Isn’t Eating Supposed to Give Me Energy? Why Am I Getting Extreme Fatigue after Eating?

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Fatigue After Eating Explained

Extreme fatigue after eating can be a symptom of adrenal fatigueFor people suffering in the later stages of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), the body has become so severely debilitated by chronic and unrelenting stress, that everyday functions of the body begin to decline and shut off. This can have the effect of complicating the actions necessary for the upkeep and continued survival of the body, which can be taxing and result in negative reactions – such as fatigue after eating.

Let’s start from the beginning and examine how AFS affects the body in the late stages. Once the adrenal glands are overworked from fighting against constant and overwhelming stress, they can no longer sustain their level of function and begin to go into decline. As a result, the adrenal hormone levels, notably cortisol, fall below the levels necessary for normal function. The imbalance in these hormones has a knock-on effect and causes disruptions of other closely interacting hormonal systems such as the thyroid and ovarian systems, which are tied to the adrenals via the Ovarian Adrenal Thyroid (OAT) axis. These disruptions across multiple hormonal pathways destroy the normal equilibrium in the body. In women, a dysregulated OAT hormonal axis is a sure recipe for feeling bad.

The body then activates the autonomic nervous system as a last ditch effort to restore equilibrium, which ends up flooding the body with norepinephrine and adrenaline. These two powerful hormones ready the body to fight for its survival. The energy factories within our cells are put on overdrive to pump out more ATP, leading to mitochondrial overload. However, because the body is already in disrepair, the release of these hormones causes further stress, creates more symptoms, and drives the body further towards failure. The body will start to down-regulate energy expenditure to conserve energy to survive. This is where the paradoxical reactions come into play and where normally helpful medications, nutrient supplements, and even food, can have blunted, inconsistent, and even adverse backfiring effects.

The same kind paradoxical reactions behind extreme fatigue after eating may be affecting how your body can tolerate medicationsMost medications already contribute some level of stress to the body as they exert their powerful pharmacological effects on physiology. Combined with this stress and the toxic byproducts and side effects that come with every prescription medication, it’s no surprise that a body in this state might react negatively to medications. Even nutritional supplements of natural vitamins and minerals work by stimulating, and in some cases, revving up the natural functions of your body; but when the body’s function is already compromised in late stage AFS, these supplements just clog up the machinery more, causing more stress.

But what about food? Doesn’t our body need to take in energy just to be able to function, however slowly? Eating is actually a very complex process in the body, with the gastrointestinal (GI) tract containing over 100 million neurons, which is more than the spinal column! Eating activates many hormonal pathways responsible for redirecting blood flow, changing metabolic rate, and releasing the proper digesting enzymes, among other functions. The low level of energy available to the body as a whole means the body is using that energy to properly take in the food that it needs and sufferers can experience extreme fatigue after eating. Sufferers in this kind of state may even be in such a condition that they have to rest between bites or may only be able to tolerate a little broth at a time.

Our diets are critical to adrenal fatigue recovery as they can help reduce additional stress. The body fights stress by utilizing the NEM system. Since activation of the NEM can include a disruption to the metabolic system, a proper diet can prevent changes in blood sugar levels, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. Eating foods that have a low glycemic index – which do not cause a spike in blood sugar – will help decrease further metabolic response to stress and decrease insulin demand. Food eaten in smaller quantities could help prevent periods of hypoglycemia, preventing further activation of adrenals.

Fatigue After Eating Summary

Digestion and fatigue after eatingIf you have or suspect you have AFS, and you are experiencing fatigue during or after eating, your condition may be caused by the extreme down-regulation of energy by the body. If this is the case, it is important to take steps towards recovery and highly recommended to seek out a qualified practitioner. A body in this state of disrepair can resist attempts to supplement nutritionally, and an experienced professional can help guide the recovery process through the minefield of paradoxical reactions.

Digestion and fatigue after eating


  • Shayne says:

    I need help on this subject. I am in constant pain from back problems along with other health problems. I eat and want to sleep. I’m tired all the time. Only out of bed 5 to 10 hours a day. I also have other health problems as well.

  • Jamie says:

    I am the spouse of a military service person…no way is the military medical going to help me with something like this as military doctors are here for the service people and not the dependents so we get second rate care. However it is nice knowing what may be causing my after eating fatigue and so now maybe I have a direction to take my own self care. Thank you for the article.

  • Dale Miller says:

    How do I find a doctor who can help me with problem?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      You can start with your family doc and ask for referral. If you have no luck, you can call my office to see if you qualify for our telephone coaching program.

      Dr Lam