“Fatigue is the No. 1 complaint I hear from my patients and from the general public,” says Beverly Hills, Calif.-based endocrinologist and metabolic specialist Eva Carter, M.D., author of just released The Fatigue Solution: Recover Your Energy in Eight Easy Steps. “Women are told it’s either in their head or it’s because they’re having kids, raising kids, managing the household, working too hard or getting old. Fatigue is an illness. There are things we can do to get our energy back.”
According to Carter, millions of women around the world grapple with weight gain, chronic stress, poor sleep, forgetfulness, low sex drive, mood swings, hormone imbalances and constant fatigue. More often than not, they’re told: “That’s normal. You’re getting older.” It doesn’t have to be, she says.
Carter, who herself experienced a total lack of energy, low sex drive and poor sleep after the birth of her second child, developed a simple guide to help you figure out why you’re tired and how to get your energy back. From easy lifestyle changes to knowing what to ask your doctor, she offers these eight steps to kick fatigue for good.
Change Your Diet
“People think they are eating right, but there’s a difference between watching calories and eating for energy,” says Carter. Eating lots of protein is essential for staving off fatigue, especially early in the day when your cortisol levels are high. At breakfast she suggests eating eggs, having a slice of ham on the side or adding protein powder to your oatmeal. Otherwise, if you eat only carbohydrates, you’ll crash early and hard.
Carter also recommends eating small amounts every three to four hours to avoid over-eating at meal-time and to keep your blood sugars up in between meals. Snacks like fruit and nuts, string cheese, a couple scoops of cottage cheese or even beef jerky will satiate your hunger and boost energy levels. She recommends avoiding soy products, which act like estrogen in the body, using smaller plates, making meals beautiful with color and plating, and to try replacing grain with quinoa, a plant protein.
Clean Out Your Gut
Carter says energy levels are tied to the health of your gastrointestinal tract, and if you’re frequently tired or feel bloated, you may want to get your gut in shape. A common problem she sees is “leaky gut syndrome,” which occurs when the lining of the intestines weakens so much that its contents escape to the bloodstream, causing fatigue, headaches and food sensitivities.
Luckily, there are some easy all-natural fixes. To get the body’s pH balance to equilibrium, Carter advises avoiding the use of aspirin, cutting out alcohol for two to four weeks, and drinking about eight glasses of water each day (0.6 ounces multiplied by your weight). Also, although diet soda doesn’t have any calories, the aspartame in it acts like “a film inside your colon,” she says. Because artificial sweetener is a pro-inflammatory, you’ll end up putting on weight. She notes that one patient lost 20 pounds in two months after cutting it from her diet.
Get Better Sleep
An estimated 50 million to 70 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder. Carter says to get better sleep “you need to improve your bedroom hygiene.” First, get the television out of the bedroom. Studies show that even if you don’t turn it on, your brain associates the TV with stimulation. Also, forming habits is important. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Some tricks: Keep the bedroom cool to help you fall asleep. Studies have found a correlation between high core body temperature and insomnia. If you have trouble falling asleep, get up and leave the room until you feel tired. Finally, “never exercise after 4 pm,” she warns. While exercise will improve your sleep, it’s better to do it earlier in the day, so that your body has time to come down.
Have More Sex
Think you’re just too old and too tired to have sex like you once did? No way, says Carter– good, frequent sex is one of the best things you can do to increase your health and get rid of fatigue. “It stimulates brain function, burns calories, increases oxygenation, boosts immunity and relieves stress and depression.” If you feel you’re not as interested in it as you once were, she advises having your testosterone levels checked out, noting that, in women, testosterone boosts libido and energy.
Plus, it’s a good way to start the day. “I advocate for sex in the morning,” Carter says. “Most women will find an excuse at night. But if they start their day with it, from a hormonal perspective, they’ll be much more energetic. It invigorates people.”
Move More To Boost Metabolism
Yeah, yeah, you’re too tired to exercise, right? Well studies show that the more you move, the more energy you’ll have. “No more excuses,” scolds Carter. Oftentimes, she finds that people don’t push their bodies hard enough. While it’s true that any exercise is good, try to really sweat. She recommends burst training, where you work at nearly 100% capacity for 45 seconds, rest for 90 seconds, and then repeat for 20 minutes. It helps burn fat for the next 36 hours and increases metabolism.
Carter has also noticed that many of her patients feel mortified by using a gym. “It’s like going into a nudist colony or something.” If you’re embarrassed, she advises exercising at home with workout DVDs, exercise equipment or by running in the neighborhood. Dancing is another way to get out and have fun while burning calories.
Get Your Thyroid Checked Out
“Although millions have a thyroid problem, only about half of cases are diagnosed,” says Carter. Hypothyroidism, the most common thyroid disorder, can cause nightmares, anxiety, mood swings, weight gain, impaired concentration and severe fatigue. If you experience any of these issues, she suggests getting a simple blood test to check your TSH levels. However, she notes that not all doctors agree on how to read the test. Some believe that below 5.0 is “normal,” but she believes your levels should be below 2.5.
Prepare For “That Time Of The Month”
Carter says hormones greatly impact fatigue, and PMS can hijack your energy if you don’t prepare for it. “You’re losing fluid, your hormones are plummeting and you can get neck pain and confusion. Some of us become lunatics,” she says. (Thanks, Doc.) To curb the fatigue that comes with PMS, fill up on fruits and veggies, eat more fiber and complex carbs, avoid salt and caffeine, exercise more and try yoga or pilates. Natural remedies like Japanese krill oil, magnesium supplements, chasteberry herb, vitamin B6 and licorice may also provide relief.
When it comes to perimenopause, the transition to menopause, “fatigue” is better described as chronic exhaustion and deep weariness. Usually, the culprit is a hormonal imbalance. Although controversial, Carter advocates for hormone replacement therapy. Additionally, many of the natural therapies that ease PMS will also help with both perimenopause and menopause. She also suggests herbs like St. John’s wort, black cohosh, red clover, evening primrose oil, valerian root and ginseng.
See A Specialist
If you can’t find relief through lifestyle changes and your general practitioner says everything’s normal, you may want to consider diagnostic testing to pinpoint exactly where the problem lies. From a food allergies profile test to vitamin analyses, you’ll be able to figure out exactly why you’re so tired. “You know your body,” says Carter. “You know when there’s something not right. Don’t accept aging as a natural consequence of life.”