real salt on the other hand, is actually helpful because it retains all the raw minerals you need from sea salt such as magnesium, potassium, sodium and other necessary electrolytes. So remember, always choose whole foods at all your meals however you can, or at least eliminate sugar and refined grains from your diet at a minimum. These foods raise insulin in the body, put excess strain on the pancreas and blood, and they simply do not support overall health. It should go without saying that fast foods and processed foods must go too. Maximize your greens intake and you’ll automatically crave less unhealthy options because greens are so rich in nutrition and bring balance to the body.
2. Ditch the Caffeine
Next, work on reducing the caffeine until you can ditch it completely. At least until you get your body back in balance; even if it’s just 2 weeks. The reason why is caffeine directly makes the adrenal glands pump out more cortisol and adrenaline as soon as you consume it. If you love coffee, try drinking a roasted cocoa bean beverage instead which is actually caffeine-free and similar in taste with no additives, or try a Chaga mushroom tea which provides a host of benefits for the body. Green tea and herbal teas are the best option because they contain healing and calming properties. Plain water with lemon and ginger is also naturally rejuvenating in the morning and healing to the body.
3. Eat B Vitamin-Rich Foods
B vitamins help you cope with stress and also provide energy to the body. Do your best to get your B vitamins from whole foods first, but then take a plant-based B complex if needed. You should, however, be supplementing with a sublingual vitamin B12 which is essential to healthy hormones, brain function, red blood cell function, and overall health; it is not found in plant-based foods enough to ensure you’re getting the daily recommended amount. B vitamin-rich foods include a wide variety of plant-based options. See this list for more information on how to get your B’s all day long on a plant-based diet.
4. Use Healing Spices and Herbs
Healing spices and herbs can help the body deal with stress when it’s overwhelmed. They can also heal the immune system which takes a hit during times of adrenal burnout. Some of the best include: ginger, turmeric, oregano, garlic, thyme, peppermint, spearmint, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, and coriander. Use these in and on most of your meals; some of them even come in the form of herbal teas as another option.
5. Stop When You’re Full, but Eat Enough to Stay Satisfied
Overeating also causes undue stress to the body, not to mention it slows down digestion which can make you feel even more tired and exhausted. Eat in a calm place such as outside for lunch or in a quiet spot in a cafe. Eat your breakfast at home, not in the car. Eat dinner away from the television for once and focus on your meal instead. Eating in a mindful state does wonders for your hormones, digestion and your overall levels of stress. All of this will support your adrenals and help you achieve more balance. It’s also easier when you’re practicing mindful eating to eat just enough until you’re satisfied, but not stuffed.
6. Eat at Regular Intervals
While portion control and mindfulness are also important, so is not skipping meals. If you’re generally not hungry when you wake up, that’s okay. Wait an hour, but try not to wait more than that. It’s never smart to head off to work without something healthy in your stomach, nor is it helpful to your stress levels. And please — don’t skip lunch. That’s like asking for low blood sugar and intense stress levels later in the afternoon. Your body needs food at regular intervals and you’ll feel much less stressed when you honor that by giving it real foods on a consistent basis throughout the day.
7. Don’t Eat Right Before Bed
Finally, try not to eat and then go right to bed, and try something light on the system if you can as well. It takes around 3 hours for food to be fully processed and digested after you eat, and the body can not rest and digest properly at the same time. Both rest and digestion usually suffer when you go right to bed after a meal which puts an unnecessary strain on the body. Most of us consider what we eat but we don’t always think about how we eat either. Remembering this little tip will help you practice healthy eating habits, not just eating healthy foods. It gets easier with time too, so hang in there!
For meals that nourish your adrenals, be sure you see our Plant-Based Meal Plan Guide for Whole Foods. It’s a wonderful way to give your adrenals some love with delicious meals and snacks throughout the day!
Lead Image Source: Pawel Pacholec/Flickr