Up until a year ago, my go-to response to “How are you?” was “I’m so tired.”
Feeling tired had been running my life. I’d nap instead of work on my business, stay at home solo while my husband Dan was with people I love, and quite literally would be brought to tears regularly from the frustration and level of fatigue. And to be honest, a layer of shame had surfaced. I was embarrassed to keep using being tired as a scapegoat, not understanding why I felt the way I did, and I didn’t have the words to describe my state.
My fatigue dates back to my high school years, if not earlier. My mom would pick me up from swim practice and practically have to scrape me off the sidewalk to get in the car. I slept through classes and could nap on demand.
Year after year, we would visit our PCP (primary care physician), desperately seeking answers. Maybe my periods were too heavy and I needed iron? True, and not the root of the cause. Was it my heart? Scary, and no. Was it my sleep? It had to be my sleep! I was waking up and feeling the worst first thing in the morning, so obviously it was sleep… nope.
As I entered adulthood and started my first jobs, the struggle was so real. My 3 years working for Lululemon were some of the most challenging, energetically. I wanted so badly to be in with the crew, doing two-a-days, being obsessed with sweat and hard workouts, yet I found myself barely able to get through my shifts, much less teach or practice afterward. Again, the shame showed up. What was wrong with me? I was a “healthy” 26-year-old yoga teacher yet everyday was the equivalent of the worst hangover.
Around 2013, my parents generously paid for an extensive appointment with a naturopath/functional medicine doctor. She ran labs I’d never heard of, and more importantly, asked me questions no one had ever asked me.
“Where are you giving away your energy?”
“With who, and where should you be spending more of your time?”
Let me just paint you a picture of my life then. I was certified as a power yoga instructor, teaching 4-6 classes a week in a 95-degree room, on top of which I was practicing 4-6 times a week in said room, all while being a manager of a retail store where my job was to serve and take care of customers and my team. *huge red flag*
I’d never considered these questions. More on that later.
Back to the naturopath. I take home a box full of cotton swabs to suck on to measure my cortisol levels over 24 hours (this is the “gold standard” test and considered the most accurate). And the results are eye-opening, baffling, infuriating, and freeing all at the same time.
A healthy person wakes with high levels or cortisol, like a full tank of gas, which slowly decreases throughout the day and picks up a bit in late afternoon. It is replenished over night and so the cycle goes. My cortisol at rising was FLAT. And during the afternoon…FLAT. And at night? You guessed it…FLAT.
The Diagnosis: Stage 3 Adrenal Failure and early signs of Leaky Gut.
I was thrilled to have an answer, and honestly, also pissed. Pissed that it had taken this long to find this simple test and a doctor willing to ask the right questions. Pissed that I’d spent 10+ years of my life feeling like utter shit. And pissed at what it would take to feel better.
“It’s not until the impact is greater than the payoff that we make a change.”
If I’m being totally straight with you, I didn’t do anything about it for over two years. I was too attached to my job, to my teaching, and didn’t have the financial means to sustain the recommended supplements. Like with all important choices, it’s not until the impact is greater than the payoff that we make a change.
Fast forward to 2016 – I have my own business, work my own hours, and teach and practice a style of yoga which supports me – my husband and I embark on our first Whole30. I found it so intriguing that I repeated the program later that year and twice more in 2017. I experienced all sorts of, what Whole30 calls, non-scale victories: reduced cravings, clearer skin, increased focus and drive, passion for cooking, etc.
But my energy didn’t budge and I was sourly disappointed.
I decided to give it one more go being solely focused on finding the root of my energy problems. This time I’d leave out eggs and a group of foods called night shades and permanently give up alcohol. I had read Food Freedom Forever, and just like my experience with the naturopath, this was the first time someone had recommended this route for people suffering from chronic fatigue and inflammation.
This was the golden ticket. For the first time in my life, I experienced some stabilization in my energy levels, quality of sleep, and digestion.
Let me emphasize that all during this time I had been taking adrenal support supplements and working really hard at creating new boundaries. I’ve created a life where I get to work from home; sleep as much and as early as I need; I limit my on-screen work time; I practice non-heated yoga; and I am much more careful about giving my energy away freely. All of this combined was the game-changer.
So here we are, my friends. It is 2018. After close to 20 years of feeling like I’d been hit by a bus every day, I’m finding myself and what “normal” feels like for me.
Are my energy levels at a 10? No way. This is a process and it’ll take time. But, I am consistently at a 6 or 7 compared to 0 – and have gathered the most valuable information on how to take care of myself and keep trekking toward full stabilization.
It was the easiest and hardest decision to fully choose me. I have so much I want to share with this world and want to feel amazing as I do it! So I keep on…
I know there are so many people like me, who are searching for help, answers, a simple “me, too”, accountability, and support – this is why I became a Certified Whole30 Coach. For me, doing an experiment on myself through the structure of the Whole30 worked, and it was work. I’m so grateful to this program and what it has given me and am so committed to making a difference for others.
Q+A with Cristina
Do you still eat Whole30 and/or in a certain way?
Yes. I continue to eliminate eggs, nightshades and alcohol completely. I also take Vitamin C and adrenal support supplements.
What other self-care practices have you put in place that’s making a difference?
One word: boundaries. This has been the most confronting yet impactful practice. I shut down my work by 6pm at the latest. I sleep with my phone on airplane mode. I stopped practicing and teaching hot yoga, and now practice and teach in a way that nourishes me. I spend time with those who fill me up. And I limit my giving of energy freely.
How can I find out if I’m dealing with adrenal failure?
Find a functional medicine doctor and/or dietitian you trust, and have them order labs. Adrenal fatigue is multi-factoral and one blood test won’t cut it.
Do you miss eggs, tomatoes, alcohol, etc?
Not at all. Once I realized how detrimental these were to my energy, the choice was easy. I also do most of the cooking, so I’m in control of what we’re eating. I’m straight with my family and friends about alcohol and have found plenty of other ways to connect.
Dr. Will Cole – Functional Medicine Doctor, Podcast
Dr. Kay Corpus – Integrative + Functional Medicine Doctor
Ali Miller, RD – Integrative + Functional Medicine Dietician
The Whole30 – Program website