BURNOUT: Diet and Its Role in Treating Burnout to Get Your Energy Back

July 27, 2016


Hippocrates knew what he was talking about when he said, "Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food." 


All these years later, this saying still holds true. 


As people have gotten busier and spend more time working, the ability to make daily nutritious meals has fallen by the wayside.  Instead, this has made room for companies to entice you with their ready-made dinners and less healthy alternatives.  If you have to get your kids to a baseball game after school, it is sometimes quicker and easier to swing by a pizza joint or other fast food restaurant than to start from scratch in the kitchen at home. 


However, your body was not meant to eat food like this.  It is being bombarded by preservatives, colorings, trans fats, and many other unnatural substances.  It is therefore time to get back to the basics.  What you eat DOES have an effect on your energy and how you feel.


A history of poor eating, or eating the wrong kinds of foods, can contribute to burnout.  However, when you make changes to your diet, it can also heal you.


In other words, you want to eat foods that make you better, while avoiding those that make your burnout worse. 


Here is what you need to know to make sure you get better:


1.  Eat regularly -


The worst thing you can do is miss meals, or go several hours (more than two or three) between eating during the daytime when you are awake.  One of the reasons for this is because that is an extra stressor acting on your already poorly-functioning adrenal glands.


Here's how this works. 


You'll recall that cortisol is released during stressful times ("fight or flight" reaction), and glucose (sugar) is released into the bloodstream for use by your muscles.  When the stressful situation ends, your cortisol levels and blood sugar levels are supposed to return to normal.  However, when you are always stressed, your cortisol levels never go down very much, and your bloodstream is bombarded by sugar on a constant basis.  This increases your chances of developing diabetes, gaining weight (especially in the abdomen), and other health issues. 


Interestingly enough, when your adrenal glands are fatigued and "burnt out" from overuse over time, they end up producing not enough cortisol.  As a result, you can end up with too little sugar in your bloodstream, and you feel dizzy and unwell. 

Therefore, your goal is to avoid low blood sugar, and keep it at more consistent levels throughout the day.  This helps your adrenal glands get better, and you will feel much better if you eat regularly.


Eating regularly and eating the right kinds of foods (including the right kinds of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) can actually help prevent weight gain, and can even help promote weight loss. 


2.  Never skip breakfast -


You already know this.  You have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it really is.  You need to "break" the "fast" that has occurred all night while you were sleeping.  Even if you are someone who does not feel hungry in the morning, it is really important that you eat soon after getting up.  You should try to ensure you eat breakfast no later than 9:30 a.m.  If you wait too long, your energy will be poorer, and you are setting yourself up for a less than stellar day.  


A vegetable smoothie with protein powder and a small amount of fruit (because remember fruit is high in sugar and you do not want to raise your blood sugar too much) is a great way to begin your day.


Here is a smoothie recipe:


Blend a whole ripe avocado, spinach, a very small amount of blueberries or strawberries, and unsweetened almond milk together.  Add a small slice of peeled lemon to add some "tang" to the smoothie.  You can also add some freshly-ground flax seed, and Greek yogurt. Blend unsweetened vanilla protein powder or unflavored protein powder into the smoothie as the last ingredient. 


Note:  If you are not sensitive to gluten (as oats are often contaminated with gluten), consider adding cooked oatmeal as well. 


3.  Eat healthy snacks -


This is especially important if you start work at 8 a.m., for example, and you do not get to eat lunch until 12 p.m. at your job. Four hours is too long to go without eating.  Instead, eat a snack a couple of hours after you have eaten breakfast.  You will want to eat something high in protein such as a hard-boiled egg, almonds (ten is a good number), celery with almond or natural peanut butter, or a Greek yogurt (assuming you are not lactose intolerant or have other milk allergies), and a complex carbohydrate (see examples of foods below).  Avoid fruits and fruit juices, as these are high in natural sugars. 


In the afternoon, plan to have a snack before 3 p.m. before your blood sugar gets too low and you start to feel unwell.  You should also have a small snack after supper before you go to bed.  Depending on the length of your day and how you are feeling, you may need to add another one or two small snacks to it. 


Remember that these are guidelines.  Everyone has different schedules, so it is hard to specify exact times to eat.  However, what is important to take away from this is that you never want to get to the point of being really hungry or feeling dizzy or unwell due to hunger.  That is why the snacks are important. 


4.  Eat and drink the right kinds of foods -


  • Carbohydrates  


First, let's talk about carbohydrates.  Despite what the diet books try to tell you, you DO need carbohydrates.  The key is to eat the right kinds of carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates consist of sugars, starches, and fiber.  Carbohydrates are found in fruits (which you must limit significantly due to their high sugar content), vegetables, milk and other dairy products, breads, cereals, and grains, as well as foods where sugar has been added to them. 


This is where some understanding about the Glycemic Index (GI) can help.  The GI ranks carbohydrates on a scale ranging from 0 to 100, based on how much they raise your blood sugar after you eat them.  This ranking is based on how the carbohydrate food digests compared to white bread or pure glucose, which have ratings of 100 on the scale. 


The higher the GI rating, the more quickly the carbohydrate is digested and absorbed.  This can result in dramatic blood glucose spikes and drops.  On the other hand, the lower the GI rating for a carbohydrate, the slower it is digested and absorbed.  This also means that your blood glucose levels do not rise and fall as quickly and sharply as with high GI foods.  This, in turn, also helps control your feeling of fullness for longer and is also a good way to maintain a healthy weight. 


A large listing of foods ranked according to their GI can be found at the Harvard Medical School website link below: 


http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy- eating/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods


An important note to make when comparing the GI of foods, is that just because two foods have the same GI, does not mean that they have the same nutritional value.  For example, Coca-Cola has a GI of 63, and a ripe banana has a GI of 62.  Obviously, a banana is more nutritious compared to the empty calories found in Coca-Cola.  As a side note, a banana is not the best fruit to eat when recovering from burnout as it does contain more sugar than some other fruits (ex. apples) and consumption of fruits should be minimized during your healing. 


This is a good time to talk about other specific carbohydrate foods that you should and should not eat.  

Here is a list of some good carbohydrates to eat :


  • Complex Carbohydrates -

Starches and fiber are found in complex carbohydrates, and take longer to digest and absorb. Therefore, you find complex carbohydrates in whole plant foods such as beans, lentils, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, whole grains including whole-grain bread, pasta and oatmeal, and vegetables and fruits. Complex carbohydrates contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. 


In contrast, simple carbohydrates are digested and absorbed faster.  Simple carbs are found in pop, table sugar, chocolate bars, juice, jam, honey, and milk for example. 


  • Vegetables -

As just mentioned, vegetables are complex carbohydrates, but they deserve a bit more discussion.  Try to eat a rainbow of colors of vegetables.  For example, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, red peppers, yellow peppers, beets, kelp (also good because of its salt content), and so forth are all good choices.  You want to include a variety of vegetables in your daily diet.  You can get many of these vegetables in a meal by making a salad.  Another great way to enjoy your vegetables is to make homemade hummus for dipping or guacamole. 


Here's a recipe for homemade hummus:


Drain a can of chickpeas, ensuring you keep the drained chickpea water.  Then blend the chickpeas with a blender.  Add about 1/4 cup of tahini (ground, hulled sesame seeds) to the blended chickpeas.  Mix it altogether, adding some of the drained chickpea water to moisten the mixture.  Also add crushed garlic cloves (to taste), salt and pepper, and lemon juice squeezed from a fresh lemon. 


  • Unrefined Carbohydrates -

In addition to the description of simple and complex, carbohydrates can also be classified as refined or unrefined, which refers to the amount of processing that the grains have had.


You want to eat unrefined carbohydrates as opposed to the refined ones, because unrefined ones are more nutritious and contain fiber.


In addition to vegetables (which are considered both complex and unrefined carbohydrates), other examples of unrefined carbohydrates to include in your diet include:


Amaranth  *

Brown rice *

Buckwheat *


Millet *

Oatmeal (likely contaminated with gluten)

Quinoa *

Whole grains

Wild rice *


* Denotes those that are also gluten-free


Avoid refined carbohydrates found in foods like fries, potato chips, white rice, white bread and anything made from white flower. 


These refined carbohydrates have been stripped of their bran, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.  Sometimes, you will see the description "fortified" on foods meaning that the food manufacturer has added the vitamins back to the food after stripping them during the refining process.  These fortified foods are still not as nutritious, because the fiber has also been stripped from them. 


Just remember this:  White flour and/or white sugar = more processed and less fiber.  Avoid this. 


  • Protein


Protein is important as it is what builds and repairs your body's tissues, and it is also involved in other functions such as the creation of hormones and enzymes for your body. 


Proteins you want to avoid include sausages, hot dogs, smokies, and processed luncheon meats with nitrates and higher fat content. 


Instead choose good sources of protein such as fish, lean beef, skinless chicken, veal, wild venison, eggs, and milk products.  As well, do not overlook the protein found in beans and legumes, and nuts such as almonds.  If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you need to make sure that you are eating a variety of foods, and if you are willing to consider it, include proteins such as eggs and cheese into your diet. 


  • Dairy


Choose unsweetened almond, coconut, or soy milk over cow's milk, the latter of which contains more sugar.  If you do plan to drink cow's milk, it is really important to limit the quantity and drink skim or low-fat.  However, you will still be getting more sugar than you really should be consuming.  Also be aware that soy is a common allergen so you will want to monitor how you feel if consuming this beverage. 


  • Water


Water is such an important compound.  It gives life, and all of our body's cells need it.  While the human body can go three weeks or more without food, it cannot go much more than three days without water.  In fact, 55% to 60% of your body weight is due to water content.  People experiencing burnout are usually not fully hydrated.  A good way to gauge if you are drinking enough water is to observe the color of your urine - dark yellow means you are not drinking enough.  It should be a pale straw color. 


The old rule of drinking eight glasses of water every day has gone by the wayside.  Instead of just looking at water, all beverages and water-containing foods are now included in your water intake.  The Institute of Medicine suggests women drink around 91 ounces (2.7 L) every day, and that men drink around 125 ounces (3.7 L) every day.  Approximately 80% of your fluids will come from beverages, and approximately 20% from your foods. 


In saying this, you want to avoid sugary beverages such as pop and fruit juices.  Even some sports drinks are also high in sugar.  Alcohol is also dehydrating, so you should avoid this.  Plus some alcohol such as beer and wine contain sugar, which you also need to stay away from.


If you work at a desk, make sure you always have water to sip on during the day.  You can buy a water bottle that has incremental measurements on it to help you monitor how much you are drinking. 


If you have a job where you are on your feet (nurse, for example), it becomes even more important to make sure that you are drinking enough during the day as it is easy to forget to drink when you are not at a desk all the time.  Try to make sure that you drink fluids before you get too thirsty, and with all breaks and meals. 


Drinking enough water can help prevent migraines, dizziness, malaise, and other symptoms. 


  • Caffeine


Avoid caffeinated foods and beverages.  When you are burnt out, it is common to crave chocolate and other sweets, but the combination of sugar and caffeine, is not a good thing. 


This also applies to coffee, tea, and caffeinated pop. 


Caffeine stimulates your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline, which then sets the "fight or flight" response in motion.  Unfortunately, when your adrenal glands are already burnt out, they are being forced to secrete when they are already depleted.  Instead, you need to give your adrenal glands time to rest whenever possible so that they can heal, and you do that by avoiding caffeine. 


Instead, consider herbal teas WITHOUT caffeine in them. 


  • Salt


You will likely benefit by adding salt to your diet.  Salt plays an important role in your body mainly outside the cells, and is needed for proper nerve and muscle functions.  Like anything else, always consult with your physician first though as he will know if salt is contraindicated, especially if you have specific health conditions.  According to Dr. Mercola, an osteopathic physician, you will see that a low-salt diet may not necessarily be the best thing for anyone.  Of course, you should not go overboard, and you need to avoid processed foods which contain salt PLUS a whole host of other unhealthy ingredients.  Instead, he proposes that the high-sugar diets are more to blame for diseases of today. 


Mainstream medicine recognizes that people with severe adrenal insufficiency (which is given the diagnosis of Addison's Disease) have salt cravings.  Another hormone that the adrenal glands produce is "aldosterone."  This hormone is responsible for maintaining the salt and water levels in your body. 


It is quite common for people without the severe diagnosis of Addison's to have salt cravings, such as is the case of people experiencing burnout related to poorly functioning adrenal glands. 


In these cases, adding salt to your diet can help.  Use unrefined, natural salt. 


5.  Eat the right kinds of fats -


Just like carbohydrates, fats have received a bad wrap for years and they were blamed on obesity.  However, research has shown that what is most important is the type of fat you are consuming.  This, and the amount of calories you consume, is most important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and reducing the risk of obesity and certain diseases such as diabetes, and so forth.


You need certain fats in your diet for your body to work properly and feel well.  In particular, the rights kinds of fats are important in your cell membranes, and in determining what gets in and out of your cells, among many other things. 


* Unhealthy or bad fats:


They are the Saturated Fats and Trans Fats. 


These kinds of fats increase your risk of disease. 


The key is to limit saturated fats (such as those found in butter, red meats, cheese, lard, cream, baked goods, etc.) and avoid trans fats. 


Check food labels.  You can identify trans fats when you see hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on the label. The reason for this is because trans fats are produced in an artificial process where hydrogen gets added to vegetable oil.  Foods with trans fats have longer shelf lives.  Deep fried foods, some margarines, non-dairy creamers, baked goods, and snack foods often contain trans fats so be sure to read the labels. 


Instead focus your diet on the healthy fats. 


* So what are the healthy or good fats then?


They are the Unsaturated Fats, which are good for your heart and other parts of your body.


Unsaturated fats are known for improving your levels of blood cholesterol, reducing inflammation in your body, and so on.  Most unsaturated fats are found in plant foods (seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils). 


Unsaturated fats consist of the monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.


Polyunsaturated fats are further broken down into non-essential and essential fatty acids.  Non-essential fatty acids are made by your body, and essential fatty acids must come from dietary sources.  Essential fatty acids are further broken down into Omega 6's and Omega 3's.





Unsaturated Fats













Monounsaturated Fats










Essential Fatty Acids



Non-essential Fatty Acids














Keep in mind that most foods contain a combination of fats.  For example, canola oil is higher in monounsaturated fats, but also contains some polyunsaturated fats. 


Unsaturated Fats (Monounsaturated) -


Some foods that you find monounsaturated fats in include:


  • Olive oil - great for use in salad dressings

  • Avocados - great in vegetable smoothies or as guacamole dip

  • Sesame oil and sesame seeds - found as part of the ingredients in tahini, which you can use in hummus dip

  • Canola oil

  • High-oleic safflower oil

  • Sunflower oil

  • Natural peanut butter (avoid the processed peanut butter which contains sugar and hydrogenated fats) and peanut oils

  • Macadamia nuts

  • Filberts

  • Hazelnuts

  • Pecans

  • Almonds

  • Pumpkin seeds


Unsaturated Fats (Polyunsaturated) - made up of Omega 6's and Omega 3's


Some examples of foods that you find polyunsaturated fats in include:


Some sources of Omega 6's include:

  • Corn oil

  • Soybean oil

  • Sesame

  • Safflower oil


While Omega 6's are abundant in the North American diet, Omega 3's are not as much. 


Some sources of Omega 3's include:

  • Walnut, flaxseed, and their oils (you may hear them referred to as Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) ).   ALA is also found in some green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, and brussel sprouts. 


  • Fatty, saltwater fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, etc).  You may hear them referred to as EPA and DHA on supplement labels.   Avoid fish at the top of the food chain such as shark and swordfish, as they contain higher mercury content. 


Omega 3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory and healing effects in the body.  Omega 3's are important as they are important in the building and structure of your cell membranes, and your nervous system.  


It is important to have straight sources of EPA and DHA in your diet (such as that found from saltwater fish) in addition to ALA, as ALA is not easily converted into EPA and DHA. 


At one time, it was said that Omega 6's were not as healthy and contributed to inflammation in the body when compared to Omega 3's.  However, the Harvard website states that this no longer appears to be the case.  Here is the link:




In any case, because it is easy to get Omega 6's in your diet, focus on Omega 3's, which is what most people tend to be deficient in.  Aim to eat saltwater fish about twice/week. 


It is also key that you only consume fresh oils.  Any oils that have gone rancid should be thrown away and not consumed as this can wreak further havoc on your body which you are trying to heal.


When using flaxseed, only grind it right before use. You can buy a small grinder that does this effectively.  Do not purchase pre-ground flaxseeds, as the oil is more likely to have gone rancid.    


6.  Choose the right kinds of fats for cooking -


Although you can use oils in uncooked form, sometimes you need to use them for cooking.  It is not only important to choose healthy oils, but also oils that do not get damaged by the heat but instead retain their healthy qualities. 


If you cook at high heat, and do not use the right kinds of oils, the oil can become oxidized resulting in the formation of free radicals and substances, which are not safe for consumption. 


For this reason, polyunsaturated fats should not be used for cooking. 


You can use monounsaturated fats, such as palm oil, olive oil, and avocado oil. However, saturated fats are the best for cooking at high heat.  Examples include butter and coconut oil.


Coconut oil deserves its own discussion.  Coconut oil, although high in saturated fats, has numerous health benefits!  You just need to make sure that you choose a high-quality virgin coconut oil. 


Here are some of the benefits of coconut oil:


  • Increases resistance to infections

  • It is effective against yeast and Candida in the body (Yeast and Candida are discussed in another chapter)

  • Improved use of insulin in your body

  • Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a saturated fat that actually raised your healthy levels of cholesterol (HDL) in your body, thus helping reduce heart disease


There are many more benefits to coconut oil.  The above list just scrapes the surface of all the wonderful uses of coconut oil.


7.  Plan Ahead -


Plan your meals ahead of time, so that you will have the necessary ingredients in the house.  For example, if you will be making a homemade soup tomorrow night, make sure you have all the ingredients, or you will need to plan a stop at the grocery store ahead of time.


If you work out of the house, make your lunch the night before, as this will ensure that you have adequate time to pack a nutritious, healing meal. 


Schedule more time in the mornings to make sure that you have enough time to make your breakfast smoothie.  An alternative is to mix some of the main ingredients of the smoothie together the night before (vegetables and almond milk), and then keep the blender jug in the fridge so that you can finish adding the ground flax seed, protein powder, and Greek yogurt in the morning.  You do not want to add these latter three ingredients in ahead of time, as they will change the texture and taste of your smoothie somewhat.


Keep sweets, potato chips, and pop, for example, out of the house.  This will prevent you from being tempted when you are hungry or thirsty, and in a hurry.  Instead, keep other healing foods like almonds and other nuts in your house. 


Give yourself enough time to eat your meals.  If you are rushing, you can be guaranteed that you are not chewing your food enough times, thereby not getting all the nutritional value out of the food.  In fact, advocates of green (vegetable) smoothies say that blending is valuable in that it breaks the food up into small enough pieces to enhance the nutritional value of the food you are consuming. 


8.  Buy organic whenever possible -


Perhaps you have heard of "The Dirty Dozen."  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has identified the top dozen worst fruits and vegetables in regards to pesticide content. 


The Dirty Dozen include:


  1. Apples

  2. Celery

  3. Cherry tomatoes

  4. Cucumbers

  5. Grapes

  6. Imported snap peas

  7. Nectarines

  8. Peaches

  9. Potatoes

  10. Spinach

  11. Strawberries

  12. Sweet bell peppers


On the other hand, the EWG has put together a list that they have trademarked the name, "The Clean Fifteen," meaning produce with the least amounts of pesticide content. 


According to the EWG, these include:


  1. Asparagus

  2. Avocados (just one more reason to include this monounsaturated fat in your diet)

  3. Cabbage

  4. Cantaloupe

  5. Cauliflower

  6. Eggplant

  7. Frozen sweet peas

  8. Grapefruit

  9. Kiwi

  10. Mangoes

  11. Onions

  12. Papaya

  13. Pineapple

  14. Sweet corn

  15. Sweet potatoes


By reducing pesticide content in your foods, you reduce the chances of disease conditions (ex. cancer) in the future, but you also reduce the toxic load that your body takes in now.  More about toxic substances will be discussed later.

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