How to Stop Letting Exhaustion Derail Your Diet

A tired woman eats a salad
(Image credit: Tired woman photo via Shutterstock)

Over the years, I've spent a lot of time on the road. Aside from being away from my family, sleep is one of my biggest challenges. Unless I'm completely exhausted, I find it difficult to fall asleep in a bed that isn't my own. So, I have some experience with trudging through a day on just a few hours of sleep. I find it harder to focus, easier to become agitated, and more challenging to make healthy choices.

According to a recent study, I'm not alone. Well, at least not on the last part.

A study presented in June at a sleep research Boston showed that the reward centers of the brain were activated when sleep-deprived participants looked at pictures of junk foods. According to these results, we're naturally programmed to eat junk food when we're tired.

At a first glance, you might be wondering why your body is trying to sabotage your healthy efforts, but it kind of does make sense. In order to get through the day without enough sleep, the body craves calorie-dense foods for a quick burst of energy.

It's not a bad system as long as your calorie-dense foods are also nutrient dense  — that's where "junk" food falls short.

There are two ways to ensure you don't fall into this trap. First, do your best to get a good night's rest. Second, carry healthy snacks with you at all times.

Here are a few tips for getting better sleep:

  • Establish a routine. If you go to bed at the same time every night, your body will naturally start to wind down when that time is approaching.
  • Take some time to relax. About an hour before your bedtime, make a conscious effort to avoid anything that will overstimulate you. Turn off the news, shut down the computer and just relax.
  • Keep the pets off the bed. Just like people, animals can toss and turn during the night, which can keep you from getting a good night's rest.

Of course, even with the best efforts, sometimes you just won't get as much sleep as you should. Life happens. That's why it's a good idea to be prepared with healthy snacks, so you are less likely to make poor choices.

Here are some healthy snack ideas:

  • Celery sticks and peanut butter: Celery is a good source of vitamin A, very low in calories and completely fat free. Add a little peanut butter for flavor, fiber and protein.
  • Trail mix: Buy or make a trail mix with an assortment of nuts and dried fruit (for an antioxidant boost). The combination of salty and sweet should satisfy your cravings without derailing your diet.
  • Baby carrots and hummus: Hummus is loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals, but its taste is rather indulgent. Don't forget to bring some baby carrots or celery for dipping.

Healthy Bites appears on MyHealthNewsDaily on Wednesdays. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!

Deborah Enos
Deborah Enos, CN, also known as "The One-Minute Wellness Coach," is The Health Coach for busy, working people. She pares her good-health messages down to simple and fast bullet points that can impact lives in 60 seconds or less. Deborah serves as a board member of the American Heart Association.  In addition to writing the Healthy Bites column for Live Science, Deborah is a regular on FOX Business News, NBC and ABC, and is a frequent contributor to The Costco Connection, Parade Magazine, Self Magazine, Good Housekeeping and USA Today. Deborah is also The One Minute Wellness Coach for The Doctors TV Show.