• Dr Kate Barry

Chronic Fatigue: diet & lifestyle changes while unwell.

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

So you’re chronically ill and feeling fatigued and unwell most days. You’ve either read or been told by a practitioner that you need to make significant diet and lifestyle change in order to improve your health, but how are you supposed to make these changes when you can hardly get out of bed? Bit of a catch 22 right?


This conundrum is one of my clients’ biggest gripes, so as a practitioner I’m always looking for ways to help out and provide guidance around the day-to-day tasks that suck energy and prevent clients from sticking to the therapeutic plan. So here are my top three tips:


(1) Prioritise – think about what you do each day and rank everything in order of importance. Really think about what is necessary and what can be left for another day or for another person to complete. In particular, think about the five tasks at the bottom of your list. Start to rethink what “needs” to be done versus what you “want” to be done. Some examples of unnecessary tasks I see from clients in my practice are daily housework, making meals or washing clothes for other adults in the house, ironing clothes that don’t need to be ironed (eg underwear), cooking elaborate single serve meals. Hopefully after doing this exercise for a few weeks, you’ll start to realise that many of the tasks you used to see as important are actually not pivotal to your survival or recovery. Bit of a mind shift, but a very important one in my opinion.


(2) Delegate/Outsource – once you’ve removed anything that is unnecessary from your list, think about what you can delegate to another family member or what you can outsource to a professional. Adult children and partners can be doing their own housework and cooking, and it’s also not unreasonable to suggest that they chip in and do extra while you’re ill (assuming they’re well of course). I find this is especially relevant for women that measure their personal worth by how much they do for their families. You have to think about the long game here – getting well is the best thing you can do for your family. Also please utilise any close friends that offer their help and ask them to carry out small tasks whenever they’re able. If they live close by, ask them to drop over grocery items, cook you a meal, bring in your mail or garbage bins, pay a bill or pick up a book from the library for you. We often don’t want to be a bother, but friends generally feel left out of the recovery process and really want to help but don’t know how – tell them!


Outsourcing tasks that take a lot of energy can be a game changer, but of course this step assumes that you have the required finances to pay for a professional. The easiest and cheapest task to outsource is grocery shopping – it costs very little extra for delivery and you order from the comfort of your own home. Of course I would suggest finding a reputable organic grocer to order fruit & veg from, which means that in addition to getting non-toxic produce you’re also getting quality items that are aesthetically pleasing (I use Ooooby, but any organic grocer with delivery is fine). In a similar vein, do as much shopping as possible online. You’ll need more room in your recycling bin for the cardboard boxes, but it will save you so much time and energy. Finally, if you can afford it I would hire a cleaner and/or gardener. Even if you only get them once a month to take on the biggest and hardest jobs, it can still be a huge energy saver and you may be surprised at the low cost if you opt for a local tradesperson.


(3) Simplify – so now you’re down to the final few tasks on your list of things to do, and for me, good nutrition should be top of the pops here. But having to stand and chop veggies and prepare meat, cook and stir every five mins, can be quite taxing and difficult when you’re struggling with fatigue or other chronic symptoms. Remember that you’re not trying to be the perfect human here – you’re unwell and trying to recover – that is your priority. So buying pre-chopped food is OK, buying frozen veggies is OK, buying “healthy” packaged food that you can just grab from the fridge or cupboard is OK. It’s all OK.


The other suggestion I make to my clients is to add in some easy to make meals, like smoothies for brekkie, pre-chopped salad with a tin of salmon for lunch, soup or casserole made from pre-chopped food and cooked in a slow cooker for dinner. And always, always, always batch cook your food. If you’re going to the effort of prepping and cooking, then you should be thinking about getting the most bang for your buck – minimum two serves at a time but start thinking bigger and getting up to the 4-6 serves per cook range. Freeze a couple of the servings for those days that you just can’t muster the energy, and utilise the energy when you have it by cooking a few big pots of soup/casserole/curry. And then have a few days off :-)


If any of this resonates with you and you'd like to chat some more, please leave a comment or shoot me an email at nutrify@drkatehealth.com


In health and wellness,

Dr Kate


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