E.N.E.R.G.Y., 7 ways

Last night was both the winter solstice— the darkest night of the year— and a magnificent full moon. As if the sky wanted to remind us that the light returns, starting now!

Lots of folks, myself included, find it hard to keep our energy levels up at this time of year. Exactly when there seem to be extra demands on us. Funny how that goes, isn’t it? If we just accept the defaults, we’ll probably crash at some point (who hasn’t had a December meltdown?). So what can we do? How can we turn this strain into a teachable moment for ourselves?

Stress can point out to us exactly where the inflection points are.  Then it’s up to us to pay attention.

So, ENERGY: each night, experience rest, gratitude, and yoga? even night-owl extroverts require gentle years? eggplants! nectarines! endive! radishes! ginger! yams!

OR. . .

Here’s some low-hanging fruit— things that are easy to blow off in the moment, but that add up to exhaustion:

  1. Go to bed! It’s OK to lean into the hibernation instinct a little bit. When you have a lot to do, don’t knock sleep off the back. Set an alarm for bedtime, use the function on your iphone, and stick to it. If you don’t have a true reason to be up too late, don’t be. I don’t mean skip out on being present for important events, but I do mean maybe turn off the Hallmark channel and get some quality pillow time. (I’ve given the sleep rundown before, but I’ll give you the short version again: make your room cool and your bed warm, no screens in bed, make it dark and unplug stuff with little glowing lights, use do not disturb mode on your phone).
  2. Eat your veggies. Of course there’s lots to indulge in around the holidays, and I’d never tell you not to do so. Just don’t crowd out all the nutrition your body needs to function. Remember to eat green stuff every day. If you know you’re going to a party, maybe start your day with a smoothie or have a big salad for lunch. Order a side salad. Bring a veggie dish to the potluck. Whatever works.
  3. Pay attention to energy vampires— sugar and alcohol. It would be easy to drink wine and eat dessert every single day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This will probably make your energy levels tank. Both will disrupt your sleep, in addition to taxing your system, dehydrating you, and giving you that fuzziness (you know). So just pay attention. You could think about skipping either or both few days. While we often think there’s social pressure to indulge, the fact is, most people don’t really care what you do or don’t eat and drink. You can say no thanks. You can have a seltzer with lime or a kombucha or an apple cider at a party. You can say those look delicious but you’re totally full and would love one for later. If you do take a day off, note how you feel in the morning. 
  4. Get some sunlight. It’s in short supply in December, so get creative. If before and after work are dark try midday (a walk, at least?). . Go out in nature on the weekends. If you live somewhere dark, maybe light therapy lamp is for you. Using a bright light (look for “10,000 lux)  for 30 minutes per day has been shown to combat depression
  5. Relatedly, get some exercise. Maybe you can organize a family hike? Or run a 5k? If you’re a gym person, carve out the time. Even if it’s less time than you’d like, make time.  This will feel easier if you do 1, 2, and 3. And everyone feels better after a sweat. Promise. 
  6. Don’t burn yourself out. You don’t have to say yes to everything and everyone. You can put in an appearance and go on to the next event. It’s OK if that event is a date with a good book and your dog.  
  7. Finally, don’t lean too heavily on artificial sources of energy to pull you through. I love coffee, I really do, but it doesn’t replace the things I suggested above. If you’re too tired, maybe you should listen, honor that, and cool your jets.

Which one of these fall off first for you? Can put it back?

Food: sin to atone for or fuel for the fire?

We have been conditioned to think of exercise as punishment for eating— especially women. While men’s fitness magazines often discuss how to fuel for a workout or eating to build muscle, women’s magazines usually focus on how to burn calories. Prime example: Shape magazine’s “you ate it, negate it” feature that tells you how many minutes you’d have to run on the treadmill, say, to burn off that candy bar. it’s all about burning calories, as if that were the be-all end-all of exercise.

fun, friends, fitness

fun, friends, fitness

But this approach sells exercise short,  it sets us up to feel guilty about our food choices, and it teaches us to think of exercise as punishment. Exercise is good for us in many, many ways. It increases energy, fitness, and stamina. It improves cardiovascular health. It boosts overall metabolic function. It increases longevity and improves mood and mental clarity. It can be fun and social. And yes, it burns calories.

Let’s put to bed the notion that exercising has to mean a punishing slog on the treadmill or elliptical, calibrated to counteract the damage done by eating. Let’s reframe it as a way to take care of ourselves, feel good, and have fun. It’s an inherent good. And there are endless ways to partake, so there has to be SOMETHING you can find to enjoy. It could be running or crossfit, sure, but it could also be yoga, dancing, rollerblading, boxing, hiking, zumba, biking, swimming, archery, karate. . . you get the point.

fuel for whatever is coming today.

fuel for whatever is coming today.

So let’s flip this thing on it’s head: we aren’t excercising to burn calories, we’re eating to fuel our activity. So yes, that means workouts and exercise, but it also means performing well in everything else we do all day.

Long days at the clinic call for serious fuel.

Long days at the clinic call for serious fuel.

Have you ever eaten lunch and then immidiately just shut down, ready for nap time, and lost a few hours of the afternoon? I have. What about planned on a morning workout, only to wake up feeling too bogged down to get out of bed? Yeah, I’ve done that too. It doesn’t have to be that way. Now, I think about what I have coming up in a day, and I plan my meals to help me do it. A long morning with no  break until 1 calls for a solid breakfast with protein and complex carbs. 4 PM yoga means a 2PM snack like an apple might be good. Long run planned? A banana or toast with nut butter usually goes down easy. A rare lazy sunday with no plans and a rest day from training? Hell, let’s get bagels and mimosas!

We’re not thinking about calories anymore— we’re thinking about energy (which, after all, is what calories measure). This shift in thinking might seem tough at first— but once you start to connect your food to your performance and your energy, you may never want to go back.