Dr Libby Weaver, nutritional biochemist and seven-times Number One best-selling author, talks about living our lives with more energy.
Why are we so exhausted all the time? It’s a question many of us ask as we hit the snooze button every morning. Despite our knowledge about health, we are running on empty: we have an exhaustion epidemic. Dr Libby has combined her knowledge of nutrition and dietetics with 17 years of clinical practice, and come up with real solutions to this problem.
What do you think is the biggest health problem facing Australia at the moment? The impact of relentless, elevated production of stress hormones on our bodies. For example, for the 150,000 years humans have been on the planet, adrenalin has signalled that our lives are in danger, and there are consequences to that inside of us: increased blood pressure, poor digestion, and primarily using glucose - as opposed to body fat - as a fuel. In modern times we make adrenalin when we consume caffeine and in response to our perception of pressure and urgency.
Why are so many of us exhausted? The reasons are different for each of us – but one of the main reasons is that we are taking on more, and demanding more of ourselves mentally and physically than ever before. Many people struggle with restorative sleep, fill themselves with stimulants like caffeine because they aren’t sleeping well and surround themselves - often unintentionally - with people who drain their energy. But it’s more than that – there are many biochemical and emotional processes at the heart of whether we feel energised or not, and this is really what I want people to understand. For many of us it’s easier to hide behind “it’s work, it’s the kids, it’s winter, etc” than to truly address the heart of the matter. It doesn’t have to be that way. The other part of this picture is that I see many people who have created amazing lives – children, partners, work, study, travel… yet they can’t enjoy the life they’ve created because they are too exhausted. I want to help people live their lives with more energy so that they can enjoy what they’ve created.
What was your goal with this book? If we think of the energy we have on a daily basis as a bank account, it’s easier to think about what adds or takes away from our energy. Energy supplies us with the power to function, grow, heal and regenerate ourselves daily. We are designed to supplement this original endowment of energy with what we generate from eating, breathing, sleeping, working, playing, learning and relationships. Each day we make withdrawals and deposits; we invest or deplete. And when the balance of the scales tips in the direction of us using more than we put back in, we begin to live in the red with the potential of falling further and further behind.
To keep this analogy going, we are then forced to dip into our savings. When we continuously withdraw from our savings account, alarm bells begin to sound, telling us that our survival is being challenged. These alarms present as symptoms in the body, but often of the type that don’t initially lead us to stay home from work … so we soldier on and do nothing about them. Symptoms of dipping into our energy savings accounts include fatigue, low mood, anxious feelings, apathy, unrefreshed sleep or insomnia, brain fog, lowered resistance to infections, stiffness, digestive system problems, unexplained changes in body fat levels, and signs of rapid ageing. These are just some ways our body lets us know that we are physically, mentally and/or emotionally exhausted.
The symptoms themselves don’t have a voice to let us know what they want us to do. It is up to us to decipher them. When we are running on empty, our body does its best to let us know that it is time to slow down, rest, better support and enhance detoxification pathways, repair, replenish and restore. Yet too often we ignore this, throw down another pill, or write it off as, “I must be getting old.”
Your background is in Western medicine, but you emphasise mind-body-spirit concepts - why? As a practitioner you learn quickly that guiding people about what to eat is only part of the picture. Understanding what drives their behaviour is just as, if not, more important. So to help my patients I had to understand that beliefs drive behaviour and broaden my work and research, which I continue to do.
I believe there to be three pillars of health: the biochemical (body systems), the nutritional, and the emotional, looking at our beliefs and behaviours. My book follows my belief, and is designed to be a journey that fulfils both head and heart, beginning with the science or the biochemistry, followed by nutritional information, and then exploring numerous emotional factors related to energy. Poor energy can unfold from such a wide variety of sources: there may be no single cause. It can be a result of the interplay between your biochemistry, nutritional status and emotional landscape.
A few years ago, you wrote the book “Rushing Woman's Syndrome” - are we are managing this now? Unfortunately it’s still a huge problem for too many people who are either unaware that they are stressed or who believe stress is just how it has to be – but this is not the case. Yet those people who have started to understand the impact that stress is having on their body, and who are taking different actions after reading the book or doing the online course, will write to let us know the differences it has made with their health, body and quite often with their relationships.
Will meditation and self-care move out of the 'alternative' camp into the mainstream? I see evidence of this everywhere. There are also robust scientific studies demonstrating the enormous physical and mental benefits of meditation and some people prefer this form of evidence before exploring it. A regular meditation practice is the best thing you can do for your health.
What is the key to a well balanced life? I am not a fan of this concept as most people feel it is unattainable. And what it is anyway? It is highly individual. Balance for one person will be stress or boredom for another. I think that finding the key to a sense of spaciousness in life is a more useful question to explore. For example, if you have 20 minutes by yourself in the morning does that lead you to approach your day with more calm and clarity than if you just get up and get into it? Or does bringing awareness to your breath and focusing on diaphragmatic breathing – given that this activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the calming arm of the nervous system - each hour make you feel that you can handle a busier day better? When people talk about balance I feel they really mean, “How do I get some time for myself to do what I really want to do?” Scheduling tasks can also assist with this.
What about in your own life - how do you balance books, speaking, events, and self-care? I have a morning ritual that I don’t compromise. I find this helps to create a feeling of spaciousness in my day, as no matter what unfolds after this I have begun my day from a grounded, grateful place. This may involve meditation, reading, walking, Tai chi, yoga, or simply sitting with a cup of tea watching the sunrise. Sometimes I have five minutes, sometimes 20, other times an hour. The time doesn’t matter. I treasure the solitude I create in the mornings. It doesn’t change what I do that day, but it changes how I am able to show up. And I live constantly in touch with what a gift life is. Energy is a treasured measure of wellbeing – a health currency – and everything is more difficult without it. In a nutshell: If I had to choose four main areas that support great energy from a physical perspective, based on scientific research as well as my own clinical experience, they would be: what you eat, how you move, how you breathe and how you sleep. If you have poor energy and you know that any or all of these areas need attention, then take consistent action on one of them, minimum. It will likely have a ripple effect on the others.
What is the connection between purpose and energy? There is a strong connection between purpose and having no energy or feeling exhausted. The ‘having no purpose’ sentiment was expressed time and time again when I spoke to people about what led to poor energy, and to everyone who gave me this answer, in response I asked them whether they felt like they had a purpose. And it was mostly people who felt they didn’t have a purpose, and wanted one, who felt this had a negative impact on their energy.
I noted that there are people low on energy because they believe they have to find their purpose to live fully. And although people with a purpose, with a mission to make a difference no matter how big or small, say this fuels their fire and gives them energy, those who don’t have one, or haven’t identified it, don’t need to suffer. Because worrying about not having a purpose can be draining in itself and mess people up. What people perceive to be social pressure to find their purpose, find their passion, and know what they want to do can have its own impact on energy. It is perfectly fine – and in fact recommended – to simply live each of your moments fully and marvel at it all.
That's the challenge for now: what are you going to do with what you have already – your body, your speech, your mind? For every moment, we get to choose what we focus on. So the real question is: do you feel the desire, the need or the longing to live in a different way? To live with ease and spaciousness and more energy? To stop punishing yourself or shaming yourself or telling yourself that you are a failure and are not OK the way you are? The punishment of yourself has to stop, not only in your relationship with food and lifestyle choices, but in your relationship with other people, with work, with money, and, most importantly, with yourself. If you do, then that gives you a choice about what to do, how to eat, what you put your attention on, what your priorities are, how you perceive yourself, how you live.