Q&A: Fatigue and That Pesky Belly Fat

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A member recently wrote us in response to my recent post, Paleo for the Active Person, and I thought some of you might be able to relate.

Q:

I’m stuck. I haven’t lost weight (belly fat) in two months. I strictly eat Paleo via the plan everyday… week after week and now month after month. I walk and was even going to the gym… until the low energy got the better of me. I have hypothyroidism… and according to my blood tests, my meds are right. I feel like I can’t function without a nap by mid afternoon. The nap helps make it though the day (if I can squeeze one in)… but then I can’t sleep through the night. Do you think that more carbs will help me? Would sweet potatoes and squash everyday resolve these issues?

A:

All right, this may be grounds for an individual consult with holistically oriented health practitioner, since you may have some complicated issues going on here, but here are my initial thoughts.

1. If you’re hypothyroid, you probably struggle with blood sugar imbalances, particularly blood sugar crashes, which means you may want to add a snack between breakfast and lunch if you don’t already. Or maybe just cut your breakfast in half and eat half in the morning and half 2 hours later. That’s what I do.  Explaining the thyroid’s functions is a blog series in itself, but here’s a little primer.

When you spend many years eating sugar, then having a blood sugar crash, then eating sugar, then having a blood sugar crash, and on and on, it stresses out your adrenal glands.  The reason your adrenals get overworked is that when you have blood sugar crashes (due to overeating refined carbs), your adrenals are forced to pump out cortisol, which puts sugar into your bloodstream so that you don’t pass out (or worse).  Your adrenal glands and your thyroid gland are both controlled by the pituitary gland.  So when your adrenals are demanding more energy from your pituitary than they should, the thyroid gets the short end of the stick and we end up with hypothyroidism (lethargy, weight gain, body temperature craziness, skin problems, low immune function, etc.).  It’s not fun, but it’s very common.

Healing your blood sugar imbalances (and helping your hypothyroid) means, for many, eating many times per day so as to avoid using cortisol to control blood sugar.  You use food instead. The beauty of the Paleo diet is that you cut out the refined carbohydrates, so your chances of having blood sugar crashes are less than if you were eating a normal American diet.  You can still have them, though, if you don’t eat often enough.  How often and how severe those crashes are depends on your genetic make-up and how much you’ve messed up your body by eating an American diet over the years.

2. Are you drinking caffeine? If so, try to cut it out as it really messes with blood sugar and causes crashes.  I especially find morning coffee drinkers to be the people who are fatigued in the afternoon…

3. Try exercising again. I know you’re incredibly tired, but it seems like there are times during the day that are better than others, right?  Try to go for a walk in the morning (or whenever your energy is the highest), even if it’s only for 20 or 30 minutes. It can help improve your overall energy levels, sleep quality, weight loss and hypothyroidism in general.  Once you start feeling better (and you will), you can start doing more fun and intense workouts.

4. Are you drinking enough water? Water, of course, is our life blood.  I kind of doubt this is your issue, since your fatigue sounds pretty intense, but I have to ask.  Even if it’s only part of the problem, it’s worth looking into.  Try drinking more water for a few days and see if it makes any difference.

5. I know you said you are eating strictly Paleo, but once again, it’s my job to ask: are you having sugary snacks throughout the day? Or are you having cravings? If you’re having cravings for sweet things, it either means you’re not getting enough protein and fat (which you probably are since you’re on Paleo Plan), you’re not getting enough carbohydrates, or you have food sensitivities (more on that later).  Sometimes when we deny our bodies carbohydrates, we go into starvation mode, where we can’t lose weight anymore because our body is holding on for dear life to the body fat it has.  If your body really likes using carbohydrates for fuel, this might be the case for you. The answer is to eat more good, Paleo friendly carbohydrates, at least sometimes.

I would try that and see if it improves your weight loss or your energy levels.  However, do not replace carbs with protein in the morning, whatever you do.  Since you’re bonking in the middle of the day, I’d say keep your protein and fat intake high in the morning and add some carbs to your breakfast in the form of sweet potatoes, tapioca crepes, yucca, plantains, squash, fruit or any other Paleo friendly carb heavy food.  Eat again 2 hours later, then eat lunch, snack and dinner as normal.  You may need to eat a little something at night – like a few nuts or something – so that you keep from having a blood sugar crash in the middle of the night, which can wake you up.

Now, I just told you to eat more carbohydrates, but I did not tell you to eat copious amounts. Eat the extra carbs for one, maybe 2 meals per day, and in moderate quantities.  Try starting out with a cup of boiled or baked sweet potatoes at breakfast (29 precious grams of carbs and 114 calories).  Or a tapioca crepe (23 grams carbs and 180 calories).  Don’t overdo it, and know that the energy that comes from carb sources like sweet potatoes, tapioca, squash and yucca will last longer in your body than fruit or honey, in general.

6. If all of these things fail, it may be that you have one or more food sensitivities. Maybe you’re sensitive to olive oil or coconut or even beef.  You could have an immune response to any food, and any food sensitivity can cause energy drops.

For now, try eating more carbs at regular intervals and look at all the other things I mentioned. If you’re still having trouble, check into these 14 ways to bust a weight loss plateau.