If you’ve been on the weight-loss wagon since Juicy tracksuits were a thing, Dr. Google might be quick to tell you that you're suffering from adrenal fatigue. But WTF is that, and is it really the reason behind your weight gain? Your adrenal glands sit atop your kidneys and pump out hormones, including cortisol, adrenaline, and testosterone.
The theory is that daily stressors, like your tyrannical boss, fights with your S.O., and a lack of sleep can exhaust your adrenal glands over time. Eventually, your tuckered-out adrenals stop producing enough hormones and symptoms—including weight gain—set in. But hold up: “There is no scientific evidence that adrenal fatigue exists,” says Dr Brian Quebbemann. Did we just blow your mind?
Why doctors are calling BS?
Though the concept is supported by many alternative medicine doctors, hormone supplement companies, and random experts on the interwebs, Quebbemann says it's just a trendy way to blame your weight on something out of your control.“It is far too simplistic to define long-term stress, and the feeling of fatigue that goes along with it, as a decrease in adrenal production of hormones," he says.
The real deal on adrenal disorders
Yikes. OK, so just because adrenal fatigue hasn’t been proven, that doesn’t mean it’s not within the realm of possibility, right? Well, experts say, probs not.
That’s mostly because serious medical conditions that affect the adrenal glands, including Addison’s disease and pituitary tumors, don’t cause symptoms that look like so-called adrenal fatigue.
For example, with these conditions you lose weight instead of gaining it like adrenal fatigue proponents claim. In fact, severe loss of appetite and weight are hallmarks of adrenal insufficiency. So there you have it.
Why you're really gaining weight?
With that being said, it is possible that these little glands could impact your weight, just in a different way. For a majority of women, super-high levels of adrenal hormones (not super-low) are the issue, says Quebbemann.
When dealing with chronic stress (show of hands, please?), the adrenal glands produce a heavy, steady supply of cortisol, which can impair your body’s ability to respond to insulin, says endocrinologist Brunilda Nazario. This messes with your ability to burn fat, which ups your risk of gaining weight, she says.
That's probably why a recent study found that when stressed and non-stressed women followed the same diet, the always-frazzled women gained more weight and abdominal fat.
On top of that whole insulin issue, persistently high cortisol levels stoke your appetite, making it feel impossible to follow a healthy eating plan, says Nazario. After all, there’s a reason that ‘stress eating’ is a thing.