Kate Knowler is a nutritional therapist with over 10 years of clinic experience supporting clients and helping those who feel sluggish, stressed and sick to find their vitality once again. Fatigue is a huge health issue for busy women juggling family care, running a household and professional demands. Nutrition can play a huge role in how well we are able to sustain and manage our energy levels throughout the day. Here, Kate shares with us her expert advice on how to optimise your diet and lifestyle habits to fight fatigue.
It seems that so many women suffer from fatigue. What do you find are some of the common reasons why your clients struggle with fatigue and energy? With many of my clients, lack of sleep is NOT the reason for their fatigue or low energy and I can feel their frustrations at having been told by so many experts that they simply need to get more sleep! Thyroid dysfunction is a common issue with many women and I encourage all of my clients with fatigue to get a basic blood test done privately to look at their thyroid function, including antibodies and RT3. It’s not uncommon to see a client with “normal” thyroid function according to their doctor, come back with abnormalities on their private blood test as more factors are tested.
Low ferritin, low B12, and/or low folate are also common issues which will cause fatigue. Sometimes these are low due to diet, or medications which block absorption, but a bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine will also lower levels of ferritin and b12, while raising folate levels. If I suspect this, I would encourage the client to purchase a home breath test for SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) so that I can understand more.
What is the difference between being tired quite often and having chronic fatigue syndrome? Chronic fatigue syndrome will not ever, ever relieved by sleep. No matter how many hours of sleep, a person with chronic fatigue will wake feeling unrefreshed, brain fogged, and often feel worse than they did before they went to sleep!
What role can nutrition play in effecting and managing fatigue? Eating a nutrient dense diet will ensure that all possible nutrients are being included in the diet to supply the various processes in the body that need nutrients in order to maximise energy production. If there is an issue such as thyroid dysfunction, then it is important to ensure there are adequate levels of nutrients such as selenium (found in eggs and brazil nuts) and iodine (found in seaweed and fish). If there is any kind of gut dysbiosis such as SIBO, then nutrient absorption in the gut will be reduced, making it even more important to take in as many nutrients as possible.
Are there certain foods that people should be avoiding if they want to combat low energy and fatigue? Avoid diet and sugar free foods. Always choose foods as close to natural as possible, e.g. instead of a “sugar free yoghurt” choose a natural, live yoghurt or a greek-style yoghurt, preferably full-fat varieties rather than low-fat. And instead of a sugar-free zero calorie soft drink, have either water or, if you really don’t like the taste of water, try making infused water with fruits, vegetables, and herbs (e.g. slices of cucumber and lemon, with a few fresh mint leaves).
Why is it that even after plenty of sleep it is still possible to wake up feeling tired and fatigued? This is a sign that there is something functionally not working. There is no single answer to this, as the cause will almost certainly vary from client to client. When I work with a client, I try to work out that underlying issue for them so that they can look forward to sleeping well and waking refreshed and full of energy.
What is your opinion on coffee and caffeine as a remedy to feeling tired? If you really must have coffee or a caffeinated drink in the morning to give you energy, then firstly, wait until AFTER breakfast to have it, so that you start to train your body to get nutrients from food rather than caffeine. After breakfast, by all means have a coffee if you still want one, but make it the best drink you have ever had by taking your time to enjoy it and the moment. I’m not talking some instant coffee powder thrown in a cup and topped up with water from the kettle and milk from the fridge, gulped down in-between getting a shower and brushing your teeth. I’m talking a gorgeous mug of filter coffee (use a cafetiere if you don’t want yet another gadget in the kitchen!), with or without milk, that you sit down in your favourite chair and enjoy for at least 10 minutes. Really appreciate the moment and the taste of your coffee. If you normally buy your coffee in a coffee shop, then take a seat, sit back, and watch the world go by for 10 minutes rather than rush along the street sipping hot coffee through a melting plastic lid!
Why do we crave sugar when we are tired? Can you recommend any healthy alternatives? Our bodies are smart and they know that when we are low on energy, sugar will give us that much needed energy quickly and easily. Sadly, the energy from sugar is not a sustained energy and you will quickly crash and crave sugar again minutes later. If you’re craving something sugary then try some fruit, or a rice cake with some peanut butter, or (and this is my ultimate treat) take a fresh date and remove the seed, then fill the date with a teaspoon of almond or peanut butter before you eat it. Adding the nut butter provides protein and fat which will keep you going for longer, while the date will provide the sugar that your body is craving. Another top tip is to never eat standing in the kitchen – again this is about being mindful and “in the moment”. Take a seat, sit back, and enjoy whatever snack you’ve chosen. Really savour the flavours, textures, and the experience. It’s a whole lot more satisfying that way, trust me!
Should we be exercising more or less when we are feeling tired? If yes, what forms of exercise are best for fighting fatigue? This will really depend on what is causing your fatigue, which as I said before, will vary from one person to another. Initially, it’s important to only do as much as you feel comfortable with. If you constantly try to push yourself to go to the gym, despite feeling like your eyes could close at any moment, your body will perceive that as a stressful situation and raise your cortisol hormone levels – cortisol is a stress response hormone and long-term raised cortisol can lead to adrenal fatigue and a spare tire around your tummy that gets larger, no matter how much you go to the gym. If you enjoy yoga, then do yoga. If you like pilates, then do pilates. If you own a car, think twice before driving somewhere and consider walking instead.
What are three lifestyle changes can someone make today that will boost their energy and alleviate fatigue? Eat whole foods, as close to natural as possible – no diet/sugar-free/packaged foods. Be mindful when eating and drinking. Don’t rush, enjoy the tastes and textures, and enjoy the moment. Slowing life down can make a huge difference. And finally, I’d like to share with you my personal mantra: Start saying no to shit you hate. If you’d rather not spend time with a friend who drains your energy, or if joining the school PTA or volunteering to organise the school summer fair is a nightmare you could do without, or if the stress of an extra project at work is the last thing you need right now, then embrace the words “no, thank you” and don’t feel ashamed to use them.
For Further Information Please Contact Kate Knowlers