Why Do I Feel So Tired?

(Editor's Note: While this article and the book it is excerpted from are written for women, the advice it contains pertains to both genders. Men, as well as women, will greatly benefit from reading this article.)

Diseases and ConditionsChances are, this question has crossed your mind more than once today. You felt the wave of fatigue come crashing over your body, and the question hit you like a ton of bricks. But having neither the energy to figure out why nor the time to let yourself be tired, you grabbed another cup of coffee and forced yourself to move on to number 14 of 32 on today's to-do list.

If you could take the time to ponder this question, what would be your answer?

  1. "I must not be organized enough." Organized? With the amount you have to accomplish each day, even Martha Stewart couldn't keep her day planner organized by the minute, her desk clear of clutter, and her sock drawer lined up by color.

  2. "Maybe I'm premenstrual." While it's true that your fatigue level increases during PMS, you can't possibly be premenstrual all month long. You're actually in the middle of your cycle and should be at the peak of your energy, not the pit.

  3. "I'm menopausal, so I'm supposed to be tired." True again, but are you supposed to be this exhausted? Hot flashes can drain your energy, but you feel like you've been run over by a train.

  4. "Maybe I have chronic fatigue syndrome." Less than 1 percent of our fatigued population can be clinically diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (or as it's called now, chronic fatigue immunodeficiency syndrome). For the rest of us, fatigue is not an illness. It's a chronic feeling of exhaustion caused by doing too much and resting too little.

  5. "I must be fighting something." Occasionally an intruder virus may be zapping your energy, but if it's not flu season, most likely the only thing you're fighting is your fatigue.

Overworked, Overstressed, Overextended, Overwhelmed!

Daily, relentless fatigue is not due to viral invasion, an illness, organizational impairment, PMS, or menopause (although these can certainly intensify it). It's due to the reality that you're overworked, overstressed, overextended, and overwhelmed -- and underrested, undernourished, underjoyed, and under a dark cloud. You feel tired all the time because you are tired all the time. And you're not alone.

The undisputed medical fact is: We're in a female energy crisis. At any given time of day or night, 80 percent of all women report fatigue. We drag ourselves out of bed, unrefreshed and anxious about the day, then rush through our day as we fall farther and farther behind schedule, and finally collapse in bed worn out and worried about tomorrow. Every woman I know personally and professionally makes some reference to how stressed, spent, worn-out, unhappy, or disconnected she feels. And those who don't come right out with a verbal declaration of their exhausted state of existence give more subtle signs. I can hear it in their labored speech or see it in their strained faces -- the same dark circles and furrowed brow that are sometimes familiar from my own reflection.

The Mirror Doesn't Lie: Fatigue Can't Hide

Since "the mirror doesn't lie" is a widely accepted adage, let's use it. Go into the bathroom or take out your compact to view your face of fatigue. Do you look enthusiastically alive or dead tired? Even the best makeup job can't cover up fatigue. As you walked to the bathroom, did your steps come with ease or excruciating effort? When you're worn out, even a short journey can feel like a monumental feat.

It's impossible to look, feel, or act vital when you are exhausted from stressful days, endless schedules, and/or sleepless nights. In the most basic sense, energy is life. It gives us the passion and enthusiasm to actively live. Without it, we passively go through the monotonous motions of life without truly living. It's no wonder that only 24 percent of us say that we have a good life, that more than 50 percent say that we feel sad more often than we feel happy, and that one in four women will experience major depression in their lifetimes. We feel depleted and defeated by our exhausting lives.

I have been helping women for almost twenty years by writing books, giving seminars, and providing counseling, and what saddens me most is that the majority of women I come across have resigned themselves to a life that lacks happiness, a heart that lacks passion, a soul that lacks spirit, eyes that lack sparkle, and a body that lacks nourishment. "That's just the way it is," they tell me. "I don't have the time, energy, or desire to be anything but exhausted. Maybe when the kids are out of the house, maybe when I'm twenty pounds thinner, maybe when my ship comes in, maybe when I win the lottery, maybe in my next life -- things will be different and I'll have the time and energy to take care of myself."

Well, maybe your kids will live with you longer than you'd like, perhaps your body was meant to be a bit larger than that of an emaciated model, maybe your ship has sunk at sea, maybe you'll be one of the 999,999,999 who don't win the jackpot, perhaps this life is it. What then? Another ten or twenty or thirty years will go by and instead of wondering where your energy has gone, you'll wonder where your life has gone.

Solving Your Personal Fatigue Crisis

Needless to say, fatigue can be a real downer -- in more ways than one. And despite the dismal topic, I want to give you some light heartedness to lift your spirits and a positive approach to a negative subject. Every cloud has a silver lining -- even the dark cloud of fatigue -- and my goal is to help you find that silver lining, solve your personal fatigue crisis, and enjoy the journey to enhanced energy, balance, and peace. In other words, I want to help you give yourself the gift of living.

If you are like many of my female friends, clients, and colleagues, you may be excited about the prospect of enhancing your energy and restoring your vitality. "Quick! Tell me now! What pills should I be taking? I've heard about ginseng, should I try it? How about B12 injections? Which energy bar is the best? Tell me what to do!"

My female circle knows me better than to ask about quick-fix megadoses, potions, drinks, injections, or bars. But you may not, so let me introduce you to the philosophies that guide everything I do.

  1. A woman's body is a miracle of engineering -- from our premenstrual tension to our menopausal memory loss, from our food cravings to our mood swings, and from our expanding fat cells to our extreme fatigue -- explanations exist for everything our bodies experience.

  2. Listen to and trust the wisdom of your female body -- it's the expert in directing you down the path of health, vitality, and longevity.

  3. You are responsible for your own health and well-being -- not me, a book, a pill, your partner, your homeopath, your doctor, or your therapist. You have to take charge to recharge your energy.

  4. There are no quick fixes or magical cures -- if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Historically, women's concerns have always been a magnet for the purveyors of unproven remedies and miracle cures -- whether it be for PMS, menopause, aging, or weight loss. Just look to the diet industry as an example. For the past forty years, we have been presented with diet after diet, gimmick after gimmick, pill after pill, each leading us to believe that it is the magical solution to weight loss.

Let's learn from the past. We have forty years of gimmicks, but we also have forty years of weight-loss research to prove that quick weight-loss diets don't keep their promises -- but they certainly do keep piling the pounds on quickly. Since we started dieting in the 1960s, the average woman has added twenty-five pounds to the scale. We haven't lost any weight by dieting, but we have lost a lot of energy. Instead we've gained weight and increased our level of fatigue. Could there be a correlation here? As our dieting efforts and weights have climbed, our energy levels and vitality have plummeted. Maybe this is why they are called "crash diets."

Energy Enhancers or Energy Downers?

It should come as no surprise that fatigue has recently tied with weight as a woman's primary concern -- and the market is already flooded with products that claim to "banish fatigue" or "boost energy." Manufacturers are quick to respond to women's concerns, and their claims are convincing. What woman wouldn't be tempted by the promise of youthful energy, sustained stamina, everlasting vitality -- and sometimes permanent weight loss at the same time? But promise is not proof. Some of the so-called energy enhancers may give you a temporary surge like a cup of coffee or a candy bar would. But also like caffeine and sugar, your body will probably be more fatigued afterward. These "energy enhancers" may work in a pinch, but they are external solutions to internal imbalances. They mask your fatigue for a while, fooling you into thinking you have more energy. But the fatigue is still there, just waiting for the adrenaline rush to be over.

If women aren't going from health food store to health food store searching for energy enhancers, then they are going from doctor to doctor looking for a medical cause of their fatigue. Although it's true that fatigue is a symptom of almost every illness and that prolonged exhaustion can sometimes be an indicator of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, sleep apnea, low thyroid functioning, low blood sugar, iron deficiency, depression, mononucleosis, allergies, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue immunodeficiency syndrome, the vast majority of the time fatigue is simply fatigue -- a warning sign from your body that something is amiss and out of balance. More energy is being expended than is being replenished -- and you'd better refuel quickly. And as you will discover, a woman's fatigue warning system is more advanced and more persistent than a man's. Our brain chemicals, hormones, and blood supply are all involved in making sure that we "feel" our fatigue, acknowledge it, and do something about it.

Why Am I Tired?

When you feel tired, accept the fact that you are tired. Your body is communicating with you -- trying to get your attention about the fuel gauge approaching empty -- and telling you that energy in is not equaling energy out. It's informing you that you have one of two choices:

  1. Either expend less energy by doing less -- taking a break, rescheduling an appointment, taking a nap, meditating for a while, saying no to unsatisfying obligations, canceling a date with a draining friend, or letting the laundry sit in the basket until tomorrow.

  2. Or replenish more by eating a nutritious meal, having a snack, drinking a glass of water, taking a brisk walk, getting a good night's sleep, inhaling a few deep breaths, basking in some sunshine, or inviting some intimacy, fun, laughter, and play into your life.

Actually you do have a third (and most effective) choice: Do less and energize more. But I don't want to overwhelm you with too much before you even get into this book. We'll take it one small, non-fatiguing step at a time. Many women argue that they absolutely, positively, hands-down cannot under any circumstances do less. They have homes, businesses, churches, organizations, infants, toddlers, teenagers, partners, employees, employers, parents, in-laws, siblings, friends, and pets who are depending on them. Will the house clean itself? Who's going to do the grocery shopping? Pay the bills? Submit the report? Complete the project? Chair the committee? Give the kids a bath? Supervise homework? Cook dinner? Invest their parents' retirement funds? Help that friend in need? Take the dog to the vet?

Whether we're indispensable or codependent is a matter of debate. And we'll discuss that later. But for now, if you feel you cannot shed some things from your hectic life, you can still understand, acknowledge, and address your fatigue. You can still replenish the massive amounts of energy you're expending each day -- simply and naturally -- by tapping into your 8 sources of natural energy.

1. Food: Sink Your Teeth into Caloric Energy. To give 100 percent, you have to get 100 percent -- all the calories, carbos, protein, fat (yes, some fat is energizing!), vitamins and minerals, meals, and snacks you need to replenish your body.

2. Water: Take a Sip of Hydraulic Energy. Cool, refreshing, thirst-quenching water fights fatigue. When your body is water deprived, you're energy deprived. But when your body is properly hydrated, your energy is quickly restored.

3. Fitness: Power Your Body with Physical Energy. A strong, fit, muscular body has the power to run faster than a speeding bullet, leap across tall buildings, lift a powerful locomotive ... well, maybe not quite ... but it does have the stamina to react, think, problem-solve, carry the groceries, vacuum the house, and make it to your appointment on time -- often with energy to spare.

4. The Great Outdoors: Surround Yourself with Natural Energy. Go ahead, fool with Mother Nature. Take advantage of her fresh air, sunshine, flowers, plants, rivers, lakes, mountains, and beaches. Then make your home and work environment pleasing to your soul and energizing to your spirit by bringing nature to you.

5. Sleep: Recharge Your Battery with Restorative Energy. Nothing restores the body and mind more than a good night's sleep, and a nap can be rejuvenating if it's short and satisfying.

6. Intimacy: Tap into Your Sensual Energy. Loving and being loved can fuel your soul. A close friendship, a loyal pet, a touch, a hug, a kiss, and, of course, passionate sex can all lift your spirits. But being loving and kind to yourself may be the most powerful energizer of all.

7. Joy: Tickle Your Soul with Comic Energy. A one-minute laugh rejuvenates you more than a twenty-minute walk. A smile (even a forced one) can lift your mood. Being silly, playing jokes, and having fun is not just for kids -- it's for your soul.

8. Balanced Stress: Calm Your Chaotic Energy. You can't live without stress, and sometimes it's a source of positive energy: anticipating a new challenge, getting excited about a new experience, or looking forward to a change in routine. But the negative stressors often zap our excitement: an overwhelming to-do list, endless obligations, and constant worry. Achieving balanced stress is the life-affirming goal.

Stop, Look, Listen, and Replenish

When was the last time you focused on replenishing your energy with these 8 natural sources? When was the last time you enjoyed the taste of fat without guilt? Stopped everything and ate immediately when your body sent hunger signals? Sipped ice water on a leisurely afternoon? Walked on the beach to breathe in the fresh sea air? Drove to the mountains to behold the beauty of Mother Nature? Slept in an extra hour? Asked for a hug? Gave a hug? Made love in the afternoon? Laughed until you cried? Spontaneously called a friend for a drink? Done nothing without the guilt that you should be doing something?

If it's been longer than twenty-four hours, I strongly suggest that you stop everything right now and do one of the above to replenish your body. Instead of trying to override your fatigue by drinking coffee, taking supplements, ignoring it, working through it -- outsmart it by recognizing what it is, what your body is trying to tell you, and what you need to do (or not do) to energize your body, mind, and soul.

Food, water, fitness, nature, sleep, intimacy, joy, and balanced stress -- this is where real energy comes from; these are the areas in your life that will give you the vitality and enthusiasm you are searching for, not just for the next hour but for the next million hours. And you don't have to search any farther than your kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, family room, and backyard. They are within arm's reach, just waiting for your grasp.


Outsmarting Female Fatigue by Debra Waterhouse, M.P.H., R.D.. This article is excerpted from the book:

Outsmarting Female Fatigue
by Debra Waterhouse, M.P.H., R.D..

©2001. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Hyperion, New York. http://www.hyperionbooks.com

Info/Order this paperback book or hardcover.

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Diseases and ConditionsAbout the Author

Debra Waterhouse is an internationally recognized nutritionist and best selling author of Outsmarting the Female Fat Cell, Why Women Need Chocolate, Outsmarting the Midlife Fat Cell, as well as other books. As an expert in women's health and a leader in the anti-dieting movement, she has been featured on numerous radio and television programs. Through her private practice, seminars, and workshops, she has inspired hundreds of thousands of women break free from the trap of dieting and body dissatisfaction and start feeding and respecting their bodies they were born with. Visit her website at http://www.waterhousepublications.com.

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