4 Reasons Your Diet May Be Making You Tired
A few years back, I struggled with a condition called HPA Axis (adrenal) Dysfunction. When my Functional Medicine Doctor put me through a battery of tests, one of them was a 4 point cortisol saliva test. It turned out, I was in the later stages of a condition not widely recognized by the conventional medicine community; my testing revealed that my cortisol production was almost non-existent. The symptoms were paralyzing, manifesting as extreme fatigue, inability to focus, gut issues, joint pain...
I am committed to sharing my story through the lens of my own professional work where I've spent nearly 2 decades practicing as a nutritionist, so other women can find the answers it took me so long to uncover. Of course, there are many reasons we might not be feeling energized and great. Maybe there are some imbalances in digestion that are influencing how much nutrition we are absorbing from our food, or we aren't getting deep, quality sleep, or emotional issues that are quite literally a 50 pound weight bearing down...
Yep, there are many reasons we might not feeling like our amazing selves. BUT, if we really drill down to the root causes for our fatigue, more often than not, the quality of our nutrition is having some effect - in some subtle ways to more significant ones.
And while many of the women I work with pretty much know and follow the basics (watch the added sugar and refined carbs, eat more fruits and veggies, drink lots of water, limit caffeine, etc.) they still struggle with having enough energy for their lives.
So what's up with this? Beyond the basics, here's 4 higher level questions you might ask yourself to determine if your nutrition is tripping you up.
1. How much protein are you getting in your morning meal? For example - all those non-dairy milks/yogurts out there aren't necessarily nutritionally equivalent to the dairy-based versions, namely when it comes to their protein content. Check labels, inclde other protein rich foods (nuts, seeds, eggs) and shoot for at least 15-20g of protein in your morning meal. Low protein in the am can result in low energy in the pm. (PS - this isn't for those Intermittent Fasters out there. That's another post!)
2. How much variety are you getting in your nutrition? If you are eating the same meals with the same foods over and over you may have some nutrient gaps that are impacting your body's metabolic processes and ability to create energy from your food. I see this commonly in women who have been on the diet struggle and have come to fear eating anything off their routine or what they have deemed as "safe." Can you challenge yourself to make just 2 or 3 few foods swaps in your usual routine and expand on your repetoire? In this case, supplementation may also be important to meet those gaps.
3. Are you eating enough carbohydrates, especially in the week preceding your period? Wow, I'm not sure there was ever a more controversial topic in the nutrition world than the question over the efficiacy of carb inclusion! For me, cutting out carbs while trying to maintain a fairly vigorous cycling regimen was a total disaster and probably one of the very reasons I landed where I did with burnout.
Even keto promoters believe that women need to be ramping up their carb intakes (and not just from deep green leafys!) in the week preceding their period when progesterone levels are high and serotonin levels are low. Focus on high quality, complex, fiber rich sources like quinoa, bulgur, barley, root veggies, beans and lentils, especially in the week preceding your period.
4. Is a food sensitivity expressing itself as fatigue or brain fog? This was true for me when it came to gluten. How would you know? If you are struggling with other seemingly unrelated chronic issues (digestion problems, joint pain, migraine, fibromyalgia, eczema, hair loss) it would be worth exploring if there are certain foods that are triggering your symptoms. Elimination diets can be very helpful.
So how are you feeling? Have you gotten to the root cause of your exhaustion? Comment below and let me know.
Alison Acerra MS, RDN founded Strategic Nutrition Design where she and her team provide nutrition consulting and coaching services to businesses, employers, groups and individuals. If you would like to schedule a FREE 30 minute discovery session to learn how we can help you personally or your business, schedule a time with her here.