Here’s a controversial statement from a health coach – your diet cannot solve your problems. However, when you put together a healthy diet with positive lifestyle, movement and stress management techniques, it sure as hell can make all the difference, in fact, it elevates the others. Did you know that every moment you spend in a stressful state you are using up valuable nutrients that your body needs in order to function properly? Particularly B vitamins, which are the energy vitamins.
“Chronic stress can affect the body’s use of calories and nutrients in various ways. It raises the body’s metabolic needs and increases the use and excretion of many nutrients. If one does not eat a nutritious diet, a deficiency may occur. Stress also creates a chain reaction of behaviors that can negatively affect eating habits, leading to other health problems down the road.”Stress and Health, Harvard.edu.
When you are experiencing burnout your body is in a high stress state, and your blood is literally being drawn from the center of your body (where it should be) out to the limbs, ready to fight or flight, which shuts down your digestive system. If you don’t eat well, and if you don’t digest your food properly, you won’t absorb enough nutrients to give your body the energy it needs to respond to the issues that are going on around you, which causes more stress, and it snowballs.
“The right diet can do wonders to reduce stress’s impact on your life. When you eat whole, real foods, you restore balance to insulin, cortisol, and other hormones.”How Chronic Stress Creates Hormonal Havoc, Drhyman.com
This is why eating whole and nutritious food throughout the day is important, to help keep your nutrient levels up when your body is depleting them.
If you’re eating a diet of caffeinated drinks, sugary snacks, refined carbs and processed foods, these fast releasing sugars create a state of stress in your body, stimulating the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. You’ll feel energised for a short while but you’ll soon crash back down again. You want to avoid those peaks and troughs of energy as often as you can, because they can lead to other health issues down the line.
To help avoid these spikes and crashes, eat slow releasing carbohydrates like oats, sweet potatoes and quinoa for breakfast. They release their fuel slowly which maximises your available energy throughout the day. Unlike if you start your day with a slice of white bread, breakfast cereals and coffee. To enhance your energy even more, have a source of protein with your slow releasing carbs e.g chia seeds with your oats, nut butter with your sweet potatoes, eggs with your quinoa. Here are some of my favourite nutrient dense, slow releasing breakfasts:
- Chia seed pudding
- Energy ball
- Egg muffins
- Flaxseed pancakes
“…the bulk of evidence suggests stress can affect micronutrient concentrations, often leading to micronutrient depletion.”The Effects of Psychological and Environmental Stress on Micronutrient Concentrations in the Body: A Review of the Evidence, Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
So, what vitamins and minerals should you be getting sufficient amounts of when you’re trying to bounce back from burnout?
One of the main nutrients that burnout can deplete from your body is Magnesium. This mineral supports your nervous system and your energy production. Food sources of Magnesium include nuts such as almonds, Brazil, cashew, peanut and pecan. Buckwheat flour, garlic, raisins, peas, potato skin and crab. However, it is hard to get enough Magnesium from your diet alone, because of the poor quality of the food and how it’s grown, but you can supplement very safely with Magnesium as long as you don’t take any more than what is recommended on the supplement bottle label. It is best taken in the evening because it helps to lower your stress levels and it also helps you to sleep better.
B Vitamins are the energy vitamins, which are very sensitive to stress. They are directly involved in energy production and managing stress levels. There are 8 B vitamins and each comes from different sources of food so even with a varied diet it’s hard to get enough. Supplementing with a good quality B Complex is advised, as well as eating foods like meat, dairy, fish, eggs, legumes and green veggies.
Vitamin C is another vitamin that burnout can deplete from your body. It helps to make anti-stress hormones (your adrenal glands need Vitamin C for instant energy when you are super stressed) and helps to fight off infections by strengthening the immune system. It is also needed for Iron absorption (oxygen in our cells = energy) Food sources include peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, lemons, peas, oranges, grapefruit and tomatoes. You can also supplement safely with at least 1,000mg p/day.
Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to chronic fatigue and exhaustion. There is also a link between depression and low levels of Vitamin D, so you can see why it’s so important to have sufficient levels. Food sources include fish and eggs, but the amounts are so much lower than what your body really needs so you cannot rely on food alone for optimum Vitamin D levels. The best source of Vitamin D comes from sunlight. Get out in the morning for 20 minutes without suncream on to soak up some sun, and use a supplement of 3,000 IU’s p/day in the winter months and 1,000 p/day in the summer to keep your levels topped up.
Omega 3 is vital for your brain, nervous system and immune system. About 60% of your brain is made of fat and half of that fat is the omega-3, therefore making it essential when it comes to cognitive function and memory. Monounsaturated fat from foods such as oily fish, olive oil, nuts, or avocado all lower inflammation levels within the body. It is believed that it could be higher inflammation that may affect cognitive functioning. I recommend people eat oily fish 2-3 times a week (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring) and take an omega-3 supplement as well. If you are vegan you can take algae supplements instead.
Without Iron oxygen delivery around the entire body is compromised which results in fatigue, and this is the last thing you need when you’re busy. Food sources of Iron include pumpkin seeds, parsley, almonds, prunes, cashew nuts, raisins, Brazil nuts, walnuts, dates, and pork. You can supplement with Iron too, but don’t do it until you have your bloods checked, it can be toxic to have too much Iron in your body which can really damage your liver and make you even more tired.
If you are currently on any medication it is advised that you speak with your doctor before taking any supplements, just to be on the safe side. I also recommend you get your bloods checked twice a year to keep an eye on your health.