When we place our body under stress (aka any perceived threat to the safety and normal balance of the body), it responds like a bear in winter and goes into what may be referred to as “hibernation mode.”
The hibernation effect is a primary feature of Anorexia Nervosa or any restrictive diet or exercise regime taken too far.
In a healthy state, the thyroid gland produces a hormone called T4, some of T4 is then converted into T3, the active hormone, using zinc and selenium. Our body can only use T3, it’s what determines our metabolic rate and keeps our temperature within range. When our body is under threat/stress it becomes clever and makes a mirror image of T3, called reverse T3 (RT3). RT3 is the body’s shut down signal, it says to the body there are not enough resources to sustain all biological functions of the body so non-essential functions (ie reproduction) must be shut down to reserve resources for essential functions (ie heart, kidney). Whilst the body is in hibernation mode eggs in the ovaries become dormant and if prolonged can impact future chances of fertility.
A key focus in eating disorder recovery is helping the body realise it can now turn off the RT3 switch as nutrients are on their way. Without the body getting this message, full recovery from an eating disorder will not occur. Unfortunately, its not only resumption of ‘normal eating’ that sends this signal, a lot more work needs to be done and this aspect is often overlooked during treatment. As specific nutrients (ie zinc, selenium, iodine) are critical for optimal thyroid health, such nutrient deficiencies need to be fixed. Alongside this, GUT health and ability to digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients must be addressed. A tank with a hole in it will not be sending the right message to the body! If gut health is not optimal the body will continue to think its understocked because the supply line is short.
Another hormone involved in the hibernation effect is cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is needed to fight stress. However, when the body is under chronic stress, the adrenal glands cannot keep up with the out put required and goes into shut down mode. This may look like severe fatigue, low blood pressure, low pulse, salt cravings and low temperature. Hand in hand with repair of the thyroid, the adrenal glands need to be nourished and supported back to health to allow a full recovery out of the hibernation effect.
If you have made significant improvements to your health during your recovery but are still feeling some lasting effects, it might be that your body is still stuck in hibernation mode and needs a gentle nudge in the right direction. Once your body does find the nourishment it is looking for (both physical and emotional) the cave will no longer appear and the thought of spring will never have looked or felt so good!
Enjoy! Casey Dick | Passionate Dedicated Natural Nutritionist | Brisbane, Australia, Dietary Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, Restrictive Eating, Body image, Picky Eating, Mindful Eating, Non-Dieting Approach, Healthy Relationship With Food, Healthy Weight Maintenance, Body Dysmorphic Disorder.