Root Causes of Low Energy and Fatigue

One of the biggest complaints I hear from women is that they’re tired.

Some reach out to me with chronic fatigue, while others come to me because they’ve put on weight and don’t have the energy to workout and feel super unmotivated to do anything. They might also feel tired after meals, rely on coffee to get them going, or feel both wired and tired at night.

Over time, these feelings can be paired with cravings, digestive issues, anxious moods, and period-related symptoms like PMS, and even weight gain.

And if you can relate to any of this, you might also feel like you’re doing all the things right – which makes it even more frustrating. You eat pretty well, you workout if you have the energy, and even when you sleep 8 hours you still feel exhausted the next day.

If you’re currently feeling burnt out and want to figure out why you feel so tired, then keep reading. You can also watch the replay of a live Coaching over Coffee session I did all about this topic here.

Even though we’re told it’s “normal” to feel this way – I can promise you there’s a reason behind why you feel the way you do. With our clients, we figure out what the missing pieces might be through dietary assessments, functional labs, and lifestyle audits that help them get their energy back.

When you build solid energy as the foundation of your health, you don’t need as much willpower and discipline, and you’ll also have more time in the day because things will feel easier. Reaching your goals no longer feels like an uphill battle.

Low Energy is a Symptom

Low energy and fatigue are symptoms and messages from your body that it’s not getting what it needs. Rather than ignoring or pushing through these signals, we need to figure out what’s missing and give our bodies what they require. While you don’t have to be energetic all day long, you should have steady energy and know how to adjust if you feel like it’s not where it should be.

Before diving into the potential imbalances that can cause low energy, let’s address the common mistakes that worsen energy levels.

Common energy-drainers:

  • Fasting and skipping meals – if you’re already struggling with low energy, fasting until noon or working your way through lunch (or just grabbing a bar) is going to make your energy issues worse and add more stress to the body
  • Restricting calories chronically – whether you’re purposely cutting calories to diet/lose weight, or unintentionally not eating enough, this will have an almost direct impact on your energy levels; you can be overweight or want to lose weight and still be undereating (in other words, you don’t have to be thin to be undereating)
  • Going low carb/keto – this might make you feel good at first, but we actually need carbs for thyroid hormones, easy sources of energy, & to ensure blood sugar stability
  • Doing HIIT and cardio everyday – this should vary based on your cycle; walking & weights should be at the foundation of your movement routine
  • Calling a green juice a meal – you need calories, micronutrients, and macronutrients for energy

Fortunately, we can improve our energy when we address why it’s off in the first place and keep things in balance with the right nutrition and lifestyle approach. For many women, riding the blood sugar rollercoaster, chronic stress leading to adrenal/thyroid imbalances, and poor gut health are the culprits behind low energy levels.

Before we get into the 3 underlying root causes of low energy, we need to cover the foundations. You have to check these off even if you’re dealing with one of the root causes, and they are foundational for hormones and gut health.

Energy Needs Foundations

#1. Make sure you’re eating enough

This is the first step to optimizing your nutrition and is often overlooked. Even if there are any of the other underlying factors going on, lack of adequate calories is going to put your body in a state of stress and lead to nutrient deficiencies. If you’re not getting the nutrients, protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, you’re going to feel chronically tired. This is why 1200-1500 calorie diets don’t work for long term health and aren’t sustainable.

Making sure you’re eating enough involves eating adequate calories consistently. If you’re under eating all week long then overeating on the weekends, your body is still not getting the nutrients it needs on a regular basis.

And, if you’re someone who struggles to lose weight, increase calories slowly can actually help you to lose weight easier because your body is no longer in a “fight or flight” protective mode. When it feels stress from lack of calories, it will adjust to slow energy, hold onto fat, and slow down less essential functions like hormone production. This is why chronic dieting, stubborn weight, fatigue, constipation, and period problems go hand in hand.

#2. Prioritize evening routines that support sleep.

If you’re not already, your goal should be to get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you struggle to wind down or fall asleep, you might need to look more carefully at your evening routine and morning routine, both of which help to set your circadian rhythm and support the production of hormones that control your sleep-wake cycle. Some foundations to start with that we encourage our clients to follow is to limit blue lights at night (bright bathroom lights, TVs, computers, phones), avoid stimulating intense exercise, make sure you’re in a cool and dark room, and get sunlight first thing in the morning.

#3. Hydrate WITH minerals

We know that drinking water is important, but plain water alone does not equate to being hydrated. In order to get water into the cells, we need electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. If you’re just drinking a ton of plain filtered water, you can still be dehydrated. A quick win that we use with clients is adding minerals to all of your water, and aiming for roughly 1/2 of your bodyweight in ounces. One of my favorite electrolyte mixes is LMNT (order here and get a free sample pack) or Relyte. You can also just keep it simple and add a pinch of Redmond’s sea salt to your water.

Now, let’s get into the 3 root causes and get to the bottom of why you struggle with your energy levels.

#1. Blood sugar imbalances.

Blood sugar balance is a foundational piece for any solid nutrition approach. If your blood sugar is going up quickly, then dropping back down quickly when it doesn’t have the fiber + fats to balance it out, you’re on the rollercoaster. This means huge slumps in energy paired with cravings for quick/easy carb and sugar sources. Other signs and symptoms include trouble staying asleep, feeling moody and anxious, and not being able to go long periods of time without eating.

Here are some of the signs that you’re riding the blood sugar rollercoaster:

  • Cravings for carbs and sugar
  • Hangry when you go a long time without eating
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Dizzy when standing
  • Crashing during a workout
  • Fatigue and energy slumps
  • Tired after eating a meal
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Waking up between 2 and 4am
  • Hormone issues like PMS, heavy periods, irregular cycles

If you want to learn more about how to support blood sugar, you can watch the replay of our free workshop: Nutrition Strategies for Blood Sugar & Hormones.

#2. Gut issues. 

Gut issues can be both obvious and less obvious. Some common obvious gut symptoms include:

  • Burping, acid reflux, indigestion
  • Bloating and cramping
  • Constipation (you should be going 1-2x a day at least!)
  • Food intolerances
  • Diarrhea

Less obvious issues show up as:

  • Acne and skin issues like rosacea, eczema, and psoriosis
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Hormone imbalances like PMS, heavy periods, or irregular cycles
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Chronic fatigue

These issues cause chronic inflammation in the body, nutrient deficiencies, and stress in the body… all of which lead to low energy.

#3. Adrenal and thyroid dysfunction

A lot of the women who come to us have some level of thyroid and adrenal issues, even if it doesn’t show up with the basic lab work they got from their doctor.

You might have heard of “adrenal fatigue”, but what we are reallly talking about is the way your brain communicates with the adrenals to regulate a healthy stress response. When this is out of balance, you’ll see cortisol (your stress hormone) levels being too high or too low when they shouldn’t be. Ideally, this natural cortisol rhythm increases in the morning and is lowest at night. Cortisol (along with blood sugar hormones like insulin) has a downstream effect on the thyroid.

When cortisol is high at night, you feel wired but tired. When it’s low during the day or especially at 3pm, you’ll feel like you hit a wall. We can confirm levels of cortisol through urine or saliva testing. We don’t recommend looking at it through the blood since it varies in levels throughout the day and we need to see overall what pattern is going on with this hormone.

Chronic stress and cortisol dysregulation, combined with the stress of not eating enough. over exercise, chronically dieting, losing weight quickly, or being on medications like SSRIs or hormonal birth control can all shift the production of thyroid hormones. Once thyroid production slows down, your metabolism slows down. This leads to weight gain, slowed digestion (constipation/bloat/SIBO), low body temps, unable to handle stress well, and then has a downstream impact on sex hormones so that you’ll have worse PMS, low libido, irregular cycles.

If you’ve been told that your thyroid labs are “normal” but still don’t feel well and can check off the signs and symptoms below, you still need to take the right steps to support your thyroid. I did an entire workshop on How to Improve Thyroid Health that you can watch here.

Some of the common signs associated with thyroid and adrenal dysfunction include:

  • low body temperature below 97.0F
  • feeling cold all the time
  • hair loss, dry skin, brittle nails
  • weight gain despite eating healthy
  • bloating and constipation
  • food intolerances
  • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
  • lack of appetite in the morning
  • cravings for carbohydrates, sugar, and salt
  • poor recovery from workouts (always feeling sore and achey)
  • low energy and fatigue

Some basics for supporting your thyroid and adrenals include:

  • Test don’t guess – get a full thyroid panel and saliva or urine cortisol test; we use these labs with our clients and trained to interpret them
  • Eat within an hour of waking – if you have no appetite, try something small until your hunger hormones and metabolism come back to baseline; being hungry is a GOOD sign
  • Eat enough calories – a lot of women are still undereating without realizing it, which is why we have an entire lesson on making sure you’re eating enough inside Well Nourished
  • Get direct sunlight in morning
  • Make sure you’re eating enough carbohydrates from mineral rich sources – these are essential for thryoid conversion

What’s next?

To truly support your energy and fuel your body in a way that supports long term health, you need to follow a framework that will:

  • Teach you to properly fuel your body with nutrient dense foods (not follow another diet)
  • Balance your blood sugar – this will manage/eliminate cravings, keep energy steady (no crashes), and lower stress on the body which helps with everything else
  • Balance your macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) & micronutrients (vitamins, minerals)
  • Know what’s going on with your hormones and how to support them
  • Doesn’t stress you out and is flexible – nutrition can and should be simple if you understand what’s right for your body
  • Know what movement / exercise routine is best for you – more is not always better

This is what we help you do inside Well Nourished. And having the tools, guidance, and resources to simplify it all. Because I promise, it can be really easy and you don’t have to give up the foods you love or deprive yourself.

If you’ve been struggling with fatigue, digestive symptoms, and hormone related symptoms like acne, heavy periods, or irregular cycles, and you’re ready to have a step by step plan that gets to the root cause (without restrictive diets or tons of supplements), then be sure to check out Well Nourished or book a free consult to learn more about our 1:1 coaching options. We would love to work together and support you!

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