No veggies = sleepy student?
April 9, 2010 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Help me help my roommate not be so tired all the time/ eat healthier.

I'd like to help my roommate figure out why she's been so tired lately. IANAD so I can't tell for sure if this is a nutrition problem, but the girl eats little to no fruits and vegetables. She also insists "There's no point going to the doctor until I start eating better (in case that's the problem)." So I guess my questions are:

* Does this sound like a nutrition problem?
* What foods would help boost her energy?
* How can I help?

This is her first year as a grad student, though this problem has existed off and on for a few years. Lately she comes home from work/school and just collapses and doesn't want to do anything. She also says that at these times her balance is off. She had her blood tested last week and the nurse (at school) told her she's not anemic. She thinks it's all in her head because if she has something fun planned for the evening, she doesn't get tired. Her diet consists mostly of cereal, pizza, mac and cheese, potatoes and gravy, tuna fish, frozen chicken nuggets (read: quick and easy). In high school she got a lot of exercise running cross country but quit when she got to college.
She says she doesn't have the time to cook. I suspect it's more likely that the prospect is intimidating. I cook for her sometimes, but it can get expensive since I'm a college student too.

Any advice? Does this sound like a nutrition problem to you? Stress? What can I do to help her without being super pushy/ blowing my budget or hers?
posted by Iggley to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and she gets about 8 hours of sleep at night but is still sleepy in the morning unless it's more like 10 or 12 hours.
posted by Iggley at 2:31 PM on April 9, 2010

Could be a lot of things which is why people will probably recommend she see a doctor for some tests in order to be clear about what the problem is. Some of the usual suspects: anemia (ruled out), depression, high/low blood sugar, thyroid problem, mono...
posted by MsKim at 2:35 PM on April 9, 2010

Her diet consists mostly of cereal, pizza, mac and cheese, potatoes and gravy, tuna fish, frozen chicken nuggets (read: quick and easy).

From what I recall, this is not only a pretty standard diet for a college student - it is definitely more varied than what I ate back then. Is it great nutrition? No - but at that age, unless she has a very serious vitamin deficiency or anemia, then it should fuel her just fine.

She thinks it's all in her head because if she has something fun planned for the evening, she doesn't get tired.

I'm going to vote for this, along with the stress of being a first year grad student. I applaud your concern for her diet, but I think you're going to have a hard time making a case for this being the culprit.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:37 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

She had her blood tested, but did they test for anything else besides anemia? If not, MsKim is correct that they should check her thyroid, blood sugar, check her Vitamin B12 levels, etc..
posted by gudrun at 2:39 PM on April 9, 2010

Just saw this: Oh, and she gets about 8 hours of sleep at night but is still sleepy in the morning unless it's more like 10 or 12 hours.

Some folks need more sleep - especially when they're young and working hard. I'm guessing she needs to go to bed earlier.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:39 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

IANAD, and I suggest she sees one if the balance thing persists, but from a nutrition standpoint I think she's having too many carbs. She's probably probably pegging her blood sugar level and then crashing. She should have more protein (chicken breast instead of chicken nuggets), fruits (apples, pears, etc) and vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower). Cut out soda and desserts. She probably needs to drink more water and to get some moderate exercise during the week. It's not too hard- a george foreman grill + some chicken breast and a microwave + some broccoli will take just as long to prepare as mac & cheese.
posted by sharkfu at 2:41 PM on April 9, 2010

...and on preview would like to nth that there are a lot of things it could be thyroid, depression, etc. So maybe a doctor is the best recommendation.
posted by sharkfu at 2:44 PM on April 9, 2010

Just throwing this out there without making accusations but what is her alcohol intake like? That general malaise, tired, sleeping, unable to motivate off the couch...combined with having a grand ole' time when "out" at night, makes me worried there might be some binge drinking.
posted by bunnycup at 2:44 PM on April 9, 2010

Wow, responses sure come in fast here. Thank you for the comments.
In response to some questions.

* I don't think she's depressed. She always seems to be in good spirits when we talk in the evening (aside from being tired.) She's got some stress going on though.

* bunnycup: good idea, but I don't think she's a binge drinker. What I meant by "having something fun to do" was about the nights she goes ballroom dancing at school, or hangs out at the university christian center with her friends for bible study.
posted by Iggley at 2:52 PM on April 9, 2010

Was she too tired to write her own question? If she wasn't, then does she want to change, because, if not, she WON'T and nothing you do will change that.
posted by TheBones at 2:54 PM on April 9, 2010

MsKim, I don't think they did test for anything else besides anemia.
posted by Iggley at 2:56 PM on April 9, 2010

The standard ask.mefi answer is to make sure she gets her thyroid checked. My thyroid is also wonky, and every time I even mention being tired to my doc he's got me off running for a blood test.

The easiest way to feel immediately better, if she's not already doing it? Drink water. Aim for the 8 glasses a day. And if she can make better choices here and there, all the better. Every single good eating choice helps, even if you can't make good ones all the time. Just grab an apple instead of a bag of chips.
posted by cgg at 3:01 PM on April 9, 2010

That's a very good point. I realize that if she doesn't want to change she wont. I don't want to control her or try to be her mother. She doesn't use metafilter, so I thought I'd ask the hive on her behalf.
posted by Iggley at 3:02 PM on April 9, 2010

Might I suggest a rice cooker and frozen vegggies? I like the Green Giant Health Blends because they put together good varieties of veggies in one package and have coupons in the Sunday paper about every other week here, so they're pretty cheap. (~$2 w/o coupon, -.$80 with coupon.)

When you come home, toss in some rice and water and a pinch of salt, push the tab down, wait about 5 minutes, toss the veggies in the microwave for 5 minutes and by the time the veggies are done the rice is too and you've got dinner. Yay dinner!
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 3:05 PM on April 9, 2010

It sounds exactly like me when I was younger, didn't know how to cook, and subsisted primarily on junk carbs such as mac and cheese and pizza. As I got older, my general tiredness turned into actual hypoglycemia, which turned into insulin resistance.

Cutting out the processed food and eating protein solved the tiredness problem.
posted by chez shoes at 3:06 PM on April 9, 2010

I'm not discounting possible health problems, but to directly answer the "how can I help" question:

Can you guys split the grocery bills and effort for home cooked meals? I used to eat like your roommate when left to my own devices. Playing sous-chef for my old roommate had me eating healthier and made cooking less intimidating. Plus, it's more fun to cook and eat with a buddy!
posted by natabat at 3:15 PM on April 9, 2010

Thank you guys. You've given me a lot to work with. I'll mention the protein/thyroid/water stuff to her, and see if she want's to split the grocery bill so we can cook together a few nights per week.
I think she probably will go see a doctor, she just said she wants to try changing her eating habits first. Thanks again!
posted by Iggley at 3:28 PM on April 9, 2010

I went through this about a month ago, and it ended up being mono. Two red flags are a persistent throat ache (usually without accompanying drainage/stuffy nose/etc) and muscle soreness; when she wakes up from sleeping, is she unusually stiff? There's a simple blood test for that, too.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 4:01 PM on April 9, 2010

Could she be celiac? Her diet is currently wheat heavy, and celiac can develop with age. Definitely not anything close to a diagnosis, but something to consider or discuss with her doctor if she things it could have merit. She could start writing a food diary to see if certain foods are correlated with mental states. I would also suggest going to the doctor, if only to get a referral to a nutritionist so help shape up her diet. The doctor could rule out more unlikely but dangerous conditions that could be causing her fatigue (virtually anything can cause fatigue, from diet, to thyroid, to infection, to whatever)
posted by fermezporte at 5:55 PM on April 9, 2010

I've been tired most of my life and definitely remember being tired as an undergrad (which for me was quite awhile ago). I remember someone in my dorm suggesting that I eat bananas as it could be a potassium deficiency (no idea if this is true, but bananas didn't help) . No cause was ever identified, although several years later I developed psoriatic arthritis (but I don't think that was the cause at the time) which does include fatigue. I complain about it, but frankly most doctors that I've been to dismiss it and most of the time I just deal with it. Coffee is my friend. This is just away of saying that I think some of us are just low energy and may need more sleep than others just as some people are morning larks and others are night owls. But of course she should see a doctor and make sure that it is nothing serious. I'm just saying that in my experience once all the usual suspects are tested for and come back within the normal range, there just going to question her about "sleep hygiene" or write it off as her being stressed because it's her first year of grad school.

As to the balance, for the past two years I've been experiencing extended periods of dizziness. My doctor finally put together that these periods coincided with allergy season. She said that you'd be surprised at how many symptoms other than the usual stuffy nose, sneezing and itchy eyes, can be attributed to allergies. It could be another factor in her fatigue.
posted by kaybdc at 8:29 PM on April 9, 2010

She might eat more fruit if you buy some fruit and put it in a bowl on the counter where it's easy to see and grab. If you can get her to split the cost she might be more likely to eat it. Frame it as that you want to improve your diet too.
posted by yohko at 8:42 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

She needs to talk to a doctor sooner than later. Things like sleep apnea or thyroid issues are fairly serious.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:45 PM on April 9, 2010

The average adult needs about 8 hours of sleep, but that's just an average. There are tons of people who say they only need 6 hours a night. It stands to figure that some people need 10 hours of sleep. Maybe she needs 9 hours - barely more than is average - so she's tired most of the time on 8 hours, and tries to make up the deficit by sleeping longer when she has a chance.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:53 PM on April 9, 2010

Seconding allergies. Vitamin D might be a culprit, or not drinking enough water.

Agree with the possibility of too many carbs=sugar crash, too..

But a good start would be if she would start taking a really good multi-vitamin. Not the standard drugstore stuff, but something like Source of Life or Bluebonnet.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:20 AM on April 10, 2010

Lots of links about eating healthy on a budget in this Metafilter post from a few weeks ago. (Shameless self-link to my FPP)

You're going to find A LOT of anecdata on the internets about eating better and "feeling energized," but what it boils down to is if this person is feeling crappy all the time, she should try to change something about her life, and see if it works. It could be medical, or it could just be lifestyle, but trying different things out in terms of eating better certainly won't hurt. Good luck!
posted by sararah at 8:20 AM on April 10, 2010

Her diet consists mostly of cereal, pizza, mac and cheese, potatoes and gravy, tuna fish, frozen chicken nuggets (read: quick and easy).

It could be diet. Some of my friends can survive on this sort of diet, but I ended up on it this winter and always felt gross and had no energy. I assumed it was all the white bread/carbs.

So tuna fish and frozen chicken nuggets sound fine. If she doesn't want to try fruits and veggies right now, maybe get her to add some more protein so she gets away from eating nothing but carbs? Frozen fish fillets - tilapia or something, fried with lemon - are really convenient, so are hot dogs. She doesn't have to turn into a vegan overnight to experiment a little.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:34 AM on April 10, 2010

I was like this. Exactly. right down to the "cooking takes too much time" but.

For me, I had to eat MORE and BETTER, and get a lot more aerobic excercise (walking, dancing, skipping, swimming...).

Also for me, after a while living like that (about a year) it totally wreaked havoc on my immune system and I was sick in addition to tired all the time. Jog to the park and have a freaking fruit salad picnic now before its too late!
posted by WeekendJen at 10:49 AM on April 12, 2010

« Older Terrifying podcasts, please...   |   Identify a book about some woman who tries to get... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.