A number of readers have written in saying basically the same thing — “I feel exhausted, achy, foggy brained and overwhelmed. My doctor doesn’t know what’s wrong. Help!”

This collection of symptoms sounds familiar to integrative physician Frank Lipman, MD, author of Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again. “I see many patients who, despite being disease-free, are completely depleted. I call this syndrome ‘spent’ because sufferers feel as if their energy accounts are tapped out,” he said.

Feeling spent often stems from being out of sync with the body’s natural needs and rhythms — especially as they pertain to eating and sleeping. To restore energy…


Food should provide energy, but some foods deplete it instead. Watch out for…

Sugar. You know that sugar could make you fat… but did you know that it is guaranteed to make you tired? Eating sugar makes blood glucose levels spike and then plunge, forcing adrenal glands to work overtime to rebalance blood sugar, thus leaving you spent.

Goal: Permanently eliminate added sugar from your diet — or at least cut way down. Besides abstaining from the obvious (candy, cookies, cakes), check labels and avoid products that contain sugar’s aliases — including barley malt, caramel, carob syrup, corn syrup, dextran, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, maltodextrin, maltose, molasses, sorbitol, sorghum syrup, succinate and sucrose.

“Quitting sugar cold turkey can trigger headaches, moodiness, fatigue and sugar cravings — but after a few days, withdrawal symptoms subside and you feel energized,” Dr. Lipman said. To ease the transition…

  • Every four hours, supplement with 1,000 mg of the amino acid glutamine, which tricks the brain into thinking that it is getting glucose. Continue until cravings abate.
  • If you sweeten your tea or coffee, use stevia, which does not affect blood sugar levels as dramatically as refined sugar does. Avoid artificial sweeteners — they contain potentially unhealthful chemicals.
  • When you really need something sweet, have fruit or an ounce of dark chocolate.

Gluten. This is a protein found in wheat and certain other grains. Some people can tolerate gluten… and some (those with celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder in which eating gluten can lead to intestinal damage) absolutely cannot.

A great many people, though, fall in the middle — the “gluten-sensitive” area in which eating gluten causes chronic vague unwellness. Dr. Lipman explained, “If you lack an enzyme needed to break down gluten, your immune system reacts as if this protein were a foreign object.” Besides feeling spent, gluten-sensitive people may suffer from bloating, cramps, constipation or diarrhea.

Goal: For four weeks, stop eating any foods that contain the gluten grains — wheat, rye, barley or triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid). This can be tricky, because gluten grains can be found in a surprisingly wide variety of products, including beer, cream sauce, gravy and soy sauce. What’s more, gluten grain products have many aliases. Check labels! The following words may indicate that the product contains gluten — barley, bulgur, dinkle, durum, einkorn, emmer, farina, fu, graham, kamut, rye, seitan, semolina, spelt, triticale, wheat. When in doubt: Choose foods labeled gluten-free.

Eliminating gluten for several weeks has helped nearly all his spent patients, Dr. Lipman said, because when the body expends less energy dealing with this hard-to-digest protein, it has more energy for other processes. Chances are good that going gluten-free will help you, too.

When your no-gluten period is up, try having one serving of a gluten food every few days. If symptoms return, eliminate gluten permanently. If symptoms do not return, you may have one gluten food every other day.

Next step: After you’ve gauged your reaction to gluten, see if you’re sensitive to…

Dairy. “For a surprising number of people, eating products made with cow’s milk can lead to spent symptoms as well as to gassiness, constipation, skin irritation and respiratory problems,” Dr. Lipman said.

Reasons: The milk protein casein can trigger an immune system attack… some people lack the enzyme needed to digest the milk sugar lactose… and homogenization creates fats that the body may have trouble digesting.

Goal: Avoid products made with cow’s milk for four weeks. Instead, try goat’s or sheep’s milk. (Dr. Lipman did not recommend soy milk, which can be difficult to digest.)

When you complete your no-cow-dairy period, try having one serving of cow’s milk or a cow’s milk product every other day. If the dairy-sensitivity symptoms described above return, swear off cow’s milk products for good. Otherwise, you can have up to two servings of them per day.


Lack of restful slumber is another problem common among people who feel spent — but simply spending more time in bed is not the solution. You also have to improve the quality of your sleep. What helps…

  • Turn off the technology — TV, computer, cell phone — an hour before bedtime. These distractions rev you up instead of getting you ready to rest.
  • Darken your room. Even small amounts of light from a bedside clock or phone inhibit the body’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin — so if your bedroom isn’t nearly pitch black, wear an eye mask. Dr. Lipman recommended, “If you go to the bathroom during the night, use a nightlight or flashlight to see your way. Bright light immediately halts melatonin production.”
  • Get up and go to sleep at the same time every day. This helps your body clock optimize its rhythm for releasing hormones that regulate sleeping (melatonin) and waking (serotonin, cortisol).
  • Keep cool. The body naturally warms during the day and cools down for sleep. At night, for optimal secretion of melatonin, use a fan or set your air conditioner to 70°F in summer… in winter, turn your thermostat to 65°F.
  • Do this yoga pose right before going to bed to get into a sleep-ready state. Lie on your back, arms at your sides, palms up. Close your eyes, relax and lie still, breathing slowly and deeply for five minutes. Dr. Lipman said, “This soothes the nervous system and eases mental and physical fatigue, so you sleep more soundly… and wake up rejuvenated.”