Check out this exclusive interview with NY Times bestselling author, lecturer, and featured speaker of the upcoming Women’s Wellness Conference™, Dr. Alan Christianson, NMD, and discover:
- The crucial role your adrenal glands play in your ability to lose stubborn belly fat.
- Why counting calories doesn’t work when it comes to weight loss.
- The various lifestyle factors that contribute to adrenal fatigue and dysfunction.
- How to take the ‘Adrenal Quiz’ and find out if your adrenals are working as well as they should.
Transcript of “The Adrenal Reset Diet”
Rebecca Gauthier (RG): Hello everyone, Rebecca Gauthier here, and thanks so much for tuning in to today’s interview with Dr. Alan Christianson, a New York Times bestselling author and Phenoix, Arizona-based Naturopathic Medical Doctor, who specializes in natural endocrinology with a focus on thyroid disorders and is celebrated as a Thyroid Guru and Obesity Expert. He has written The Adrenal Reset Diet, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Thyroid Disease and Healing Hashimoto’s: A Savvy Patient’s Guide, as well as being an avid unicyclist who goes down mountains.
Have you taught your kids how to ride a unicycle yet?
Dr. Alan Christianson (AC): Funny you ask! My 6th grader commutes on unicycle and we both just went this morning and rode together, and yeah, he gets a lot of attention. (Laughter)
RG: So, did you not even start them on a balance bike? Did you just think, “Oh, you know, too many wheels. Too dangerous. We’re going with unicycle. One wheel.”
AC: (Laughter) He was on a bike for a little awhile and it takes a lot of persistence, about, well almost a month with an hour or two per day of practicing and just falling off to be able to ride unicycle and he picked that up rather recently. He was riding a bike first. (Laughter)
RG: Speaking of the word “persistent”, which you just used, why don’t we start there.
You’ve shared in many interviews in the past about struggles you had with motor issues stemming from cerebral palsy and how you had really bad seizures as a child. How did you go from that situation with your health to riding a unicycle down mountains?
AC: You know, it’s funny, I think that probably is related, the fact that I struggled so bad with coordination for many years has made me celebrate having it and enjoy it. Yeah, quite a transition. Up until probably about 12 years of age, basically I couldn’t do much of anything besides just basic moving around and you know, operationing.
I was an early reader and really enjoyed space and science, but by about 12 years of age, it just hit me that I mean, I was pretty heavy. I was about 190 pounds and I was getting social rejection from that and it was pretty crushing, and I was frustrated about not being able to do things that other people could do.
I would see people moving or playing sports or running and it looked like a lot of fun and I wanted to be able to do that as well. So, yeah, it was baby steps.
We lived in a small home that we were renting at the time and we had a little island that separated the kitchen from the living room and my first efforts were laps around the island just like running about 10-20 feet at a time. I kept building on that and started studying about nutrition and more exercises, balance techniques, and just kept on it in just tiny bits of incremental improvement on a daily basis.
RG: Was there a defining moment in your life that made you decide to make a definitive change?
AC: You know, there was. It was a memorable one. It was in a gym class and it was pointed out in front of other students about just how out of shape I was. You know, name calling and public humiliation and all that, and so my first immediate attempt after that was to try to play football.
I said, “Okay, I’ll just join the football team and that will really turn it all around”.
So, we got suited up, this was probably like a month or so after that incident, and I was told, “Okay, so we’re going to go across the field over here to where practice is, so all you guys, run out across here to where practice is going to be.”
So I blacked out ON the way to practice. (Laughter) That’s how far I got into it! (Laughter)
RG: You’re pretty fearless.
AC: Well, yeah, when I was blacked out I wasn’t very fearless I was just out. (Laughter) But those couple of episodes made me realize that yeah, I had to change, I had to do things differently. There just was no other option.
RG: Changing one’s health: I think there are so many people that are suffering out there right now, especially women who are tired. They feel overworked. They are prone to stress. They are suffering from irritability. They are not sleeping very well and they can feel the devastating effects of that, of course physically, but also mentally, and so that’s why I wanted to really emphasize adrenal health in this interview because you’ve written this extraordinary book, The Adrenal Reset Diet, which is the combination of decades of all your research and over 75,000 patient care visits, and I’ve read the book not once, but twice, and it helped me.
AC: Wow, thank you.
RG: Well, thank YOU. It helped me. You know, I had had a child and it had been a couple of years, and I still hadn’t gotten my body back, and then once I stopped nursing my weight just shot up because I was still eating like I was nursing, but I wasn’t, and I read your book and I employed a lot of principles and I lost like 17 pounds pretty quickly.
RG: Yeah, and I just got back to feeling good about myself and I think that’s what your story, what people will resonate with. Just, we all want to feel good about ourselves. How do we go about doing that? And for me, you just have really helped me accomplish that and so thank you.
AC: That’s awesome.
RG: Yeah, thank you, and I’d like to help pass along some of the wisdom that benefitted me. So, let’s start with the whole idea about adrenal fatigue.
Why is it so often misdiagnosed, if not completely overlooked? And how mainstream medicine doesn’t even believe necessarily in adrenal dysregulation and it can get dismissed by doctors entirely.
AC: Yeah, good question, that’s a tough thing. I think some of the earlier ideas that we had about it cast it in a light that made it a real turn off for conventional doctors. You know, a lot of the early ideas were saying things like, “The adrenals were tired. They were unable to make hormones”, and we know now that’s really not true.
So, what happens? I like the term “dysregulation” or “dysfunction”.
The adrenals can make hormones even when they are not working well, but what happens is the whole system involving the adrenals and parts of the brain that regulate them are intentionally causing them to make different amounts of hormones that are counterproductive.
So, there are diseases. There are bad things like Addison’s Disease and Cushing’s Disease, Cushing’s Syndrome. They are rare, but there are cases in which the adrenals cannot make what the body wants them to make and that’s created the confusion because this more common circumstance, this dysregulation. It’s not a disease. The adrenal glands are doing what the body is asking them to do, but the whole system of timing has been thrown off.
RG: So talking about dysregulation, can you go into cortisol, which can end up being a huge problem, and reason why we can suffer from weight gain and things like this.
AC: Yeah, cortisol is probably the main adrenal hormone and there are a lot of unique things about it.
It’s a circadian hormone, which means that we make different amounts at different times of day. It’s what wakes us up and makes us alert and energized, and then when it drops off, that turns on the whole sequence of events that make us go to sleep, and the tough part is many factors can cause that rhythm to become altered and we’re not making energy when we should, we’re not tired, we’re not getting refreshing sleep when we should, and we’ve learned as of late that when this system is off, that’s a big part of our body controlling our weight.
You know, there is an old idea that your body is kind of like a bank account and if you put in 3,000 calories you get out 1 pound of fat, and we’re learning that it’s not that simple and many people intuitively know that because they’ve counted calories, they’ve done the time in the gym and they have not seen a change, and what happens is that if your body is in this famine mode – and we know about fight-or-flight – but the other “f” involved in that is “famine”.
If your body is in this famine mode, it’s going to store things and it’s going to store things especially as that visceral fat, the belly fat, and the cortisol rhythm is a big part of that so the healthier the cortisol rhythm gets the easier someone can lose weight.
The problem is that a lot of common dietary approaches make that cortisol rhythm worse and that’s why, you know someone, even if they do lose some weight, they are apt to regain it because their body has gone deeper into this famine state, this storage state, so the awesome thing about understanding and healing the adrenal rhythms is that not only can you lose weight, but you can have more energy as you do so, and you can keep it off.
RG: Yeah, that’s exactly what my experience was. You know, I exercise every single day. I go to the gym quite a lot and I was going to the gym putting even more time in and trying to get the weight to drop and then I read your book and I realized that was aggravating my whole system. (Laughter)
I realized I actually had to do less exercise and I was exercising too late in the day because you talk about when to exercise, when to eat, and things like that and so I shifted my schedule based on your advice and then I really saw a tremendous difference. I had to exert less effort, but I got a better result.
AC: (Laughter) Sometimes that’s scary. (Laughter)
RG: I know. It’s so crazy! You mention that there are factors that can disrupt cortisol so that either we’re making too much, or not enough, and not when we need to, and so on and so forth. Could you talk about what some of those factors are?
AC: Yeah, and the common bucket is that they are all things that make our body feel threatened and make us think that we have famine coming up. I categorize these into three main groups.
One is just processed food. You know, we’ve worked for a long time to make food that tastes really good, that has a long shelf-life. It’s cheap to produce, and the tough part is that those are foods that cause us to store more than we’re burning.
You know, fructose is probably one of the bigger culprits. We get more of our calories from fructose now than we have in the past. Our ancestors never had a lot of fructose except for very certain seasons and especially times before the winter would come on they would have the most access to it. So when we get more fructose our body says, “Oh okay, it’s time to hibernate. There is going to be no food soon”. So, it makes this whole storage thing go on.
Then we have pollutants, you know, environmental toxins. This is pretty wild, but they’ve shown from studies that how much lead someone carries in their body, like if you’ve got a group of 10 people and you know, 5 have a higher amount of lead and 5 have a lower amount of lead, the same amount of food will cause more weight gain in those that have the lead versus those that don’t.
So we have about, more than 3 million chemicals, that have been made since the turn of the last century and they work in combinations of ways that we cannot yet fathom, but in many cases we think they are the culprits behind unprecedented changes in obesity, cancer risks, other higher rates of chronic disease.
The last big thing is just the pressures of modern life. Somewhere around 1980, the number of people that were working on a schedule that was not where they lived, you know, people that were working on other timeframes, like people in the states who were working with a company in China, or someone on the West Coast managing work that is on the East Coast schedule for the stock exchange. The rate of shift work and non-daylight work jumped by over 1/3, and that is one of the ways our stress load has gone up.
The other big shift that occurred just around that time was, the first thing was pagers, and then the PDAs and now the smartphones. You know, we’re distracted, and we’re accountable more frequently than ever before, and subjectively, people experience more stress even though we are not really in survival situations.
So, we’ve got more of these pressures and more things that throw off our daily rhythms and collectively those are the factors that cause our adrenals to falter and cause us to go into the storage mode.
RG: How can people find out that it’s a problem with the adrenals?
AC: As far as finding that out, the smart thing is to rule out other factors. I mean, medically screen for thyroid function.
I’m really excited to speak at The Women’s Wellness Conference™ and give more education about that.
But, yeah, rule out thyroid function, rule out blood sugar issues or diabetes, and if there is no explanation, that is a strong consideration.
An easy thing someone can do is look at adrenalquiz.com and that’s a free quiz someone can take and just learn if they have a high amount of symptoms that could be pointing towards adrenal problems. That’s the quiz that’s in the book as well, but there is a free online version someone can just check and if they’ve got a higher score, than it may be relevant for them.
RG: And the great thing about that quiz that’s in your book is you figure out what your level is and then you have like different categories, so I fell into the “Wired and Tired” category. (Laughter)
AC: Okay. Okay.
RG: And so, you know, for those of you who get the book, which I highly recommend you do so, you can take the quiz and then you add up all your symptoms and then you fit into a category and then you can look up specific advice directed to that category.
So, yeah, for me it was “Wired and Tired”. For some other people, they might be at the “Crash” level and then some it’s just like, you know, being preventative and managing stress before you end up “Wired and Tired” or before you “Crash”, and I think that’s so incredibly helpful.
AC: Some people have a sense about having adrenal problems and about things that might help, but the difficulty is that when your adrenals are not working well, there are very different patterns and yeah, you mentioned how you can have too much cortisol, too little, or cortisol made at the wrong times, and each of those do require solutions that are distinct from the others.
The neat thing is that the dietary ideas apply whichever level you’re at. Like you said, some of the more detailed tips of using healthy herbs or your adaptogens, or using mind-body techniques, they can work better if you know exactly what your level is starting out and what your goal is.
RG: Would you say that one universal solution for all three would definitely be related to sleep and can you talk about some sleep strategies our listeners could put into place to help them with overall good health, but also to help their adrenals?
AC: For sure. The first one is to:
To be continued in PART 2!