Before you start to read this article, take a deep breath. Hold your breath for a count of four and then exhale for a count of two. Repeat. Deep breathing is an incredible tool for centering yourself and revitalizing your energy when you feel that it is on the decline and you don't have time for a nap. Every day many of us face the challenge of maintaining our energy while going through our daily routines. We use coffee, sugar, and other artificial stimulants to keep us going when there are healthy, organic ways in which we can increase and maintain our energy. Think back to the days of your youth when you would run and play all day. Do you remember being called inside for dinner and not wanting to go? How about being told it was time for bed when you felt you had the energy to keep going for days without sleep? What happened to us in our adulthood that diminished the energy we had as children and made us more likely to fall asleep before dinner than to have the energy to cook? There are many ways to increase your energy through modifications to your diet.
One of the biggest ways in which we sabotage ourselves with low energy is by not drinking enough water. Many Americans are chronically dehydrated mostly from the immense amounts of soda that we consume. Although soda and other "juice" drinks may have water listed as an ingredient, there are other ingredients in the drinks that prevent the water from being used in the way the body needs it. Our bodies are about 70% water, and water is a necessary ingredient for most bodily functions including breathing and detoxification. Without water, symptoms ranging from sinus pressure and headaches to constipation can occur. When the body is in distress, it uses any resources it has to combat the problems, zapping your energy and making you feel bad. By increasing the amount of water that you drink, you will notice a subtle change in your energy as your body becomes more hydrated and starts functioning on a higher level. You can go with ten glasses a day (80 oz) to combat moisture lost through sweating, and always make sure you are drinking at least half of your body weight in ounces daily, to really get the levels of water you need.
One of the ways in which we deplete the amounts of water our bodies need for energy is through caffeine. Because caffeine is most often coupled with sugar, many people use it to gain energy when they are feeling low. However, for those of us looking to increase our energy, while caffeine is a quick fix in the moment, the lasting effects do more harm than good. Caffeine is a diuretic, dehydrating the body and taking with it important vitamins and minerals needed for cellular function. Large amounts of caffeine use can lead to loss of calcium and potassium which can cause muscle cramping and a delay in recovery after exercise. A bigger problem with caffeine is that it is addictive, so much so that it can cause withdrawal symptoms for those trying to cut it out of their diets. To ease yourself off of coffee and soda, try replacing them with less caffeinated drinks like green tea and by drinking more water. Once caffeine is out of your system, your energy will increase and you will start to feel better.
Sugar is also a saboteur of energy. On average, Americans consume 150 pounds of sugar per year, which does not include high fructose corn syrup, the main ingredient in soda and iced teas, which adds another 60 lbs. Sugar works in the body by giving us a quick high, which results in a crashing low, taking our energy and vitality with it. Sugar depletes the body of vitamins and minerals and adds excess fat. The heavier you are, the less energy you will have because your body is struggling to work under pressure from the weight. By reducing the amount of sugar and refined foods we consume, we can increase our lasting energy throughout the day. Many refined and processed foods have the same effect as ordinary table sugar because they too are missing the necessary fiber, vitamins and minerals needed to digest them in the body. When we eat refined foods, our body has to relinquish its stores of vitamins and minerals to aid in digestion, therefore depleting our stores and with it, our energy.
In addition to drinking lots of water, eat plenty of natural whole foods to increase your energy. Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates that take longer for the body to process and provide a more lasting energy. You will feel fuller for longer when you incorporate whole grains into your diet. These grains contain numerous vitamins and minerals as well as protein which give the body fuel to operate at peak performance. The biggest ingredient missing in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is green vegetables. Leafy green vegetables, like spinach, kale and collards, have a lot going for them. They contain numerous vitamins and minerals that the body needs, and also contain fiber and antioxidants, crucial for detoxification and disease prevention. Eating raw vegetables is even better for the body as they are easily assimilated and promote good digestive function. By simply increasing the amount of whole foods into your diet, you will see resulting increased energy.
Eat three meals a day, especially breakfast if you want increased energy. Many people eat sugary refined foods for breakfast, giving them a quick high and then a slump later in the day. If you don't want to be sleeping at your desk around four o'clock, make sure to incorporate healthy whole foods into the meals that you eat throughout the day. Good choices for energetic breakfasts are fresh fruit, smoothies and whole grain cereals like oatmeal. Do a breakfast experiment and try a different breakfast each day of the week. Because each of us is different, we have to experiment on ourselves to see what works for the individual. Eat your food and note what you ate, how you feel eating it and how you are feeling two hours later. This simple exercise done for a week can really help you identify which foods give you energy and which ones make you feel low. See how you feel after a bagel and coffee as compared to oatmeal and fruit, or eggs with spinach and mushrooms as compared to a bowl of cereal. Identify which foods work to give you lasting energy throughout the day and then eat those on a regular basis. You can do the same thing for lunch and dinner to create a menu that works to give you increased energy every day of the week.
These simple steps will make a world of difference: reduce
the amounts of caffeine, sugar and refined foods you are eating and replace
them with lots of water, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Eat three
meals a day and experiment on yourself to see what works for you. Eating
for energy creates a happier, healthier you!
Rachel Leslie is a certified holistic health counselor
and founder of A Cup of Life, Holistic Health Counseling. She is also
a partner in Green Parties CT, an organic catering company located in
Fairfield County, Connecticut. Rachel lives in Stamford, Connecticut with
her husband and son. For more information: www.acupoflife.com.