Many Parsley Health members tell us they are burning out and are often unaware that their lifestyle and dietary habits are only exacerbating the problem. The top three causes of burnout that I see in my patients are diet, poor sleep, and the “always on” phenomenon.
Food is a very powerful tool which can fuel and energize us, or leave us feeling tired, wired, or worse. When patients experiencing burnout go through their diet with me, a pattern of consuming too much sugar, carbs, and processed foods usually emerges. It’s a vicious cycle, you are stressed so you reach for the most convenient food or crave “comfort foods,” neither of which tend to be healthy options.
The average American eats at least 170 pounds of refined sugar per year which then makes its way to your liver. A liver replete with glycogen (sugar) turns carbs into triglycerides for storage, meaning that your body isn’t processing the carbs for fuel, but rather is turning them into fat. Processed foods are full of preservatives, hidden salt, and Omega 6 fats . Each of these increases inflammation and have been linked to heart disease, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and autoimmune conditions.
How many times have you heard, “you’ll feel better after a good night of sleep” or “it’s always better in the morning?” But what if you aren’t getting the sleep you need? A reported 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia . While you sleep, toxins are flushed from your Sleep is crucial brain cells, helping to prevent neurodegeneration. Thus, not only does a lack of sleep leave you feeling groggy and run-down in the short-term, but it also has serious, long-term consequences.
There are several causes of insomnia. When I see a patient who struggles with sleep, it’s usually a result of too much caffeine, high evening cortisol levels, “screen time” (the effect that the blue light from screens has on your melatonin levels), a magnesium deficiency, inflammation, or any combination thereof.
Luckily, each of these causes are easy to treat through supplementation, change in diet, and reducing the amount of time spent looking at a phone, TV, or other screen in the evening, and thus can be reversed.
With every new technology or consumer product created, we are promised an easier lifestyle. Instead, we have given up down time and turning off. Today, Americans spend approximately 11 hours per day looking at some type of screen. Of those hours, at least seven are work-related and at least five occur on a mobile device. As your eyes begin to blur and the “too many tabs open” feeling sets in, chances are you reach for caffeine, sugar, or even study drugs to help you focus. Each of these stimulants, while giving you a short boost, ultimately take a large toll on your health and lead to a big crash, causing you to repeat the cycle.
While there isn’t a quick and easy fix for burnout, it is possible to reverse it. Shifting to a plant-based diet will balance your blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and lower your risk for other conditions. By properly nourishing yourself, you will find your energy levels pick up, eliminating the need to reach for stimulants and allowing you a better chance to have a good night of sleep.
Some patients like to adopt a bedtime routine. Going screen-free at least 30 minutes before bed and meditation help patients center, de-stress, and combat problems with melatonin levels. When you go to sleep is also important. You should aim to be in bed before 11pm when cortisol levels spike. These same behaviors that help with sleep will also restore your parasympathetic nervous system, and alleviate the drain of being “always on.”
Once you get into a rhythm of poor eating, bad sleep, and not turning off, it can be hard to break as many of the behaviors are self-reinforcing. By working with your health coach and doctor, you can break the cycle of burnout and live your healthiest life.