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Food as Fuel: Eating for Sustained Energy at Work

Two years ago, I was shocked to discover my total cholesterol was over the limit recommended by my health insurance wellness plan. I ate a healthy diet, exercised regularly, had a healthy BMI, and had never smoked. I knew cholesterol was largely dictated by genetics—was this what had caused mine to go up over the years? To tackle this problem, I met with Valerie Costanza, Registered Dietitian and founder of Simply Nutrition with Valerie.

To start, Valerie had me keep a food and symptom log for five days and then report back to her. When we met again, I was pleased when she agreed that I had a healthy diet. Valerie told me most high cholesterol comes from eating too much processed food and sugar, which I avoid. However, I was not so pleased when she told me that she thought I was not tolerating dairy or gluten, and that these were causing inflammation that was raising my cholesterol and reducing the effectiveness of my digestion.

Valerie instructed me to avoid dairy and gluten and continue logging my food and symptoms for the next three weeks. I was not excited about this new eating plan, but my mood was slightly buoyed only when Valerie added that I wasn’t eating enough fat and that I should eat more bacon.

Three weeks later, all doubts had vanished: I was a changed person, no longer waking repeatedly at night or feeling uncomfortably bloated by the end of the day. I realized I had more energy than I had felt in months. Better yet, a blood test a few months later showed a significant decrease in both my total and bad cholesterols. From there, it was an easy decision to cut back on dairy and gluten for the long term.

In my last two blog posts, I wrote about employee sustainability. For me, a big part of that is eating well for sustained energy throughout the day, and I’m so appreciative of Valerie for helping me learn more about nutrition and how my diet was impacting my body and energy levels. I asked Valerie to write a guest blog post with some basic guidelines for how to fuel your work day, and I hope it helps all of you as well.

To hear more from Valerie, check out Simply Nutrition with Valerie on the web, on Facebook, and Instagram.


The All-Too Familiar Afternoon Slump

It’s about 3 pm on a workday. Your eyelids are getting heavy. The computer screen is starting to blur, and you find yourself shaking your head quite often to stay awake. You need something for a quick pick-me-up, so you get up from your desk and head for the vending machines.

Your options include a long list of chips, candy bars, and sodas. You opt for high amounts of sugar and caffeine to give you the most boost but about an hour after the Mountain Dew and Snickers bar are devoured, you feel even more tired than you did before. Now, not only are you tired and sluggish, you can’t think anymore. Brain fog has set in heavily. You manage to finish off the workday, but with little accomplished in the latter part of the afternoon.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe it seems a bit exaggerated or perhaps you’re thinking, “Yes! That is 100% me!” Wherever you fall on the spectrum, most of us can at least partially identify with this scenario.

Eating for Sustained Energy

My work as a dietitian has led me to be passionate about improving my clients’ happiness in life. Feeling run down, tired, and unable to think clearly never contribute to feelings of happiness. When working with others, my goal is to help them eat sufficiently so they can experience sustained energy throughout the day. When you eat properly, work productivity improves, mistakes decrease, and happiness goes way up.

Here are some basic tips on how to approach eating for sustained energy throughout the day:

It All Starts with Breakfast

They don’t call breakfast the most important meal of the day for nothing. Food is used for fuel and just like our vehicles, if we don’t put in good fuel, then our bodies won’t run well. A sugary, processed junk food breakfast is like putting water in your gas tank. It’s not fair of us to expect the best from our bodies if we aren’t feeding it accordingly.

The best breakfasts include real food without adding sugar or processed junk food—sorry, but honey buns and cereal don’t count as a quality breakfast! Breakfast should include a source of protein and fat (eggs, meat, nuts, dairy) and a source of carbohydrate (vegetables, fruit, milk and yogurt, and grains like oatmeal, grits, and whole grain toast).

Eat Balanced Meals at Regular Intervals

If you’re eating the right amount, you probably need to eat every 3-4 hours. How do you know if you are eating the proper amount? Listen to your body. The most important cue to pay attention to is the hunger and satiety cue. When you are hungry, this is a sign from your body that it needs energy and it is time to eat. When your body is satisfied, it is time to stop eating. This may be hard to tune into at first, but it gets easier as you allow yourself to trust your body more.

Taper Meal Size Throughout the Day

It’s been said to eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch, and a pauper at supper. Since food is used for fuel in the body, then lunch would naturally be a larger meal than supper because you have more of the day left ahead of you. Again, lunch should follow some rules to create balance and sustained energy levels. Your plate should include a protein, fat, and carbohydrate.

I suggest everyone fill half of their plates at lunch and supper with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with a protein source, and the last quarter with a starch. The larger amount of non-starchy vegetables will provide the body with the vitamins needed to help utilize the energy in food and prevent a mid-afternoon crash.

Eating like a pauper for supper means this meal will be a little smaller than your lunch but will still follow the same ratio of veggies, protein, and starch.

Eat Real Food

You may have noticed I recommend “real food” often. This means eating plants in a form as close to the way they grow in the ground as possible and eating animals that have had very little processing.

Real foods contain the nutrients your body needs in a readily available way. This isn’t true for processed foods and products containing added chemicals, preservatives, flavorings, and colors.

Don’t be Afraid to Snack

The mid-afternoon slump is common, and many of us need a snack around 3 pm. Snacks again should include real food— excellent choices are fruit, veggies with hummus or salsa, and nuts. Don’t forget to drink lots of water now and throughout your day.

Keep it Simple

I teach my clients to read all ingredient lists and avoid anything with ingredients that they can’t pronounce or identify. I also recommend avoiding processed food that has an extremely long ingredient list. Most real food has an ingredient list with very few ingredients—or no ingredient list at all.

I know it can be very intimidating to change all your eating habits at once. My suggestion to you is to pick one or two big items you can tackle, improve those for several weeks to create a habit, and then move on to the next thing on the list.

I hope these tips have given you a good overview on how to fuel your day. I’d love to talk with you more if you have questions or want nutritional advice. Call me at 318-254-3468 to schedule an appointment.

-Valerie Costanza

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