I think I’m still angry with the paleo diet. Before I knew how to spot nutritional bullshit, I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. It wasn’t that I couldn’t see the cracks in its logic, which says eating like our palaeolithic ancestors is the cure to modern disease; it’s that even though I was sceptical, I still wanted to believe that it was true.
I’d been sick with Crohn’s disease for what felt like forever, and I was at my wit’s end. In the paleo diet, I thought I’d found my cure. Website after website, book after book all said that eating this way could fix autoimmune diseases, and I’d longed for something, anything, to work for so long that I was ready to believe. Even if I knew deep down that it was too good to be true; I was sold.
It’s this desperation that the diet industry preys on, and it does it in two key ways. Firstly, it gives you something to blame; in the case of the paleo diet, this would be modern agriculture and processed foods. Secondly, it gives you a cure; in my case eating like Fred Flintstone. This, false, blame and cure marketing model fits perfectly in the weight loss industry.
The diet marketer’s proposed cure to weight gain could be anything; detox teas, low-carb diets; whatever. It’s where they make you put the blame that interests me. No one really wants to admit that their fat is their fault; so providing a scapegoat for the real reason you’ve gained weight is endlessly popular, and the internet is full of bogus explanations. One of the most accepted is adrenal fatigue. You’ve probably heard of it, or even know someone who suffers from it, but as you’ll find out, just like the benefits of a paleo diet, adrenal fatigue is more fiction than fact.
Your adrenal glands live just above your kidneys and produce and control the stress hormone cortisol. The theory behind adrenal fatigue goes like this; due to chronic stressful conditions, your adrenal glands become overused and eventually fail. A recent search for “adrenal fatigue” on google brought up 640,000 results. This makes sense when you find out exactly what adrenal fatigue, apparently, affects.
- Trouble sleeping
- Sleeping too much
- Mood swings
- Autoimmune diseases
- Hair loss
- Aching joints
- Weight gain
What immediately stands out about this list is the fact that it describes pretty much every common “problem” a normal person will encounter at some point. This plays into the marketer’s hands well. If they’re trying to sell a cure for something, it might as well cure just about everything imaginable. In this article at least, I’m going to only concentrate on weight gain.
The mechanism for adrenal fatigue causing weight gain all revolves around cortisol. Cortisol rises in response to any stressor, such as training, dieting, or actual life stress. It’s said that when this stress hormone is chronically high, your body will gain fat; especially belly fat. But is there any actual evidence for this?
If you’ve ever seen how skinny a natural, non-drug taking, bodybuilder gets before they step on stage for a competition; you’ll know it is ridiculously extreme. I recently showed a friend of mine a picture of a bodybuilder in contest form, and she was horrified. When you can see lines on your ass, you know you are lean.
- A 12-month case study tracked various hormone levels in a bodybuilder dieting for a competition. Unsurprisingly, as he got closer to the comp, his levels of cortisol increased dramatically. At no point, however, did fat loss stall.
- Further case studies on natural bodybuilders have shown a steady decrease in fat, despite the increased stress caused by dieting until your bum looks like a cheese grater.
Interestingly, no studies have found that such high levels of cortisol have drained, or impaired the function of, the adrenal glands. In fact, the endocrine society stated that “there are no scientific facts to support the theory that long-term mental, emotional, or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms.”
As a younger man, it was pretty shocking to me that several books and websites would claim to be able to fix Crohn’s disease by changing your diet, just to make a quick buck from desperate people. These days I know better, and I can spot fakery and nutritional bullshit at a thousand paces.
You might have heard about adrenal fatigue; you may have even been told you have it, but unfortunately, it’s just another marketing scam created by people who know better and spread by people who don’t.
Adrenal fatigue does not exist. If you gained weight it’s because you consumed more calories than you burned, not because your glands are fried.
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