CARB CYCLING: Adrenal Reset, Lower Cortisol, and Weight Loss

Can you identify with any of these symptoms: struggling to lose weight, anxious and/or fearful, not sleeping well, tired but wired? And do you feel all of this despite last year’s resolution to give up carbs in a last-ditch effort for more energy or to feel calmer and slimmer?

Perhaps you became disillusioned after seeing little change, and you promised yourself you would double down this New Year—cut more calories, go keto, fast more often, and for sure wear out the treadmill you got for Christmas! Or maybe you’re so unhappy that you’re feeding yourself some self-punishing excuses: it’s just your DNA, or you’re too weak of will to achieve any part of your weight-loss goals. Or, worse of all, you think you look ugly when you look at yourself in the mirror!

Well, let me tell you about my latest read. It’s a little secret I’d never heard of—despite the fact that I spend nearly 90 percent of my day writing or talking about food or cooking! This new approach to healing your adrenals, balancing your hormones, lowering your cortisol levels, and even experiencing real, long-term weight control without starvation or a severe change in your diet certainly came as a welcome surprise.

What was my great discovery? I’ll keep it short and sweet. While browsing in my local library, I found a book titled The Adrenal Reset Diet. But wait! Before you click out and go buy the book, read the rest of this post!

The author, Dr. Alan Christianson, introduces what he calls the “carb cycling” technique. And the food he guarantees will make this miracle happen is, you guessed it…carbohydrates. More specifically, complex carbohydrates.

First, before telling you what I liked about the book, allow me tell you what I did not like. In fact, there are some recommendations in The Adrenal Reset Diet that other experts disagree with as well.

I’m well-studied in both the food principals of the Weston A. Price Foundation and of Dr. Royal Lee. And I find it unfortunate that there are still so many books written without the profound knowledge displayed in Sally Fallon Morrell’s Nourishing Traditions and collected in the SRP Historical Archives. Sadly, the food recommendations in this otherwise great read make this a difficult book to recommend for one with my background. (Sigh)

Nevertheless, in this particular case I did not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Some of his recommendations may make a profound difference and provide a new start to people who truly need it. Also, I’m glad that I gave this adrenal reset a try because after only two months, I’m able to get into my size 14 after several years of wearing size 16. More important, I’ve seen a major difference in my mood and anxiety levels, and my sleep is calmer and less wakeful. (However, keep in mind that my diet is strictly based on the nutrition principles of Dr. Lee and The Weston A. Price Foundation The foods you use on this diet will make a difference.)

What I didn’t like about The Adrenal Reset Diet is that it doesn’t condone many nutrient-dense foods, such as eggs, whole grains, milk, and even butter. Yet it’s otherwise big on carbs! You may be a bit confused, but please read on.

What I did find fascinating and helpful about this book is the information it provides on when and how many carbs we should consume at each meal. Hopefully, I’ll be able to convey what works about this book—namely, Dr. Christianson’s intense studies and successful treatment of patients over his many years of practice—and still take into account all of the wondrous foods that we “WAPFers” and Dr. Lee advocates know to be good and healthy choices.

Let’s take a look at some topics in this book that I’ve been writing about for quite some time. Chief among them is how damaging stress is to our overall health, including weight loss.

Unsuccessful Weight Loss, Adrenal Fatigue, High Cortisol Levels, and Hormone Imbalance

Paging through the first part of the book, for a brief time I could have sworn that Dr. Christianson has been reading my blog posts on stress! However, he’s adamant that there are two other reasons besides stress that account for our unwanted weight gain and inability to maintain any weight loss over the long-term, regardless of how many diets we faithfully try or supplements we take.

Dr. Christianson outlines his journey of many years to develop tests for his patients for whom little else had worked, and he includes in his book numerous testimonials from patients with successful outcomes. Christianson states that our health problems are inevitably bound up in any one, two, or all three of these issues: 1) processed foods, 2) pollutants, and 3) pressures of life.

Any combination of these culprits can trigger the brain to increase our cortisol levels and lead to the storage of fat in our visceral (belly) cells for the purpose of survival. When our cortisol levels are normal, the fat goes to our muscles to create energy (but more on this phenomenon below).

What This Says to Me

This all indicates to me that we could be eating a nutritious organic diet and still 1) have problems losing weight and/or maintaining our target weight, and 2) be subject to all the other symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue, high cortisol levels, and hormones gone bonkers. I see this like playing a game of whack-a-mole!

Which of these issues, whether it’s just one of them or any combination thereof, are you aware of in your life? As I understand from the book, until we can resolve or, at the very least, lessen these bad habits, we can by-golly expect to be not only overweight but also physically, mentally, and even spiritually unhealthy!

Let me now address what Christianson calls the “adrenal on-off fat switch.”

How to Reset Your Adrenals—and Your Weight

“Weight gain is not a matter of too much fuel coming in and too little fuel going out. When in good health, we are able to keep our weight at a range conducive to our good health despite inevitable variations in day to day food intake. Circadian hormones regulate our weight, and when in survival mode, these hormones act to allow as much weight gain and quick energy release as possible. Thus, weight gain is the product of these hormones being stuck in survival mode. Being stuck in survival mode changes both what happens to the food we eat and which foods we prefer to eat.”

“By cycling carbohydrates—eating them at the right time each day—cortisol can be brought back to a healthy rhythm, with high levels of cortisol in the morning and low cortisol at night. This fixes the fat switch to off” and causes calories to move into the muscles, which produce energy, instead of moving them into the visceral fat, which makes you sluggish and causes weight gain.”
The Adrenal Reset Diet, p. 45 (emphasis mine)

My Conclusion

Admittedly, I cannot prove that carbohydrates, if eaten at the right time of day, can truly regulate cortisol. But as I interpret the above quotes, it looks like being in a constant state of “survival mode”—which may or may not include exposure to unhealthy foods, pollutants, and mental pressures—could be resolved with prayer, exercise, or other healthy distractions. And perhaps this could help us not only maintain a more peaceful outlook but also improve our hormone, adrenal, and cortisol levels—to whatever extent possible in our modern era.

Bring on the Carbs!

Below I will try to provide you with a few general tips about getting the most out of The Adrenal Reset Diet. However, it would be impossible to present all of the author’s charts, food lists, recipes, and suggestions for turning your life around. Dr. Christianson even details different stress levels and includes tests to help determine which one you are most likely to be at. He then recommends herbal remedies that may have a positive effect on each of those states.

At this point I suggest that you scurry down to your local library and get a copy of the book to immerse yourself in. However, if you follow the food principles of the Weston A. Price Foundation and Dr. Royal Lee, I do not recommend trying any of the protein powders, tofu, and similar foods that Dr. Christianson suggests in his book.

Getting Started

The Adrenal Diet Reset includes many recipes, and I had hoped to provide a few of them in this blog post. After I was unable to get the proper permissions, I decided to develop my own protein-carb regimen. This includes a high-protein, limited-carb breakfast and increased carbs throughout the day.

Be sure to develop your own regimen. I created one for myself using charts from the book, but it may not be best for you. As a matter of fact, as a wise lady advised me, if carbohydrates of any kind—simple or complex—cause you to gain weight, this diet may not work for you. To each his own. (Smile)

How This Diet Worked for Me

Although it’s only been a few months, I found that switching to a high-protein meal combined with healthy fat (and just a tiny bit of carbs) in the morning, a moderately complex carb meal and snack at mid-day, and a high carbohydrate meal at night has made a huge difference in my mood. Hopefully, the weight loss will follow. (Smile) My excessive anxiety and state of worry seem to be gone, and my energy levels have increased substantially. I also no longer experience the mid-afternoon slump. Carb-cycling seems to be working for me—and I sincerely hope it works for you. One thing is certain: be faithful, or put it off to another time.

Important note: Below is one day from my own personal meal plan You’ll find numerous variations and recipes in the book, and depending on your weight, height, and sex, you may need to modify this plan to suit yourself. (I’m a female of small stature—well, except for the belly!)

(Before you begin, you may want to refer to this “List of Healthy Complex Carbohydrates.”)

Protein: 2 pastured eggs, fried, soft boiled, or scrambled, or 1 slice non-starchy vegetable quiche (made fresh or leftover from previous dinner)
Fat:1 tablespoon lard (if frying eggs)
Carbs: ¼–½ slice whole grain bread with 1 tablespoon raw butter, or ¼–½ cup starchy veggie

Protein: 1 cup kefir
Fat: ⅓ cup walnuts or almonds, or same amount walnut or almond butter
Carbs: ¼ cup strawberries or blueberries (blended with the kefir)

Protein: Fish or meat (about the size of your palm)
Fat: Lard, tallow, or butter (on top of your protein)
Carbs: Approximately 1 cup bean-based or rice-based soup (see note below)

(Note: the bean recipe from this blog post gives me my fat, protein, and complex carb all in one meal. Also, you’ll find several rice-based dishes in the recipe section of The Adrenal Reset Diet.)

[xyz-ihs snippet=”Begin-Authors-Note”]

Afterthoughts from the Traditional Cook

A Little About Vanity

While we may be at the brink of becoming more voluptuous and finally able to fit into the clothes we wore a few years back, we must remember what’s really important about life. It isn’t about being as skinny as we used to be—that’s what I call vanity.

I recall my wonderful, happy, effervescent aunt, whom I loved dearly. Yes, she had belly fat, and lots of it, but this never made a difference in how loving and jovial she was. My aunt lived to a ripe-old age and never gave her belly a second thought. To anyone who dared suggest that she “reduce,” she’d always say that it wasn’t natural and that we all get old. And some, like her, get fat! Her beautiful spirit transcended the sometimes vain and silly efforts we all put into being skinny. As I, too, make the effort to be a bit trimmer, here’s my advice: If you think what I’ve written is worthy of your effort, give it a go for your own sake. But also remember that if it doesn’t work this time, you just might not have found the right formula yet. Some people lose weight by increasing the amount of healthy fat in their diet (this is the principle behind keto). Some people cannot lose weight even if they don’t eat any carbs at all. Never give up on your own journey, and always remember to lovingly accept who you are.

Now, this is a natural approach that involves not stressing about something you may not be able to accomplish in this lifetime. They tell me angels are perfectly formed, so strive to be an angel, and use the secret of resignation to accept life as it is!

Maria Atwood, CNHP

[xyz-ihs snippet=”End-Authors-Note”]

Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.

Images from iStock/TomFoldes (main), a_namenko (selection of foods), Rixipix (soup). 

Maria Atwood, CNHP

Maria Atwood is a semiretired Certified Natural Health Professional and Weston A. Price Chapter Leader in Colorado Springs, CO. Visit her website at Also check out Maria’s Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD (also available as an e-learning course) and be sure to follow her Tips from the Traditional Cook blog.
Products by Maria Atwood

Leave a Reply