Recovery!

This post is about how I recovered much of my energy levels. It’s a bit all over the place. I’ll touch on a lot of things, from parenting to postpartum adjustment to adrenal recovery to diet recovery to what’s normal and what’s not. Content warning: I discuss my reproductive functions in this post. If that sort of thing grosses you out, stop reading now.  Want to skip the story and just read my conclusions? Here they are:

 

  • If you are a mom of young children, and you feel like shit, yes, lifestyle changes can help a lot. But going to your doctor to diagnose and treat undetected medical issues can help a lot too! I put off going to the doctor a long time, and I’m glad I finally went.
  • If you are fat and you have low energy, don’t blame your energy levels on your weight. By addressing many areas of my lifestyle, my energy levels and health have increased tremendously in the last 8 months, even though my weight has not changed. That’s a night and day difference, from being low functioning to much higher functioning in terms of energy and productivity, with no recent changes in my weight.
  • Even though our culture likes to tell women (especially fat women) that we need to eat less and control our diets, I actually feel much healthier and much more highly functional when I ignore that shit.
  • Does adrenal fatigue actually exist? I don’t know. I’m not qualified to say. My science education is sorely lacking. My doctor says yes. Many doctors say no.  The blogger on the internet I listened to says “I don’t know” and “I’m skeptical.” I’m just reporting what I did in my own life, and the effects it has had. If you are having problems with low energy levels, my advice (not that I’m qualified to give any!) is to address your lifestyle AND go see your doctor. I don’t think I would have recovered as quickly without doing BOTH.

Keep reading to find out how I reached those conclusions.

 

Throughout my pregnancy and my son’s first two years, I felt really tired a lot. I chalked my fatigue up to general new-momness and a difficult birth and newborn period. My son was also one of those kids who woke a lot to nurse back to sleep, so my sleep was pretty poor.

When my kiddo was about 6 months old, I went to my doctor and was treated for a mild degree of hypothyroidism through some herbal treatments and a gluten free diet. The labs came back normal after 6 weeks of treatment, so I continued a gluten-free/paleo-ish diet. A few months later I started to feel really depressed and went back to my doctor for depression. We discussed going the pharmaceutical route if needed, but being always one to try lifestyle changes first, I chose to hold off on starting an antidepressant. She recommended adding more carbohydrates back into my diet to see if that helped, since carbs can help with serotonin production. It did help with the depression, pretty much instantly. It also caused me to gain weight, instantly (I noticed changes within a week or two). At the time, I hadn’t been exposed yet to the body positivity, Health at Every Size, or Fat Acceptance movements. While the weight gain bothered me, I knew I felt betterl, so I decided I would rather feel better and be fat. My bodyweight increased by about 25% over the next year and a half. At the time, the only exercising I was doing was going for walks with my kiddo, since I didn’t have much energy.

About a month after my kiddo’s second birthday, we successfully gave up nursing in the middle of the night. We still nursed at bedtime, but we no longer nursed in the middle of the night. Night wakings became less frequent at this point. Within a month of night weaning, I finally felt I had some energy return. I noticed that I had trouble falling asleep at night, so I decided to add some activity back into my life. I live in a hilly neighborhood, and I started taking morning walks most days (with my toddler on my back).

My energy levels and mood continued to improve, and right before the winter, a friend told me about a local gym with excellent childcare, and I decided to get back into lifting weights.

We live north of Boston though, and we had so much snow that winter. The idea of leaving the house with a toddler more than necessary in the winter was not appealing.  We stayed home a lot. I took a couple weeks vacation in January and worked on things around the house. We went to the gym a few times a week. If the sidewalks weren’t too crappy, we walked, but later in the winter, the piles of snow in the got high and I didn’t want to walk in the street, so we drove. We drove everywhere.

In late December of that year (2014), I started on my habit based health journey.  I started lifting weights regularly and making sure to eat green vegetables every day. I continued to feel better, my mental clarity increased, my mood improved greatly, and my sugar cravings lessened.

I still had a nagging and concerning symptom though. My menstrual periods were extremely irregular – they only came every 2 or 3 months, and when they did come, they were extremely heavy.  I didn’t worry about it at the time, because I was still breastfeeding and I know that periods can take a while to return. Mine didn’t return until 18 months postpartum, and I thought that maybe the irregularity was normal. Then someone told me that no, it wasn’t normal, that once your periods return, they should be on their regular normal cycle. Okay then.

The next time I had my period, there was so much blood, and I knew that it couldn’t be normal, so I called my doctor out of frustration and they got me in that day.  The doctor listened to my symptoms and ordered blood work (thyroid panel, adrenal function, various nutrients, hormone panel, and a few other things). I was so nervous. Whenever anyone hears of a woman who gains weight and has low energy levels they ask “have you had your thyroid checked?” Since I had a history of mild hypothyroidism, I was nervous that it would be my thyroid and it would be much worse this time.

As it turned out, it was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. All my thyroid hormone levels came back normal. What was abnormal was that my Vitamin D levels were extremely low, and my morning cortisol levels were extremely low. The doctor told me that “you seem to be making barely enough cortisol to function” and diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue. My fasting blood sugar levels were also slightly elevated (just one point outside of the normal range though).

We talked about what caused cortisol levels to drop and she said “chronic stress and lack of sleep.” Ergo, having a baby who didn’t sleep through the night until age 2. It took a toll on my body.  We talked about my current lifestyle factors, and since I was already on the path to a healthier lifestyle, we decided that I would keep traveling down that path, and we would retest everything in 6 weeks. We would also supplement with Vitamin D to address the deficiency.  Adrenal fatigue could  take up to 6 months to heal, so patience was key.

Man, life feels great when you supplement for a nutritional deficiency and it works! I started feeling even better still when I added a Vitamin D supplement. I also learned that anything that messes with your circadian rhythms can affect your cortisol levels, so I got serious about getting to bed early (200 times before the end of the year – because I know that nobody is perfect) and added that habit to my list of habit goals.  I also made a goal to get off screens by 8pm (200 times before the end of the year).  (As of August 11, I am doing excellent at getting to bed on time, and not so great at getting off the screens by 8pm, in case you are curious).  I started resting when needed and reducing my stress levels by saying “no” when I didn’t want to do something that wasn’t necessary for my job. For example, saying “no thank you” if invited to parties and I needed introvert time. I have become more practiced in saying to people “I really appreciate the invitation, but I need my time to recharge this weekend so I can go into my week not running on empty. Please do ask again though, I like you! I just need to take care of myself.”

One area where I did NOT change right away was cutting back on the intensity of my workouts. By then I had progressed at the gym to doing CrossFit-style metcon workouts. I knew that very intense exercise was not recommended for adrenal fatigue, but I loved the way my body felt from lifting and CrossFit (so I thought), so I didn’t change this right away.

When I had my blood tests redone 6 weeks later, there was improvement in all areas. There was still room for more improvement, but my doctor was happy with the improvement I had made in the short time period and told me that she wanted me to have the tests run again in three months.

Sometime soon after, I read a post by Go Kaleo about adrenal fatigue. At first I thought this could not possibly be referring to me. My doctor had tested my cortisol levels. I resented that some blogger was claiming a condition I had tested for may not actually exist.

At the same time, as my fitness improved and I was doing more intense workouts, some of my workouts were starting to leave me exhausted. I knew that intense exercise wasn’t recommended for adrenal fatigue, but I was scared to cut down on the intensity (what if I go back to feeling worse? What if I lose my strength? What if just lifting is BORING and I hate it?). But when I switched to Olympic weightlifting exclusively and cut out the CrossFit metcons, I felt better quickly (within a few days!). All my fears about cutting out the metcons  dissolved, because I actually felt much BETTER just lifting.   So, I started to take to heart what Go Kaleo might be saying. I realized that even though my cortisol levels were indeed low and the blood work wasn’t lying, there could be multiple explanations for that.  That could also be a symptom of inadvertent calorie restriction and overtraining, for all I knew. What would it hurt to try eating less “paleo-ish” and more “whatever I wanted” and see if it helped?

It helped. A lot. Switching from CrossFit to Olympic Weightlifting, and dropping the paleo/clean eating diet dogma resulted in a huge jump forward in terms of my energy levels and productivity in life.  My menstrual cycles are finally regulating again. My last few cycles have gotten closer and closer together: from 3 months, to 2 months, to 38 days, to 33 days apart. The last 2 periods I have had were not nearly as heavy, and I was able to go about my normal activities without leaking all over the place. I go for my 3 month bloodwork soon, and I feel confident that there will be more improvement, since all my symptoms have improved.

My takeaway lessons from all this:

  • If you are a mom of young children, and you feel like shit, yes, lifestyle changes can help a lot. But going to your doctor to diagnose and treat undetected medical issues can help a lot too! I put off going to the doctor a long time, and I’m glad I finally went.
  • If you are fat and you have low energy, don’t blame your energy levels on your weight. By addressing many areas of my lifestyle, my energy levels and health have increased tremendously in the last 8 months, even though my weight has not changed. That’s a night and day difference, from being low functioning to much higher functioning in terms of energy and productivity, with no recent changes in my weight.
  • Even though our culture likes to tell women (especially fat women) that we need to eat less and control our diets, I actually feel much healthier and much more highly functional when I ignore that shit.
  • Does adrenal fatigue actually exist? I don’t know. I’m not qualified to say. My science education is sorely lacking. My doctor says yes. Many doctors say no.  The blogger on the internet I listened to says “I don’t know” and “I’m skeptical.” I’m just reporting what I did in my own life, and the effects it has had. If you are having problems with low energy levels, my advice (not that I’m qualified to give any!) is to address your lifestyle AND go see your doctor. I don’t think I would have recovered as quickly without doing BOTH.

Have you been through a similar experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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4 thoughts on “Recovery!

  1. Pingback: Overthinking: Kid-Friendly Alternatives to the Porch Gym | Power, Peace, and the Porch Gym

  2. Pingback: Mastering Walking Before Trying to Run | Power, Peace, and the Porch Gym

  3. Pingback: My Kid Might Be Fat Too (And That Needs to Be Okay) | Power, Peace, and the Porch Gym

  4. Pingback: Happy Habitiversary to Me! | Power, Peace, and the Porch Gym

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