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Vegan Nutrition with Dina Aronson, M.S. R.D.Dina Aronson, MS, RD is a vegan dietitian whose specialties include chronic disease prevention, vegetarian/vegan nutrition, and lifestyle management. She is the founder and director of VeganRD.com, a nutrition consulting company. Active in many vegetarian nutrition organizations, Dina was the recipient of the American Dietetic Association's Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award in 2002.
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I am a vegan of about 8 years. Even before becoming a vegan I had chronic fatigue. Now matter how much or how little I sleep, I am still tired. I can eat fresh fruits and vegetables, yet I am still tired. I can drink a protein shake and take a multivitamin, and I am still tired. Before my first pregnancy, during my first pregnancy, and after my first pregnancy, I was tired to the same degree. I have had a physical, my thyroid checked, my iron levels checked; all this is fine. Why would I be so tired? And why doesn't my degree of tiredness vary? –Theresa
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For many people with fatigue, diet is not the problem. You indicated that even before you became a vegan you were chronically tired. Perhaps you turned to veganism to try to treat your fatigue. For some this does wonders, but for others the fatigue lingers.
I noticed that out of all the things you tried to do to pinpoint the cause of your tiredness, you did not mention the most obvious: Getting enough rest. You mentioned that the amount of sleep you get does not seem to affect your fatigue. But keep in mind that restful sleep, over many weeks (not just a good night’s sleep now and then), is necessary to feel well-rested. As much as we try to find something in our diet to blame for fatigue, usually the culprit is not enough good sleep, too much stress, and/or not enough downtime.
There are many possible reasons for our sleep and rest time to suffer. Some people who once were great sleepers suddenly have trouble sleeping well (often there has been a life change, such as getting married, becoming pregnant, having children, working a stressful job, becoming injured, etc.). Others simply overextend themselves and do not take the time to rest. It has been said that if you need to use an alarm clock (or your kids) to get you up in the morning, you’re not sleeping enough.
Believe it or not, regular exercise is one of the best ways to overcome fatigue. Exercisers report sleeping better and feeling more alert and awake during the day. Try just 15 minutes of moderate exercise a day- you might be shocked at how much better you feel.
People who are depressed also report being fatigued. Have you considered speaking to a mental health professional? Sometimes counseling can help you get to the bottom of your problem, and you may realize that your problem is contributing to your fatigue. A therapist can also help you find a better balance in your life.
Continue your healthy diet, continue taking your multivitamin, and be kind to yourself. Tell your family, friends, boss, etc. that in order for you to be the best mom/wife/employee you can be, you need to get enough exercise, sleep, and rest. It is challenging to do it all. But if we do too much, our mental state suffers. Carve out the unnecessary parts of your day. Hire help if you need it and can afford it. Multitask (e.g. walk to the store, if it’s close enough, to get both exercise and your errand done). Instead of watching TV, take a bike ride with the kids. Instead of staying up late ironing, have the local cleaners press your clothes.
This is not to dismiss the power of a healthy diet to boost our energy and mood. Certainly, nutrient insufficiencies can lead to tiredness and fatigue, and they can be addressed by eating more wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and cutting out the junk. But diet is not the only factor in being healthy. We also need the right balance of work, rest, play, and sleep.