Guest post by Liz Driver
Looking after yourself is one of the key principles of positive parenting. But it’s also often the first thing that falls off the radar when things get hectic. Being a working parent requires an endless supply of energy, so (as my gift to you!) I asked nutritional therapist Liz Driver for her tips on where we can all find a bit of extra energy to get us through the day.
It’s that time of year when everything feels a bit, well, grey. Christmas is long gone, the weather is cold and spring still feels like a dot on the horizon. Add in the challenges of work and parenting and it’s no surprise that a lot of us are suffering from a lack of energy and feeling tired all the time!
We’re currently going through a bit of an energy crisis in the UK. More and more of us are juggling conflicting priorities, the lines between work and home are becoming increasingly blurred and whilst technology can be a great enabler, it can also form a source of distraction and angst. No wonder a recent survey showed that only 56% of UK employees feel energised at work.
When we’re busy, it can be much harder to prioritise focussing on our own health. However, small changes can make a huge difference overall. Here are some simple strategies you can introduce to help improve your energy levels.
Balance your blood sugar levels
Levels of blood sugar are controlled by a hormone called insulin. If you go long periods without eating because you’re busy, your blood sugar level will drop, leading to those feelings of low energy, tiredness and sugar cravings. If you eat something sugary, your blood sugar levels will rise, but a surge of insulin in response will bring them back down quickly, leading to a rollercoaster effect and peaks and troughs of energy. You can overcome this by aiming not to go more than about four hours without a meal or snack. Make sure that each meal and snack contains a source of protein and/or fat and limit your intake of sugary snacks. Great snack options could be a piece of fruit with a small handful of nuts, a hardboiled egg and some cherry tomatoes or a couple of tablespoons of hummus with some veg sticks.
Review your caffeine habit
Both tea and coffee do have some health benefits (coffee is a great source of antioxidants), but too much caffeine can cause havoc with your sleep. Caffeine has a half life of 6-8 hours, so if you have a large coffee at 6pm, half of that caffeine will still be in your bloodstream at midnight. Even if you don’t have a problem sleeping after caffeine, research shows that the quality of your sleep is impaired, leading you to feel more tired the following day. Try and enjoy your caffeine before 2pm and then switch to alternatives after that to improve your sleep. Don’t forget green tea also contains caffeine.
Eat more plants
The latest UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that only around 35% of us are getting our five-a-day of fruit and vegetables. That can mean we’re not getting an adequate intake of the various vitamins and minerals which are vital to energy production within our bodies. Aim to consume plenty of fruit and vegetables in a variety of colours to get the most benefit. Frozen veg can be a great standby for quick wins or if you haven’t made it to the shops.
Plant foods are also a key source of fibre. Fibre slows the release of simple sugars into the bloodstream, helping balance our blood sugar levels. It also plays a major role in gut health. The “good bacteria” found in our gut are vital for ensuring we digest and absorb the nutrients in our food to support energy production in our cells. Gut bacteria feed on the fibre in our diet, so it’s important to ensure that we’re getting enough. 90% of us aren’t eating the recommended 30g a day, so in addition to fruit and veg, aim to include some more fibre by choosing wholegrain options where possible (brown rice, whole wheat pasta etc).
Move more often
This may seem counterintuitive, but ensuring you include some exercise in your routine is vital to maintaining a good level of energy. Exercise improves your circulation, which helps oxygen move more effectively round the body. Stress is a massive energy depleter (as well as making you a grumpy Mum or Dad). Studies have also shown that exercise can have a positive effect on stress levels and prompts the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin which help us feel more positive and induce a sense of wellbeing. Whilst a hardcore HIIT session or a long run is probably not the best idea if you’re exhausted, walking a bit more every day is a great start for introducing more movement. The most important thing is that it’s something you enjoy!
Focus on sleep
Sounds obvious, but most of us aren’t getting enough, and certainly not enough good quality sleep. Technology is having a negative impact on our rest as the blue light from our phones and tablets disrupts the production of melatonin, the hormone which induces sleep. Try introducing a bedtime routine which includes turning off your tech at least 60-90 minutes before bed and includes some relaxation such as a warm bath or reading a book. The tips above, such as reducing caffeine, exercise and balancing blood sugar will all promote better quality rest too.
If you’re feeling totally exhausted, it’s important to rule out anything more serious with your GP, but for most of us, these simple suggestions should help put a spring in your step!
Liz Driver is a Registered Nutritional Therapist and mum of two specialising in helping busy people make sustainable diet and lifestyle changes to help them feel their best. You can find her at www.chilternnutrition.co.uk and in her free Facebook community Nutrition Made Easy for Busy People (https://www.facebook.com/groups/nutritionforbusypeople/) where she posts tips, guidance and recipes.
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