Almost everyone I talk to, both personally and professionally, wants more energy. Life is busy and complex and we require that energy to be healthy and active, creative and inspired, fulfilled in our careers and relationships, and socially and environmentally engaged. But if we lack energy to express ourselves in these ways, we become depleted, and even the simplest daily goals become difficult to manage. To gain more energy, we need to first address what is robbing it, then secondly, we work on building it back up. So let’s get started!
Energy depletion is usually the result of a cumulative effect of choices and not necessarily one single event. Of course a late night of drinking can affect our output the following day or two, but we are talking about daily habits that wear us down. Here are examples of some common energy depleting habits.
- not getting enough protein and healthy fat in meals and snacks
- eating simple carb-based or processed snacks
- overall lack of regular sleep
- too much exercise, or none at all
- ongoing stress in key relationships
- not expressing oneself creatively, sexually or any other way
- dehydration (which is not uncommon if you consume caffeine)
- eating reactive foods (like gluten, soy, dairy and additives)
- dysbiosis in gut flora
- unresolved life events creating anything like depression, anger, resentment, grief or shame
- working or living in a physically or mentally toxic environment
- regular use of alcohol and/or recreational drugs
- embodying the mentality that you have to do it all, and you have to do it perfectly
- clutter in thoughts or physical space
- disordered eating or eating disorder
- untreated health issues that you may or may not know you have (auto-immune disease or food sensitivities for example)
- overuse of conflicting prescription medications or supplements
- lack of vitamins and nutrients or whole foods in diet
- feeling unsatisfied with your life
- bacteria or yeast overgrowth (Candida or SIBO for example)
- hormone dysfunction, and
- excessive sugar intake.
Do you see yourself in any of these examples? Some may appear simplistic, but any one of them, let alone a group of these elements can really impact your energy, and therefore affect your outlook and your output. It can be really frustrating and even debilitating feeling like you can’t express yourself or accomplish simple tasks, let alone large goals and dreams. It doesn’t have to be that way though, and you are certainly not alone, so I hope you can gather the energy you do have to invest in a few ideas and actions to get you at minimum back on track, at best, propelling yourself energetically through life.
Ideas and Actions
Nutrition. In it’s simplest function, good nutrition nourishes and energizes us, poor nutrition depletes and harms us, and it enters our body through three different food types; proteins, fats and carbohydrates. All three play multiple and vital roles in our bodies, and their functions are complex and broad, but for the purpose of this blog post we will just look at their basics in relation to how they contribute to your energy levels.
Carbohydrates are the main, and quickest energy source for our body and they come in the form of complex carbs, which are slower to digest and give us sustained energy, and simple carbs, which are faster to digest and therefore give us short term, immediate energy. Simple carbs come in the form of processed sugar like candy, pop, fruit drinks, cookies and highly refined products that are usually packaged with preservatives and are often labeled as low fat, or under 100 calories. There are some simple sugars that contain important nutrients like honey, molasses and maple syrup, but they still only create short term energy production. Simple carbs are easy to reach for, in abundance, are cheap and we are inundated with them. We think we are doing a good thing by eating the packaged snack that is only 100 calories, but chances are it’s highly refined, filled with sugar for flavour, deficient in nutrients and vitamins and doesn’t contain adequate fibre, protein or healthy fat. For energy without a slump, we need the complex carbs that provide a sustained energy source that keep us going for longer. These are whole foods in the form of vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, starchy vegetables and unprocessed grains. (It’s important to note that it’s not uncommon to get brain fog or achy joints from grains, or any food that does not agree with your unique physiology, so be mindful of your reactions to these foods and eliminate them if they don’t provide you with energy. Just because they are on this list, doesn’t mean they will work for you.) So when choosing carbs for your snacks and meals, consider whole food options and balancing the carbs with lean protein and healthy fats.
To sustain energy and to feel full longer, it’s best to incorporate healthy fats and lean proteins within your meals and snacks. Don’t let the word ‘fat’ alarm you, you need fat, just make it good quality, nutritious forms like fatty fish, avocado, olive oil, proportional amounts of nuts and seeds, coconut oil, pastured or organic eggs, and meat and dairy from grass-fed cows. Trans fats are the fats you want to avoid, in the form of margarine, restaurant fried foods, commercially baked products, most commercial chips and crackers and even products with frozen dough. When reading labels on packaged goods, avoid anything with “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” for starters. It’s important to know that trans fats are highly processed and altered, whereas healthy fats are usually in their original form, unadulterated, and come from good old nature. Healthy forms of fat help you absorb nutrients, creating an efficiently run body, and amongst other things, they nourish your nervous system, which helps you feel calm, satisfied and grounded.
Protein isn’t the first thing your body reaches for when it requires energy, but it is still vital and contributes to many functions that support energy production and/or balance. For instance, adequate protein helps balance blood sugar levels so you don’t experience energy crashes. Eating protein also makes you feel full and satisfied for longer, which prevents you from reaching in the cupboard for a quick fix, or running out for a coffee break to get stimulated. It also enhances brain function, so you are focused for longer and don’t even think of snacking. Have you ever found that you just can’t get creative or focused if you haven’t had a solid, digestible meal? If I eat a carb based snack I really struggle with brain fog and can’t get creative. If I eat a protein based snack, I can get focused pretty quick. It’s worth testing this at the next opportunity. If you normally grab a muffin at your local coffee shop, first consider coming prepared instead and not reaching for coffee shop snacks. For instance, the night before work pack a snack by prepping and rolling some shaved turkey meat around some mustard and arugula and putting it in a container in the fridge already to go the next morning. But if you end up at the coffee shop hungry, look for a bag of almonds, or something with an egg, even if it’s an egg sandwich on wheat, or have the tray that has cheese, crackers and almonds in it, or even consider eliminating the straight coffee and order an almond milk latte instead, then find something more sustainable soon after. I realized I had made a major shift in my habits when I was walking down the street on my way somewhere, and I was eating chicken from a container bought at the Whole Foods deli instead of my old usual muffin snack or energy bar. See the difference? Protein will also balance your moods, which helps with energy levels. It also improves sleep, and that one goes without saying, we all know adequate sleep makes a world of a difference on our energy levels the following day. Eat protein in the form of meat (preferably grass-fed), fish (preferably wild), legumes, beans, nuts and seeds that have been properly soaked and sprouted, egg whites (but still eat your yolks, that’s where the nutrition is!) organic dairy products if you can tolerate them, and if you must have protein powder, consider either hydrolyzed whey or hydrolyzed beef protein powder from grass-fed cows.
So if you are lacking in energy, are experiencing afternoon slumps, crave stimulants, feel worse after eating or feel like you need someone to hit you over the head with a sledge hammer to wake you up and get you moving, consider looking at your snacks and meals and see if there is any way you can reduce or eliminate the simple carbs and sugar, and replace it with lean proteins, healthy fats and slower burning carbs. If you need additional help, a qualified Holistic Nutritionist (Me!) or a Naturopath are worth checking in with. Here are some snack examples:
- half an avocado with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt, and some raw veggies
- shaved meat slices with mustard rolled around some greens (like arugula)
- apple slices dipped in nut butter and a small amount of melted dark chocolate
- a boiled egg or two with colourful cut up veggies
- coconut milk, frozen berries, greens and a dash of cinnamon thrown in the blender
- piece of dark chocolate, a few walnuts and a pear
- a couple homemade meatballs and a handful of veggies
- homemade hummus and veggies
- goat cheese spread on pieces of sliced fruit or a gluten-free cracker with a drizzle of local honey and some crushed nuts
- small piece of chicken breast and avocado
- sardines on a rye crisp with a side of olives
- there are more ideas on my Pinterest page here
Mental Health. You don’t have to be clinically depressed before addressing your mental health. It’s easier to talk about physical health because it’s more tangible and less taboo, but in all reality our mental state governs or influences many of our bodily functions. The most basic example would be that if you woke up bummed out about the job you were going to, or not confident in the relationship with the person you woke next to, you aren’t exactly going to be facing the days’ challenges with an energetic skip in your step. Relationships and careers are consuming and if we are lost in them, we are dragged down, not lifted up.
On another level, our brains are deeply connected to our gut and if our mind is out of whack, our nerves are too, and then we experience anxiety, stress, or even dysbiosis in our gut, and that dysbiosis is linked to numerous health conditions, all of which deeply affect our energy levels. So gaining energy doesn’t come from inhaling another cup of coffee, it comes from opening up to what’s really going on in your life, the big stuff, the real stuff, the hidden stuff and the scary stuff. If that feels big, it is. If you are content, and truthfully your inner life is cool, then it’s good to move on the physical and more tangible, the easier to manage and control stuff. But before doing that, give yourself an honest, sincere check-in. Is there any way you can get support for emotions you are struggling with, work or relationship challenges you are having a hard time facing, childhood traumas that feel too overwhelming, creativity blocks you can’t push through, family dynamics that suck you dry, financial stress keeping you up at night, parenting concerns and so on. You can increase your energy by putting effort into resolving mental blocks in your way, and you are worth the effort. There is nothing wrong with seeing a therapist, and if one doesn’t work, no matter how intimidating, tedious or embarrassing (trust me there is nothing to be embarrassed about) it may feel, try another one. And keep in mind, sometimes the best ones are the ones that are less agreeable really, because they challenge us. Out of all my years of a variety of therapists, by far the most effective one was the one who initially made me feel the least comfortable. He called me on things. He wasn’t invested in his own role or whether or not I liked him. He was invested in me getting my work done and if that meant getting dirty and being honest with me about my crap, rather than nodding at my every complaint, then that’s what he was going to do because there was no way for me to be pretty while digging deep. I had to get ugly, and he knew that when I didn’t. So don’t hesitate to try someone new, this is your life you are invested in. Consider this, if you get a bad hair cut, do you vow to never cut your hair again? No! You either seek a new stylist or go back to the same one and offer feedback but you don’t stop cutting your hair. It’s no different, it just feels that way because our emotions are more invested, but we can’t stop seeking and trying.
If a therapist just isn’t in your repertoire, bodywork is another way to go. Osteopathy can alleviate stress created by holding patterns we form through both our mental and physical expressions. Massage calms nerves amongst many other benefits. Acupuncture can help release both mental and physical blocks. Restorative yoga invites all kinds of opportunities for release and relaxation. Be open to exploring new things if you really want to improve your energy and coincidentally, your mental state.
And lastly, the internet is alive with programs to help you if you don’t want or can’t afford any of the above ideas. A great example is Oprah and Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth series from many years ago but it is a truly fantastic, free program that helps immensely. I also find that the website Sounds True provides a wealth of options for exploration, healing, creativity, inspiration and motivation.
Movement. Our body expresses itself in so many ways. Stable, sustained, healthy energy is reflected through the ability to accomplish tasks and to express ourselves with deliberate action. For instance, you can rise in the morning and work out, then go about your day with clear motivation, not needing coffee to get through, checking off your to-do list, setting new goals with purpose, communicating your ideas without blank spaces and yawns, immersed in conversation and activity, then going to bed content and falling asleep with ease. Whereas an energy deficit means most tasks and goals of the day feel like you have to walk through wet cement or break down mental brick walls to get anything done. This may present itself as an inability to get out of bed without pressing the alarm numerous times, then finally rising, but with a slow, creaky body and a foggy mind. Nothing functions until you’ve had your first cup of coffee and only then do the cob webs part. Work feels slow and constant glances at the time make it go even slower, so you reach for sugar or more coffee, and eat in hopes of gaining energy. Conversations feel distant and your memory is off or you are irritable and can’t produce a creative thought to save your life, and then you get down because everything feels slow and frustrating. At the end of the work day you pour a glass of wine or crack open a beer or two and plop down with a quick carb dinner, watch TV, then go to bed exhausted and frustrated that this day was just like the last. And that doesn’t even include parenting in the spaces between! Now that was a bit extreme, maybe only elements of that example are relatable for you, but where do you see more of yourself, the first or second example?
Both are examples of how our energy levels are expressed by our body, and connecting to our body is so vital if we want to create energy for ourselves. Movement; good solid, daily physical activity does wonders for our moods, energy levels and physical health, and it doesn’t have to be a lot, but consistency, and knowing what kind of activity that works for you and your unique psyche and body type will provide you with ample energy to thrive. For some, that would be CrossFit, for others it would be an evening walk at a solid pace. Power yoga, regular strength training, running, dance, boxing, Spin class, Tai-chi, hiking, whatever, there is something, or a variety of things that will suit you and fulfill you and it may take trial and exploration, or it may be picking up somewhere where you left off before having a baby, or before starting that new job, moving to the new town, doesn’t matter, it still exists for you. I started being active in grade four, although not in a healthy way, so I started off with bad patterns. At that time, a boy I had a crush on called me chubby, which was devastating. Soon after my family moved and the new teacher I had made us run on a little school track almost daily. I got hooked on the running, but unfortunately that is around the time I became caught up in my body image and the start of body dysmorphia and disordered eating, so it wasn’t long before I was getting up early to do the 20-Minute Workout (anyone remember that?) at 7 am, taking aerobic classes at the community centre, and eventually joining track and field, all in elementary school. In later years I swam, ran cross-country and track, spent insane hours at fitness centres, and for a period I hiked or ran regularly. I burnt out many times over. I even overdid yoga.
What has worked for me for the past six years, which I’ve sustained because I enjoy it, because it’s quick and because it makes me feel good is High Intensity Interval Training and I walk or cycle daily with the occasional run or Tracy Anderson workout. I have Hypothyroidism and immune dis-regulation, if I overdo it, I can’t function for weeks after, so I have found this to be my happy medium.
So finding your sweet spot is about trying things out to see what energizes you, but doesn’t tire you, and it has to be something sustainable. I started doing HIIT when I was a new mom and couldn’t spend hours at the gym, so it had to be something I could do at home, and it had to be quick because I was being pulled mentally and physically towards the care of my son first, me second. It had to be something where I could devote honest time on my health, without mom guilt. I found, and still use free HIIT workouts online from a site called Bodyrock, as well as You Tube videos from other sites. I also was not a morning person but it was the only time I could get it in without distraction, and eventually I got used to it and now it’s second nature to rise before my son and work out before he goes to school and I go to work. For someone else, a run after work may be a great stress release, or a brisk walk on their lunch break, or a Spin class in the evening. It has to be presented to you at at time that fits, that can last.
Exercise gets our blood flowing, our hormones connecting, and our muscles performing. It clears our mind, builds our confidence, strengthens our bones and nurtures our organs. We digest better, breathe deeper, and have more endurance for most everything we take on.
If you need inspiration to get started, consider a charity run, where you are running for a cause beyond yourself, but it can potentially involve you in a new physical activity that continues beyond the run date. Or get a group together and try something along the line of Tough Mudder or gentler ones like Mudderella. Maybe a local yoga studio offers community classes where you can do a drop-in by donation if you are low on cash and money usually holds you back. Hit your Facebook page and ask if anyone wants to join you for a weekend hike. Anything to get you started, as without movement, we just can’t access our full energy potential, and life is not as fulfilling without it!
There were plenty examples of energy suckers I listed earlier that can be included somewhere within nutrition, mental health and movement, all three main contributors to both energy depletion if off, energy production if on, but I want to conclude with an emphasis on two last subjects.
One is gluten. I know, I know “it’s just a fad”, “I don’t have Celiac”, “people have been eating wheat forever”, I hear you! BUT!!! Everybody is different and our history, genes, and inner and outer environments all play roles in our ability to process and utilize the protein gluten found in grains, namely wheat and it’s varieties like spelt, kamut, triticale, rye, and barley, amongst the most popular. Thousands upon thousands of people taking steps to eliminate gluten to test their body and see if they feel better, are in fact feeling better and gaining energy. The modern form of hybridized wheat is harder for our digestive system to break down and as a result we experience digestive distress that can express itself through brain fog, achy joints, distended uncomfortable abdomens that affect our moods, lack of concentration and major energy slumps, and the effects of ongoing distress can create further, deeper problems like Intestinal Permeability. Pasta, pizza, quick and easy cereal and toast for breakfast, sandwiches and baked goods are all accessible, affordable, socially acceptable, can fill an emotional void and are a huge part of our upbringing and associated memories. The idea of eliminating gluten can feel like cutting off an arm or robbing you of all social connection, so the idea feels more like a sentence than a reward, and it’s not an easy transition, it frankly and honestly isn’t. However, it is so much easier nowadays as there is no shortage of blogs, gluten free cookbooks and organizations that support and promote gluten-free diets, so you are never alone. Gluten-free products are rarely healthier though as they require fillers and starches, so be careful with boxed, packaged, processed items. But going gluten-free with whole food alternatives is completely possible and by far, the most inspiring, liberating and motivating side of the gluten-free movement is that without a doubt, people cutting down or eliminating gluten are feeling way better, and experiencing huge increases in energy and healing. Even if you start by reducing gluten at breakfast and instead of cereal and toast you have eggs and avocado on a rye crisp with raw onions and sea salt you are making a more energizing choice. The rye contains gluten but it’s not as dense as a piece of toast and it contains minerals, fibre and a good little dose of protein, plus it has a hearty flavour. It’s a step. If you want to go further, try fresh chicken or turkey sausage on a bed of arugula with olive oil, sea salt and avocado. Just don’t get the packaged little sausages that are common in meat cases. Try ones made fresh without fillers and preservatives that are sold in deli counters. I like the ones at Whole Foods as they are fresh and big so I cut them in half and get two breakfasts out of one sausage. Or try a bowl of grass-fed, full fat, plain yogurt and stir berries, local honey and cinnamon into it. Then there’s the good old smoothie, as long as it’s packed with greens and protein and not a big fruit fest of fast digesting sugars. There is nothing to lose by trying first with a singlel meal change, then maybe a day in the week with no gluten, then moving on to gradual or complete elimination, even for a week or two. It will be worth it.
Self expression. If there are areas in your life where you are not expressing yourself, your energy is being stuffed. For those of us who have experienced some form of dampening of spirit, whether it be through regular criticism, some form of abuse, betrayal of trust, shame or an overall lack of support and encouragement, trusting that the world can receive our voice is a hard pill to swallow and it’s easier to sit back and not risk the pain of judgement, failure or even worse, not being heard at all. The unfortunate and even scary thing about holding back expression though to serve others (both real and perceived) is that we do not live to our own inherent and rightful potential and therefore we are actually not generous when we so deeply want to be, and that means we never get to fully participate in the gift we all share, which is life on this beautiful Earth. Also, by holding back our expression, whether it be creatively, sexually, physically, verbally and so on, we make ourselves sick, literally. Our body works on separate systems but they they are all connected and all communicate (digestive, hormonal, neurological etc). And if we are holding back expression, one example of a consequence is we don’t breathe deeply, and if we don’t breathe deeply, we create tension, and tension creates stress, and stress creates illness, or mental fatigue, and that can create depression, which can stop you from performing daily activities etc, and the list goes on. So what can you do to safely pull that expression out of you? It may not become an overnight sensation, we don’t generally decide to suddenly freely and confidently express ourselves when we have held it in for so long, and then burst out and put our paintings on Etsy, or write the novel we’ve had brimming in our head, or state firmly that we are going to participate in a triathlon even if we’ve been afraid of swimming since someone said we looked fat in a bathing suit when we were a kid. If it’s possible to set upon this expression immediately, then that’s amazing and go for it with all your heart. But if there is trepidation, all I can suggest is seek help through therapy, or find your tribe so to speak. Consider checking out Danielle LaPorte’s site and books, read The Mind Body Code by Dr. Mario Martinez, join a support group, try Kundalini Yoga, go on a retreat, absorb the awesomeness of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, whatever it takes, just first and foremost make the decision to get help to clear the voices or demons that tell you that your voice or body doesn’t matter, because they do, they really truly do. You matter and you are not small. Expression is energy well spent, and right expression is also energy production.
Whew! That was a lot to take in, but above all I really hope that you found something to work with here, and are motivated to take action so you can increase your energy and therefore express yourself in your life. Without energy, we struggle, with energy we thrive. So what are you going to do for yourself, what step are you taking to increase your energy? I would love to know. Please feel free to express your ideas, thoughts and actions in the comments below.