Gretchen Spetz, MS, RDN, LD
Maybe the question should be who DOESN’T feel fatigued? YAWN! I took a time-out from blogging last month when Baby K’s sleep took a nosedive. Four teeth coming in at the same time = lots of nighttime wakeups and broken sleep for mom! In addition, the Functional Kitchen is getting more wonderful clients (SO EXCITING!), and we have had some serious birthday celebrations for the three year old and the baby-turned-toddler. Did I mention that we also are finally selling our old house? Oh yeah, and that I get up about three times per week at 4:45a for CrossFit? I tell you all this because this is real life. Chances are, my experience is not much different than yours. Life is a big balancing act, and usually our plates are overflowing with responsibilities and fun. Being the acrobat of your life takes some serious energy! The downside to all this life gymnastics is that we wear ourselves down. Chronic fatigue is the big red flag of pushing yourself too hard – not feeling rested after waking, crashing midday, or feeling like you need to fuel up with coffee (or some other caffeinated beverage) to survive. What’s a gal or guy to do about fatigue short of going on a sabbatical to the nearest beach? Check out these food and lifestyle adjustments that can help you recharge and feel energized instead of tired. 1. Stop letting the tiger chase you. Did you know that your body cannot tell the difference between modern-day stressors like managing work and home responsibilities and life or death stressors like being chased by a wild animal? The good thing about being chased by a wild animal is that is it short-lived and infrequent. Day-to-day stress never ends or goes away. Eventually, our modern-day stressors burn you out and make you tired by asking way too much of your adrenal glands (fight or flight hormones), and deviate energy away from metabolic and digestive processes. This can result in elevated inflammation which leaves you feeling more tired and unable to tackle the never-ending to-do list. So now what? Try to take something off your plate. Chances are high that there is one task that can be sacrificed in the name of your health.
2. Take a time-out. Schedule in daily moments of quiet, meditation, gentle yoga, prayer or some other quiet time that only requires your presence and attention to thoughts and breath. I love the Headspace app – the leader’s voice is very calming and they have 3 minute meditations that work for me.
3. Prioritize sleep. Truth time – I am NOT good at this one. Sleep should be prioritized over chores, making dinner from scratch, and exercise. Sleepis directly related to your ability to reach and maintain a healthy weight and decrease inflammation (the root cause of chronic disease). The body uses sleep time to repair itself. Finally, REM sleep helps your mind organize and filter information. If you wake up several times per night, you will not get adequate deep sleep and REM sleep. This will result in a lack of creativity, brain fog, and my personal favorite – walking into a room and forgetting why the heck you are there. Do your best to get between 7-9 hours of uninterrupted (or mostly uninterrupted sleep per night). If you find yourself needing to wake up 1-2 times per night (going to the restroom or waking with a young child), keep yourself in a “low power” state. Do not turn on lights, check electronics or ask yourself to do high-functioning mental tasks (like writing a blog post!).
4. Stop the sugar. Did you know that sugar is more addictive than cocaine? The more we eat, the more we crave! We especially tend to crave sugar when we are tired. Our bodies know that it will give us instant energy, however, when your body is tired, you are prone to insulin resistance (aka storing ingested sugar instead of burning it). Eating sugar when you are tired will set you up for weight gain and increased sluggishness. Check out the amazing and knowledgeable duo (Kylene and Michael!) over at My Functional Sports Nutrition for real life meal ideas to decrease your sugar intake and choose high quality foods.
5. Ditch the convenience foods. Traditional convenience foods like fast food, granola bars, and frozen meals are loaded with additives and sugar. Make your own low-processed convenience foods that can serve as healthful snacks when you are on the go. What is a low-processed snack that travels well? My favorite is homemade trail mix! 1 cup nuts, ½ cup no sugar added dried fruit, and ¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes. Take ¼ cup of this mix and head out the door!
6. Take the time to eat. There are a lot of demands on your time. Fueling up right and spending 15-20 minutes at each meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is an investment in fighting fatigue. First, it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to send the message to the brain that it is finished eating. If you eat super fast, your stomach does not get the chance to tell the brain it is full. There is a good chance you will go for seconds, and that means you end up with more sugar on your plate. More sugar=more inflammation=more belly fat=more fatigue. Does reading this make you feel more tired and overwhelmed? Pick just one thing and work on that. Chances are, it will give you some R&R that will help you feel better! Let’s raise our coffee cups (only 12 fl oz per day please!) to feeling more energized and being our best selves!