Think about those days at work when you’re extra productive. Are there any patterns of what you eat on those days? Likely, this isn’t something you would take note of, but it should be! For those of you trying to stay afloat and balance your day between emails, meetings and ongoing deadlines, food is fuel.
The foods we eat affect us more than we realize. Food directly impacts cognitive performance, which means the choices you make at lunch time influence more than just your physical health.
Here’s the basics. Our bodies convert most of what we eat into glucose, which provides energy for our brains to stay attentive. When we’re low on glucose, it becomes difficult to focus our attention.
Now here’s what is rarely considered: Our bodies don’t process all foods at the same rate. Some foods, like pasta, or soda for example, release glucose quickly, leading to a burst of energy. While high fat meals (think cheeseburgers) provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us feel groggy.
This may be information that many of us know, but don’t regularly apply for our meal and snack choices. This may be partially due to the fact that when we’re feeling low in energy, choosing the quick simple option like mozza sticks or microwavable pizza seems especially appealing.
These unhealthy choices also tend to be a cheaper and faster lunch option than healthy alternatives, making them seem even more tempting in the middle of a busy workday. We tell ourselves that this tempting option is our way of being efficient with our time, when in reality, saving 10 minutes at lunch results in a less efficient afternoon.
One thing we have to remember is that knowing this information is only a small part of the challenge, but applying this information can help to make changes that positively impact your cognitive performance. Having an action plan (hint: write this down!) can make consistent healthy eating easier to accomplish.
Here are 3 research-based strategies worth trying.
Make your eating decisions before you’re hungry. Pack any snacks and meals that you’ll need during the day. If you’re going out to eat for lunch, decide prior to lunchtime what you’ll be ordering. Studies have found that we’re much better at choosing options with less salt, fat, and calories in the future, than we are in the present.
Choose smaller, more frequent meals. Ensuring your glucose levels aren’t falling too low can help facilitate productivity, and has also been found to help in coping with stress and self-control. Rather than having one large lunch, incorporating snacks can help to maintain your glucose at a more consistent level throughout the day.
Make healthy snacking an easy option. Bringing enough fruits and vegetables to the office for your whole week can help to make healthy snacking more realistic. It can be inconvenient to pack and unpack snacks every night at home, so keeping healthy snacks at work ensures that you will have readily available healthy options to choose from. Since fruits and vegetables foster the production of dopamine, they can result in feeling happier, more engaged and more creative. The same can’t be said for the chips found in your office vending machine.