Eating Well When You’re Low on Energy

A tired woman is sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee.Sep 1, 2023

By Markita Lewis, MS, RD

We’ve all had those days where we don’t have the energy to cook something elaborate and all we want is the easiest thing that can make our stomach happy.

For some people, days where they have low energy or “low spoons” can come quite often.

No, we’re not talking about the number of clean spoons you may have in your kitchen drawers. “Spoons” is commonly used as a shorthand for people to refer to their energy levels.

This comes from Spoon Theory, a metaphor created by disability activist Christine Miserandino. One day, Christine wanted to tangibly demonstrate to her best friend how it was like to have limited energy to get through the day while living with lupus. (1)

Christine gave her friend a handful of spoons and asked her to envision that it was her daily energy allotment for the day. Every task that needs to be completed costs at least a spoon, but possibly even more. When she was out of spoons, it represented not having the energy to do much else in a day.

It’s very common that when people have low energy, whether it’s because of a chronic condition, mental health or a tiring day, eating regularly is often the first thing to go by the wayside.

However, irregular eating habits may make issues of fatigue and mental health symptoms more prominent.

A cross-sectional study examined the association between skipping breakfast, mental health, and health risk behaviors of 21,972 university students in 28 countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Findings of the study suggested that skipping breakfast was associated with various sleep issues, health behavior risks, as well as mood-related symptoms such as depression, loneliness, lower happiness, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Limitations of the study were that the study was based on self-report, limited questions about overall diet quality and information about other meals, and lack of longitudinal data. (2)

Studies on medical students have suggested an association between meal skipping and fatigue. A study with 127 healthy second-year Japanese medical students attending Osaka City University Graduate School of Medicine, found that skipping breakfast and irregular meals were associated with fatigue. There were several limitations to this study. First, only a limited number of subjects was studied; generalization for the results would require studies involving a large number of subjects. Second, conclusions about cause-and-effect relations cannot be drawn due to the cross-sectional nature of the data. Third, the questionnaire used in this study did not include comprehensive questions dealing with dietary habits and food content. (3)

Similarly, a descriptive cross-sectional study performed among medical students at the University of Ghana Medical School, Korle Bu-Accra of 317 (pre-clinical and clinical) medical students in Ghana found that skipping breakfast was significantly related to fatigue and poor attention span. There were several limitations to this study. Due to the cross-sectional nature of this study and its data, conclusions about cause-and-effect relations between skipping breakfast and reported fatigue and perceived concentration cannot be drawn. Other limitations to this study included reliance on self-reported data and a lack of generalizability to larger, less specialized population. (4)

Research shows that skipping meals may decrease the intake of essential nutrients needed for energy and concentration.

A study analyzed 24-hour food recall data from the dietary intake component of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Survey data was combined from the years 2007-2016 and included 23,488 adults aged 18 years or older who were not pregnant or lactating. Nutritional quality was assessed using the 2010 Healthy Eating Index, a measure of diet quality compared to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Results of the study found that adults who skipped meals had an overall lower daily energy intake, but they also had lower diet quality. According to the researchers for this study, this lower diet quality may impact health negatively over time. This study is limited by using only two days of dietary intake, which may not be accurate to long-term eating patterns. (5)

So, when you’re feeling like you have low energy, peanuts and peanut butter can be there for you so you can get the essential nutrients you need.

Peanuts and peanut butter provide 7 grams of protein per ounce and good fats to help sustain your energy and provide more than 30 vitamins and minerals to support overall diet quality.

Low-Spoons Meal Hacks

Ordering out can get expensive, so we’ve put together a few go-to recipes and tips you can turn to when you’re having a low-spoons day.

Adding a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter to fruit, crackers, crudité, oatmeal or your favorite kind of bread can be a quick way to boost the protein and nutrient content of your snack or meal.

This no-cook Multipurpose Peanut Sauce can be added to a variety of foods and elevate your meal with only a small amount of effort.

Some of our other low-effort and peanut-filled recipes include:


  1. Miserandino, C. (2003). The Spoon Theory. But You Don’t Look Sick.
  2. Pengpid, S., & Peltzer, K. (2020). Skipping Breakfast and Its Association with Health Risk Behaviour and Mental Health Among University Students in 28 Countries. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity : targets and therapy, 13, 2889–2897.
  3. Tanaka, M., Mizuno, K., Fukuda, S., Shigihara, Y., & Watanabe, Y. (2008). Relationships between dietary habits and the prevalence of fatigue in medical students. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 24(10), 985–989.
  4. Ackuaku-Dogbe, E. M., & Abaidoo, B. (2014). Breakfast eating habits among medical students. Ghana medical journal, 48(2), 66–70.
  5. Zeballos, E., & Todd, J. E. (2020). The effects of skipping a meal on daily energy intake and diet quality. Public health nutrition, 23(18), 3346–3355.

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