The 3:00 pm crash used to be a big part of my life. I'd be sitting at the front desk of the big media company I worked for, headset on and ready for the phone to ring as I did everything in my power to keep my eyes from closing. In this case “everything in my power” meant drinking copious amounts of the free hot chocolate and coffee that was available to staff.
When I started working from home and designing part time, and eventually started working for myself full time, my hours at work grew quickly and the energy rises and crashes that accompanied me were staggering and often ended up looking like this:
Why yes, that is a blanket over my head. Couches are my danger zone.
It immediately became clear was that there's no such thing as coasting when you're responsible for hustling your monthly income into reality! And also, that it's hard to hustle at all when there's a blanket over your head. About a year and a half ago I started experimenting with lots of lifestyle and eating changes to see what I could do to break out of the energy burst / energy crash cycle that I was in, and to find out if I could find a way to be where I'd have all the energy I needed to be as creative and productive as I could muster.
In the past six months (after some false starts, changes in how I plan my work & food blog discoveries) my energy levels have completely turned around and it's amazing! I wanted to share some of the things that have made the most impact for me- some are food related & some are lifestyle changes, but all have been really important in giving me everything I need to give my clients everything I can every day.
Seriously bulk up your salads
If salads mean lettuce in your world, I'm here to let you know there is life after lettuce. It's hard to eat healthy if you're not getting enough filling food, and I've never been able to fill up on a lettuce based salad alone. However, with a quick adjustment of putting my salad on a small bed of quinoa, add more veggies like thinly sliced (or julienned) carrots and red peppers I'll have enough energy for a whole afternoon of work, and I'll be able to keep up a positive attitude too. I've found that it can be tricky to get quinoa that doesn't cost an incredible amount of money (at least where I live in Canada) and if you've been finding the same thing, I strongly recommend that you try looking at Costo. They have the best prices I've been able to find, and takes the sticker shock out of eating it on a regular basis.
Coming up with high protein toppings with healthy fats for your salads is another great way to make them stretch farther- my favourite simple addition is adding a handful of chickpeas on top of a normal salad before adding the dressing.
Add whole grains, nuts & seeds… to as much as you can
I've found that the more simple ways I can add whole grains, nuts and seeds into my life the more energy I have and better I feel. On my breakfast cereal I'll add hulled hemp seeds (you can also add these to salads & wraps), and you can quickly toast sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds (pepitas) into being a delicious salad topping by putting them in a pan over medium to low heat and stirring until they start to sizzle, pop, and get a little crunchy. Another tasty way to get these is to get organic crackers that have tons of seeds in them, and to keep a container of hummus at your work. The energy that's packed into whole grains, nuts and seeds is amazing, and it keeps you full for forever.
Try tons of tiny meals & learn about the Glycemic Index
The glycemic index is something you often hear about in relation to diabetes, but it's something that effects everyone every day. The GI charts foods based on how they effect your blood sugar levels, which plays a big role in your daily energy highs and lows. You can learn more about the GI index here, but essentially foods with a lower GI rating take longer to digest and provide you with slow burning, sustained energy. As I understand it, at least :) Biology specifics aside, by making sure to add lower GI foods into my lunches and snacks I've completely stopped the yo-yo energy levels that I used to experience, and it's been such a great turn around!
Another big part of the changes that I've made is eating lots of small meals through the day instead of a few big portions. Digestion takes energy, so by spreading it out I can take it a little easier on my system and avoid getting so hungry that I eat more than I need before my hunger radar catches up with me.
My favourite mid morning snack are these make at home protein energy bars, and in the afternoon I'll have high protein loaded guacamole (I add corn, a can black beans & a fresh tomato) with organic seed crackers. I love that I can still look forward to eating, I'm just eating the “right” stuff for my body now.
Make dedicated (separate) time for planning & prep
Having great home made food most of the week means that I do spend some significant time in the kitchen, and it's become a fact in my house that on Sundays I take over the kitchen. I'll make a giant mess, dirty up lots of dishes (see above), and to make it feel more like fun, casual “me” time I have my laptop or iPad on the counter beside me for a mini marathon of a fun TV show in the background- usually Hell's Kitchen these days, or catching up on Big Brother. What makes this manageable for me is that I don't try to take on planning and food prep on the same days.
Before I go to bed through the week I'll go to my favourite food blogs and open tasty recipes in my browser. At the end of the week I do an informal scan through everything that's accumulated in that sea of tabs, narrow them down based on what I'm feeling like and what ingredients I have on hand and will head out to do the shopping. On Sunday I make enough salad for the week and a few great snacks, and then usually make a couple more little snacks on Wednesday for the end of the week. It takes about two hours on a normal Sunday to make a week of food- which includes my normal dawdling, hopping in on twitter and washing all my dishes by hand. It's quickly become my favourite weekly ritual.
Steal from those sneaky vegans!
I recently had a Twitter conversation about how exploring a vegan cooking blog can be really intimidating if you're not used to seeking those recipes out or cooking that way. If you haven't taken the plunge yet, I completely recommend it for one main reason: vegans are renowned for their sneakiness & you can learn their tricks!
When you're vegan you need to work hard to pack lots of nutrition into every meal, especially healthy fats and omega fatty acids that are really important for your brain and overall health, but that your body can't make on its own. Another benefit you might not have considered? Vegan food in particular is incredibly low fat because dairy's not allowed. By reading their recipes and trying a few that look tasty, you can get all of the low fat, high nutrition benefits that were hidden in plain sight before. You'll love the delicious results.
I hope that these ideas give you something to think about if you've been having trouble keeping your energy up through the day so you can take advantage of the beautiful, long summer nights.
What are the foods and lifestyle choices that been working for you?
I have another simple change to share that made a really big difference for me that I'll share in the comments- click here to read it and share what's working or what's challenging you these days :)