Adrenal RUSH

A few nights ago, I was watching the television show Top Chef with my older daughter, Dana. We listened to the explanation of the first Quickfire Challenge, where the chefs are given a specific task and asked to complete a gourmet treat in a given amount of time. Since I wasn’t sure if she had seen the show before, I asked her If she knew what the chefs were supposed to do. I filled in the details for her and she nodded excitedly and added, “and they have to do it all in 30 minutes!”

She was correct, and the energy and excitement that she felt watching these chefs meet the challenge got me thinking about entertainment and adrenaline. I’ve noticed that since I’ve begun the Paleo lifestyle, I look at the environment my girls are living in with a much more critical eye. Feeding them foods that the government and media deemed healthy led to illness and neurological issues, and not to be a party-pooper, but I now I’m thinking that our seemingly harmless favorite TV shows about food and competition may not be good for them.

The adrenal response is very powerful and is triggered by our thoughts. As I’ve mentioned before, our mind sends out stress signals as if we were in fight or flight mode, and our adrenal glands respond with the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. It’s for our own survival. In Paleo days, fighting our wild prey for dinner would warrant an adrenal response to keep us alive and help us fun fast, jump higher, or do whatever we needed to do to stay alive.

The addictive part of the adrenaline rush is that you don’t feel anything else when you are feeling adrenaline. Professional athletes don’t feel the pain of their injuries until days later because adrenaline doesn’t allow it in the midst of a big game. We are tricking the body to think it’s a life or death situation. Can that be good for us?

Television producers seem to think so. More and more television shows like Top Chef, 24, and Survivor want us to feel the adrenaline that the characters feel while they are preparing food or participating in a challenge. It works. We put our thoughts and worries on hold while we “enjoy” these shows.

The short term problem is that even small amounts of adrenaline that we feel from watching television can be felt in our bodies. In prioritizing mode, our bodies know that properly digesting our dinner, preparing melatonin for sleep, or regulating seratonin for a balanced mood are secondary to staying alive. In the long term, a chronic release of adrenaline leads to a breakdown of the adrenal glands.

Four years after my adrenal glands failed, I am still trying to retrain my thoughts to prevent a stress response. I stay away from watching certain shows late at night and often put a blanket or pillow in front of my face to prevent a surge of adrenaline that would interrupt my sleep. It seems to make much more sense to stop watching these shows all together or even stop watching TV, but I’m not ready to go that far.

For now, I’ll watch these shows and sports competitions and try to enjoy them for the entertainment they are without getting too attached to the characters or outcome. I’ll remind Dana just like my parents reminded me when I was frightened during a movie, “It’s not real. It’s only TV.”

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