It’s 3pm on a workday. How are you feeling?
If you’re like most, you’re not feeling great.
Your mental and physical energy is dwindling fast. You’re having a hard time focusing and thinking clearly. Maybe you’re feeling an intense craving for something sugary or salty, or maybe you’re feeling guilty for having indulged a similar craving 20 minutes ago. You have several hours of work left, but you could really go for a nap right now...
In short, you’ve hit the all-too-common afternoon slump. And despite the frustrations of this daily occurrence, you’ve probably accepted it as inevitable.
But it doesn’t have to be.
While many of us are eager to read about productivity hacks and try out the latest task management system, we often neglect something far more powerful: our own health.
In this FitBliss blog, we’ll be exploring the connection between diet and productivity, as well as some practical tips for how to fit healthy eating into your busy day.
Diet and Productivity
So, how does diet affect productivity?
While there are many different components of food that affect our health and well-being, arguably the biggest player when it comes to productivity is carbohydrates.
Within carbohydrates, we have two main categories: refined (e.g., white flour, sugar, fruit juice) and unrefined (e.g., whole grains, whole fruit, beans and lentils).
Refined carbohydrates negatively impact our productivity for several reasons:
- Refined carbs break down quickly in the body, causing rapid increases in blood sugar. While this spike provides energy in the short-term, it’s followed quickly by a productivity-killing energy crash (not to mention hunger and irritability). In the long-run, these extreme fluctuations in blood sugar levels can lead to decreased insulin sensitivity and a higher risk of chronic disease.
- Refined carbs are low in nutrients due to the processing involved to create them. Overtime, regular consumption of low-nutrient foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies that leave you feeling fatigued and foggy. At the least, you’re missing an opportunity to stock up on productivity-enhancing nutrients (e.g., B vitamins and iron, both of which are important for maintaining high energy levels).
- Refined carbs are low in fiber, which is important for healthy digestion and satiety. If you’re not getting enough fiber, you’re bound to feel hungry and/or suffer from digestive issues, both of which will only impair your productivity. In addition, low-fiber diets are strongly correlated with the development of chronic disease.
- Refined carbs have been linked to chronic inflammation, which has been recognized as a major precursor of dementia, depression, hypertension, and other illnesses. Simply put, keeping inflammation low is a must for anyone looking to keep their bodies and minds healthy and productive.
Importantly, this doesn’t mean all carbs are bad! As opposed to refined carbohydrates, unrefined carbohydrates have a positive effect on the body; while refined carbs cause blood sugar spikes, are low in nutrients and fiber, and promote inflammation in the body, unrefined carbohydrates support healthy blood sugar levels, are high in nutrients and fiber, and have an anti-inflammatory effect.
In short, unrefined carbohydrates are the way to go for encouraging the energy, clarity, and illness-free living that you need to work optimally.
Healthy Eating FitTips
What to Eat
While you’ve likely heard of certain “brain foods” (e.g., blueberries, walnuts, and fatty fish) for increasing productivity, the key is to minimize processed foods and eat more whole foods. More specifically...
- Opt for whole grains (e.g., brown rice, wheat berries, quinoa) instead of refined grains (e.g., any product made from white flour, like white bread and pasta).
- Minimize refined sugar intake by choosing dark chocolate (70% or higher), dried or fresh fruits, or sweet vegetables to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, across all colors of the rainbow, to ensure you get a diverse range of phytonutrients for fighting disease, inflammation, and brain fog. Fruits and veggies are also high in fiber, which improves satiety and supports healthy digestion.
- Incorporate healthy (i.e., whole-food) sources of fats and protein. While changing the types of carbs you eat will make a huge difference in your productivity, it’s important to complement your carbs with these other macronutrients to improve satiety, aid absorption of nutrients, and support healthy bodily functioning overall (we all need fats and protein to survive!).
- Drink lots of water. (Okay, this isn’t technically something to “eat,” but it’s still super important.) In addition to reducing fatigue, hunger, headaches, and cravings, staying hydrated helps improve blood flow throughout the body (including the brain!).
How to Eat
Just as it’s important to moderate what we eat, it’s important to look at how we eat. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Eat small meals throughout the day to keep blood sugar steady — we want to avoid both the irritability that comes from hunger and low blood sugar, as well as the food “coma” we tend to experience after eating too much.
- Aim to get carbohydrates, protein, and fat in every meal and snack, and avoid consuming excessive amounts of protein and fat in one sitting (doing so can tax the digestive system and leave you feeling sluggish).
- Eat a healthy breakfast to kick-start your metabolism and provide high-quality energy to make the most of your morning.
All this being said, eating well won’t help your productivity much if you’re spending all your time preparing, eating, and/or thinking about food. Here are a few time-saving tips:
- Take 30 minutes each week to plan your meals and come up with a grocery list.
- If you shop yourself, organize your list by category (e.g., produce section, refrigerated section, bakery) to make shopping more efficient.
- Otherwise, utilize a grocery delivery service to bring your food right to your doorstep.
- Dedicate a block on the weekend to prepare food for the week.
- I’m not suggesting you spend 3 hours food-prepping on the weekend, but I do encourage you to experiment with 30 minutes or so of weekend food prep. Not only does this save time during the workweek, but, by batching similar tasks, it makes your food prepping more productive overall.
- Make healthy eating the easy choice.
- Try to identify the factors that motivate you to choose the not-so-healthy option, and brainstorm ways to make that option more difficult to choose.
- As an example, if you tend to opt for vending machine snacks because of their convenience, bring a bunch of healthy snacks to work on Monday morning, and leave them on your desk. When the afternoon slump comes, it’ll be much easier to grab the apple than the vending machine snack!
And there you have it. A healthier, more productive you is just a bite away.
Dominique Alessi, Health Coach
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