This is the first in a series I’ll do on our basic problems. I’ve got about eight topics in mind, but things may change as I go along. So here’s what I think is our first pretty basic kind of problem: no energy or motivation.
I think ‘no energy’ covers three different things. Choose which one suits you.
- You feel exhausted and know how to get your energy back: sitting, relaxing, doing something nice for yourself (for me, reading a book in a hot bath), taking a nap. After a rest, perhaps a good nights sleep, your energy is back to normal and you’re good to go again.
- You don’t have the energy to do anything – but you are agitated and fidgety; so there is energy there somewhere. Perhaps you are tapping your fingers or you are restless and can’t seem to settle into a comfortable posture; you are looking around, but don’t focus on anything in particular.
- You used to have lots of energy. But now you feel bitter and cynical. The days of working for a big goal are long gone. Now it seems pointless. You were happier then, and you would like to be that person still, you may not like being bitter and cynical – but see no alternative. You certainly enjoyed relating to people and creating a better world, but then hard things happened. And so you are where you are. And you feel sure that the effort was for nothing, or perhaps even was counter-productive: so now, you have no energy.
These three no-energy states have different causes and require different responses I think. The first one I’ll call ‘tiredness’, the second ‘boredom’ and the third ‘burnout’.
Tiredness – Nutrition and Movement
The best general advice I know on food is from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
By ‘eat food‘ he means no junk. No ‘fast food’ i.e. deep fried, artificial flavours and colours, filled with added fats and sugars.
- If you cook at home you are probably fine.
- In the supermarket, shop around the sides (where the ingredients live), not in the middle (with all the pre-prepared stuff is shelved); read the labels – as a rule of thumb: the more chemicals listed, the better avoided.
- If you don’t buy it, it won’t be in the cupboard or fridge for you to eat.
- Keep the healthiest options in the easiest locations – the first thing you see when you open the fridge or cupboard, a fruit bowl on the table.
- If you eat out there are healthy options: sandwiches can be excellent, you can often get a plate of a grain and veg, or a salad, without sauces.
Not too much. Portion control matters. And it can be hard to do. So here are a few ways to make it easier.
- Use smaller plates. Don’t take seconds unless you feel hungry.
- Add flavours (using herbs and spices). If something is bland or mostly one taste we tend to eat more of it. If the mouthful is interesting we are more likely to slow down and savour.
- Take twenty minutes to eat. It takes us about this long to feel whether we have had enough.
- This is easier if you are part of a group, and talking to each other while having a meal.
- Another way is to have several courses – which can be done very simply. Add a first course of a bit of bread with butter (or perhaps dipped in olive oil). After the main meal add a piece of cheese, perhaps with a bit of a grain. Then a piece of fruit or some dried fruit. This can add up fairly easily to twenty minutes.
Mostly plants. This is generally the cheapest, healthiest and kindest to the planet.
- Make sure to have beans and peas with other stuff – these combine to make protein.
Getting more specific than Michael Pollan’s general advice means watching what you eat and how it affects you. Large common sense groupings are: grains (rice, pasta, bread), fruit and veg, meat and dairy. Use herbs and spices to add flavour instead of excessive fats and sugars. Try eating more of one thing for a week and see if you feel better for it.
If you change your diet gradually – over three to six months, your palate and body will adjust, and you won’t feel as attracted to junk food.
Special note on food and energy. You may not be eating enough red meat (especially if you are of the female persuasion). If you don’t eat red meat and feel chronically tired, try eating a small portion of red meat every day for five days, and see if it makes a difference to your energy levels.
Modern lifestyles can encourage too much sitting. Standing all day can be pretty tiring too. The ideal is to mix them. My biggest problem is getting involved in thinking and reading. I simply forget to get up, so I need to organise reminders and spread out things to do (so I get up do one thing, then do another thing later). I’m a student at a moment so have a good deal of control over my time. If you are in a workplace, do what you can to move about. Is it ok to take a toilet break outside of lunch? Can you walk to someone’s desk? Can you walk a flight or two of stairs instead of taking an elevator?
We’ve tried to eliminate physical labour from our lives. Which we are all grateful for. I remember my mother doing the washing in a copper before we had automatic washing machines. I have no desire to go back there. So we need to put some of the physical labour back – which we call ‘exercise‘. Half an hour a day of brisk walking is enough to get most of the benefits.
What is the best form of exercise? The kind you enjoy!
If you are sporty and competitive, and so want to perform at a high level, then you will want to investigate high intensity interval training.
Further reading: The Pioppi Diet. This is an updating of the Mediterranean diet, with much more attention to exercise and other factors, than just the food. Very easy to read. With an exercise routine and recipes.
Where people live long and healthy
It is possible to get very bogged down in the details of food and exercise. There are whole libraries on it! So it can be helpful to have a big picture to navigate by or aim towards. In this case the lifestyle(s) of those who live longest and healthiest.
Where do people live longest and healthiest? In the Blue Zones. And their lifestyles have been studied. As well as eating healthy food, and not drinking too much, it is good for you to have less stress in your life, good relationships (strong social bonds), and a sense of purpose (most commonly adherence to a faith of some kind).
If you are eating healthy, and are moving regularly, and still don’t have enough energy, consult a health practitioner who knows about these things (usually not a western trained doctor, unfortunately).