Have you been told that the foods you eat could be the reason you feel fatigued? Maybe you’ve been told to blame the foods you ate over the holidays for feeling sluggish? or maybe you vowed to boost your energy levels for 2021 by focusing on food?
In today’s diet culture, we are often promised that if we cut out certain foods or nutrients such as sugar or gluten we will regain energy. With the holidays just wrapped up, it is likely that these messages will be ramped up as we move through January. But should we blame our food for feeling tired and sluggish? Could feeling energized and increasing concentration really be as simple as cutting out some foods?
Before you avoid your favourite foods or feel you need to rid them from our life this month, “junk” food or special holiday foods may not be the culprit. Before blaming foods for feeling tired, it could be more helpful to consider other reasons – reasons that may be more likely the culprit, and if managed, more efficient at increasing energy.
Here are 3 ways food and eating habits can increase your energy levels that have nothing to do with avoiding the foods you love.
Eat Enough Food, Everyday
If you are not eating 3 meals a day PLUS a few snacks, you may not be eating enough.
Diet culture’s message scaring us into trying to eat as little as possible has led many people to eat too little. Not to mention how it leads many to underestimate how much they actually need.
Getting enough food, on a regular basis can increase focus, energy levels and reduce fatigue tremendously. If the body is not getting enough food, on a regular basis, nothing else matters. This means that the body will disrupt our lives until it gets enough food. Sleep will be disrupted because the brain will want us to go forage for food and our concentration will be disrupted as the body pushes us to think about food. Any supplements you may take to increase energy won’t be helpful (like B12) and that goes for water and exercise too as “cures” for fatigue.
Eat Regularly & Often
Every body (yes, yours too) like to be nourished every 3-4 hours. Eating inconsistent amounts throughout the day or having big gaps between meals is an energy drain.
Our world does not encourage us to take adequate food breaks (or any bio breaks for that matter). This means we often forget to eat or feel bad taking a break. Try setting reminders on post-its or an alarm on your phone if eating every few hours is hard for you. Take a few days to observe your schedule and figure out what is getting in the way of the much needed (and normal) bio breaks during your day. A break for a snack in the morning and afternoon as well as time in the middle of the day for lunch is the minimum that a body needs.
We live in a world that insists we act authentically like vulnerable humans while also insisting that we spend no time on actual human needs like food and rest. A human body can quickly recover from a busy day if they do not happen often but if you have “hell days” (as a client called them recently) on a regular basis that aren’t followed by a less busy day, then the body cannot recover. And it will get harder and harder to recover physically and mentally the more we deny our body adequate food and rest. Often food is the first to go when our schedule is jam packed – which is unfortunate considering busy days are the ones when out body needs the most support.
If you find yourself unable to make food choices amidst your busy day, consider keeping a list of snack or quick meal ideas on your phone. Refer to this list when you can’t seem to decide what to eat.
Reduce Worry & Food Rules
Hyper-focusing on what, when and how much to eat is draining (to say the least). Worrying you may have broken a food rule is an energy suck. Try stepping away from analyzing and agonizing over food. Certainly this is not always as easy as it sounds and if you struggle with this, please know you aren’t alone. Diet culture has many fear mongering messages trying to convince us to not trust our hunger or appetite and if you have been bouncing between binging and restricting (or dieting and “make up” eating), it is normal to think that we can’t be trusted without food rules or watching what we eat.
The crazy thing is that it is not our appetite that is the problem- but the diet or restriction. It is the food rule or the avoiding of the food that leads us to eat a lot of it (not the other way around). Many people believe that they are limiting the food because they can’t control themselves around it BUT this lack of control comes AFTER trying to eat less of the food. Food rules and diets start the cycle of binging. Binging or feeling out of control with food is DUE TO under eating or portion controlling.
Food rules can feel comforting in the short term which can be one reason they are hard to let go. If you don’t feel ready to work on giving up being the food police, consider writing down the rules and guidelines you have been taught and feel compelled to follow. Understanding what food rules are present in our lives is the first step to noticing if they are helpful or harmful.
Rediscover trust in your body around food by working with a non diet dietitian.
If you do feel icky after eating foods like cookies, cake and chips, it is possible that the worry you have been told to have around these foods has led to the discomfort, not an actual physical intolerance. Cutting foods out can seem like a natural first step to feeling better, or even prescribed by a health professional, however there are negative consequences to your life and wellbeing that can be triggered by food restriction. Unfortunately, these negative consequences or side effects of food restriction are rarely discussed and can lead people to feeling isolated and broken. Before cutting out food, consider talking to a weight inclusive, HAES aligned dietitian who specializes in digestive health to help you figure any intolerances you may be experiencing and how to best mange them.