We all know the feeling. The alarm clock goes off (or the kids wake us up) and you have to reluctantly drag yourself out of bed. Your eyelids start to droop mid-morning despite three cups of coffee and it’s only early afternoon when you start counting down the minutes until bedtime — or at least until a little peace and quiet rolls around. (Please don’t tell me it’s only me.) No matter what you do, you can’t figure out why you’re so tired all the time. It might be the exhaustion of rowdy kids or it could be the daily stresses of a 40-hour work week. But maybe it’s something you wouldn’t think of at all: your healthy diet.
Say what? You mean the one thing you know you’re doing right to stay healthy? Yup, that. Hard as it may be to believe, what you’re eating could actually be the hidden culprit of your constant exhaustion. Here’s a few reasons why:
1. You don’t eat red meat (or make up for it another way). It’s not so much about the protein content of meat, it’s the iron it contains. Insufficient iron intake can lead to anemia, of which the number one symptom is fatigue and malaise. Red meat is not only a good source of iron, but a good source of the type of iron that’s easy for your body to absorb, called heme iron. If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or simply don’t like red meat, you’re not out of luck. White or kidney beans, spinach, and pumpkin seeds are good plant sources of iron. To help your body absorb this non-heme form of iron, eat it with vitamin C-rich foods like orange juice or tomatoes. Also try to avoiding drinking coffee or tea at the same time, as the tannins in those drinks can hinder absorption.
I never used to eat red meat — or meat at all — and never felt tired from not doing so. Then I had to cut out a whole lot of things from my diet when breastfeeding my son due to his food allergies. Suddenly I was exhausted. It wasn’t just because my body was running on overdrive trying to produce milk, and that I was barely sleeping a wink (which was all true, I was just used to that by then). It was because even though I was still eating healthy foods, my nutrition suffered. I started eating meat again (since it was one of the few things early on that didn’t bother my son) and all was well again.
2. You eat three square meals a day. It’s not the number of meals, it’s the number of hours in between. Some people just don’t do well going long stretches between eating. If you’re sensitive to your blood sugar dropping, it might help you to eat smaller amounts more frequently. Avoiding a sharp drop in blood sugar can help ward off sleepiness — and a foul mood. Don’t even bother to ask my husband how nice I am when I’m hungry — he wouldn’t even let you finish the sentence before he yelled something rude.
3. You eat “healthy” cereal for breakfast. The box may imply it’s healthy and full of all the things you need to start your day, but is it really? It’s easy for healthy cereals to be imposters. They can easily pack in a load of sugar and simple carbs, which won’t keep you full for very long and they’ll send your blood sugar soaring. As above, the crash is what makes you feel so tired. Instead try a breakfast rich in protein, fat, and fiber like nuts, whole grains, lean meats, or eggs. I love cereal because of how easy it is, but steel cut oats and eggs can be quick and easy too.
4. You stay away from carbs. Simple carbs certainly aren’t doing your body any favors, but that doesn’t mean all carbs are bad. Carbohydrates are the way our body gets its main source of energy. Not eating enough not only makes you tired and sluggish, it can lower your memory skills and impair brain operation! Not worth it just to be skinny. Try focusing on whole grain carbs or consuming carbs with protein or healthy fat to avoid negative consequences like a blood sugar spike. I can’t relate to this one — I love me some carbs.
Did any of these healthy eating habits that lead to tiredness surprise you?