OLD ME: I used to wake up every morning wishing that I could hit fast forward to bedtime just so I could go back to sleep already. Give me a choice between any activity and sleep and I would always choose sleep. It’s like no amount of sleep was enough. I was always yearning for more. Even if I wasn’t physically tired enough to fall asleep, what I wanted more than anything else in the world was to lay in bed. In the dark. Just me and my pillow.
At its worst, this never-ending urge to rest was closely intertwined with the fact that I was severely depressed. But even after I recovered from depression – after I had solidly restored my desire to participate in my own life – and even after I wasn’t that exhausted anymore, I just wasn’t anywhere close to where I ideally wanted to be energy-wise.
Maybe I wan’t tired all of the time anymore, but I was still so damn tired too much of the time.
Dragging when I wanted to be soaring.
NEW ME: A few weeks ago, I realized that I needed to start going to bed LATER, because I was up and rearing to go by 4am every morning. Apparently I no longer need eight, or preferably nine, hours of sleep + naps, like I used to. I now only need sevenish and I need to go to bed late enough to make sure I stay in bed until 6ish. Because husband and kids aren’t too keen on mom starting to bang around at an hour that, for them, qualifies as “middle of the night”.
To be clear, I’m still not a round-the-clock energizer bunny. I can’t do brain work in the evenings. And I get wiped out by too much stimulation like I always have. But I do have solid fuel to stay focused and motivated through the day and even accomplish a bunch of non-brainy stuff in the evenings.
So how did I get from OldMe to NewMe?
Well, I’m going to fill you in on that, but before I do, let me tell you what I predict will happen if you are anything like the OldMe. If you are where I was a few years ago, you will read my tips on how to have more energy and motivation, and as you are reading, two things will happen.
One, you will think I’m batshit crazy or at least heavily leaning toward the extreme side. And that’s okay. 🙂 We can debate about the crazy, but you are right in thinking that I have taken some measures that look extreme from the mainstream perspective. The reason I have made changes that some people will view as extreme is that moderation simply didn’t get me where I wanted to be. Moderation didn’t help. Conventional advice didn’t help. Mainstream lifestyle didn’t help. What I list in this article DID help. I got the results I was seeking. Every single one of the seven steps I list in this article gave me a noticeable boost in energy levels within a few weeks of implementation.
Two, even if you are willing to overlook the crazy and extreme part, you are so exhausted that what I’m telling you to do will sound totally overwhelming and unattainable. In other words, you don’t have the energy to get more energy. The solution to that is not trying to implement all of my tips at once. Just take it one step at a time. When you do just ONE thing, that ONE thing will give a little bit of extra energy to take on the next thing. Which in turn will give you more energy to take on the third thing. And so on…
Until you wake up one morning at 4am wondering why you are so full of energy at this ungodly hour! 😉
How To Have More Energy And Motivation
1. Set A Sleep Schedule And Then Follow It Religiously
In order to get maximum benefits from sleep, it’s not enough to just set aside a minimum number of hours for sleeping. Your sleep is guided by a circadian rhythm and that rhythm thrives on stability and predictability.
If you sleep from 11pm to 6am during the week and 1am to 9am on the weekends, that is not stable and predictable. That is putting your body through jet lag twice a week. Jet lag depletes energy.
So set a sleep schedule – bedtime and wakeup time – and then follow them come hell or high water. Even on the weekends. Even on holidays.
I promise your sleep quality will improve and so will your energy levels!
2. Get Your Blood Sugars Under Control
I don’t know what your blood sugars are doing, but I do know that a lot of people have blood sugar issues without realizing it. According to a 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 100 million Americans are now living with diabetes or prediabetes. And a majority of those with prediabetes don’t know they have it.
Did you know that prediabetic people don’t always have high fasting blood sugars and aren’t always overweight? I was borderline diabetic at 5’4″ 120 pounds and without ever having an out-of-range fasting blood sugar reading.
One way to tell if blood sugar swings are sapping your energy is to pay attention to how you feel after eating. Do you feel more tired after eating than at other times of the day? If yes, it’s a sign that your blood sugar levels are skyrocketing and then crashing. Work on preventing these swings and the energy will follow.
So how do you do that?
Well, I used to take medication to control my blood sugars. The meds made me feel a little bit better, but the change in my blood sugar levels was actually pretty minimal.
Here are the two things that finally brought me back to normal readings and to a point where I no longer need to take medications at all:
I. Reduce Stress
The stress hormone cortisol serves as a signal to make more sugar available in your bloodstream and to shut down insulin receptors in non-essential parts of your body. This happens, because your body is preparing for fight-or-flight, which requires sugar as fuel. That is, if you were actually going to physically fight someone or run away from them. Which you are not, so the sugar just lingers and then gets stored as fat. 🙂
The single biggest drop in my blood sugar levels came from drastically reducing my stress levels.
II. Eliminate Sugars, Sweeteners, And Grains
This is where we get into the “extreme trumps moderation” territory. Almost two years ago, I quit eating anything with sugar, artificial sweeteners, or grains in it. I did the Whole30 as a trial and then I’ve just stuck with it for a few reasons:
- It’s MUCH easier to keep my blood sugar levels stable when these major carb-culprits are completely out of the equation.
- I don’t have to constantly monitor how much I’m eating, which used to be a pain in the ass.
- I don’t crave sweets like I used to.
- I feel about a million times better in every possible physical sense without sugar and grains in my diet.
3. Get Your Omegas Under Control
In addition to excessive carbs, excessive Omega 6 fatty acids in your diet can wreak all kinds of havoc on your body, leading to inflammation and low energy. What’s important here is the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3, which tends to be waaay too high in favor of Omega 6 for those eating the typical Western diet.
The easiest way to fix this ratio is to quit consuming seed oils that are outrageously high in Omega 6 (sunflower, corn, soybean, and cottonseed) and regularly eat wild-caught Alaskan salmon for Omega 3.
If you are like me and always need to know the nitty gritty behind every recommendation, here are two books that go in-depth on the subject of dietary fats:
- Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Dr. Catherine Shanahan
- Superfuel: Ketogenic Keys to Unlock the Secrets of Good Fats, Bad Fats, and Great Health by Dr. Joseph Mercola and Dr. James DiNicolantonio
4. Eat Real Food
So what does one eat when she quits eating sugar, grains, and inflammatory oils, which pretty much rules out all processed foods?
Well, then you are left with REAL food:
- Veggies & fruit
- Eggs, meat, and fats from pastured animals
- Olive & avocado oil
This is the food that human bodies evolved to thrive on over hundreds of thousands of years. This is the food that is going to give your body the kind of fuel it is designed to operate on.
This is the fuel that your body can use to produce stable, long-lasting ENERGY rather than producing a roller-coaster of energy peeks and valleys or weighing it down with artificial shit it doesn’t recognize or know what to do with.
5. Use Supplements With Caution
OldMe used to be all about the supplements. This was my logic:
- Since my energy levels are so low, my body must be lacking something.
- If I could just find the right combination of supplements, my energy levels would soar.
My logic was correct in that my body was lacking something. It was also correct in that there are some cases when supplements are necessary. Here are a few reasons why supplements may be necessary:
- The typical Western diet is not very diverse compared to the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
- Meat from industrially raised animals tends to be less nutritious than meat from pasture-raised animals.
- The plants many of us eat grow in soil with fewer nutrients, are exposed to pesticides and herbicides, and are bred for long-distance travel and storage rather than for optimal nutrition.
- Genetic variations impact the absorption of nutrients, which means that some people need such a large amount of a given nutrient that it’s hard to get it from a modern diet.
With that being said, I have come to understand that food is still a superior source of nutrients and I only take supplements after a lot of investigation and consideration. Here’s why:
- Supplementation can create nutrient imbalances and compromise nutrient synergy. Nutrient synergy takes place when two or more nutrients work together to produce results that are not produced by any of the involved nutrients alone. Natural whole foods often contain multiple nutrients that work together in this manner.
- Vitamins and minerals in supplements may not be as bioavailable (ie. able to be used by your body) as vitamins and minerals present in whole foods. Many vitamin supplements are synthetically manufactured, so they are not exactly the same as what you would get from real food.
- When you rely on supplements to get the nutrients you need, you are assuming that nutrition science knows everything there is to know about the nutrients present in whole foods. This is in fact not the case and you risk missing out on yet-to-be identified nutrients that are likely present in whole foods.
6. Keep Active
The human body follows the law of “use it or lose it”. In practice, this means that when you sit around most of the day (like most of us do) all your bodily systems get weaker from lack of action.
My new year’s resolution this year was to start avoiding prolonged sitting, and at first I wasn’t sure if it was really making that big of a difference. But then I had to stay off my feet for a few days because of a minor injury, and during those few days, I noticed that I was definitely feeling more sluggish than I had been.
So now I’m even more convinced this is an area worth paying attention to!
7. Allow Your Nature To Guide Your Lifestyle
As you can see based on the list above, I have come to the conclusion that how energetic you feel is largely driven by biology. But I don’t think giving your body the right physical fuel is the only thing that matters. I think your inborn personality matters a lot too.
Depending on your personality, some activities are going to energize you, while others will either bore you or drain you. And what these activities are differs from one person to another.
I could stand here all day every day writing blog posts and doing background research and creating worksheets and totally lose track of time and have to set an alarm to remember to take breaks to eat and sleep. These activities put my brain in flow and energize me.
On the other hand, when I practice math facts with my kids every afternoon, I suddenly feel like my eye lids are laced with lead.
ME: 7 minus 5?
KID: Ummmmm, 3?
ME: Close! Try one more time!
Regardless of how well fueled my body is, these exchanges still make my brain sleepy. 🙂 I do it anyway, because that’s the kind of mom I want to be, but imagine what my life would be like if I was homeschooling my kids and I had to keep this up all day every day? I can psyche myself up to help my kids with homework for an hour a day, but trying to do it full-time would be a major struggle. Some people were born to do it – I wasn’t.
For most of us, it’s not realistic to only do things that naturally energize us. But it’s also not healthy to ignore your nature.
For maximizing your energy and motivation levels, I recommend steering your lifestyle in a direction that allows you to spend significant amounts of time doing things that naturally engage in your brain and smaller amounts of time doing things that you have to talk yourself into doing.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What do you think? Crazy? Extreme? What have you already tried or what do you plan to try in your own life? I would love to hear from you in the comments below. 🙂