What is the connection between adrenal fatigue and weight gain? In this article, we’re talking about how gaining weight around your belly, in addition to debilitating fatigue, could be a classic sign of adrenal fatigue. 

What is adrenal fatigue?

If you have been feeling chronically fatigued and sluggish for a while now and aren’t quite sure why you may have adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is a chronic, debilitating syndrome that is becoming increasingly common, especially in women. 

It’s often referred to as the 21st-century syndrome, and it makes sense. The root of adrenal fatigue is HPA axis dysregulation or dysfunction of our body’s primary stress system. In today’s society, we are constantly bombarded by more stress than ever before. Whether it’s the news, the ding of your phone, an unpleasant email, environmental toxins, or whatever—we’re stressed. That’s the unfortunate fact. And too much stress for far too long can lead to adrenal fatigue. 

When you’re in adrenal fatigue, hormone production and secretion are completely out of whack, and you are tired when you are supposed to feel energized and tired but wired when you’re supposed to be hitting the hay. 

This leads to a host of symptoms, including:

  • Brain fog
  • Poor memory
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Slow healing time
  • Low immune function
  • Hair loss 
  • Dull, dry, and thinning skin 
  • Blood sugar dysregulation 
  • No resilience to stress, emotional breakdowns 
  • Salt and sugar cravings 
  • Dehydration
  • Weight gain 

That last symptom is where we will be focusing today. But before we dive into that, we need to make a significant distinction between adrenal fatigue and adrenal insufficiency. 

Primary and secondary adrenal insufficiency is very different from adrenal fatigue. Adrenal insufficiency means that your adrenal glands are no longer able to produce adrenal hormones. This is not yet the case in adrenal fatigue. In adrenal fatigue, the hypothalamus tells the pituitary gland not to signal the adrenals to produce cortisol at different times because they have been consistently pushing stress hormones out for too long; they want to protect the body from the negative impacts of stress. 

That being said, it’s critical to know that adrenal fatigue can lead to adrenal insufficiency. This is why starting your healing journey ASAP is so important. No more pushing through. It’s time to get to the root and heal from there. So if you have been having unusual weight gain around the tummy area in addition to the other symptoms listed above, it’s time to start healing. 

The Connection Between Adrenal Fatigue and Weight Gain 

The main hormone we talk about when discussing adrenal fatigue is cortisol. In adrenal fatigue, cortisol (a necessary stress hormone) levels are off. Not only does this zap you of energy, but it also plays a significant role in weight. A study from the medical research journal “Obesity” found that high levels of cortisol resulting from long-term stress were correlated with increased waist size. 

“We found levels of cortisol in the hair to be positively and significantly correlated to a larger waist circumference and higher body mass index or BMI,” study author Sarah Jackson said

Here’s how cortisol can lead to weight gain. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism, creating a surge of energy in the body. While this is essential in survival situations, it also increases appetite, especially for salty, sugary, and carb-rich foods. 

Another study done with 59 healthy women found a connection between elevated cortisol levels and an increase in appetite. Additionally, another study found an association between higher cortisol levels and a higher amount of belly fat in a study group of 172 women and men, suggesting it led to overeating. 

At its most basic, high levels of cortisol that remain elevated for an extended period have been shown to increase weight gain, irritability, fatigue, blood sugar dysregulation, thinning skin, and changes in mood—aka all the top symptoms of adrenal fatigue. 

If you are gaining weight and you notice that you are 

  1. Sluggish and constantly tired
  2. Inability to handle stress and overwhelm 
  3. Craving salty foods
  4. Craving salty food 

Then you may have adrenal fatigue, and your weight gain may result from that. 

So how do we combat this? 

How to Prevent and Combat Weight Gain Due to Adrenal Fatigue?

The key here, as for most things, is to get to the root of adrenal fatigue: HPA axis dysregulation. So again, perceiving stress that causes a dysregulated nervous system and a messed up circadian rhythm. Here’s what I recommend for healthy weight loss and adrenal fatigue healing:

1 – Come Up with a Stress Management Plan 

Make a stress management plan, and make it non-negotiable. But maybe even more importantly: make it practical and doable. 

This can look like committing to a 20-minute daily meditation practice and breathwork. It can look like taking a walk sans children. Dancing to a morning playlist! It doesn’t need to be something big and long and unattainable. 

2 – Go to bed early 

I can’t stress this enough. When you have adrenal fatigue, your circadian rhythm is out of whack. So you may wake up feeling tired and have a hard time falling asleep at night. There is something called the angel train which refers to the sweet spot we have for going to bed. For some, it can be 8 or 9 for another 10pm. The first second you feel yourself getting tired, it’s time to wind down and hit the hay. If you push past that point, you enter a tired but wired-insomnia stage. 

3 – Nourish with nutrient-dense foods and drink lots of water  

A lot of times, cravings, even the ones as a result of adrenal fatigue, are because we are depleted of certain nutrients. With our modern food system, it can be hard to get the proper amount of nutrients in (as well as have them absorbed). So there are a couple things I want to recommend here. 

  1. Prioritize nutrient-dense foods that stabilize blood sugar: when blood sugar is stabilized, we kick cravings to the curb. When we meet our nutrient requirements, cravings are also curbed. Think magnesium. Often, when we crave chocolate, what our body is really trying to tell us is that it needs magnesium! So make sure to eat plenty of colorful vegetables, add healthy fat, and prioritize fiber and high-quality protein with every meal. 
  2. Drink properly mineralized water: Most of us are drinking dead water. We need to consume half of our body weight in ounces of properly mineralized water daily. Not only will this help with energy levels, but it will also help to nourish the adrenal glands profoundly and reduce stress. Check out our favorite way to hydrate deeply and boost energy levels naturally. 
  3. Add in supplements: in our day and age, it can be quite literally impossible to get all of our nutrients from food. That is why supplementing can be such a game-changer. My top recommendations for supplements are something for gut health, stress, and nutrients. This is my favorite supplement for gut health, stress, and nutrient nourishment. To read more about an adrenal fatigue diet plan, go here

All of these things are going to help with weight gain as a result of adrenal fatigue and encourage healthy weight loss. I hope this article has helped you understand the connection between adrenal fatigue and weight gain and offered a guide to returning to a healthy weight and energy level. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below. 

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