Hi everyone, this week Erin is back to answer more of your health and wellness questions. If you’re confused about carb intake, curious if you should really eat breakfast, or wondering how to stay on track during the holidays, read on for this week’s edition of Ask a Health Coach. Got a question for Erin? Post it in the comments below or over in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.
“I’ve been hearing a lot about carbs now being good for you, especially if you have adrenal issues. I thought carbs were supposed to be bad. What’s the straight answer?”
There’s nothing I love more than to rehash the old “good foods/bad foods” debate that diet culture continually smothers us with. Internet influencers try to demonize whole food groups and steer us in the all-or-nothing camp so often, it’s no wonder people are confused about what they should be eating.
The truth is, many foods, good and bad, contain carbohydrates (cookies, cakes, kale, carrots, green beans, bagels, beets…the list goes on). And when you consume those foods, your digestive system breaks the carbs down into glucose, aka sugar, which enters the bloodstream. As blood sugar levels rise, the hormone insulin is released, prompting your cells to absorb sugar from the blood. When blood sugar starts to get low, another hormone, called glucagon, takes that absorbed sugar and uses it for energy. Our bodies are seriously miraculous, aren’t they?
Managing Adrenal Fatigue with Food
The thinking behind recommending more carbs for those with adrenal issues, is that it can be more difficult for your body to metabolize protein and fat for energy. That being said, when you consume more carbohydrates than your body needs, or highly processed, sugary foods, your blood sugar rises higher and crashes lower (going beyond normal the insulin-glucagon response) and causes a spike in the stress hormone, cortisol. You’re inadvertently causing more stress in your body — not something you want to do if you’re trying to manage adrenal dysfunction.
Do this on a regular basis and you’ll be on a metabolic rollercoaster that makes your adrenals work even harder. Even conventional medicine agrees that processed foods and refined sugars increase cortisol and can lead to unhealthy crashes.
The goal, really for everyone, is to keep your blood sugar stable. And the best way to do that is to eat nutrient dense foods at every meal. Notice I said “meal” and not “snack” since under-eating is another form of stress on the body. Focus on consuming protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, root veggies, and leafy greens.
If you tried eating low carb for a while and it made your symptoms worse, eat more. Yes, even if you’re creeping into the 100–150-gram range. Eating a ton of carbs and still feel like crap? Eat fewer. And if you’re loading up on processed energy bars, assuming that they’re healthy, swap them out for whole foods for a few weeks.
As a parting thought, what if you forgot all the food rules for a minute and leaned into listening and trusting your body’s signals? No one knows your body better than you do.
“I’ve been following Primal for a good part of a year and don’t think I can commit to staying on track during the holidays. We’re having a lot of family in town and I won’t be able to do all my usual shopping, meal prep, and workouts. How do I survive the holidays and not totally derail my progress?”
Sure, the holidays are a busy time of year. But honestly, when isn’t life busy? If it’s not the holidays, it’s the school year, or summer break, or you’re starting a new job or relationship or whatever.
I hear this with my health coaching clients all the time. When life gets busy, they decide they need to take a break on the “health stuff.” Instead of dialing it back, they do nothing. At all.
How to Stay on Track During the Holidays
If I could share one piece of advice with you today, it’s that your health doesn’t need to have an on/off switch. This isn’t an all-or-nothing situation where you’re either nailing it or falling off the wagon.
Think of your health like an adjustable dial. Can’t crank it all the way up to 10 right now because you’re hosting the holidays at your place? Great, how about a 7 or a 5? Heck, even a 2 is better than nothing. Maybe you can’t do all your usually shopping, meal prep, and workouts, but I bet you could:
- Eat at least one healthy meal per day
- Put a few veggies on your plate
- Go for a walk
- Eat some protein
- Drink a glass of water
- Go to bed early once or twice
- Have a fresh piece of fruit
- Do a 1-minute meditation
The goal is to preserve the momentum you’ve got going so that if/when life does slow down, you can ramp it back up. It’s way easier to dial things up from a 2 than to completely abandon all the healthy habits you’ve established and start from scratch.
Also, remember that just like one healthy meal won’t make you fit, one unhealthy meal or missed workout won’t derail your progress. Some sort of consistency is your best bet. During the holidays and all year long.
“I wake up in the morning with a growling stomach. I read in Mark’s book you’re supposed to wait until you’re hungry, yet it’s best to put off eating in the morning if you can. Should I eat? I feel like I might harm someone if I didn’t, lol.”
I’m going to make this really simple for you, Joon. If you’re hungry, eat. The first rule I teach my clients is “Always answer hunger with a meal.” (Please note: I’m not an IF coach)
I mean, how much easier does it get than that? You’ve been given the gift of recognizing your hunger cues — a gift a lot of folks out there would gladly take off your hands. Your body is telling you it’s hungry and all you have to do is respond by giving it food.
The Benefits of Eating Breakfast
Yes, there are benefits to fasting. But there are also benefits to eating in the morning, especially if you’re feeling hungry. Maybe you saw this study from University of Alabama at Birmingham about early time-restricted feeding (eTRF). Participants were put into two groups: one ate from 8am to 2pm; the other ate from 8am to 8pm. Both groups ate the same foods and same number of calories, but researchers found that the meal-timing strategy of the first group reduced swings in hunger and altered fat and carbohydrate burning patterns.
Or this study where 93 participants between the ages of 30 and 57 were put into two isocaloric weight loss groups: one had their largest meal of the day at breakfast; the other had their largest meal at dinner. Over the course of 12 weeks, the group who consumed the most calories at breakfast lost two and a half times more weight than those who had a light breakfast — or skipped it altogether. They also had significantly reduced fasting glucose, insulin, ghrelin, and triglyceride levels.
If your natural rhythm is to eat earlier in the day, there’s no reason to fight that. There’s no reason to white knuckle it through the first few (or several) hours, just because some people have success with that.
The Number One Rule of Hunger
Here’s what not to do when your stomach growls: ignore it. We’ve been programmed to believe that hunger is a sign of weakness — something we should push through. Or even better, that if we feel hungry, we’re actually thirsty and that we should go have a glass of water instead of sitting down for a meal.
If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re new to fasting, or recently switched from Standard American fare, you might start to notice a change over time and can push back your first meal if desired. But don’t feel compelled to exhibit great feats of willpower and ignore your hunger because you think you’re supposed to. That’s no way to live. #mytwocents
Got more questions? Ask ‘em below. Or check out the new myPrimalCoach where you can work 1-on-1 with your own health coach.