How Your Diet is Making You Look and Feel Tired

Photo: ACP/Trunk

Turkey makes you tired, sure, but it’s not the only food screwing with your energy levels. If you’re sluggish by 11AM, or jittery from your chocolate craving by 3PM sharp, you’re probably not thinking about the relationship between what you eat and just how tired you feel—and that would be a mistake.

Heather Bauer, RD CDN and founder of Bestowed, an online site for nutritious treats, says that pretty much any refined and/or processed foods—think white bread, bagels, muffins, scones, candy, sweets, pretzels, chips, and ice cream—will wipe you out. “There’s no nutrition in these foods…your blood sugar shoots up quickly, creating a short burst of energy, but then it plummets just as quickly and you feel lethargic,” she says. “That’s why these foods become addictive.” Skip the bagel in favor of two hard-boiled eggs with a slice of whole grain or high fiber bread for breakfast, and snack on high-fiber fruits like apples.

They’re not just making you feel tired, candy, sugar, and bread are also high in sodium which makes you look tired, puffy, and bloated.

There’s a reason you reach for things like ice cream and heavy carbs at night—they’re comforting. But stay away: “They feel calming in the moment, but they’re hard to digest when you’re sleeping,” says Bauer. And you won’t like what comes next: stay away from booze. It’s not just full of its own sugar and sodium, “Alcohol lowers your resistance so you’re more likely to reach for bread and dessert, picking higher fat and higher salt items that are difficult to digest.” Other foods to avoid at night are high fat foods like steak, tomatoes and tomato sauce which can trigger acid reflux, and aged cheese like parmesan and Romano.

Generally, Bauer says to avoid eating at least two hours before bed. If you must snack, the grains in oatmeal can trigger insulin levels in a similar but healthier way to bread and sugar. Almonds and cherries are calming, or add one tablespoon of honey to your already sleep-inducing chamomile tea at night to shut down orexin, a chemical in your brain that triggers alertness. “Bananas actually can help you sleep soundly because of the magnesium and potassium, plus the B6 in it converts tryptophan to serotonin increasing relaxation,” says Bauer. Speaking of tryptophan, Bauer really does suggest that late-night snackers munch on (not processed) turkey before bed. “It’s the least desirable food at night, so it gets you out of that bad food habit, and eating it will calm your body down.”

You’ve heard this one before, but the best thing you can do for your body is drink tons of water. Bauer suggests drinking 32 ounces of flat water by lunch time; add a lemon or lime for flavor if that helps. Antioxidant-full foods (brightly colored berries) and those with plenty of healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, salmon) will make your skin look more radiant and thus more awake. Of course you can eat salmon day and night and drink all the water you can, but you still need to get eight hours of sleep after eating that slice of turkey.