In the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, I did two crazy things: I quit coffee, and then I quit sugar. Neither of which were premeditated at all! The decision to quit coffee came first, sometime in November, when a prolific blogger I occasionally follow published a blog post about coffee. The article wasn’t particularly for or against coffee, but there was one little line which kind of got me thinking: “The habit of needing coffee can signal a problem with adrenal health or intolerance to caffeine.” It got me thinking because I only drank one cup a day (after waking and before breakfast) and yet I really was addicted to it. I actually felt like DEATH until I’d had my morning cup of coffee, and refused to talk to anyone or do anything until its goodness had coursed through my bloodstream and brought me back to life again. But I’d always thought it was strange that I could be addicted to just one cup a day (the headache would start if I hadn’t had coffee by about 9.30am), so the idea that I might be intolerant to caffeine was intriguing. Because I was intrigued I did a little more googling around (what I do instead of watching tv, haha) and found another article with another one-liner that really cinched it for me. Alas, I can’t find the article now (sorry, author!) but it said something along the lines of: “If you can’t function without your morning cup of coffee, then chances are, you are waking up in withdrawal.” I’d always thought that the morning cup of coffee I so loved was ‘waking me up’, but now it occurred to me that my need for coffee was actually responsible for making me feel like complete crap every single morning, and my daily elixir was just bringing me back to ‘normal’. Motivated by the idea of being able to smile and cuddle my husband and children before breakfast, I decided to quit coffee the very next morning.
Sure enough, the dull, persistent headaches began by about 10 o’clock the following morning. Extreme tiredness, irritability, complete lack of motivation, cravings, and I was a total grouch all day, day after day. I had headaches on and off for a good 3 – 4 weeks. And what was I supposed to drink when I went out to a cafe? …Ugh. But on the up-side, I began to wake up feeling normal! These days, upon waking I now feel like I am actually awake. I can get up, hang out with the kids and make breakfast, all without crying inside over the fact that I had to get out of bed at all! 3:30-itis has all but gone and I fall asleep quickly at night.
I can honestly say that I probably wouldn’t have been able to see it through if I hadn’t discovered coffee substitute drinks during this time. I started drinking a dandelion/chicory root coffee substitute to fill the void, and it was exactly the emotional crutch I needed. Sure, it tasted nothing like a freshly ground stove-top espresso, but it did remind me a bit of instant coffee and I could drink it hot with milk so it was close enough for me.
I’d like to say that these days I have tonnes of energy and I feel a million bucks, but the truth is I’m really quite tired. I don’t have the ups and downs, highs and lows, that I used to have during the past 20 years of (sometimes excessive) coffee drinking and my energy levels are pretty constant through the day now, but I feel tired. And I have a hunch as to why that is.
Adrenal glands are a body part I’d never taken much of an interest in, but they are popping up all over the internet lately, in Pinterest pins, Instagram posts, and health & wellness websites, usually accompanied by discussions on fatigue, stress, burn-out, sleep, and hormones. They are responsible for producing a number of hormones, including adrenaline and the steroids, aldosterone and cortisol. Although blissfully ignorant of the existence and function of my poor little adrenal glands, I have for many years been very familiar with their handiwork: adrenaline. Adrenaline and I have worked together closely for almost two decades now. One can’t be an idealistic, goal-oriented, high-achieving perfectionist without a best buddy like adrenaline! It’s designed to give you the surge of energy, alertness, and confidence you need to get out of stressful, tricky, and/or dangerous situations, like MacGyver used to get into – and out of, whew! However, unlike MacGyver, who found himself in these difficult situations just once a week, I’ve spent the last twenty-or-so years relying on adrenaline to get me through life almost DAILY.
Coffee stimulates the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol, which gave me all the mental and physical prowess I needed to survive extremely stressful events in my life, such as: making breakfast for my husband and children, teaching a class of teenagers, staying awake through a meeting, or making interesting conversation with someone I didn’t know very well. In hindsight, I guess you could say I thrashed my adrenals for predominantly unwarranted reasons. And I daresay, I am not alone amongst my friends and family in doing so. So, what happens after years of adrenaline-dependent living? The adrenal glands become completely and utterly exhausted. Burnt out. This is the effect that people are now referring to as adrenal fatigue. And while my GP isn’t even remotely interested in the concept, I am completely and utterly convinced (with no scientific data or conclusive blood tests to back up my belief) that my own adrenal glands are totally worn out, and without coffee in my life (and now sugar, which I will write about in my next post), they are unable to even pretend that they are anything other than just plain tired.
If I really believe that I suffer from adrenal fatigue, then it’s no good flogging them just to keep up a lifestyle that clearly wasn’t sustainable anyway. The way I see it, there’s nothing for me to do other than rest them, support them, and adjust my life to do so for the long term. So that’s what I’m resolving to do this year: for me, 2017 is all about recovery (even though I didn’t consider myself sick before I quit coffee, haha). On New Year’s Eve, I resolved to schedule active and conscious relaxation into my week – I am going to start yoga this year and prioritise it like I prioritised coffee before. I’ve quit caffeine and sugar – two of the worst offenders when it comes to adrenal overuse. And I’ve started to look for ways to incorporate more adrenal gland-friendly foods into my diet: leafy vegetables, kelp and seaweed, coconut oil, the odd brazil nut, and fermented cod liver oil.
And on that note, I am going to pick up my phone right now and call Sun Salute Yoga for my first one-on-one session this 2017. Here’s to an adrenal-gland-friendly, caffeine-free, sugar-free, yoga-filled 2017! Eek, wish me luck!
FYI, a few interesting articles on adrenal fatigue:
Dr Axe – “The Adrenal Fatigue Diet”