It’s after the holidays, and if you’re like me, you’re probably riddled with regret after a month of eating with reckless abandon!
Our 2-year-old granddaughter was in the background last week, during a Facetime call with my daughter, insisting, “I’m hungry! I want to eat!” What started as a calm announcement of fact, increased in urgency with a foot stomp and broken cries of starvation if she didn’t get immediate nourishment! I chuckled yesterday when I was reminded of the call when I heard myself saying, “Why’s everybody still seated? I’m starving and I thought we were going to eat!”
No kidding, I’m a walking example of those candy bar commercials where someone is a beast until they eat. They’re funny, but the truth is, not eating is dangerous and can cause a multitude of avoidable problems!
For me, if I skip a meal, or just don’t eat properly, I lose all zip in my proverbial zipper! Even worse, I may get shaky, dizzy, or even pass out! I’m not alone. Science has proven that maintaining a healthy diet helps us live longer…and healthier!
It isn’t easy for everyone, though, particularly as we age. Our appetites and/or nutritional needs may change due to medications, slower digestion, illnesses, recovering from a surgical procedure, and even grief. If we’re not paying attention, our dietary changes can drastically affect our quality of life whether that’s a decreased energy level, or an adverse effect on our health.
How and what we eat can directly impact our energy levels, as well as our overall physical and mental health. Let’s start with hydration. I used to get so irritated with my husband when I’d complain of a headache. Expecting sympathy, I’d get a, “Well, have you drank anything but coffee today? Any water?” Ugh. He was spot on, though. We need about 6 to 8 glasses of water every day. Unfortunately, sugary water, or water filled with caffeine or alcohol can dehydrate us, which drains our energy.
Next, let yourself eat more often. One big meal, for a variety of reasons, can cause you to lose energy, believe it or not, especially if you compensate by skipping the next meal. As I’m quick to remind my grandfather, getting dizzy from skipping a meal is just flat unsafe! I realized not eating was no longer an option for me after waking up face down in my hallway!
I’ve learned that if I eat smaller amounts more frequently, my blood sugar levels are more stable. I’m able to make more sensible choices, and avoid overeating, and that draggy, “shoes are filled with concrete,” feeling.
Our brains are designed to cause us to crave types of food that help keep us alive. When you’re suddenly wanting a snack, tell yourself that’s your brain keeping you alive … and also tell yourself a cookie is probably not going to do that as well as something with protein and healthy carbohydrates! I’m absolutely no expert, nor am I professing to have perfect nutritional fitness, but I have found that I feel better when I reach for nuts, fresh fruit, crackers, and natural cheeses. They are filling, and don’t cause me to slip into a sluggish feeling that puts me back into that unhealthy spiral.
One way to make your food work better for you is to keep an eye on the nutrients your choices are giving you. For example, foods rich in Vitamin C, like oranges, bell peppers, and even broccoli, are high energy foods. Foods enriched with Vitamin D, like tuna and other types of fish, help with energy levels, too, can enhance the immune system, and can also provide you with much needed protein, and omega 3’s. B12 is another nutrient that boosts our energy as well as brain and nerve health. Consider switching to almond or soy milk in your oatmeal, adding yogurts, cheeses, most fish, eggs (the yolks) to increase your B12.
Protein is our friend, too! For most, high quality protein increases muscle mass, boosts the immune system, and may even help with memory recall. In case you weren’t already aware, we can increase our protein in other ways besides just through our red meat. Let’s face it, most of us love red meat, but find it zaps our energy after we eat it. There’s hope, though. Protein can be found in easier-to-digest foods like white meats, fish, and even vegetables. Try pinto beans – who doesn’t love a big pot of pinto beans this time of year? In fact, many types of beans, for example, lima, kidney, and edamame (soybeans) have a good deal of protein. Chickpeas and lentils are often in soups, but I have also found them in crackers, and some types of pasta. Peas, brussels sprouts, potatoes, sweet corn, spinach, asparagus, avocado … it really is in a lot more than you think!
Some health conditions, such as kidney, heart disease, or diabetes may require a more specialized plan so check with your physician about your specific nutritional needs. He or she can order bloodwork that gives you both a better idea of how your body is utilizing the fuel you’re feeding it.
I realize that there may be barriers to eating healthily. Medications can cause foods to taste differently. Loss of appetite, problems chewing, and frankly, grocery prices can be barriers, too. I urge you to discuss your situation with someone you trust, whether that’s a close friend, family member, or your physician. Hopefully, together, you can come up with solutions.
So, as we turn the page on a new calendar to 2023, let’s hang it on the wall with the resolution we’ll all enjoy – that we will focus on eating … eating enough, and eating well!