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Stress & Burnout: Simple Nutrition Tips to Thrive Again

Burnout in a Global Pandemic

Women experiencing burnout during the pandemic

This is a strange and unprecedented time we are living in! Throughout the global pandemic, we have experienced a different level of stress than ever before. Complaints of feeling fatigued, anxious, overwhelmed and simply “burned out” are commonplace.

Burnout is defined as an emotional and physical exhaustion often caused by prolonged exposure to stress. It was a term coined in the 70’s, to help define the exhaustion, apathy and disengagement seen in the workplace.

But the term is even more widely used today, especially with living, working and simply functioning during a pandemic.

There are new stresses that come with even mundane tasks that we would have done without much thought just a few years ago. Going grocery shopping, sending our kids to school, showing up for work, in-person or online… navigating these tasks have gone from routine to sometimes anxiety producing. We are experiencing atypical stressors as we adapt to new ways of doing business, while we also deal with new stressors on the home-front.

Research has shown that men and women have different experiences with the stress and burnout. Despite efforts for gender equality, women still bear the brunt of childcare and housework. When working outside the home, home-life is like working a “second shift” for many women. Where men see coming home, at the end of the workday, as a place of respite and recovery, for women it is often viewed as a source of extra, unpaid work. During the pandemic, to reduce the tension between home and work responsibilities, many women have moved into less demanding jobs or reduced their hours of work. This on its own creates additional financial stress.

Burnout takes a toll on us both mentally and physically. We see changes in eating behaviours, related to poor sleep and stress-related fatigue. Those who are burned out are more likely to experience uncontrolled eating, emotional eating (aka. stress eating), and higher intake of calories from fat.

All of this has an impact on our bodies. Recent studies have shown that those rating higher for burnout, experience higher cortisol levels (our bodies stress-hormone) in the morning, have higher heart rates, higher Hemoglobin A1C levels (a measure of glucose metabolism and diabetes), higher cholesterol levels, show more inflammatory biomarkers in their blood, and have lower Vitamin D levels. Not to mention the “COVID weight gain” that is oh-so often discussed these days. Our bodies are physically changed with burnout.

So where to we go from here? How do we begin to help heal our bodies, when we are simply so exhausted already?

The Weight loss burnout cycle, by Alexa Jackson RD

Above anything else, we as women need to acknowledge that the weight gain experienced is a symptom of stress and burnout, not the cause of how we are feeling. All too often, women think that if they can somehow lose the weight, that they will feel better.

Unfortunately, believing this and trying to follow an overly restrictive weight loss diet, will inevitably lead them back to square one.

The weight loss burnout cycle, by Alexa Jackson RD, Dietitian

Instead, we must recognize that what we are experiencing is because our basic physical and mental needs are not being met consistently. We need to create routines and structure to prioritize self-care. It is about refocusing and even simplifying life; not taking on more. Only when we have found our footing again, can we attempt a weight loss program successfully.

My Top Nutrition Tips to Help Recover from Burnout

Eat 3 meals daily

Sounds simple, but when tired and overwhelmed, many skip meals. Eating regular meals throughout the day will provide your body with the energy it needs, when it needs it the most. It will help to stabilize your blood sugars and reduce later day food cravings

Eat more plants

No need to go fully vegetarian or plant-based, unless that is what you would like to try. The idea here is to plan your meals around plants, rather than meat and dairy (i.e. cheese). Plant based foods are loaded with micronutrients and antioxidants that our bodies need. Because they are high in fibre, they also help to stabilize blood sugars and reduce cravings.

Aim for:

  • 3-4 cups of vegetables

  • 2-3 servings of whole fruit

  • Eat beans and legumes in place of meat 2-3 times per week

  • Add nuts to meal and snacks 2-3 times per week

Focus on Vitamin D

As mentioned, many suffering burnout are low in vitamin D. Low vitamin D status can be associated with fatigue, exhaustion and depressive mood.

Sunshine exposure (10-30 minutes, 3 times a week) helps our skin produce vitamin D for our bodies to use. However, we need to make sure we are getting plenty from our diet as well.

Aim for:

  • 2-3 servings of milk or yogurt daily

  • 2-3 servings of fish per week

Even with sun exposure and a good diet, some individuals will need to take vitamin D supplements to meet their vitamin D needs. In Canada, a vitamin D supplement with 400IU is recommended for those over the age of 50. Speak to your Dietitian or Health Care Provider to find out more.

It is difficult to predict what our lives and routines will look like over the coming years and post-pandemic. Either way, understanding the importance of self-care and taking good care of our health as we navigate the uncertainty is key to getting back to living our best lives!

If this post is resonating and you would like to learn more, check out my FREE webinar on the same topic - Nutrition & Wellness Solutions to Breakout of Burnout.

I’m a dietitian who works closely with women in Collingwood, Blue Mountains, Thornbury, Grey Bruce and beyond to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals so they can feel confident and live their best life. Find out how you can achieve success by booking your free discovery call today.

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