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How Keeping a Food Journal Makes Me Feel Much More Energetic

How Keeping a Food Journal Makes Me Feel Much More Energetic

Can you remember what you ate for breakfast this morning? How about what you ate for dinner last night? Chances are, you’ll be able to remember what you ate in the last 24 hours.

If I asked you what you ate three days ago, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell me. You’re not alone in this — most people wouldn’t be able to recall what they ate.

Life today revolves around data collection. We have records for how many steps we walk, the amount of time we spend on tasks, and how we spend our money. But very few of us have a system for keeping track of what we eat, though what we eat affects how we feel every second.  We are what we eat, after all.  Health isn’t like money, which we can recoup if we lose it.  Once our health is gone, there is no guarantee that we can recover it.  Why not pay better attention to our health by writing down what we eat?

I never paid attention to what I ate

If you saw a photo of me from a few years ago and compared it to what I look like today, you wouldn’t recognize me. I used to be overweight, and I didn’t keep track of my food intake.

I wanted to be healthy, and I worked to lose weight.  I am happy to say that I was successful in this endeavor, but maintaining my weight-loss wasn’t easy.  Instead of keeping track of my actual caloric intake, I simply told myself to eat small portions all the time.  I restricted what I ate for every meal and snack.

I may have looked healthier than when I was overweight, but I felt terrible.  I was lethargic all the time, and I used to feel light-headed after exerting very little effort.  I felt cheated.  I was supposed to be more energetic than when I was overweight, but I spent most days feeling like I was recovering from a case of the flu.

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In an effort to maintain my weight-loss, I was actually eating too little.  My lack of energy and bouts of dizziness were my body’s way of saying that it wasn’t getting what it needed.  Blindly restricting the amount of food you eat isn’t going to make you healthy or happy.  It took this unhealthy relationship with my meals to make me realize that there’s a better way to honor my weight loss efforts.

Human tend to eat more than their bodies require

A combination of clever marketing and lack of knowledge about nutrition leads us to make all kinds of assumptions about what we eat.  Most of us learned how much to eat from our families, who may not always understand what an appropriate portion size is.

Restaurants distort our idea of how much should be on our plates. Food companies package multiple servings into a single package, and if we don’t measure what we eat, we can easily overeat. We have no idea how much food we should be eating, and we don’t know how many calories are in each serving.

On top of all this learned eating behavior, modern humans are biologically programmed to stuff themselves with calorie-laden food. Our ancient ancestors didn’t have the luxury of visiting fast food restaurants and grocery stores whenever they wanted.[1] They had to eat as much as they could when they could. “Feast or famine” was their reality.

To make eating properly even more challenging, some foods that seem healthy to us are loaded with calories. For example, lemon-honey water seems like it would be a healthy drink choice — especially compared to soda or juice. Lemon-honey water contains 3 tablespoons of honey, which is roughly 300 calories. That’s nearly the calorie content of a light meal! We drink our calories, and we don’t even realize it.

Our brains try to help us figure out how many calories something has, but you can’t tell just by looking. We naturally perceive that smaller foods have fewer calories, which isn’t always the case. One cup of nuts can have nearly 1,000 calories in it. How many times have you chowed down on nuts at a party thinking you were making a healthy choice?

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Calories are only one part of the equation

Calories are the easiest way to talk about a food’s merits, but they aren’t the only thing you should look at when deciding what to eat. W hen we don’t know what we’re eating, we have no way to tell if we’re getting enough nutrients.

Obesity is an obvious sign that someone isn’t eating a healthy diet, but people can also suffer from malnutrition without recognizing it. You can be obese and not take in adequate nutrients, you can be underweight and malnourished, or you can be skinny-fat, a condition in which you appear to be healthy, but you are metabolically obese.[2]

An unhealthy person may take in a surplus of fat, calories, and carbohydrates, but their diets may be lacking in nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. You could eat only the daily recommended amount of calories by consuming nothing but chocolate chip cookies, but that doesn’t mean you are going to be well. Healthy eating is more than calorie restriction.

It is only when we keep track of what we eat that we can understand the nutritional content of the foods we eat. For example, you may not realize that eggplant is rich in protein or that bread is high in fat just by looking at them. When you track your food, you can understand your nutritional deficits and make better choices. Technology has made this easier than ever.

The app I fell in love with

There’s an app for almost anything, and meal tracking is no exception. There are many options that save you the trouble of manually calculating caloric and nutritional intake. My favorite app for tracking my meals is MyfitnessPal.

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    MyfitnessPal is great because it has a massive database that allows you to look up most kinds of foods and their nutritional value. You can even scan the barcodes of packaged foods to pull up their nutrition sheets. If you are tracking something that isn’t packaged, like a piece of fruit, or you’re eating out, you can also type the name of the item into the database to get the nutrition facts.

    Two main things to keep track of when using MyfitnessPal

    There are two kinds of information that you should consider whenever you are tracking your meals: calories and macro-nutrients. When you’re thinking about calories, you should base the number of calories you consume on whether you are trying to lose, gain, or maintain weight. It never hurts to do some research, or talk to a nutritionist, dietitian, or health professional about the best caloric intake target for you.[3]

      After you know what your caloric target will be, you simply enter your meals, snacks, and beverages into your app. Throughout the day, you can see how many calories you have consumed and how many you have left.

        For macronutrients, you can easily check your recommended intake by looking a the graphs supplied on the app and choosing foods that contain the nutrients you lack.

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        Meal tracking challenges

        Estimating portion size can be difficult for newbie food trackers, but there are a few tricks that you can use that don’t involve carrying a set of measuring cups and spoons with you at all times.

        For example, a serving of protein such as beef or chicken should be about three ounces. Most of us don’t know what three ounces look like, but if I told you that it is roughly the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of playing cards, you would understand.

        A proper serving of carbohydrates is approximately 1/2 cup of rice, grains, pasta, or potatoes. Most of the time, we overestimate what this actually looks like, but if you know that 1/2 cup is approximately how much rice or pasta you could fit in a cupped hand, you can make an informed guess.

        Adjusting your portion size is not the only challenge that you will face along the way. Friends and family members may not understand why you are going to so much trouble to record your food intake. Remember that your health is at stake. After they see your positive results, they may try tracking meals for themselves. Until that point, don’t be shamed out of doing something that will make your life better.

        Food journals don’t tell you what you can and can’t eat

        Unlike a diet, there are no food categories that are off limits when you are tracking your meals. You can have anything in moderation. Using a meal tracker enables you to enjoy your food, eat a balanced diet, and make decisions about food that will help you nourish your body and feel your best.

        Reference

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        Jolie Choi

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        Published on November 14, 2018

        Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

        Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

        With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

        For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

        In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

        Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

        Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

        It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

        For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

        Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

        Symptoms of Fatigue

        Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

        • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
        • mental blocks
        • lack of motivation
        • headache
        • dizziness
        • muscle weakness
        • slowed reflexes and responses
        • impaired decision-making and judgement
        • moodiness, such as irritability
        • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
        • reduced immune system function
        • blurry vision
        • short-term memory problems
        • poor concentration
        • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

        Causes of Fatigue

        The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

        • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
        • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
        • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
        • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

        Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

        Medical Causes of Fatigue

        If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

        Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

        Anemia

        Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

        Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

        There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

        Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

        Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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        This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

        Diabetes

        Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

        Sleep Apnea

        Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

        Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

        Thyroid disease

        An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

        Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

        • Lack of sleep
        • Too much sleep 
        • Alcohol and drugs 
        • Sleep disturbances 
        • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
        • Poor diet 

        Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

        • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
        • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
        • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
        • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

        Psychological Causes of Fatigue

        Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

        • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
        • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
        • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

        How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

        Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

        1. Tell The Truth

        Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

        To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

        Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

        The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

        One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

        • How you feel
        • What time of day it is
        • What may have contributed to your fatigue
        • How your mind and body reacts

        This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

        2. Reduce Your Commitments

        When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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        If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

        When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

        Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

        3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

        If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

        Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

        If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

        Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

        Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

        4. Express More Gratitude

        Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

        It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

        Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

        5. Focus On Yourself

        Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

        There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

        But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

        We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

        6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

        Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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        Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

        The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

        Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

        7. Take a Power Nap

        When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

        Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

        This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

        8. Take More Exercise

        The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

        Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

        The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

        You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

        9. Get More Quality Sleep

        To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

        Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

        My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

        10. Improve Your Diet

        Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

        Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

        On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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        To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

        Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

        Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

        11. Manage Your Stress Levels

        Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

        When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

        Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

        My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

        12. Get Hydrated

        Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

        Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

        If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

        The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

        The Bottom Line

        These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

        If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

        Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
        [2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
        [3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
        [4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
        [5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
        [6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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