The What and How…
I’m not going to promise you that your fatigue is going to be “cured” by any of what I will talk about in this section. If I had that magic pill, I wouldn’t be telling you about ways to manage fatigue – I’d be sitting on a beach in Fiji…
Anyway, I promised to speak about EFFORT – too much or too little doesn’t work – as with so many things, the key to successful management, is a nice, BALANCED EFFORT to combat fatigue. You’re going to have to work at it and when you stick to it and maintain the balance, it is WORTH IT and you will notice the difference.
First off, lets create a list – promise me you won’t look at the list and just cross it all off because, “you’ve tried it” or because you don’t think it’s that important. This is a list of 4 things that are priorities for me in managing fatigue. I’ve finally come to them after 20 years of trying to figure it out (yes, I am slow.) But, in my defense – although it appears to be simple – sometimes what seems simple, really isn’t.
You must read through and process, “The What” before putting the effort into, “The How” to get your best outcome. Sometimes when you’ve tried something that’s supposed to be good for you and it didn’t work – you may need to make sure that you understood what you need do to, or come at it another way. You may even need to GET HELP to get the full benefits.
*Disclaimer – the following list/thoughts are from my years of experience trying different things, studying, researching various articles/ideas, and talking with lots of people. I am not a doctor, a sleep expert, or a nutritionist. Athough I am qualified to talk about exercise with some degree of intelligence – I encourage you to get help from a trusted professional if you need it.
These are listed in order of importance:
- Sleep – EVERYTHING hinges on the sleep you get at night because of our natural circadian rhythm. And yes, some survivors do need to take naps during the day to get the rest for their brain that is required. The only caveat is – if you’re not sleeping at night then you shouldn’t be sleeping during the day and some individuals may need to seek the help of a professional to get your sleep hygiene routine back on track. Don’t know what sleep hygiene is? Look it up or ask a professional for help.
- Nutrition – We all know that a diet with too much sugar, high in salt, or too many (bad) fats isn’t a good idea – However, many of us don’t know how much sugar or salt we’re consuming daily because it is hidden in all of the processed food, or we don’t fully understand how important it is for our bodies to have the ‘good’ fats.
About 4 yrs ago, I embarked on a new adventure and completed a 30-day elimination diet. After removing some typical offenders from my diet – I added them back in slowly to see the effects on my body. I also focused on putting only the good fats into my daily consumption.
I discovered that “whole grains” or flour in general, don’t agree with my digestive system and eliminating it from my diet increased my energy, decreased my addiction to sugar, eliminated most of my allergies, and helped to “down-size” my spare-tire… As for the vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. that grains supply to a diet – I’ve found that I can get them from minimally processed vegetables and by-pass the BLOAT!
For the most part (except Christmas), I consume very little added sugar – (sugar that is naturally present in foods is ok for me; for example, fruits like pineapple and oranges) but I stay away from added sugar of ANY FORM (honey, agave, raw sugar, and especially artificial sweeteners) for the remainder of the year. Did I mention to look at the ingredient list for added sugar? ? What I found out is that without added sweeteners, there is plenty of sweetness in natural food – we just can’t taste it, with all the added sugar.
I consume alcohol very rarely and I don’t partake in the Mary Jane craze – I’m not saying there aren’t some benefit to both – I just don’t think the possible extra brain damage is worth those benefits for me. Alcohol increases my anxiety, and both have negative consequences for memory – I avoid anything that messes with my already compromised memory.
I have now added back in minimal cheese, occasional organic ice cream, and organic half n half. Dairy doesn’t bother me as much as flour, and I’m no longer emotionally attached to it. A little bit is fine, and I enjoy it fully when I have it.
Yes, I am a coffee drinker and although I know that too much caffeine can actually make you more fatigued – after much trial and error – I drink 2-3 – 12 oz cups daily to achieve my best results. I may need to revisit that amount in the future… but for now – this is my vice!
I use lots of spices – including salt and pepper, but am always on the lookout for added salt as well (added salt is almost as evil as added sugar).
WHAT do I eat? Glad you asked! I try to do organic as much as possible, but totally organic is not always affordable – so I do the best I can. I eat cage-free eggs, grain-fed beef, chicken, pork, sausage, and wild-caught fish. I eat tons of vegetables and at every meal. Spinach, broccoli, jicama, carrots, onions, peppers, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, eggplant (occasionally), snap peas, green beans, lettuce, radishes, beets, brussel sprouts, etc. etc. Fruit adds a little sweetness to my life and I eat good fats: avocados, olive oil, coconut, almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, butter, olives, sunflower butter, and home-made mayo. I eat more fat (for 4 years now) than I ever have in my whole life and I lost 30 lbs., have kept if off, and am totally satisfied with my diet. My blood sugar and cholesterol levels are the best they’ve ever been. I do stray occasionally (birthday cake, etc.) but I’ve found that I feel much better without added sugar, flour, bad fats, and I’d rather eat vegetables!
I’m not saying that everyone should do what I do – I am saying that you need to consider what you’re putting into your body every day. I’m totally on board with the saying, “You are what you eat.”
Oh, and DRINK WATER! (I think soda, artificially sweetened or full sugar, is the drink of the devil; but yes – I do occasionally have a Pepsi… 1 or 2 per year – I’m crazy like that.)
Have I always eaten this way? Not hardly. I have always been physically active and tried to eat healthy (for the most part – sometimes, I didn’t try very hard.) But, I feel great now and I want others to find out how they can feel their best too!
- Exercise –I think that some kind of daily exercise is crucial to good health and decreasing fatigue/increasing available energy (get some extra energy bucks!). Now – Does it have to be extreme mountain climbing or running marathons? NO! JUST WALK! Maybe walking doesn’t work for you, or is not an available option for another reason. That’s ok. Just find something else that you can and do it. Walking just happens to be one of the most natural, easiest, least expensive activities that can be done almost anywhere. It does not have to be strenuous – unless you want it to be, and then I recommend that you make sure you’re doing exercises correctly without ever causing intense, sharp pain. Sometimes doing exercises incorrectly for a long period of time causes breakdown in the tissues of the body that you don’t even realize is happening… until it’s too late. Be careful if you’re going to perform any kind of strenuous activity. Again, seek professional advice regarding any physical activity programs if you need it.
I now walk 4-7 miles daily (10-15,000 steps) but I haven’t always done that distance. About a year ago, I decided to buy an activity tracker so that I could see my heart rate during exercise (2-3x/week – hopefully). I didn’t think I needed to track my steps because OBVIOUSLY, I was walking at least 10,000 steps daily. I found out that I was only getting about 4-5,000 steps on average. WHAT?!?! And worse, I didn’t know if I could do more – I’m always tired! But, I decided to try. What the heck! So, I slowly started to walk an extra half mile, then a full mile and now I walk 2-3 miles in addition to what I was walking. It’s usually the easiest to do first thing in the morning, but I can fit it in at lunch or after work if necessary. Again, you don’t have to walk 3 extra miles a day – just do what you can. 5 minutes of walking is better than none. And I bet that after you’ve walked 5 minutes for a few days you’ll be ready for 7 or 10 minutes – just work up slowly from wherever you start. Who knows where you’ll end up! AND – it makes me less tired! I have more energy now that I walk daily. Woohoo!
I also continue to perform a weight resistance routine 1-2 day(s) per week using free weights, machines, thera-band, and body weight resisted exercises. I’m a firm believer that our muscles and bones need to be challenged to stay in their best condition and that a routine with correctly performed exercises is a great way to do it. I will be talking more in the future about the use of weight resistance exercises in rehabilitation for individuals with brain injury.
I used to think that the importance ratio of exercise to nutrition was 60% exercise and 40% nutrition. I know now that I was wrong, it’s more like 80% nutrition and 20% exercise for optimal health (Those are my numbers only – figure out what you think!)
- Meditation/Brain Breaks – Finally, I can talk about meditation and although it’s lowest on my list of priorities for fatigue management – it is still a priority for me. Through my daily walks I began to understand my brain’s need for a quiet and peaceful state of mind. I realized that during that time, I could tap into a special power to calm and tranquility. Could I do that without having to walk 3 miles? Meditation? Shut the front door! For the first time, the idea of meditation finally made sense to me. I’d tried it before, but come on – how boring! I never have time for that anyway and I can’t shut off my thoughts anyway, so it’s just a waste of my time… Ahhhh, grasshopper, I had so much to learn.
So, because I think meditation deserves a lot more time and energy that I have right now… It’s already taken me 2 months to get this far; I’ll pick up next time with some more information about meditation.
Keep your mind open to it… Totally worth it!