Beat the post-lunch malaise

By on May 21, 2014

If you find it hard to concentrate and don’t have as much energy as you’d like, it’s an easy problem to solve, says Dr John Briffa.

Early on in my career I worked as a junior hospital doctor. Despite my relatively tender years, I was perpetually tired. Some sleep debt no doubt contributed to this, but even after snoozing away the weekend I certainly lacked the zip someone in his mid-20s should have.

In addition to my general lethargy, I was prone to catastrophic energy crashes, most evident in the mid-late afternoon. In outpatients clinics and the operating theatre, I would sometimes feel the life drain out of me. My mood was quite labile too, often oscillating from elation to irrational irritation or demotivation throughout the day.

One morning, I was doing the necessary medical checks on an elderly man who was due to have a minor operation later that day. I was struck by the fact that, despite being almost 50 years my senior, he had an energy and vitality considerably greater than my own. My curiosity was piqued enough for me to ask him to what he felt he owed his brimming good health. It turns out he put a lot of store in healthy eating, something about which I had only the vaguest of notions.

I resolved that I needed to do something about the lack of nutritional education I experienced at med school. I began reading around the subject, and quickly learned that what was traditionally regarded as a healthy diet was anything but. Specifically, though, it dawned on me that my unreliable energy and mood lability were almost certainly the result of eating a glut of foods liable to inducing highs and lows of levels of sugar in my bloodstream. Many of these foods, by the way, including wholemeal bread, based potatoes, and fibrous breakfast cereals, would be conventionally regarded as prime foods for energy and health.

I took remedial action, and shifted my diet in an altogether different direction. And I’m glad I did because the impact it had on me was profound. My sense of wellbeing improved quickly and steadily to the extent that, within two weeks, I felt I had more energy than ever before in my adult life. My disposition brightened too. An added bonus was that, in a few short weeks, I lost the chub I had gained at medical school (with no hunger and no additional exercise either).

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