Chronic fatigue is a common symptom and side effect of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, during both flare up and remission. While it is less severe during remission, medication that keeps us in remission are often the culprits that continue the cycle of chronic fatigue. As one who struggles with fatigue and FOMO (fear of missing out) on a daily basis, I have become quite the connoisseur of how to be a high-functioning, highly fatigued individual who refuses to miss out on the fun in life just because I am blessed with Ulcerative Colitis, which leaves me with the energy of an 80-year old (actually, that’s not a fair assessment. Depending on my day and the 80-year old individual, I may actually have less energy than he/she). That being said, I wanted to share a few of my life hacks that I have found that work WONDERS for increasing my energy and being able to enjoy life like a normal, energetic 20-something.
These include coffee, tobacco, and alcohol, and can cause additional restlessness at night and exacerbate adrenal fatigue. Although this may seem counterintuitive to what you prefer- which is guzzling a carafe of coffee- caffeine actually can make fatigue worse. Slowly wean yourself off the caffeine by drinking a cup in the morning and then switching to decaf. Tea is not an equal substitute, but it can provide the hot, soothing beverage you can sip on, and it can also provide you with fantastic benefits. Chamomile tea and other herbal teas are excellent tea substitutes you can try. I love coffee SO much, but I have tried to limit myself to one cup a day and none when I am in a flare up.
Put down the processed food
Whatever you do, stay away from the cookies, candy, and chips. These are the easiest food to grab when you are hungry, but easily the worst for you. Especially with chronic fatigue, it is the quickest food option that you don’t have to cook. However, the added flour and sugar are detrimental to your health and further suppress your immune system and energy level.
Take your supplements daily
Vitamin B6, B12, potassium, and magnesium are key vitamins and minerals that can greatly enhance your energy if taken regularly. B6 helps the immune system to run on all cylinders to prevent or fight off any viruses and B12 helps to increase energy levels, reduce depression, and keeps your mind sharp. Potassium is a key element in staying hydrated and keeping electrolyte levels where they need to be. Magnesium helps to regulate your red blood cell count, reduce pain involved in chronic fatigue, and increase energy levels. My diet and daily supplements are what truly have brought me back to life and keep me running on all cylinders!
Foods to eat:
B6: Sweet potatoes, bananas, cooked spinach, wild salmon, grass fed beef
B12: Wild salmon, tuna, raw milk, raw cheese
Potassium: Acorn squash, mushrooms, bananas, yogurt, kefir, black beans, avocado, spinach, coconut water
Magnesium: Almonds, avocados, chard, spinach, kefir, yogurt, bananas, dark chocolate
Identify and eliminate food sensitivities or
Talk with your doctor about taking a blood test to identify any food allergies or sensitivities that may be causing inflammation in the body. This additional inflammation could be a cause of fatigue and can be easily minimized by eliminating these food products from your diet. After taking this test and sticking to my diet sans food sensitivities, my body has felt much lighter and I have experienced less inflammation, bloating, and fatigue.
Even if you are not diagnosed with lactose intolerance, the average person has a hard time digesting lactose after infancy. Consuming dairy causes the body to work twice as hard to digest and takes up more energy to do so. Instead, try almond, coconut, rice, or cashew milk as a substitute. I have been drinking almond milk for years now and I love it.
Automate what you can
These days you can automate just about anything and for not much more than you would buy them if you went to the store yourself. And with a limited amount of energy, it may be worth the few extra bucks to conserve your energy for more important things later in the day. Need to buy groceries? Try Amazon Fresh or Farm Fresh To You and have the fruits and veggies delivered to your door. Need a ready-to-eat meal? Try Freshly and choose how many meals you want cooked and delivered to you. Need new clothes? Try Stitch Fix and let them style your wardrobe for you. Want to read the latest best-seller, but can’t keep your eyes open? Use Audible for the audio version. Automating what I can and saving my energy for the important things in my day has been a lifesaver!
Get proper sleep
Do your best to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. Getting a full 8 hours of sleep can set you up for success the following day, giving yourself the full amount of energy you can muster in a day. Also, don’t shy away from napping. I don’t always have the time for a nap, but if I feel my body slowly shutting down, I make the time for a nap midday. Even if it is a quick 20 minute power nap, that significantly improves the quality of my work and the rest of my day.
Create a sleep routine
Design the ideal sleep environment that gets you ready to power down. A couple hours before bed, try to reduce screen exposure, read a book, limit food and liquid consumption, and listen to soothing music.
Choose one day out of every week to truly rest. Dedicating yourself to resting will reduce stress, anxiety, and depression just by allowing your mind and body to reset itself. Don’t make plans or obligations for this day, just make plans with yourself to rest your body and relax. This may look different to everyone, whether it is going for a walk with a friend, practicing yoga, catching up on TV, or going to the beach with a good book. Whatever mental and physical rest looks like for you, do it on this day.
Choose exercise wisely
High intensity exercise can cause further adrenal fatigue and extend the time it takes to recover from a bout of fatigue. Instead, listen to your body carefully. If it is a day that you have a fair amount of energy, aim for a moderate intensity exercise for no more than 20-30 minutes. If it is an extremely tiring day, go for a light intensity exercise like a walk around the neighborhood or a yoga class. I have had days where I intended to do Crossfit that day, but once I woke up I felt the aches of fatigue hit me like a wave and knew this was going to be a stretching and yoga day for me.
Accept your limitations
Don’t get me wrong- I, in no way, want you to become complacent in your fatigue. I do, however, want you to stay within your energy capability for the day. If you feel overwhelmingly exhausted, don’t push yourself to do more than you can handle or your fatigue will become worse that day and the days to come. Instead, accept where you are in that moment and what you can accomplish within the bounds of your energy level. In time, changing your diet, adding rest and proper sleep, and automating your life will increase your energy level and you will gradually be able to do more. Don’t beat yourself up by focusing on what you can’t do- this will only cause further stress on your mind and body, setting you back even further. Instead, focus and work on what you can do in that moment.
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