The Connection Between Anemia & Weight Gain

Should you care about your iron levels? Short answer - yes. If you skim through most of this article, please, please, please take your iron levels seriously. Ladies, you especially!

 

Why is Iron Important Anyways?

A day doesn’t go by that a client doesn’t complain of having low energy. It’s extremely common nowadays for individuals to feel tired and exhausted, even though they might be eating a nutritious, well rounded diet. As a former anemic, I can assure you that there is nothing worse than feeling utterly exhausted from the moment you wake up to the second your head hits the pillow. You’re tired all the time, your hair is falling out in fistfuls and you feel hopeless because it’s not a lack of sleep, health food or water.

So what gives?

Iron is what gave many months ago, it just happened to go unnoticed. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in Canada. Low iron levels are the reason to blame for any shortness of breath, fatigue, lack of energy, mood swings and feelings of exhaustion you might be experiencing. The sad part is that low iron can go on for months without being detected. Often times we write it off as not sleeping well, going through stressful events, work being insane or you being off your regular routine. It’s not the first thing that pops into our head when we think something might be off, but it should be. That and the fact that we are likely dehydrated. Which leads me to my next point….

 

It might not be your iron levels at all..

 

There are a handful of other reasons and health conditions that could be responsible for your lack of energy, moodiness (hello diva!), fatigue and dizziness. It tends to be the beautiful triad of poor sleep, lack of water and processed food. Hands up if you’re a 5 cups of coffee a day and Netflix and chill in bed with pizza and ice cream kinda person! If you could identify with that last sentence, even in the slightest, your energy levels are likely sky high in the evening, you find yourself tossing and turning in the middle of the night and then you wake up feeling drained and like you never slept in the first place. So we start our day with coffee to give us some pep in our step, wait to eat until lunch or when we find ourselves to be hungry (which is far later then when we should be eating because you are still digesting last night’s pizza and ice cream) so you shovel down whatever you can find in sight. This is a pattern I sadly see far too frequently in clients that I coach and truthfully, I wish I could shake them and get them to eat more during the day to binge less during the evening.

 

A calories is not a calorie.

 

The calories in strawberry shortcake and broccoli are processed by our bodies differently - one source of carbs is stored primarily as fat, while the other promotes fat loss. They might have the same number of calories, if for some reason you find yourself up for the challenge of eating 500 calories worth of broccoli please invite me to the spectacle! But the biggest difference is the sugar content. Yep, everyone’s favourite food. Cue the song, “sugar, sugar…..”

When you’re tired you typically don’t crave green leafy vegetables and clean proteins. We’re human - we want the quick fix, or in this case the quick spike. Spike in blood sugar that is. We choose the simplest carb that we can get because sugars contain glucose and glucose is energy for our cells. Our lovely friend insulin, tries to help manage our blood sugar levels, but it can only do so much when we are taking in copious amounts of sugar. Think of it like an overflowing cup of water that we keep pouring into - the water (or sugar in this example) has to go somewhere, and sadly it’s going to our fat cells.

 

The link between low iron, sugar and weight gain

You know exactly how this scenario plays out.

You’re tired, so you eat sugar. You supplement with coffee and maybe a processed meal or two and then you’re back to feeling blue. You might be sleeping (but it’s rare that it’s a sound sleep) but you never address the root issue - that being you have low ferritin levels.

If you find suffering from low energy levels, moodiness and feel exhausted all the time, I would highly suggest taking the following steps.

 
  1. Start your morning with a warm glass of lemon water

  2. Reduce your consumption of sugar, gluten and dairy

  3. Drink half your body weight of water in ounces (drink up!)

  4. Get your iron levels checked and/or start supplementing

 

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in Canada. Over the last few years, there has been a huge shift of people choosing to eat a plant-based diet and then those who go in the opposite and practically live on processed foods. Both of these diets are low in heme forming foods and make it difficult for individuals to obtain their ideal amount of iron each day.

Yes, kale, spinach, nuts, seeds and lentils are great sources of plant based sources of protein - but it is harder for your body to absorb iron from plants in comparison to animal foods. Animal proteins contain heme iron compared to plants which contain non-heme iron. Vegetarians have an even tougher time meeting their iron requirements for the day as plant-based proteins are less bioavailable which is why it is recommended that vegetarians and vegans consume nearly twice as much iron than their meat-eating friends. Females especially are at a higher risk for anemia as we tap into our iron stores on a monthly basis when we are menstruating. Talk about a double whammy!

I highly recommend talking a natural iron supplement to get your levels back up to par so you have the energy to do the things you love once again. My favourite is Pure Lab Vitamin’s Carbonyl Iron. Their metallic iron supplement has a sixty-nine percent absorption rate (which is practically unheard of!) and doesn’t leave your stomach turning over in discomfort and the best part, you won’t be constipated! Whoot whoot! You can find the supplement at your local health food store, or if you’d like a discount code you can send me an email at lindsay@lindsaymustard.com with the subject line “Iron Supplement Discount".”

So let’s put an end to your exhaustion. Eat real food (some meat, mostly plants), drink plenty of water, move for at least 30 minutes per day and get your sleep. Supplement if you need to, but before you turn to food to give you that energy boost, check you iron and see if there’s something else going on behind the scenes!