Most of us feel tired from time to time, especially after a bout with the flu or on a Monday morning. But what about the kind of tiredness that doesn’t go away, day after day, no matter how much coffee you drink or how many naps you take? If you find yourself in a constant state of fatigue with a severe lack of energy, you may want to ask your doctor about chronic fatigue syndrome.

What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Once thought to be an “all in your head” disease, chronic fatigue syndrome is now recognized as an actual (and debilitating) condition characterized by extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition.

Symptoms include fatigue, memory loss, trouble concentrating, sore throat or flu-like symptoms, enlarged lymph nodes, unexplained muscle or joint pain, headaches, unrefreshing sleep, and constant mental and physical exhaustion.

The cause of this disorder is unknown and there is no test for it. Diagnosis is made only after other possible diagnoses have been ruled out and symptoms have continued for four months in adults (three months in children).

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is also referred to as CFS, systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

What Is the Difference Between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and General Tiredness?

Most of us go through seasons where we don’t get enough sleep and feel tired all the time. The difference between this kind of exhaustion and chronic fatigue syndrome is being able to take a nap and feel better. With CFS, the exhaustion runs deep, and no amount of sleep will make you feel refreshed.

Can Diet Improve Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

When you’re feeling exhausted all the time, eating healthy can be a challenge. You may end up eating too much junk because you’re too tired to cook, or failing to eat at all because it takes too much effort.

And then there are all of the claims floating around that a specific kind of diet can cure all of your symptoms (Paleo! Gluten-Free! Blood Type!). People who feel better going on these types of diets usually have an undiagnosed food intolerance that improves when that specific food is removed from their diet. Before making a drastic change, it is important to ask your doctor or dietitian about the right way to do a proper elimination diet to root out a true intolerance.

As much as possible, do your best to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, protein, and quality carbohydrates. Avoid highly processed food, hydrogenated oils (trans fats), and drinks that are high in sugar. Many people with chronic fatigue find that eating small meals and snacks often, every three to four hours, can help improve energy levels.

Use days when you have more energy to do a little extra meal prep so when you have a hard day, there is something healthy to eat. When you cook, make extra and freeze individual portions for a quick meal. Take advantage of things like pre-cut veggies, brown rice bowls, bagged salad, and rotisserie chicken. Not everything healthy has to be made from scratch!

What About Supplements?

More research needs to be done before specific supplement recommendations for chronic fatigue can be made. However, it is important to have blood tests done to rule out any specific deficiencies you may have.

In a comprehensive review of nutritional studies by Melvyn R. Werbach, M.D., the following supplements were named as possibly helping with CFS. (As a reminder, check with your doctor before beginning any kind of supplementation protocol.)

Most of us only need to clean up our diets, exercise a little more, and get better sleep to combat fatigue. But if you have tried everything and are still exhausted, ask your doctor about chronic fatigue syndrome.