Finding Energy When You Feel Like Your Tank is Empty

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By Beth Donovan (~INDYGIRL)

Shhh. I have a secret to tell you. I’m a recovering caffeine addict. I haven’t been your typical caffeine addict either, as in drinking colas, coffees or teas. Those things do have caffeine, but I’ve gone straight for the over-the-counter caffeine pills and have taken anywhere from 200-800 mg a day. That sounds like a huge amount and it IS, but it is also still easily gotten from 4 large coffees. That makes it sound innocent, doesn’t it?

Caffeine helps you feel alert and temporarily reduces the feeling of being tired. It gives you a higher capacity for mental and physical work temporarily, as well. The problem is that soon, a small dose is not enough and you need more to keep going at the same pace. Eventually you would even go through withdrawal without it.

In the meantime, caffeine triggers the production of adrenaline and cortisol--two substances associated with the body’s fight-or-flight response, panic attacks, and stress. Cortisol has been brought into question for causing weight gain, especially in the belly area. Caffeine also raises blood pressure. Other risks with too much caffeine are increased heart palpitations, headaches, restlessness, and insomnia, among others.

So why had I been taking these pills? Well, quite simply, I was exhausted and didn’t know any other way to feel better. I was fairly young when I started, in my teens. At the time I was the fat girl at school and wanted to slim down and have energy without eating as much. Then in my 20s, I was in the 300-pound range and needed energy to keep going at work. I actually fell asleep while working a few times, and my doctor discovered I had an underactive thyroid. In my 30s, I was in the 400-460-pound range and was bedridden from degenerative joint disease in my spine, pinched nerve bundles, herniated discs, bad knees, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. I could barely stay awake and was in pain if I tried to move. I justified that I needed them to give me the strength to move.

SparkPeople has a way of helping me look at my life in bits and pieces, instead of wanting to change it all at once. The latest campaign I’m on in my life is to increase my energy naturally and get rid of caffeine. You know what? It’s been working! I’m taking it slowly and it’s frustrating at times, so for anyone out the struggling with low energy issues or caffeine addiction, these tips are for you. (If you feel you are seriously addicted to caffeine, consult your health-care provider for help with weaning yourself.)

My number one upper is music. Music is very powerful. Have you ever noticed how music can transport you through time back to where you were when that song came out? It can tame the savage beast, make a celebration, relax a baby to sleep, make a movie an even bigger hit with the soundtrack, and even make you feel like dancing when you hear "your song"? Anytime you need a quick pick up, tune into a quick fix on your radio, MP3 player, computer, or whatever you’ve got handy.

I turn on upbeat music when I get up and have some V8 Fusion juice with my breakfast. I think the natural fruit sugars and vitamins help wake me up. Lean protein and fiber help keep me full, so I add natural nut butter and oatmeal or whole wheat bread. Fruit with protein is a great energizer for me.

It seems the more natural I keep my food, the more energy I have. When I buy processed frozen convenience foods like pizza rolls or mini tacos, I feel tired. If I eat a Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice with more vegetables and lean meats in it, I feel better. If I eat something fresh, like a tuna salad I made myself with fresh veggies and 100% whole grain crackers, I feel wonderful.

I make myself exercise at least 5 minutes at a time. I allow myself to quit after 5 minutes, but I have to do another 5 later. That’s on my super tired days. Usually I do more. If I put on music, it will usually keep me exercising until the next song. Make sure you pick out your most addictive music so you HAVE TO hear the next song.

I began taking vitamins. I now take a multi vitamin and a B complex. My doctor also found out I was vitamin B-12 deficient and is giving me shots. She said that vitamin deficiencies could make you very tired. Vitamins may be something to check into with your doctor if you are feeling really tired, especially the B vitamin group. That set of vitamins works with metabolism (converting food to energy), nerves and heart health. (Again, this is something that's unique to my situation; always consult your doctor.)

I'm getting more sleep and not burning the candle at both ends. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, it’s no wonder you’re tired. Set up a bed time routine to get yourself at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. (Find more tips on getting a good night's rest here and here.)

If you're exhausted every day, ask your doctor about sleep apnea, a breathing disruption during sleep that prevents proper oxygen from getting to the sleeper. It can be fatal. My brother-in-law died from it in his 30s. He did not get help. If you stop breathing or have very disruptive snoring, call your doctor and schedule a sleep study. Sleep apnea is notorious for leaving the sleeper exhausted the next day. Weight loss can help! I know because before I started to lose weight, I HAD moderate sleep apnea.

Negativity sucks the energy right out of me, so I do what I can to keep negative people out of your life. I’ve noticed that I can have bounce in my step and feel good until someone yells at me or has a really negative attitude. I have to let it slide off and just get away. In fact, sometimes I just have to tell someone in a “mood” that I need to be alone. Protect yourself. The first thing that happens to me when I get involved with someone in a "mood," is that I want to eat. I don’t particularly care what it is that I eat. I’ve learned that my yearning for food is a longing to get away or be comforted. So I get away, or I comfort myself by providing my body with something healthy. Don’t let negative people suck the energy out of you. It’s okay to opt out of their bad mood.

As of now, I am down to no caffeine pills a day--just some tea. I am have also updated my SparkPeople calorie range to lose weight just a little quicker in order to gain energy faster. I stay within SparkPeople recommended guidelines and am trying to lose 1.5 to 1.8 pounds a week.

If you need more energy, try:

Top 10 Energy Boosting Powerhouses

Energy Boosts at Work

Until next time, I wish you all happy Sparking!

How do you boost your energy? Do you rely on caffeine or drinks like cola, tea, and coffee?

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I'm noticing a benefit in "clean eating" as well as one-ingredient foods. In other words, skipping anything processed and eating real food. An apple, not apple juice (ie. orange, grapes).

It also makes a difference in cravings. And when I eat, I really enjoy the food I'm eating! It just tastes better. : ) Report
really helpful article, especially the bit about sleep. Unless I get at least seven hours of sleep, I can really feel it the rest of the day. Report
I love coffee, but I recently started mixing decaff with my regular coffee to slowly taper off the addiction. Now I'm decaff all the way. I'm still enjoying the taste of coffee without the negative effects. Report
Thank you so much for sharing that. I really enjoyed reading it. ;-} Report
i used to be that way...but I found MOXXOR and it initially kept me up all night - even though it is is a simple Omega and I take 2 in the am and 2 around 4 pm - I GAVE UP SODA COMPLETELY!!!! and lost #30... Report
Thank you for the realization that eating may be due to a need to 'get away' from someone who is negative. That is an important realization for me.

Beth, I love your blogs. You are a true inspiration! Report
Oh, I have been battling since college. This article just helped reinforce that deep down nagging that I have been having for weeks. It makes sense, since my heartbeat has been fast lately for no apparent reason. I just don't want to deal with the withdrawal headaches. But, it needs to be done, for all of the reasons you provided.
So....would you go cold turkey with caffeine or slowly lower the amount you take in? Report
I think this is my cue to begin my caffiene addiction battle. :o) I am FOREVER tired....thanks for sharing. Report
Thank you so much for the tips! I'm going to have to try these. Caffeine and sugar have no affect on me, (at least as regards energy and alertness); my brain is wired differently than most, so I can't get a "buzz" from either source. The alternate wiring, at least in part, is due to narcolepsy. I feel exhausted all of the time, and I'm struggling to get my workouts done. Hopefully, these tips you've posted will help! Thanks, again! Report
I drink one cup of coffee a day. Good job on breaking your habit. I love the taste of coffee and it gives me that boost in the morning that helps my work productivity so I will stick with my one cup a day! Report
Great blog! I drink my coffee but no pills. I grind my own coffee beans and mix the coffee half regular and half decaf. I plan to slowly switch to decaf. I am also hypothyroid so i tire easy, exercise does help. Report
I like my coffee and used to take caffeine pills and know the jittery feeling. I still like my coffee but get energized with great music. Sad to say my spouse has a negative additude. I feel more energy when he is on an errand or out of town than when he is home. We are self-employed farmers. way too much time together and not enough sleep. Report
I have been tired my whole life it seemed. I did the caffeine pills for awhile too, they seemed better then speed to me. Used to drink tons and tons of coffee a day too, with extra shots of caffeine. I was still tired. Quit smoking 7 months ago...and guess what?? Not tired any more!! I have more energy then I ever had. I know the smoking is a huge contributer to this but also the other things you listed, more sleep, eating healthier, exercise all contribute to having more energy. I gave up all forms of caffeine when I began this journey and I don't miss it at all!! Great blog!! Report
I totally agree with your blog. I too feel wiped out after eating certain foods and I have certainly experienced the vicious circle of stress/exhaustion/caffeine/stress. I too have ditched caffeine after lunch in order to get a reasonable amount of sleep. Increased exercise has helped enormously too. Thank you for your common sense approach, I shall check out your other blogs. Report
Wonderful blog! I just read that food allergies can make one tired. Interesting. I think we get tired after eating something because we are allergic to whatever is in it. Double interesting. Report
Great article. I was really tired yesterday and ate junk just to keep myself awake. I will try some of these ideas when I am just plain tired during the day. Lately I have tried exercising in the mornig and that sustains my energy most days. My culprit is sleep. I am going to try setting up a bed time routine to help me out. Report
I drink MY coffee 12-14 ozs. for breakfast. I'm on what may take 1 hour to do takes me 2 hours. My day is planned on housework, laundry, shopping for groceries. I walk out of my way to get a dozen of eggs. But for something heavy like 1/2 gallon of milk, I take my wheelie. I find if I pace my day and have snacks/ mini meals I can go until 6pm. Report
WOW - I really liked this article. I have not eliminated caffeine yet, but am down to 1 cup per day. I feel very tired at this time and so this article was a realy "pick me up"
I am, I guess, a minor caffeine addict. The only time I've touched a caffeine pill was driving across Wyoming at 3 AM. (don't ask! I did lots of stupid road trips like that in college!) But, I would be a seriously unhappy camper if you took my coffee away in the AM. I drink 2-4 (6 oz) cups depending on my mood... I have wondered if I should wean myself off, but I decided... I enjoy coffee. I love the flavor and the aroma. I will even sometimes make decaf, if I don't think my hubby will notice. It's one of my few remaining "vices". I've made peace with it. And enjoy every sip! Does that make me horrible? :) Report
When I was in medical residency, I had to take call every third day. The second year, we switched to a "night call" schedule where one person would work nights Sunday through Thursday, and the others would rotate weekend call. After about 2 weeks of the new routine, it was as if a fog had lifted from my brain. I didn't realize how exhausted I had been from lack of sleep, nor how much it affected my ability to concentrate and think.
The same way getting more of what I needed was the only way I realized WHAT I needed, is the same way eating more vegetables, less meat, and drinking more water has been on my energy level. By making better food choices and starting to move more daily, I now feel so much better.
So it can be hard to people to realize things that are "addicting" can be harmful. They are trying to feel a certain way, when there are better methods to achieve that feeling of being "alive." Report
I agree - even a few minutes of walking, dancing, or some other silly active thing gives me way more energy than caffeine, especially in the afternoon - I was very pleasantly suprised at the difference! Report
Beth, I always love your blogs!
I'm low on energy because of chemo, but I find that the days I can get out and walk a little bit, even if it's just 10 minutes at a time, really help me. And I always take my music with me, I really get into enjoying the music and for a little while, I can forget how tired I am. Report
Wow! Great article! I used to drink a ton of coffee! Now I am down to about a half a pot a day. I never tried caffeine pills or relied on soda and stuff. But if I drink to much coffee I get this "impending sense of doom" which signals caffeine overdose according to my doctor. He told me not to go cold turkey because then I would have the headache from hell. So I am trying to find other ways to boost my energy without caffeine. Report
I have been watching my Cholesterol.. and when I read about food making you tired... yesterday I ate a huge sausage dog for the first time in a over a month and within 30 mins I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed. I could barely do anything. I hope to remember the exhaustion I felt from that meal in the future and use it to remind myself to make better choices. Food really does directly affect you. Report
Great article! I was very dependent on caffeine pills, and also energy drinks to make it through each day. I recently joined SparkPeople this month, and have since divorced coffee a few days later. I, also, have not indulged in my other caffeine fixes since becoming a member. All of the suggestions in this article are outstanding, and well worth a try. Report
One of the best energy boosters for me in the work day lull is to catch up on current events. I visit Yahoo News or CNN and see what's going on in the world, in the economy or just in my neighborhood. You'll not only pass some time, but stimulate the mind which I believe is the key to an energy boost! Report
Loved the article! Back in grad school I was drinking 8-10 cans/bottles of Diet Coke a DAY - and had been doing so for much of my life. I got the panic attacks and racing heart, and realized I needed to give it up. I'm still tired a lot and looking for ways to fix it, and have discovered, like you, that the more fruits, veggies, and fresh foods I eat, the happier and more energetic I feel! Thank you for sharing. Report
Thanks for the info. You are an amazing motivator -- direct, honest, courageous. Report
I am also a recovering caffeine addict. I went cold turkey in June 2009 and I haven't looked back since. It was the hardest thing I've ever done and the best thing I've ever done for myself. I feel like a new person, and I know that my weight loss would never have been possible if I didn't stop the caffeine. I wish there was a former caffeine addicts support group, I'd be the first person to join! Report
A GNC sales rep got me hooked on caffeine pills. I started taking Xenadrine RZR, which give you a massive caffeine kick. Worked well for the first couple of weeks as I had lots of energy and virtually no appetite. Then, I adjusted to the pills and crept up my dose a bit. And then a bit more. And a bit more.

It ended with me winding up in the emergency room with arrhythmia, chest pain, and very funky blood pressure. Now I limit myself to two or three cups of coffee per day, and that's it. No more consuming 3 or more pots of coffee per day worth of caffeine.

Caffeine pills are bad news -- best not to play with them. Report
OMG. I used to take caffeine pills too, in high school, although after a while it was like a gram a day or more. I developed severe heart problems and now I'm extremely sensitive to more than just a little caffeine (like more than the occasional Coca-Cola). It can do very bad things to you but most people don't realize that. I stopped drinking coffee and stopped pills and haven't had anything stronger than the occasional soda for 9 years or so---I even drink decaf tea---and everyone in my office (all caffeine addicts) are amazed at how well I can function without it.

Like you, I find music is the best way to get energized. Good, heart-thumping, enjoyable music and a brisk walk around the block. Healthier and cheaper! Report
I am another former caffeine addict. (My hands used to shake from drinking so much coffee. Scary!!!) This article contains many of the tips that worked for me too, and lots of people--not just the addicts--could probably benefit from the advice.

Another helper: water. Water helps flush out your system and sometimes not drinking enough can lead to fatigue and irritability, which just turns caffeine withdrawal from a bad experience into an absolutely horrid one. Report
Great article, I have been fighting caffine addiction for years!!! Report
This article really impressed me. I once heard that we have all our answers within and you certainly have found those you've needed. Spark helps me to concentrate on the problem at hand--rather than going looking for trouble. That trouble often comes in the form of food. Report
Hear hear!!! I am a former caffeine addict and know of what you speak! Kudos to you for finding (and sharing!) better ways to boost energy. I thank you from the bottom of my (no longer jittery) heart!!!! Report