You’ve been suffering from fatigue and have decided eating healthier and losing weight will help you regain your energy.
But if you’re fatigued, is starting a diet really the best investment of your time and energy?
I’d first like to help you remove the word diet from your vocabulary. Diets are temporary, unsustainable alterations to your food intake. Diets take a great deal of willpower, focus, and energy. They’re draining. Diets are pushing a large rock up an endlessly steep hill.
Diets cause fatigue?
Diets fatigue you physically due to the calorie restriction. Diets fatigue you mentally because you always need to be focused on the proper amounts of food. Diets fatigue you emotionally because even if you reach your goal it’s highly difficult to sustain long term.
Ditch the diet. To beat fatigue you need a sustainable lifestyle. Your goal of increasing energy and overcoming fatigue is a marathon. Not a sprint. You need to be invested in this for the long term.
How much food do you need to eat in a day?
Your body requires a baseline level of calories every day to perform basic functions such as breathing, digesting, and keeping warm. This is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Think of it as the number of calories your body burns just to keep you alive. If you exercise, your caloric needs increase. If you move from a physical construction job to a desk job, your caloric needs decrease.
Other factors that influence your basal metabolic rate (BMR) include:
- As you age, your BMR is likely to decrease
- A female’s BMR is 5-10% lower than a male’s.
- Activity level
- Higher activity levels result in increased BMR.
- Body size
- As height and weight increase, your BMR increases.
- Body composition
- Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat/adipose tissue. So, the more muscle your body has, the higher its BMR.
- Working in a hot or cold environment requires more energy from your body to regulate its temperature.
One way to determine your own basal metabolic rate is through something called the Harris-Benedict Equation, an estimate of your daily caloric needs. To calculate your own BMR, click here.
If you want to maintain your body weight, try to eat a caloric amount close to the number provided by the Harris-Benedict Equation. If you want to lose weight, decrease your calories. If you want to gain weight, increase your calories. Obviously this is an incredibly simplified way to lose weight. It fails to include hormonal and individual variations, which is also why simply restricting calories rarely results in weight loss. It’s also why diets so often cause fatigue!
Energy in vs energy out
Typical diet strategies employ two methods for weight loss:
- Increase the amount you exercise.
- Decrease the number of calories you consume.
Diets aim to decrease the number of calories you eat in a day. 3500 calories are equal to one pound of body fat. To lose one pound of weight, you will need to burn (lose) 3500 calories more than you take in. If you decrease your caloric intake by 500 calories each day, you (in theory) should lose one pound of body fat in a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3500 calories). This is one way to lose weight.
The other way to lose weight is to continue eating a similar amount of calories but increase the number of calories your body burns each day. This is done through exercise. If you consume 3500 calories each day to maintain your weight but then add an exercise regime that burns 500 calories daily, you’ll lose approximately 1 pound of body fat each week.
The problem with both of these methods of weight loss is that they are overly simplistic. Anyone who has been on a diet can likely attest that it is not as simple as exercising and eating less.
Why is that?
Diets, fatigue, and energy
As I mentioned, your body requires a certain amount of baseline calories each day to perform basic functions. Once you’ve determined your own BMR and started restricting calories, you may start to feel fatigued.
If you include exercise on top of calorie restriction (which many dieters do), you’ll likely experience even more fatigue. This occurs because you’ve now increased the amount of energy (calories) your body needs each day through exercise while consciously restricting the number of calories you consume each day. You’re in a big energy deficit.
This is why diets suck. The energy deficit feels uncomfortable. It causes fatigue. And intense cravings for all the bad foods. This is what makes a diet feel unsustainable.
What happens when you achieve your weight loss goal or get sick of dieting?
If you’re like the majority of dieters, you go back to eating the way you did before the diet. You gain the weight back (and then some) so you start a different diet in a few months. This is the diet roller coaster. It never solves the fatigue/energy problem. Instead, it just creates a new one.
What do you eat if you’re fatigued and want to lose weight?
When you’re tired and hungry, convenience and ease are of great importance. Unfortunately, these foods are seldom beneficial, healthy, or energizing. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to get your fatigue under control that doesn’t involve radical dietary overhauls.
Below are the first three steps you need to take to create your new anti-fatigue lifestyle:
- Make a plan
- Outline a timeframe that allows you to comfortably implement the changes.
- Doing everything in a week seems like a good idea in theory. But this is the same behavior you employ when starting a diet. This time, you’re going to do it methodically.
- Make each week’s target/goal so simple that there’s no way you cannot reach it.
- Within a few months, you’ll have a dramatically altered nutrition plan. Done with very little stress. Most importantly, these small steps make the changes a habit. It’s no longer a diet, it’s a lifestyle.
- Eat real food
- If your food can sit in your cupboard for months, it’s not real food. Real food rots.
- If your food comes in a bag or a box, you shouldn’t be eating it.
- To start implementing this lifestyle change, replace one of your pre-packaged weekly meals with one meal made strictly from whole/real foods.
- Alternatively, purchase a pre-made meal from a local company. Just make sure they’re using real food ingredients!
- Balance your blood sugar
- Blood sugar imbalances are a hidden cause of fatigue. And they’ve never been more prevalent. 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes each year.
- To best balance your blood sugar, avoid foods that are quickly converted into sugar.
- This includes refined grains (like bread or pasta), sugary drinks (like pop or juice), candy (of all varieties), sweeteners (like sugars and syrups), and tropical fruits (like pineapples and mangos).
- Removing even one of the above categories can seem exhausting. So, take your time. Remove them one by one.
- Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re not on a diet. You’re creating an anti-fatigue lifestyle
Once you have these steps in place, you’re ready to move on to more specific nutrition plans that are designed to optimize your body’s energy production. Just remember, you’re creating long-term lifestyle changes. They’re not as exciting as diets but they’re guaranteed to bring you success over the long term!
Also published on Medium.