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How I cured my energy slump

by Jeanne Davis

Jeanne Davis changed her diet and gained more energy. But it wasn`t as simple as that. Here she tells how a simple test led to her transformation.

"You are the only person in the world who has this food problem,” my husband would complain when at four in the afternoon I would start searching for something to eat.

For several years, I suffered from a mid-morning and mid-afternoon low. Not only would I feel tired, faint and lacking in energy, at times I'd  get horribly depressed too! I attempted  a variety of mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks - biscuits, sweet buns, a cup of tea, a bread roll, but they didn't seem to help. I tried dairy and protein-rich foods like cheese, yoghourt, even a ham sandwich on the grounds that they would provide longer-lasting energy than sugary foods. Sugar triggers a burst of energy when you feel you need it, but then your energy levels fall quickly again.   Protein foods take longer to provide energy but you remain satisfied longer. For a while,  they certainly helped, but I still developed energy slumps.  I began to feel a bit of a freak. 

In the end I contacted a clinical nutritionist recommended by my GP. She sent me a questionnaire to fill out before our appointment. I had to record everything I had eaten over a period of two days.

It was a relief when I found out that I had an authentic condition that caused my distressing energy dips. I had a blood test and was told I had hypoglycaemia, known to lay people as low blood sugar. Hypoglycaemics suffer a marked deficiency of glucose in the bloodstream. Mine was a borderline case, apparently.

The nutritionist said that my emergency snacks weren't the whole story. I needed to look at breakfast, lunch and dinner too. For breakfast I was having  wheat flakes cereal, wholegrain  bread, fruit, tea. My mid- morning snack was coffee and toast. Lunch typically was chicken noodle soup, tuna sandwich on whole wheat bread. Mid-afternoon snack was tea, six dried prunes.  Dinner:  pasta with basil and tomato sauce, salad and low-fat dressing, a glass of red wine, low-fat chocolate mousse, a low-fat biscuit before bedtime.

The nutritionist said that my meals were overloaded with simple carbohydrates. These are the foods that turn into sugar just as quickly as cakes and pastries and puddings and chocolate bars. She pointed out the culprits: wheat bread, pasta, pizza, noodles, white rice, alcohol, coffee. Those simple carbohydrates quickly raise levels of serotonin, a chemical natural in the body. For me, the peak is reached too soon. Then the descent is steep, plummeting within hours. Low levels of serotonin not only induce fatigue, they are often indicated in depression too. The situation was exacerbated by my borderline hyperglycaemia. (Those low-fat foods contained extra-high quantities of sugar to make up for the flavour lost by the reduced fat. Even snacks of dried fruit are laden with sugar. 

I had been on a diet where the emphasis was on low-fat and high-fibre, but all those simple, filling carbohydrates meant that I was getting too little protein, which is essential for making serotonin.

Foods that take much longer to be converted to sugar are the complex carbohydrates, such as rye bread, oat cakes, potatoes, lentils, vegetables, fruits, and proteins of course.

Now I could eat cheeses. And eggs and olives, chicken, fish, also red meat. I could have olive oil and olive oil spreads. And oily fish like mackerel, herring, sardines. 

But wouldn't this mean I'd  be putting on weight again? 

Not if I controlled the sugar intake. I could have fresh fruits—pears, apples, berries, melon, and even some nuts, though only ten to fifteen pieces a day because of their high calorie content. Unsalted of course.

Shopping for wheat-free foods is not too easy. The best place for non-wheat carbohydrates is Planet Organic, in London's Westbourne Grove (they have a mail-order service, see below).

My eating plan now includes snacks which can be fresh fruit or wheat-free bread. I have three meals a day, and a glass of wine daily. I have herbal tea in the morning and am allowed one cup of regular tea in the day. Coffee is not on the menu.

I thought I'd put on weight.  I thought it wouldn't work.  But I have  never felt better.  I have more energy, very few lows and some unexpected  benefits.  A chronic sinus congestion has cleared and an irritable bowel problem disappeared. And I have not gained a single pound in weight!

It is advisable to consult a clinical nutritionist to get a diagnosis of your individual needs. For recommendations, ask your GP or contact the British Association of Nutritional Therapists, PO Box 626, Woking, GU22 OXD (enclose an sae for this)  Planet Organic runs a mail-order service and will send their catalogue on request.  Telephone 020 7221 1345

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