Ask a Wellness Ambassador: balancing health and a busy schedule, anemia

A biweekly column addressing students’ health questions from office of Health, Wellness, and Recreation.

Dear Wellness Ambassadors,

I work and go to school full time, and as a result, I have a busy schedule and often forget to eat or drink more than once or twice a day; I just don’t get hungry. Should I be concerned? Are there any ways I can improve without sacrificing work or school?

You are not alone! With such a busy lifestyle, it is not uncommon for people forget to take meal and water breaks. However, even though your hectic days might lead you to not notice your feelings of hunger, this does not mean that it is healthy to skip meals regularly.

Skipping meals and drinks can lead to fatigue, dehydration, increased stress, and other related health problems. Sometimes this creates a pattern where people just have a large single meal before bed once their hunger signal kicks in, which can contribute to trouble falling asleep. And it’s important to keep in mind that nourishing your body is an important part of overall health and wellness.

Here’s one pretty simple strategy to work towards solving the problem. In order to help yourself remember to eat, make a food diary each week and plan out your food consumption. This doesn’t mean planning the specifics of every meal, but rather more vague planning—for example, create a list of times saying “eat breakfast 7–9 a.m.”, “eat snack 10–12 p.m.”, and so on throughout your day. You can even utilize your phone to pop up reminders for yourself. Use these to stop and take a moment to check in with yourself to assess your level of hunger.

Also, while meal planning, remember that you don’t need to eat three large meals a day—eating six smaller meals throughout your day works just as well, if that is easier for you. Bring nourishing snacks with you, like an apple, yogurt with granola, bananas, carrots with salad dressing, or anything else that would be easy for your to prep and grab on your way out the door.

For drinking, carry around a reusable water bottle wherever you go and set up a goal to drink a certain amount of water during the day, depending on the size of your bottle. You can bring water and drink it everywhere. A good goal to aim for is somewhere between 6-8 cups a day, although this varies based on activity level.

So give it a try! You can use these strategies at the beginning, and as time goes on you will likely find that it gets easier to remember to eat and drink throughout the day.

Dear Wellness Ambassadors,

I am constantly tired and fatigued even when I sleep 6-8 hours per night. My friends say I could be anemic. What is anemia? What can I do to feel better?

Anemia is a condition when your blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin to provide your body with sufficient oxygen. The most common symptom of anemia is weakness and fatigue because this inadequate oxygen supply doesn’t allow your body to function optimally. Anemia is most often due to iron deficiency, but it can also be caused by hereditary genes, blood loss, vitamin B12 deficiency, or destruction of red blood cells.

The first thing to keep in mind is that you can’t self-diagnose anemia. If you have been feeling constant fatigue for a while, it would definitely be worthwhile scheduling an appointment with a health care provider. They can best assess if it would be important to screen you for anemia or if there is potentially some other underlying cause of your fatigue. For example, chronic stress can also cause individuals to feel very tired, as can other medical conditions.

In the meantime, it might be helpful to first look at your diet and ask yourself if you’re getting plenty of foods rich in iron like dark leafy greens, red meat, poultry, pork, seafood, beans, dried fruits (raisins), and fortified grain products like whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas.

If you feel like you are falling short in the iron department, you should consult with a health care provider before starting on an iron supplement. For individuals who are anemic, they are helpful, but too much iron can be toxic. A health care provider can provide guidance on what dose of iron supplementation might be right for you.

You also mention that you get 6-8 hours of sleep a night. While everyone is different, most adults need, on average, at least 7-8 hours a night. If you’re more often getting 6 hours, rather than 8, it could also be that you are simply not getting enough sleep! Try to aim for the optimal amount to see if that helps reduce your symptoms.

Do you have a Health and Wellness question you would like to see featured here? If so, please email it to wellness@simmons.edu and it might be answered in our upcoming column! All questions and answers will be anonymous.

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