How to Eat to Beat Fatigue
Ashley Koff, R.D.
Ask any woman about her wish list, and "more energy" is sure to be near the top.
That's because the competing demands of work, home and health are more grueling than ever before. Every mom I know has more to do in a day than time to do it -- and that can lead to fatigue and exhaustion. While a magic potion would be fantastic, the truth is that there's no shortcut. The good news: Getting all-day energy is surprisingly simple.
In my book, Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged, my co-author Kathy Kaehler -- a fitness trainer and mom of three -- and I lay out the steps to a healthier, more vibrant life. Here are three principles that can help solve your energy crisis.
Be a qualitarian
When you're rushing around, it's easy to rely on packaged and fast-food meals and snacks. But these foods are often high in artery-clogging fats, sodium, sugar and preservatives, which can contribute to insulin swings, extra pounds, worse moods and low energy. That's why I recommend reaching for high-quality whole foods. For instance, skip the rice mix with the long list of mystery ingredients and prepare your own rice with some herbs and spices.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it: If you've been eating processed, packaged foods for years, shifting the way you eat won't happen overnight -- and that's OK. Start with smaller, doable moves. If you can't imagine changing your breakfast or lunch staples, then add some organic veggies to them. (This is extra-easy if you keep frozen produce on hand.) Or swap out the bad fats in your salad for a healthier version. Think: avocado and hempseeds instead of bacon bits, or pine nuts and avocado in place of blue cheese dressing.
Many moms don't eat until it's dinnertime and they're starving. I call this practice "backloading," and it's likely to show up as extra pounds on your backside or belly. To keep your engines revved, you should eat something about every three hours. The body can only handle so much of any nutrient at once: If you don't need it for fuel, then those excess calories will be stored as fat. On the other hand, if you give your body a smaller amount, you force it to use all that energy for fuel until you eat again. By eating smaller meals more often, you'll feel the difference in sustained energy and mental clarity. So consider splitting up bigger meals, like lunches, and having the second half three hours later.
Of course, I'm a realist, and life doesn't always happen in neat three-hour intervals. But it's good to try to get as close as possible, or to bring some options -- such as organic cereal and nuts for a homemade trail mix -- in the event that the day doesn't turn out as planned.
Strike a nutrient balance
There's an equation to keep in mind when thinking about the relationship between eating and energy: one serving of carbs, protein or healthy fat equals one hour of energy each for a total of three "power hours." Focus on getting one serving from each of these three main categories with an unlimited amount of non-starchy veggies, and you'll notice a huge difference in the way you feel.
One of the main reasons moms eat unbalanced meals is because they're often caught unprepared. That's why I recommend keeping your freezer and pantry stocked with the right items, so you can whip up an energizing meal for your family at a moment's notice.
Here are my checklists:
In the freezer:
- Organic fruits and veggies
- Wild fish
- Organic meats and poultry
- Nuts and seeds (Did you know they stay fresher longer when frozen?)
In the pantry:
- Whole grains, like rice, oats and quinoa
- Organic cereals. Not only can you add these to snack mixes, but you can also use them in place of breadcrumbs
- Sweeteners, like pure maple syrup and/or stevia
- Hulless popcorn
- Low-sodium soups and broths
- A variety of expeller- or cold-pressed oils
- Steel-cut oatmeal
- Spices and cacao
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