I sat across from Jennifer in my office (name changed for privacy purposes), and I knew this was going to be a long journey for her. She had a stressful full-time job, a two-year-old daughter, and a partner whose job had zero flexibility, so coordinating their daughter’s schedule and cooking for the family fell all on Jennifer. She came to me desperate for help with her exhaustion.

Clients I work with are often surprised at how interested I am in the life events and personal histories that led up to them sitting in my office. In Jennifer’s case, prior to pregnancy, she had experienced a few trauma-filled years that included illness and a death in the family. Now here she sat, 50 pounds overweight, struggling with digestive and sleep issues, and fearful that there was no end in sight to this downhill slide in her health.

The first thing I noticed was that in order for Jennifer’s situation to improve, a deeper issue had to be addressed.

In my eyes, Jennifer’s key underlying issue was how disconnected she was from her body.

She couldn’t describe for me what was going on in her digestive system. Her “normal” was having one bowel movement every two to four days, and she felt constantly bloated and tired. Jennifer’s health picture, which included exhaustion, weight gain, digestive irregularity, and sleep issues, is a familiar one in my practice, as these symptoms often present together in adrenal fatigue patients.

I asked Jennifer to get specific with me about her eating habits. In Jennifer’s house, meals were typically pre-packaged or restaurant foods. She often skipped breakfast. There was lots of snacking and sugar, and Jennifer was constantly stressed and sleep-deprived.

Jennifer came to me when she was approaching her breaking point.

Her recent visit with her primary care provider was unsatisfactory, to say the least. She had walked out with a prescription for antidepressants and the general advice to “lose weight.” But she didn’t even know how she had gotten to this point, and the advice left her feeling powerless.

I sat with Jennifer for an hour, helping her begin to understand how the pieces of her health picture fit together. She was engaged, and I could see the lightbulb in her head go off numerous times as I explained about stress, cortisol, blood sugar, weight gain and how these pieces fit together. (For more on how these pieces fit together, get your free adrenal fatigue guide.)

A simple plan was put in place, and we began meeting monthly to build on Jennifer’s plan and improve her knowledge of how to give her body what it needed.

Jennifer revealed to me that she had significant negative body image issues passed down from her mother in her youth, which had initially spurred the disconnect from her own body. Why stay connected to and care for this imperfect body that she didn’t even like? Once she had learned to tune out how she felt in her own skin, many years before, it was easier to neglect it and ignore the symptoms as they cropped up. Understanding these deeper issues is essential for maintaining results long-term, without relying on sheer willpower.

Jennifer started tuning in to her symptoms, and she noticed that every time she ate dairy her tummy would bloat and she wanted to take a nap. She cut dairy out of her diet, and dropped 15 pounds in one month. Her motivation was now on fire as she realized she was back in the driver’s seat.

Three months into our work together, Jennifer became suddenly responsible for a family member who had fallen back into drug addiction. She had to divert attention and energy to her family member, and she stopped all the habits of health that were starting to allow her body to heal itself, like dietary changes, personal time, and exercise. The 15 pounds came right back. The old habits started producing the same results of poor health and fatigue as they had before.

The difference now was that Jennifer had experienced feeling good long enough for her to realize how awful she had felt with her old lifestyle.

We experience setbacks as life just happens. But as we build up the foundational health tools that help us recover from fatigue, weight gain, digestive issues, and irregular sleep patterns, and we practice addressing mind, body, and spirit, we’re able to recover quicker and build habits that become second nature, even in stressful times.

Jennifer knew what to do: Instead of feeling like it was all for nothing, she reached out to other family members for support, insisted her husband seek job flexibility so that he could help out more at home, and used the resources and adrenal support she had learned from working together with me, such as nutrition, herbs, and stress reduction techniques. Jennifer’s re-connection with her body gave her control, understanding, and compassion for herself, and the motivation to make better choices moving forward so that she could continue to heal, even as life threw new challenges her way.