Are you suffering from rust-out?

Diet rust-out is on the rise (Unsplash / Tim Gouw)
Diet rust-out is on the rise (Unsplash / Tim Gouw)

Chronic stress, exhaustion — we all know the symptoms of career-induced burnout, but you may be less familiar with the rise of rust-out.

While burnout is caused when the demands of a role that can’t be met, rust-out happens when you can’t find the motivation to push yourself, largely because you’re uninspired, unsatisfied and bored of the daily grind — and it’s becoming mainstream, according to career experts.

"Rust-out occurs from a lack of mental stimulation at work, for example this could be due to engaging in work that fails to challenge a person or does not meet their personal values or goals," adds Jade Thomas, a psychotherapist, career coach & founder of Luxe Psychology Practice.

A report released earlier this year found that 80% of Brits are not happy in their current career. What’s more, the stagnancy phenomenon is not just affecting how we show up in the workplace: this feeling of demotivation has a ripple effect on how we eat as well. Let’s be real, do you really fancy that kimchi salad when you’re drowning in a pile of mundane paperwork?

"Depression, fatigue, cravings for fatty or sugary food, and an increase in risk-taking behaviours are all possible outcomes of rust-out," continues Thomas.

And while boredom in the workplace can set off diet rust-out, there are other catalysts for the phenomenon that go beyond career demotivation. Maybe you’ve set unrealistic diet goals which have backfired and left you feeling discouraged and unable to meet your targets. Or it could also be down to your biological make up.

It might all sound very millennial, but the body’s physiological responses actually changes during winter which could impact everything from the foods you crave to the liquids you drink.

In winter we’re more likely to make unhealthy, reactionary food choices which can impact our mood, weight and energy levels

We naturally shift into survival mode to adjust to each season. During winter, core body temperature drops slightly, we become more prone to increases in brown fat, (the type of fat that hibernating animals have) and our circadian rhythm, (the 24-hour internal sleep-awake cycle that the body runs off) can temporarily struggle to adapt to fewer daylight hours, causing a short-term shift in our sleep pattern.

While we are already genetically predisposed to eating more in winter, we’re also more likely to make unhealthier, reactionary food choices which can impact our mood, weight and energy levels. We're all more likely to comfort eat during winter, and findings from research from the BBC showed that 28% of usually healthy eaters are reaching for less nutritious foods due to price increases.

Put all the pieces of the puzzle together and it’s a perfect storm for diet rust-out. Thankfully there’s lots you can do to push through the seasonal lethargy and get your diet back on track.

Beat the weather blues

It's common to feel more sluggish when the weather is miserable (Pexels)
It's common to feel more sluggish when the weather is miserable (Pexels)

Winter depression is real, with an estimated two million of us struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) each year. Sufferers typically present with persistent tiredness and chronic low mood which can negatively affect our personal and professional lives. But even if you don’t suffer from SAD, you might be one of the 40 per cent of people who report feeling more sluggish when the weather is miserable. This can trigger a craving for unhealthy foods like takeaways and chocolate.

Increasing vitamin D intake is an effective way to counteract the effects of winter induced low mood, however the dark weather is one of the biggest barriers to obtaining enough. The body manufactures vitamin D through direct sunlight exposure, but as the sun is weaker in winter, it is worth taking a supplement to acquire the required daily 10 micrograms during winter.

Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods including oily fish like salmon, egg yolks and fortified foods such as plant-based milks so try to include these in your diet a few times per week.

Sniff a sprig of rosemary

The benefits of rosemary go beyond jazzing up your roast dinner. The herb is a proven cognitive enhancer and could reduce workplace rust-out at work by helping to improve concentration levels so you can focus better on the task at hand.

Rosemary could help to keep you motivated to stick to a healthy diet. Studies show that breathing in the herb’s scent helps to increase mental alertness and clarity. Place some sprigs in a jar of oil and inhale for a minute or two whenever you need a cognitive pick-me-up.

Swap sugar for whole foods

Eating less sugar and more healthy fats helps to combat diet rust-out (Pexels / fauxels)
Eating less sugar and more healthy fats helps to combat diet rust-out (Pexels / fauxels)

Sugar cravings are hard to control at the best of times — but throw in yet another looming deadline that you can’t find the motivation to meet, a constant lack of sunlight, chronic tiredness and fluctuating hormones, (depending on where you are in your cycle, or if you’re peri-menopausal or menopausal), and the lust for a sweet hit is hard to dismiss.

Sugar is the brain’s preferred source of energy, so you are primed to crave it when we’re suffering from rust-out, but you don’t have to reach for processed treats.

Having a piece of fresh fruit or a pot of plain yoghurt with honey is a doable way to satisfy sweet tastebuds. Filling healthy fats like those found in nuts, seeds and avocado and satiating protein sources such as tofu, lean meat and pulses are also super-weapons against cravings so make sure to eat lots of these food groups.

Find a booze-free drink you love

Fewer daylight hours and colder temperatures have long been associated with a rise in drinking. In fact colder places are commonly associated with higher alcohol consumption - add to the mix, workplace boredom and you might find that once occasional glass of wine at dinner quickly becomes woven into your daily routine.

The bad news is that alcohol is a root cause of rust-out, so it’s something to bear in mind especially when navigating the festive season where drinking tends to reach its peak.

Shift the focus away from alcohol excess by choosing mocktails or low alcohol beer and wine. Dabble in different options to find a drink that feels a little bit special to keep FOMO at bay. Trust us, your body and your lack of fuzzy head will thank you for it later.

Shift the focus away from alcohol excess by choosing mocktails or low alcohol drinks (Getty Images)
Shift the focus away from alcohol excess by choosing mocktails or low alcohol drinks (Getty Images)

Warm up from the inside out

Chugging back water is often the last thing we’re thinking about when it’s cold outside, and you might find yourself ignoring that glass of water sitting on your desk but dehydration is a rust-out red flag. Why? The cooler temperatures don’t trigger the same thirst response in summer.

If you’re more lethargic than usual, dizzy and find it hard to concentrate at work it might be because you’re simply not drinking as much as you should.

Key dehydration signs are needing the loo less often than usual and dark urine (ideally it should be straw coloured).

Keep a bottle of water on your desk, add fruit or lemon and mint to plain water and set reminders on your phone to sip at regular intervals. Getting up from your desk, even just for a few minutes can reset motivation levels, so allow yourself regular tea breaks to make a cuppa. Sip calming herbal teas like chamomile and passionflower throughout the day to reach the recommended daily 1.5 litres of H20

Add beetroot to your smoothie

Beetroot doesn’t just help make your plate look prettier, the root veg is a source of nitrate oxide, a chemical which helps to improve blood flow in the brain and could help to offset the negative effects of both workplace and diet rust-out by helping to bolster mental focus.

Add beetroot to homemade smoothies to access the benefits. Whizz together cooked beetroot, banana, ginger and blueberries and your choice of milk for an instant brain booster.