When your energy and mood are perpetually in flux and you’re looking for the next pick-me-up, do yourself a favor—don’t pick anything up.
If you’re like most people, you have to work hard everyday to maintain your energy. And there’s something you should know: Your body’s natural state is balance, so mood swings and fatigue throughout your day really should be rare.
But in today’s world, finding balance and steadiness may seem like an overwhelming task. Our busy schedules and the competing demands for our time often lead straight to stress, and that perpetuates bad habits: a poor diet, irregular sleep, and insufficient exercise. We’re constantly exhausted, and then we turn to coffee, energy drinks, or sweets for a quick boost. And they all work—until we come crashing down again.
This mix is a recipe for disaster. It’s a vicious cycle that will wreak havoc on your body’s normal chemical and physiological functions. But you can stop it. You can establish a regular cycle of eating and sleeping, so your body maintains a constant level of energy throughout the day that tapers off at night. Achieve this goal, and you won’t have to work hard to have energy—you’ll just have it, naturally and consistently.
With patience and commitment, you can move beyond your tired routine and create mental and physical vitality all on your own. Here’s how to gain some balance and build those good habits that will yield big results.
Set the Tone
Breakfast is by far the most important meal: It sets the tone for your energy and mood all day long. When you skip breakfast or eat poorly in the morning—particularly when you eat foods that quickly convert into glucose (sugar)—you become subject to quick spikes of energy and sudden crashes.
A nutrient-void breakfast—or no breakfast at all—will make you a low-energy, irritable girl. And look to stimulants like caffeine and sugar to pick you up throughout the day.
So get ahead of the game and make time each morning for a healthy breakfast. Skip the breads, pastries, cereals, or muffins made with white flour and added sugars, as well as most fruit juices. Instead, eat a hearty breakfast of high-fiber, whole-grain bread, oatmeal, fruit, and protein (eggs, nut butters, almonds, tofu, or Greek yogurt). And if you don’t like eating breakfast first thing, grab a banana and a handful of nuts, and have it as soon as you’re feeling up for it.
Skipping meals during the day will leave you tired and cranky. (Have you ever been around a baby when it’s feeding time?) If you go too long without eating, your blood sugar will sink, and you’ll be prone to mood swings.
So eat a balanced lunch, drink plenty of water, and keep healthy snacks on hand—never letting yourself get too hungry. And when you’re tempted to reach for that low-calorie salad at lunchtime, keep in mind that your body does need carbs during the day.
Select complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber and packed with whole grains—these are the carbs that will break down gradually in your body, make you feel fuller longer, and have a calming effect on your moods. Your best sources are legumes, vegetables, pastas, and cereals. And definitely avoid simple carbohydrates and sugars in foods like candy, cookies, cake, and soda, which create serious spikes and troughs in blood sugar.
A good night’s sleep is essential for your health—and your mood, cognitive capacity, and productivity all depend on it, too. But it’s not just about the number of hours you sleep: Quality counts, too. And what you put in your body can have a huge impact.
If you drink caffeinated beverages like coffee or tea, limit your intake to one cup early in the day. Caffeine’s effects can hang around your body for six to eight hours and will hijack normal sleep patterns if consumed too close to bedtime. The same can be said of alcohol. A common, but inaccurate, belief is that alcohol helps people sleep. While it may help you fall asleep faster, research has shown that alcohol disrupts your slumber during the latter part of your sleep cycle. Avoid drinking within three hours of going to bed, and never depend on alcohol to help you fall asleep.
Lastly, give yourself at least three hours between your last bite and time your head hits the pillow. Eating a large meal right before bed forces your body’s organs to keep working when they should be at rest—and if your body can’t relax, you can’t relax. Lying down is not an optimal position for digestion anyway, as it can create GI discomfort that may keep you awake. If you can’t avoid not eating closer to bed time, make sure you choose a light, healthy snack.
Changes don’t happen overnight, but establishing a regular, nutritious diet is a sure way to find inner balance and increased vitality that will last you throughout they day. The key is consistency: It’s not enough to swap out an apple for your usual post-lunch Starbucks run once or twice. And of course, keep in mind that there’s no one diet that works for everyone—if you have particular concerns or dietary restrictions, consult with a health or nutrition professional who can help you make the best plan for you.