The main complaint that many of my health coaching clients express is the daily lack of energy to do the things that they want to do. And this isn’t just work and daily household chores, it’s the inability to engage in their life meaningfully. They worry about the limited energy that they have to spend with their family, friends, and community. They've seen their lives shrink as their energy decreases.
There can be many reasons for this type of fatigue including stress, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalance, thyroid issues, food sensitivities, and more – but the initial strategy that has the most far-reaching results is simply addressing what and how you are eating. These are the 'upstream' activities that effect all of the body functions 'downstream' and it's important to address these first.
Coffee, energy drinks, and other stimulants aren’t the answer – they may temporarily boost your alertness but contribute almost nothing towards the processes that produce the energy that drives the body. And eating the occasional superfood-of-the-month won’t produce lasting results if the foundations of your diet are inadequate.
What creates the energy that provides us with vitality and health?
Every cell in the body (except red blood cells) have organelles called mitochondria which produce energy for cell functions (and by extension, the body). Within the mitochondria, a complex play of biochemical reactions take place that produces ATP – the energy that fuels the body. In order for that to occur, many essential nutrients must be available to support these activities. If there isn’t enough available, the amount of ATP (energy) is compromised. And that means that our body does not function well and fatigue is one of the most common outcomes.
There are three essential steps to ensuring the adequate nutrients reach the mitochondria for energy production.
1. Ensuring that we eat enough of the right kinds of foods.
Very few of us suffer from not eating enough, but many of are not eating enough of the right kind of foods for a healthy energized life. What are the right foods? Whole foods - unprocessed foods, foods that our great-grandmothers would recognize. Unfortunately, our supermarkets are filled with processed foods, and processed foods are made for our convenience not our nutrition. Whole foods have the right balance of nutrients and this balance is important - many nutrients act more efficiently in combination with other nutrients. And many processed foods contain ingredients that can be harmful (trans fats, artificial flavors and colors, high amounts of sugar, inflammatory fats, and artificial sweeteners.
When we consider what foods that we will be eating, it's important to get away from only looking at it's calorie content. Food is so much more than that - it contains information telling cells how to function, and it can change the expression of our DNA. Which means that what we eat can predispose us to either disease or wellness.
2. Fully digesting your food
Most of the digestive processes take place without any conscious effort on our part, except for the very first stages - savoring and chewing our food.
Has your mouth ever watered as you smelled food cooking? Or even just thinking about food? That is the salivary glands secreting digestive enzymes that start digesting food while still in your mouth. In addition, at this stage signals are sent to your stomach to start producing more stomach acid which is absolutely crucial in digesting protein and also ensuring absorption of essential B vitamins and minerals.
Chewing our food thoroughly before swallowing has two purposes:
- ensures that our food is fully digested and available to be absorbed.
- slows our eating. Have you ever eaten quickly and then felt overfull and bloated afterwards? It takes about 20 minutes for signals of fullness and satiety to reach our consciousness. By chewing more thoroughly, we will tend to eat less.
3. Absorbing your digested food/nutrient
Fully digested food is small enough to be absorbed through the lining of the small intestine whereas poorly digested food stays in the intestine and is eventually excreted. When this happens, we lose the nutrition contained in the food. But even well-digested molecules of food can poorly absorbed from the effects of stress or lack of sleep, gut microbial imbalance, medications such as birth control pills, antidepressants, NSAIDs (nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen) and statins. So while the absorption process is involuntary, what we do can have an effect on it.
Future posts will provide more info on each of the three essential steps as well as provide useful tips and how to easily implement them. If you have any questions, please comment below or contact me - I'd love to hear from you.