Women are always telling me they’re too exhausted to cook healthy meals for themselves, especially when they’re feeling stressed. Being exhausted, fatigued, tired or lethargic is one of the biggest complaints I hear from my perimenopausal clients. Even those with chronic pain tell me that feeling tired or exhausted impacts their day more than the pain does!
So if that’s you feeling too exhausted to cook, this blog is a must read, because I’ll be talking about:
- how your body makes energy,
- what macro and micro nutrients to focus on to boost energy,
- some things to do to help support your body to make energy, and
- 10 easy meal ideas as well.
it might be common, but that doesn’t make it normal
Like I keep saying, just because something is common, that doesn’t make it normal. Same deal for fatigue. Yeah, it’s really common, but there’s lots to be done with food, nutrients and herbal medicine to help you change that – even during perimenopause (or postmenopause, because that’s sometimes when it hits most).
factors of fatigue
We all feel tired sometimes, but many Mums, especially during or after perimenopause, feel tired – or exhausted – all the time. Exhaustion, that persistent tiredness or lack of energy, isn’t simply solved by going to bed earlier. It’s constantly feeling tired, depleted and/or weak, either physically or mentally.
This definitely isn’t normla, or something you need to put up with just because you’re a Mum, or perimenopausal, or whatever other reason people come up with!
There’s lots of factors to feeling tired. Importantly, it isn’t a medical disorder or disease. Feeling tired is a symptom of other conditions, disorders, diseases, nutrient deficiencies, diet and lifestyle.
how does your body make energy?
Mighty mitochondria are the microscopic energy factories that each and every single cell of your body has within it. And not just one, but there are hundreds to thousands of these energy factories in EACH cell. Nerve cells have the most mitochondria.
Your mitochondria make your body weight in energy molecules each and every day, from the nutrients and compounds in the food you eat, breakdown and absorb.
Isn’t that amazing?
FUN FACTS: Mitochondria are bacteria that have become part of our cells & DNA.
Your mitochondria DNA (coding) comes only from your Mum. (Usually you get a copy of your DNA from Mum & Dad).
Mitochondria are really sensitive little organelles. The list of what damages them is long and distinguished. Do you know what they are? (Hint, it’s some of the things in the infographic above!).
They can be damaged by chronic stress, what you eat (and don’t eat!), exercise, the environment, toxins, genetics and aging. When this happens, energy production is insufficient to meet demand. research is showing us that many health conditions are impacted by impaired mitochondrial function.
Luckily there are things you can do to reverse the damage, support healthy mitochondria function and improve your energy levels. But first, lets understand what chronic stress does to your energy levels.
Chronic Stress is a Modern Energy Thief
When stress is chronic, intense or exceeds your capacity to deal with it:
- it effects your enjoyment of life,
- depletes nutrient stores and energy levels,
- becomes harmful to and damages the cells of your body, and
- increases your risk of chronic diseases (eg hypertension, allergies, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and menstrual/hormonal irregularities).
Your hormones may become imbalanced, there’s long-term inflammation which can damage your cells, especially the mitochondria within them, and your newrvous system stays in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Being in fight or flight mode long term has it’s own impact on the body and your hormones, and it increases anxiety, irritability, overwhelm too.
When there’s increased inflammation and oxidation, mitochondria suffer and so do your energy levels.
Building your body’s resilience
Your ability to respond to and withstand stress depends on the strength or capacity of your body. This is especially true in perimenopause. Your experience of the transition and the amount of bother from symptoms is very much related to your stress levels and your body’s capacity to cope with them and the hormonal changes.
You can build your body’s resilience to stress, and mitochondria do grow and multiply to meet increased energy demand in the right conditions. This will help improve your perimenopause experience.
I encourage and support my clients to:
- Reduce exposure to stressors,
- Find techniques to deal with stress in the moment,
- Nourish the body with food, herbs and nutrients.
I’m often saddened and enraged by what women think they have to put with as part of being a woman, especially a perimenopausal woman. What’s the earliest age you remember being told that things like PMS or period pain (even when as extreme as endo pain, gah!) is normal? No doubt it was when you were a teen.
Nutrients the body needs for energy production
So let’s talk specifics. When you’re eating, what are you focusing on to boost energy levels?
Co-enzymeQ10 is the main energy nutrient because it’s like a spark plug is in your car. It helps get the energy process going. CoQ10 also helps protect the sensitive mitochondria from oxidation and damage.
As you age, you make less CoQ10, and if you take statins, wll you’re making even less, because the cholesterol lowering medication blocks an enzyme that also helps create CoQ10. There’s a topic for a whole other blog – why cholesterol increases in perimenopause and menopause. Remind me to get on to this if you don’t see it soon!
Rich sources of dietary CoQ10 include meat, poultry, and fish.
Other good sources include
- Olive oil,
- Sesame seeds,
- Spinach, and
- Other fruits, vegetables, eggs and dairy products are moderate sources of CoQ10.
A plant-based, whole foods diet, with lots of colourful vegetables, fats and some protein-rich animal products will have you sorted. You can read more about what I recommend in this blog. If you take a statin medication, you should supplement too.
What else do you need?
Fats, lots of healthy fats!
- Avocado, avocado oil,
- Extra virgin olive oil,
- Coconut oi,
- Macadamias, macadamia oil,
- Butter, ghee,
- Chia, sunflower, and flax seeds,
- Fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, salmon.
A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on your veges adds flavour and helps boost your energy. Two organic, free range eggs for breakfast is a great boost for your CoQ10 and fats. Or snack on a home made nut and seed mix. One serve is the size of your 3 middle fingers.
You also need the B-vitamins, and protein – especially carnitine – to help the energy production process.
The microbes that evolved to become your mitochondria need full sprectrum SUN light to function. Not artificial light, but the real deal. So get outside and have a walk, because exercise is also the only way that you make more mitochondria!
10 Easy Meals for when you’re too exhausted to cook
Simple, slow-cooked, or well-cooked meats and vegetables help make it easier for your body to digest, especially when you’re stressed or feeling exhausted or sick. There’s not as much work for your body to do to get all the goodness out of the food. Cold or mostly raw foods are not ideal when your digestion is weaker, like it is during stress. I have a blog all about how stress impacts your digestion. And another one about how to improve your digestion when feeling stressed.
1. Slow cooker stew
I love a slow cooker meal. Chuck everything in, add some herbs and spices and hope for the best. Ha ha. Sometimes it really feels like this, but I’ve not ever had a fail, to be honest.
You can use my easy beef stew recipe as a guide. I’ve given a few flavour suggestions, and you can sub lamb, chicken, chickpeas or lentils for the beef.
There’s heaps and heaps of slow cooker recipes around. If you’re searching the internet, crockpots are the same as a slow cooker. Try to pick recipes that don’t use store bought sauces, marinades or tinned soups, because these are going to increase the sugar, salt and artificial crap going in to your meal.
I do love the Skinnymixers recipes by Nikalene Riddle. They are for thermo cookers, but her newer books and the Healthy Mix series have slow cooker instructions included too. If you’re too exhausted to cook, then a Thermo cooker + Skinnymixers recipes will have you eating beautiful nourishing meals in no time.
There’s nothing better than coming in the door after a long day, when you’re feeling exhausted, and smelling a cooked dinner. Best. Ever.
2. Whole Chicken & Vegetable Soup
Another fave that makes HEAPS, is easy to digest, and family friendly, is my whole chicken and vegetable soup. Again, it makes a lot, but you can still double it and freeze in lunch or dinner sized portions too.
3. Meat + 3 Veg
there’s nothing wrong with basic food. A piece of meat or fish (use your palm as a guide to portion size) and some colourful vegetables is just fine. Steam the veges for ease, and drizzle with a good quality, extra virgin olive oil (or some organic butter) and a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Aldi does a great quality, affordable extra virgin olive oil. And both Aldi and Woolworths do well-priced organic salted/unsalted butters.
Scrambled eggs or omelettes give you the opportunity to add veges to the meal, like my kid-approved pickled beetroot, baby spinach, spring onions, parsley, sprouts, or rocket.
Another favourite for upside down day is soft boiled eggs. I don’t know if there’s anything as satisfying as making perfectly soft-boiled eggs.
5.Upside down day
A dear friend shared what they call breakfast for dinner day. We love upside down day and often have things like porridge for dinner on busy nights when we may all be eating at slightly different times.
6. Fake-away (AKA leftovers)
My motto is cook once, eat more than once. And my suggestion to help you do that is to buy a giant slow cooker, mine is 7L. Make a double batch of something you like, and put half in the freezer for a fake away night some other time. Use your thermo cooker or food processor to chop the leeks/onions and other vegetables to make it quicker to cook large batches at once.
I’ve got blogs about meal planning and bulk batch cooking. When you’re too exhausted to cook, these things are your friend. Investing a small amount of time in them saves you hours through the week. Trust me, once you get in the hang of it, you’ll love it.
We have a planned leftovers night at least once per week, or a freezer meal ‘fake-away’.
7. Curry in a hurry
Another option to help make things snappy when you’re too exhausted to cook is to have a bunch of curry pastes or marinades in the freezer in meal-sized portions. Store them in small containers or flat in zip lock bags for quick and easy defrosting. You can then chuck the paste in to a pot with your liquid, protein and vegetables and voila – dinner is almost served.
If you don’t have the energy to make curry pastes or marinades, then a good quality curry powder is your friend and can make an equally tasty meal. We have a lovely organic powder in the pantry at the moment – Simply Organice brand – it’s available from many organic/health food shops or online.
8. Jacket potatoes
Cue the comforting carbs for 100% soul nourishment, when you’re too exhausted to cook. These take time, but not much effort from you!
You can do jacket potatoes in the slow cooker, they turn out really nicely. Or wash them, prck a few times and whack them in the oven on low. I avoid aluminium foil by putting the potatoes in a baking dish with high sides with a bit of water in the bottom, and cover with a lid. This steams them and they go really creamy on the inside. You can take the cover off for the last 30 minutes so the skin crisps up a bit.
Top with some of my kale pesto, and a sprinkle of free range (nitrate free if you can get it) bacon, for soothing deliciousness. Don’t forget some other veges on the side, like pickled beetroot, mixed greens or sauteed spinach.
9. Faster pasta
When you’re really, really, too exhausted to cook, grab a jar of tomato passata, and chop an onion/leek, carrot, zucchini, parsley, baby spinach. Chuck them all in the pot with some dried oregano, basil, pepper and salt and simmer until veges are soft. Stir through a medium-sized tin of sustainably caught tuna or salmon (drained) 5 minutes before serving. (Aldi have wild-caught tinned salmon that’s perfect for this.)
While this is cooking, boil water in a pot and cook some pasta to go with it. I like the buckwheat spirals that Woolworths has available in the health food section, or the range of legume pastas are nourishing and tasty too.
10. Tinned treasures
If all else fails, here’s my Mum’s recipe for jazzing up tinned sardines. (Recipe is for one person.)
- Choose wild caught sardines in spring water (eg Aldi or Brunswick brands)
- Drain the water off, and tip sardines in to a bowl
- Add 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp organic apple cider vinegar to the bowl
- Mash the sardines.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more oil or vinegar as desired.
That’s it! So quick and easy. Eat them on toast (like the delicious GF Precinct Buckwheat & Chia; or Naturis Buckwheat bread) or seedy crackers, with a cup of ‘Best of the Bone’ bone broth for a warming, simple, but still nourishing meal.
If you’re still hungry, then follow up with some organic, plain/natural/greek yoghurt with a sprinkle of my seedy porridge blend and some berries.
What do you think?
Could you manage one or some of these, the next time you’re feeling too exhausted to cook? Or do you have some other recipes, tips or tricks that you rely on when you’re exhausted?
And while we’re talking about it, if you’re sick of feeling exhausted and you’ve been told everything’s ‘normal’, but you know something isn’t right, then please reach out via email or phone, and let’s get you feeling more like you used to. Book your free 15-minute discovery call andlet’s get you on your way.
It is possible to be a Mum and go through perimenopause feeling calm, happy and energetic.