I recently had an interesting series of events occur in my own life that I thought might be helpful for others to hear regarding weight gain.
I have always been thin or weight proportional most of my life. Except for a brief period in my twenties when I first quit smoking and had some serious problems with binge eating and if would eat wheat. I can easily gain 20 pounds if I eat wheat on a regular basis, but that isn’t something I do.
Other than that, I have never had a problem with weight and it wasn’t something I was ever concerned about. Most of my life I had very high metabolism.
As I began to approach menopause, I noticed that my metabolism began to change and slow down. I started picking up a few pounds each year. Nothing too significant so I didn’t worry about it.
Then about four years ago, as I went through the last stage of menopause, I had a severe adrenal crash. As I was working on healing from this and still going through menopause over the next couple years, the weight gain increased. Just a few pounds here and there, so I still didn’t worry too much. I figured it would turn itself around with time.
However, then menopause completed and my metabolism seemed to slow down even more and the weight gain continued. I started to be a little concerned and talked to my doctor about it, and he said it was a probably a hormone imbalance. So I tried a variety of natural progesterone replacement options, but they all gave me severe anxiety so I could not continue them.
I also want to point out that I have been following a low-carb and high animal protein diet for more than 25 years and a very strict Paleo diet for about five years. So I do not ever eat sugar or junk food and rarely eat starchy carbohydrates. Additionally, I am never hungry in-between meals, so I never snack.
I eat three meals a day that consist primarily of meat and low starch vegetables. I would have one serving of fruit and nuts a day with one of my meals, usually my lunch. I also ate organic butter, cheese and yogurt several times a week. In the morning, within an hour of getting up, I typically have a little animal protein to hold me over until my breakfast is ready.
My carbohydrate intake was around 50 to 60 grams on most days, except for an occasional cheat day when I might go up around the 100 gram mark. So, well below the hundred that is typically recommended in the Paleo community for weight loss.
According to Mark Sisson, one of my favorite Paleo experts, fitness expert and author of The Primal Blueprint,you really shouldn’t gain weight if you are consuming less than 150 grams of carbs a day, and you should lose weight if you are consuming between 50 and 100 grams of carbs a day. But that clearly wasn’t happening for me.
I have also exercised regularly for 25 years. A brisk walk 6 or 7 times a week.
I had not changed the amount of food I eat, the type of food I eat or my exercise regimen. This diet and exercise routine had always kept me slim and trim in the past.
So there was no rational explanation for this weight gain. I don’t eat the foods that put on weight, I exercise, and I do not overeat.
I began researching the Paleo literature more thoroughly for what could be causing the additional weight and thought maybe it was the dairy, since dairy does prompt an insulin response and the inevitable storage of fat. So I removed the cheese, yogurt, and even the butter despite the fact that it has minimal impact on insulin, for several months, but this did absolutely nothing. I continued to gain weight.
I tried increasing my walk time and a variety of other exercises, but I had to be careful, because too much would exacerbate my adrenal fatigue. At first the PACE exercise program seemed to help, but then it didn’t.
Then in January 2013 I began to get alarmed, because the weight just kept piling on. During the holiday season I had indulged a little more than normal in carbs. Just a couple sweet potatoes, some sugar-free coconut and almond cookies and some honey sweetened egg nog; so nothing too drastic, but come the new year and I suddenly realized that I was significantly overweight. I didn’t look real heavy because it wasn’t in one particular area, it was spread out all over the place. But I didn’t like how I felt. It began to feel uncomfortable physically. It was difficult getting in and out of the tub, rolling over in bed etc., and it just didn’t feel good.
I then started to suspect that maybe the amount of exercise I was doing was too much for my adrenal glands, so that would be causing me stress, which would cause an insulin response and fat storage, and decided to cut back on the exercise.
For several weeks I only exercised once a week. Immediately I lost about 4 pounds.
Then I took it back up, but instead of my usual 30 to 40 minutes a day, I cut it to only 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week. I also still abide by some of the basic principles presented in the PACE exercise program, as well as the Primal Blueprint.
Then I cut the one serving of fruit and nuts I ate per day, down to 3 times a week and the weight just started falling off with ease.
My carbohydrate intake now is about 20 or 30 grams a day for four days out of the week, and around 60 a day for three days out of the week. I adjusted easily to this change and don’t even miss the nuts and fruit on those days.
It has been six months now and I have lost 23 pounds. I think this is as much as I’m going to lose, because I’ve been holding steady now for several weeks with no additional loss. But this is fantastic and way more loss than I hoped to achieve, so I’m very pleased with these results. I still have a few extra pounds in the belly area, but it’s acceptable. I’m almost back to the weight I was before menopause and adrenal fatigue ravaged my body.
For those of you with adrenal fatigue, you may also want to note, that exercising less has also helped my adrenal glands to become stronger and move to a higher level of functioning.
So, the moral of this story is this, if you have adrenal fatigue and/or are post-menopausal, then you may need less exercise instead of more, and even less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day in your Paleo meal plan to lose weight and strengthen your adrenal glands. I was not able to reach what Mark Sisson calls, “The Sweet Spot,” until my carb intake dropped below 50 grams a day and I reduced my exercise.
Why would this be so? Because too much exercise is stressful on the body. If your adrenal glands are weak, they can’t handle as much exercise as they used to, your normal exercise routine may be too long or hard and will feel like endurance to your adrenal glands, and therefore it will cause stress.
When we are under stress, the liver releases it’s glycogen (sugar) into the bloodstream, and insulin is released and it gets stored as fat. Exercising harder and more only drains the adrenal glands more and drives more fat storage.
Adrenal fatigue is very common in menopausal women, largely because the adrenals are now taking on the job of producing sex hormones, which used to be the job of the ovaries. Since many women have adrenals that are overworked due to the demands in their lives, this hormonal change often pushes the adrenals over the edge.
Additionally, these hormonal changes may affect their insulin sensitivity, even if they are watching their carbohydrate intake. A woman who has no problem with insulin resistance prior to menopause, may suddenly develop it, in response to hormonal changes. A woman’s ability to handle carbohydrates changes with menopause. As illustrated with my experience; in my younger years, I could get away with eating a lot more carbohydrates without any consequences to my weight, but now I can’t. I hear this same story from many women that I work with.
Furthermore, during and after menopause, metabolism slows down, so the amount of carbs you were able to burn off is likely to change. Put these two factors together and you have a recipe for weight gain. Reduce the exercise and carbohydrate intake and this vicious cycle is put to a stop.
When I first wrote this post in August, I thought I was done losing weight, but to my pleasant surprise, that wasn’t the case. I have lost four more pounds. So that’s a total of 27 lost all together.
Well to my surprise again, I have lost seven more pounds since September. It has now been just about a year since I made these changes in my diet, so that is a total of 34 pounds that I lost in the last year. I haven’t seen the weight I’m at now in more than ten years.
Throughout this process I have discovered that I feel and function best on a ketogenic diet without fruit and nuts. However, I get a little bored with my diet if I stay ketogenic every day. So, allowing myself to go slightly above ketosis with some fruit and nuts three days a week gives me enough variety to alleviate my boredom. I like this pattern, so I will continue to eat this way.