A Nutritionist’s Guide to Beating Mum Fatigue
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
Here, Thalia Pellegrini, the Knackered Mum Nutritionist, explains the small steps we could be taking right now to mitigate some of the stresses so many of us are feeling.
Motherhood. Exhilarating, joyful, demanding - and often overwhelming. It has nothing to do with how much we love our children. It has everything to do with the fact that we are the centre of the universe for our family, and it can feel like there’s just not enough time or energy left for us. And now we’ve hit 2021 with a third Lockdown. But a little good news… what you eat can help and you don’t have to make sweeping changes to have a powerful impact on how you feel each day. Here, Thalia Pellegrini, the Knackered Mum Nutritionist, explains the small steps we could be taking right now to mitigate some of the stresses so many of us are feeling.
I’m the knackered mums’ nutritionist, a title that perfectly reflects the wonderful, though always shattered, mums that come through my (virtual) door. It’s not in our nature to put ourselves at the top of our never-ending to-do list. If you have 20 minutes to yourself in the day, what do you do? Cuppa and feet up? Yes, but guiltily? Or ‘just’ do a load of laundry, make beds and empty the dishwasher. Let’s face it, when we get sick, who’s running the show?
Our kids have had a tough twelve months, whatever age they are. Whether you were under Lockdown last Spring with pre-schoolers who couldn’t understand why they weren’t allowed on the swings; to teens simmering with resentment about being caged in, and now again, it is for us to manage the fears, anger and anxiety of all the family (never mind the seemingly endless meals and washing). It all funnels through us. It’s exhausting.
I really believe that what we eat impacts how well we mother. I’m talking day-to-day brass-tacks mothering. Your fuse. Your level of tolerance for the, “Muuuuum! He breathed on my sock!” kind of sibling bickering that can just nudge us over the edge by dinner time. Eating BETTER not worse makes all the difference. Not falling face first into sugar is a common challenge. When I do that, I end up grumpier. I lose my patience faster. I’ll feel a deep dose of mama guilt once they’re tucked up in bed, but it doesn’t change. So, I’ve learnt to give my body foods that are nourishing. Chocolate often features, it’s true, but after a delicious, warming stew or a glorious colourful salad. The Big Breakfast When it comes to tackling tiredness, it is not an exaggeration to say that your first meal of the day will dictate what you eat for the rest of the day and THAT will set your energy levels and how you cope if you’re knackered. If you’re an all-or-nothing kind a gal, this can be a big sticking point. You grabbed some biscuits mid-morning because you skipped breakfast getting everyone else fed and watered, so what’s the point of a healthy lunch? And if lunch is a grab-and-go job, might as well carry on and eat the chocolate your body is screaming that you absolutely NEED at 4pm. And so, it goes on. Those dips in energy through the day are our weak spots, when we’re most likely to feel overwhelmed. Don’t underestimate the impact on mood of low-blood sugar. So, try having a good breakfast and see how both your appetite and your cravings change. It doesn’t have to take long. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. You can download my recipe collection on my website Fantastic Five-Minute Breakfasts, it’s free and full of suggestions you might not have tried before. I’m going to let you in on a little Nutrition 101. The magic trio for every meal or snack you have is simple – protein, fibre, healthy fats. Protein is a mum’s best friend. (OK, well part of her inner circle. I know your G&T or glass of red is really your BFF). Protein fills you up. Get enough each meal and you will see your cravings fall away and your energy improve. Add some healthy fats into the bargain and you’ll slow down how fast your body digests the protein, which keeps you full for even longer. If you’re hungry within two hours of a meal, you need to work on getting this balance right. Fibre is essential too and most adults in the UK don’t get enough. So, how about scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast – great for you and the kids. Have a handful of blueberries afterwards. Or a winter favourite – porridge – but add some protein and good fats by stirring through some nut butter or a tablespoon of ground almonds, for example. Grate some apple on top, with a sprinkling of cinnamon.
The Power of Sleep As a nutritional therapist, lifestyle guidance is part of how I support my clients. Prioritising sleep, however, is hard to prescribe to my knackered mums. We crave it more than sugar and yet have no control over how much we get. If only we could have banked those endless pre-kids lie-ins. For those years when we cannot rely on unbroken nights, quality can be easier to achieve than quantity. There are lots of ways to do this but taking on the tricky triplets, sugar, booze and caffeine, is key. Sorry. It is though. Firstly, while a glass or two of wine might help you to relax when the kids’ lights are finally out, alcohol disrupts our circadian rhythm. If you tend to pour yourself a snifter each night, try and go booze-free for at least three nights a week and see if you sleep better. You might also try to not have caffeine after midday – caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours, so that post-lunch latte may be affecting how well you sleep, even if you don’t realise it. If you’re someone who recognises that caffeine makes them a little wired or jittery, try forgoing it for a week or two and see how you feel. Or perhaps just swap out one cup of caffeine for a different hot drink and go from there.
Then there’s sugar… Most mums tell me that after dinner is when they most crave something sweet but if your blood sugar levels are sky high because you’ve just demolished a tub of ice cream, it’ll affect your sleep. Keeping in mind the same guide to breakfast as for your evening meal will help. Aim to have some protein (meat, fish, tofu or pulses, for example), some complex carbohydrate (opt for brown rice, not white; whole wheat pasta, not white – also all good sources of fibre) plus some healthy fats (some olive oil dressing on your vegetables perhaps). If you still fancy something sweet, opt for some Greek yoghurt with a drizzle of honey.
What’s self-love got to do with it? I think this phrase needs a rebrand for mums. Self-compassion is more on the money. Self-care can be a bath with a face pack though frankly, when your kids are toddling, me-time is having a wee without an audience. More than time alone, however, self-care is about a broader intention. Recognising that time taken for yourself is important for how well you cope. Nurture yourself a little, and you’ll have more to give. Cherish yourself as much as the people you love. Period pain that leaves you gobbling painkillers for three days a month may be your normal, but it doesn’t have to be. Perimenopausal anxiety that takes your breath away may be what you’re handling each day – but you don’t have to.
Deciding that you’d like to NOT be knackered every single day is OK, too. Putting your health to the top of your to-do list isn’t selfish. It isn’t a luxury. It’s vital. Because so are we.
Make just one small change next week and try and do it every day for five days. Even if you only manage two days, that’s brilliant. What’ll it be? A five-minute breakfast perhaps or setting an alarm so you spend thirty minutes less scrolling through social and crawl into bed a little earlier. Try it and see if you feel a better. A little better is not nothing, and it’s a great foundation to build on. And if it helps you get a handle on that mamma fatigue, even at all, it’s worth it.
Thalia Pellegrini is a registered Nutritional Therapist (FdSc DipION BANT CNHC). She lives in North London with her husband and two sons. Known as the Knackered Mums Nutritionist, she creates bespoke nutrition plans that work for a mum’s busy lifestyle. She supports clients with a variety of health goals including pre-conceptual care, PMS and perimenopause problems, plus mums wanting to improve their energy, lose weight or just have a better relationship with food. Contact her at www.thaliapellegrini.com where you can subscribe to emails and download your copy of her FREE recipe collection Fantastic Five-Minute Breakfasts. She also offers FREE 20-minute Discovery calls if you’re interested in pursuing nutritional therapy. Book through her website. 3