How are you feeling today? Tired, worn out, knackered, fatigued, exhausted, shattered, just making do? I’m willing to bet at least one of those words struck a chord. Call it what you will, but along with stress, low energy seems to be a modern epidemic. In fact, almost every person I see in my clinic reports feeling tired all the time as one of their symptoms, if not their principle reason for coming to me.
So, what’s got us all so wiped? Our 24/7 culture and devotion to constantly “doing” certainly plays a big part. But what if you’re getting a good 7-8 hours’ sleep every night and still feeling like you need a double espresso to kick start your brain?
Well, isn’t everyone tired?
Firstly, feeling tired all the time is not the same as chronic fatigue – a condition which often leaves sufferers unable to perform their daily routine, work or even get out of bed.
Rather, I’m talking here about that insidious feeling of low energy that makes you feel sluggish, foggy and like you’re just getting through the day. These feelings are so common in our culture now that they seem normal. But like I tell my clients, there is a big difference between what’s “normal” and what’s “optimal”. Just because feeling tired all the time is so common, it doesn’t mean you should feel like that too!
Ongoing low energy can have a number of causes, such as stress, how you’re moving your body (or not), underlying nutrient imbalances and of course, lack of sleep. However, one of the biggest culprits I see in my clinic is to do with blood sugar balance. Or rather, when blood sugar is out of balance.
Blood sugar and feeling tired
Simply put, blood sugar is the concentration of glucose (sugar) in your blood stream at any one time.
Every time we eat any food, our body releases a hormone called insulin. Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers and they work together in an intricate balance to keep the body functioning.
Insulin’s job is to control your blood sugar, by taking glucose from the food you eat and transporting it from the blood into your cells to be used as fuel for energy. This doesn’t just happen when you eat a sugary food. It happens to some extent with every meal and snack and is a normal – and very vital – function of the body.
Think of insulin a bit like a bus – picking up passengers (glucose) and dropping them off at the office (your cells) so they can go to work to produce energy.
However, some foods are digested and broken down more quickly into glucose, releasing more sugar into your bloodstream. That means your body needs to produce higher amounts of insulin to pick up the excess glucose and shuttle it into your cells.
Foods that are digested more quickly are the obvious types of sugar, such as sweets, fizzy drinks and chocolate – as well as refined carbohydrates like bread, couscous and pasta.
In fact, from a blood sugar perspective, your body treats a couple of slices of white bread just like it would a stack of Hobnobs (so unfair, I know). These foods cause a sharp spike in your blood sugar levels, then a quick drop as insulin works overtime to try and get the excess glucose into your cells. Sort of like a tidal wave or roller-coaster.
What does blood sugar imbalance feel like?
What does this feel like in practical terms? It’s that 20-30 minute high or energy boost you get after eating a chocolate bar or muffin, followed by a sharp dip in energy and mood a short time later, often leaving you more drained than before.
In the short term, this can leave you feeling grouchy, irritable, low and even tearful. Your brain feels foggy and you lose the ability to concentrate. All your body can think about at a physiological level is where the next energy hit is coming from.
When these feelings take hold, it’s very difficult to resist that 11am office doughnut or the afternoon siren call of the biscuit tin. Unfortunately, this sets up a vicious cycle, with these foods providing a quick hit of sugar, spiking insulin again and sending you on another roller-coaster ride.
Over time, this can leave you feeling constantly tired, not to mention more prone to storing excess weight as your body desperately tries to conserve energy to keep you going.
And as your blood sugar impacts almost every function within your body, out of balance blood sugar can trigger a cascade of seemingly unrelated issues. These include mood swings, cravings, anxiety, poor memory, hormonal imbalance, digestive problems and difficulty sleeping (the latter perhaps particularly unfair, at a time when you could most do with sound sleep).
Seven ways to help balance your blood sugar …and stop feeling tired all the time
So, now for the good news. Despite how it might feel sometimes, our bodies actually want to be balanced. Sometimes you just need to remove the road blocks that are keeping you stuck. With my health coach hat on, I understand that sometimes those road blocks can be practical and sometimes emotional.
To help get you started from a practical perspective, I’ve put together seven tips that can help you start balancing your blood sugar today. As I tell my clients, this is about consistency not perfection, so the more you’re able to make these guidelines a habit, the more powerful the cumulative effect over time.
1. Eat protein with every meal or snack
Protein sources include (ideally grass-fed or organic) meat, poultry, eggs and fish, along with nuts, seeds (including flaxseeds and chia seeds), quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, tempeh and beans.
2. Don’t be afraid of fat
Healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, olives, nuts, coconut oil, ghee and butter can effectively put the breaks on the blood sugar roller-coaster and help keep you feeling full for longer.
3. Eat a rainbow of brightly coloured vegetables every day for fibre
Like healthy fat and protein, fibre slows the absorption of sugar into your blood stream, helping you feel more balanced. Plus fibre helps move food through your system, preventing that uncomfortable post-lunch bloat.
4. Choose real food
That means opting for a whole apple and a small pot of hummus or a handful of berries and unsalted nuts over a packaged snack bar. Even the ones marketed as healthy often contain hidden sugars or sweeteners that can wreak havoc on your energy levels.
5. Swap soft drinks and cordial for still or sparkling water
Add a few slices of lemon, orange or cucumber or a sprig of mint for flavour. Dehydration can often be mistaken for hunger and is usually a danger time for making less-than-healthy snack choices.
6. Enjoy coffee with a meal…
…rather than on an empty stomach. Although drinking coffee on its own can stave off hunger pangs in the short term, if your blood sugar is out of balance that caffeine can spike your cortisol levels. This has a knock-on effect on your blood sugar and can leave you feeling more tired and prone to sugar cravings later in the day.
7. Always eat breakfast
There is rapidly increasing evidence to support the benefits of fasting. However, skipping meals (particularly breakfast) when your blood sugar is already out of balance is like putting the cart before the horse, and can actually leave you feeling worse. If you resonate with any of the symptoms mentioned above and you’re currently skipping breakfast, surviving on coffee or starting the day with refined carbohydrates such as toast, cereal or museli, consider swapping to a protein-rich option instead. A quick omelette with a few veggies (spinach, peppers, tomatoes or whatever you have to hand), chia pudding with berries or even a pot of natural, full fat yoghurt if you’re in a rush, are all great alternatives.
Need more help?
Of course, advice on the practicalities of how to stop feeling tired all the time is only part of it. If you’re struggling, stuck in a vicious cravings cycle or feeling overwhelmed with making changes stick, I’d love to help. Book in for a free call here and we can spend some time talking about your road blocks – and crucially – how to overcome them in a way that’s sustainable and manageable, so you can discover a brighter, lighter and more balanced “normal”.