How to Eat When You're Exhausted: Part 1

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When living with IBD, it’s common for malaise to set in frequently. It can be challenging to opt for nutritious foods when you’re feeling exhausted. These foods often require more prep work and time in the kitchen, which can seem ill-fitting when your energy levels hardly get you through the day. Even so, these are the times that you likely require wholesome, nutritious foods the most. The key for success is preparing ahead of time. The following tips will reduce the burden of grocery shopping, prepping, and cooking, even on your most challenging days. 


7 Tips to Boost Your Energy:

  1. Register for grocery delivery. Most grocery stores deliver, but if yours doesn’t, use a national online option, such as Amazon, Peapod, or Instacart. This will allow you to save the energy you would’ve used to grocery shop and carry the groceries home.

  1. Eat like a bird. Eat small, frequent, snack-sized meals instead of large, spaced out meals. It takes less effort to prep, cook and eat smaller portions. Also, smaller meals require less energy to digest in comparison with larger ones.

  1. Drink plenty of water. Fatigue is one of the first signs of dehydration and people with IBD are at an increased risk of becoming dehydrated, due to fluid loss in loose stools. How much water should you drink? Aim for at least half of your weight in ounces (eg. for a 140 pound person, try drinking at least 70 ounces of water, which is approximately 9 x 8-ounce cups).

  1. Avoid sugary foods and drinks. Although leaning on sugary drinks and snacks might give you an initial burst of energy, they will leave you feeling even more sluggish later on. Instead, choose foods high in complex carbohydrates, which is a more nutritious form of energy. These include well-tolerated fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

  1. Aim for balance at each meal. Eating well-balanced meals provides sustained energy and the nutrients your body requires to function. This means including a variety of food groups and good sources of all macronutrients in your meals--ie. protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Here’s an example of a simple, yet well-balanced, IBD-friendly meal: Baked salmon (protein, fat, and B vitamins) with rice (carbohydrates and minerals), sauteed spinach and summer squash (more carbohydrates, vitamins, & minerals). 

  1. Take a multivitamin. Those at risk for nutritional deficiencies, like people with IBD, are recommended to take a daily multivitamin which becomes increasingly important if you are not already consuming a well-balanced diet.
  2. Order from an IBD-friendly meal prep service. These days, there are lots of meal prep companies to choose from that offer either pre-cooked and ready-to-eat meals or cook-it-yourself meals with pre-portioned ingredients. Luckily, many of these services offer meals designed for food sensitivities, too. 



8 Meal Planning Tips for When You’re Exhausted:

  1. Take a seat. Conserve energy by sitting in a chair while prepping food. This helps to reduce the amount of effort it takes to cook on lower-energy days.

  1. Stash the extras. When you have the energy to cook, choose a freezer-friendly recipe, double it, and freeze the leftovers. Divide them into individual portions and store them in freezer-friendly bags or containers. This way, you can skip the cooking and allow yourself to rest on low-energy days without sacrificing nutrition. Don’t forget to date and label each meal before freezing!

  1. Reduce your workload. Minimize time spent in the kitchen by opting for pre-washed, pre-cut veggies. You can find these either fresh or frozen in most grocery stores. I suggest keeping the frozen varieties on hand because they make it easy to throw a quick meal together, with minimal effort and cleanup required. 

  1. Make sheet pan dinners your go-to. Ever tried a sheet pan meal? It’s one of my favorite ways to simplify the cooking process. In essence, you bake your entire meal on a parchment paper/foil-lined cookie sheet. Just toss your pan in the oven, set a timer, and you can rest while the food is cooking. Not only does this method reduce the time and effort needed to prepare the meal, it also reduces post-cooking cleanup. You can forget about scrubbing multiple pots and pans; just toss the used parchment or foil and return the clean sheet to its place. 

  1. Invest in a slow cooker. A slow cooker is another way to simplify the cooking process. With this gadget, you can safely cook your meal over a 4-8 hour period, which saves you from needing to constantly stir or check on your food while it’s cooking. As a bonus, the slow cooker allows ingredients to bathe in the cooking liquid longer, which creates a much more flavorful meal.

  1. Cook in bulk. Cooking in bulk, or batch cooking, only requires you to cook once or twice, but allows you to enjoy meals throughout the week. Minimizing the amount of times you need to stand, prep, and cook will decrease your energy expenditure, which is ideal when you’re exhausted.

  1. Consider a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers slash cooking time and also remove the need to stand over the stove. Meals can be made in a matter of minutes, without supervision and in only one pot, to reduce cleanup. 

  1. Stay prepared. Make a list of your favorite quick, but nutritious snacks and meals and keep them stocked in your kitchen and/or at work. They’ll be at arms reach on your low-energy days. 

One more idea: Ask a loved one for help. While it can sometimes be challenging to lean on others in times of struggle, it’s important to remember that you have a support system for these exact moments. Put yourself in their shoes -if one of your family members or friends was exhausted and couldn’t muster up the energy to make dinner, you would probably be happy to bring them food. Being able to help them out in times of need would probably make you feel good, too. Your friends and family see your struggles and will likely be more than willing to assist you with a meal or two.


Which of these tips do you find most helpful? Let me know in the comments below and if you try them out, let me know if they come in handy. 


Stay tuned for How To Eat When You’re Exhausted: Part 2, which will include quick and nutritious meal and snack ideas to add to your arsenal!