Sep. 7. 2018
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

If you or a loved one has experienced burnout, bookmark this article or share it with a friend for these simple tweaks and foods for burnout.

We all wish there were magic pills, foods, potions we could take and feel amazing overnight — but there isn’t. What we do have though, is intentional thought, smarter choices, foods for burnout, and better behaviors based on knowledge and educating ourselves with how to nourish our bodies (and our mental, emotional, spiritual well-being — because they’re all connected).

In this article, you’ll find some easy meal and food hacks that can help you nourish your body during stressful times that can keep your energy up, digestion calm, and focus sharp.

What Is Burnout?

We covered burnout in depth in this article, so first things first, please read that along with the resources available to you before hopping into these food hacks.

Burnout is defined by the World Psychiatry as “… a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. The significance of this three‐dimensional model is that it clearly places the individual stress experience within a social context and involves the person’s conception of both self and others.” (1)

5 Food To-dos For Helping Burnout

These are simple meal planning hacks, recipes, and things to keep in mind if you’re in burnout or a loved one is, these aren’t magic pills, but these are all backed by nutrition science and behavioral science to help you calm burnout.

1. Plan out some of your meals

Did you know that on average, we make 200 decisions based on food a day? (2) If you’re already experiencing a stressful time, adding food choices and thoughts to the equation can be even more overwhelming, so help yourself (or a loved one) out by prepping a couple meals and meal components for a smoother week.

We sound like a broken record here, but we know just how impactful meal planning can be in your life! From helping reduce food waste, simplifying food choices, reducing decision fatigue, and staying in the groove with healthy eating, meal planning is a key tool.

Meal planning is great for everyday life, but it’s especially helpful during times where you may find life a bit more chaotic or stressed — planning ahead can take out so much of the guesswork to eat healthily and it’s already 90% prepared so all you have to do is put it all together and call it a meal. If you need more help, specific meal plans, recipes, and cooking plans check out the Master Meal Planning Program!

2. Befriend soups, smoothies, and warm beverages

When you think of soups, smoothies, and warm beverages, what’s one word that comes to mind? Comforting? Warming? Delicious? I think of all of these in addition to an easy way to squeeze in a lot of nutrition from antioxidants, healthy fats, to fiber all in 1-bowl/meal.

Soups and stews can be hearty if they’re filled with fiber-rich vegetables, topped with olive oil or avocado for a healthy fat, and can pack some protein if you’re using plant-based proteins or be adding your favorite responsibly sourced animal proteins. In addition to soups, smoothies are so easy to blend vegetables into, healthy fats, protein, and extra “boosters” if you’re feeling fancy like goji berries, bee pollen, maca, etc. to boost the nutrients overall.

A couple of great soups and smoothies you might enjoy are filled with vegetables, most of them have a protein source in the recipe already, but if not and you’re treating this as a meal, then make sure you have a good protein on the side or add it right into the soup or smoothie. Here are our community favorites:

3. Say goodbye (at least temporarily) to coffee and caffeine

Ah, I know, don’t be mad at me for recommending this, but it may be a great solution to helping you feel better. Look, coffee isn’t the bad guy here, but too much caffeine in your diet can be like pouring fuel to an already roaring fire when it comes to stress and potential hormone imbalances (increasing cortisol for example).

Caffeine from coffee is a stimulant and some studies show that this can be great for a pre or post-workout for some people, but on the other hand, if you suffer from anxiety or are living with high stress, coffee might not be the best warm drink to start your morning you (3). On the flip side, caffeine has also been shown to help decrease depression and symptoms of anxiety, although those studied were probably “fast metabolizers” and not your average person. If you struggle with depression or tend towards anxiety, try cutting down on coffee and see if you notice a difference in the way you feel.

In general, if you feel worn out or stressed, coffee might be too much and exaggerate your symptoms, especially when consumed closer to the late afternoon/evening times. Some people show that caffeine doesn’t affect sleep at all, whereas others couldn’t sleep after drinking caffeine late in the day (4). If you’re curious about coffee and how it impacts on your health, check out this article.

4. Boost the omega-3’s in your diet

Did you know our brains are 60% fat (5)? It’s a given that eating for better brain health also means making sure we’re eating enough healthy fats, including omega-3’s which some studies have linked to helping reduce depression symptoms, anxiety, and improve mood overall amongst the other health benefits associated with omega-3 intake such as improved heart health.

Eating healthy fats with our meals, not only allows our body to optimally absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, K and some antioxidants — also eating healthy fat with each meal keep our blood sugars stable. One study, in particular, showed from a meta-analysis, that omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduce depressive symptoms beyond a placebo (6)(7). Chronic stress, depression, and/or anxiety can all or one be can be linked to burnout.

5. Have fiber-rich vegetables at every meal

Fiber doesn’t just keep us fuller longer, it can serve as a prebiotic (i.e. the food for our good bacteria, probiotics), can help stabilize blood sugar levels, and plays a role in the overall health of our gut microbiota. The term “microbiome” refers to the bacteria, archaea, viruses and eukaryotic microbes residing in the body. Healthy adults typically have more than 1,000 species of bacteria in their gut. Our gut health plays a huge role in our emotional and mental wellbeing, just look at the gut-brain connection!

From Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection, the main role of the gut-brain axis is to control digestion. It handles the entire process of swallowing food to the release of enzymes that work to break down food. It also handles the control of blood flow that’s needed to properly absorb nutrients and lastly, get rid of it as waste. The GBA also regulates aspects of keeping us in our “normal” state such as regulating satiety and hunger hormones, and inflammation. Any dysfunction or dysregulation of the gut-brain axis has been linked to a wide variety of diseases such as IBS. While it’s called the “gut-brain”, the ENS isn’t actually capable of thinking, though it certainly communicates back and forth with our brain. Recent studies have found evidence that gastrointestinal issues and irritation may send signals to the central nervous system to then trigger mood changes.
  1. Christina Maslach, Michael P. Leiter. Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry World Psychiatry. 2016 Jun; 15(2): 103–111. Published online 2016 Jun 5. 
  3.  Broderick P, Benjamin AB. J Caffeine and psychiatric symptoms: a review. Okla State Med Assoc. 2004 Dec;97(12):538-42. Review. PubMed PMID: 15732884.
  4. Penolazzi B, Natale V, Leone L, Russo PM. Individual differences affecting caffeine intake. Analysis of consumption behaviours for different times of day and caffeine sources.  Appetite. 2012 Jun;58(3):971-7. PubMed PMID: 22326679.
  5. Chang CY, Ke DS, Chen JY. Essential fatty acids and human brain. Advances in pediatrics. Published December 2009. Accessed August 24, 2018.
  6. Felice N. Jacka, Adrienne O’Neil, Rachelle Opie, et al. A randomized controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine. Published January 30, 2017.
  7. Adjunctive Nutraceuticals for Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses. American Journal of Psychiatry.