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What's Causing Your Energy Drain?

This is such a busy time of year, isn't it? Whether it's school or after-school commitments, social or philanthropic organizations that start meeting again after the summer, end of the year plans at work, or all of the above, fall activities are demanding! If you're like me, you know you plan too much, but you still want to be efficient, accomplish everything, and do it well. There is no time in the schedule for running out of energy or getting sick, and "Collapse From Exhaustion" is not on the TO DO list. But your body will stop you if you don't stop it first. How will you know if you are running on empty? The number one warning sign is fatigue.

Abnormal fatigue can be a sign from your body that you are overworking, overthinking, underresting, or undereating. (I don't know if all those are words, but they should be.) A variety of illnesses and medical conditions can cause fatigue, including hormone disorders, depression, and pregnancy, so if you notice a dramatic or persistent change in your energy level, it's wise to consult your physician. The good news is that if it's your hectic agenda that's leaving you drained, you can give yourself the best chance of staying well by looking at a few key areas - sleep, nutrition, hydration, and relaxation.

As with many beneficial life habits, these four staples of health do not have catchy slogans or expensive promotional campaigns. Bottled water brands and sleep number beds are starting to change that, but they're based on the premise that you need a very extravagant bed or water purification system, rather than the idea that you need sleep and water to be healthy. (Common sense, you say? How long has it been since you got eight hours of sleep and drank two liters of water in the same day?) Most nutrition-related marketing promotes one food or food group over another, rather than the guiding principle that you faithful readers know by now: eating frequent, small amounts of a variety of foods.

On the other hand, I'm sure you've seen and heard multiple advertisements for energy bars, energy drinks, and energy boosting supplements, promising more energy if you eat or drink the magical concoction of chemicals. Remember what you learned in Nutrition 101: Your body can only make energy from three things: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. ONLY. Other nutrients help your body USE energy, including iron and B vitamins, but nothing you get in a pill can actually give you more energy than eating actual food. Caffeine, ginseng, guarana, ma huang, ephedra, and xenedrine are all stimulants that make your heart beat faster, so your brain gets more oxygen, so you FEEL like you have more energy?but it's a trap. When the effects wear off, you will be more tired than you were before. If you use the chemicals again, you perpetuate the cycle, or in other words, you're hooked!

Quick Tip: Real energy means calories. If a product contains 0 calories, it's a fake.

The good news (yes, there's more!) is that although no supplement can make up for poor habits, changing habits can eliminate the need for these potentially harmful chemicals in your body. Easier said than done, I agree. But start in one area, and experiment with a small change. If you see results, you will have proved to yourself that the change is worth it! In the coming weeks, we'll look at each of the key areas, sleep, nutrition, hydration, and relaxation, with the goal of maintaining exceptional energy throughout your day.

If you need an energy makeover, why not keep an energy log? On 2 weekdays and 2 weekend days write down the following: What time it is each time you eat (you don't have to write down WHAT you eat); what time it is when you go to sleep and when you wake up; what beverages you drink throughout the day; any relaxing activities you did that day; and a description of your energy (highs or lows) throughout the day. In two weeks we'll meet back and see what your results mean and where to improve! To be continued?

Jessica Setnick is a registered dietitian in Dallas, Texas who travels the world spreading nutrition wisdom. As an accomplished speaker and writer, Jessica's passion is promoting a positive relationship with food and eating as a key component of a healthy and happy life. Find out more or contact Jessica to speak at your event by visiting her website at
2004 Permission is granted to reprint this article in print or on your web site so long as the paragraph above is included and contact information is provided to


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