The average office environment has seen a lot of changes over the past two years, some objectively positive and others arguably negative. On the one hand, employees are being allowed to telework far more frequently, if not 100% of the time, with more flexible hours. On the other hand, this flexibility has come at a cost for many of us – that definitive line that used to exist between work hours and home/family/friends/life hours, that line has been blurred, if not completely erased. No longer do we feel justified in ignoring our email after 6:00 p.m., and squeezing in some work before dropping the kids off at school is completely normal now, if not expected.
Survey after survey shows that most of us are unwilling to return to the office full-time, so we must find a way to structure our days that will provide our beleaguered brains with some much-needed structure. But what can we do? The answer is perhaps right in front of you, literally check your dinner plate.
We all know that proper nutrition is essential for peak physical performance, and most of us are aware of basic nutritional guidelines: less processed food, eat your vegetables, and so on. But what you may NOT realize is the profound impact your diet can have on your ability to learn, retain, and concentrate. We are what we eat after all, and our brains can only function as effectively as our diet permits us to.
What does this mean in practice? How can we tweak our diets to optimize our brain power? Must we eat a diet that consists solely of kale, chia seeds, and quinoa? While foods such as kale and quinoa can certainly be a part of a healthy diet, the key in discovering the best diet for you is finding that balance, those foods that work for you. At the end of the day, as with all habits, if your diet truly makes you miserable, it won’t be sustainable no matter how healthy it is. Ask yourself a few questions to get started:
- What are my favorite foods? Create a list of the top 10 and be honest with yourself about which can be kept as part of a healthier diet. If one of your top 10 foods is pizza, for example, you don’t have to completely avoid this fan favorite.
- What foods can I absolutely NOT work with? If you have tried kale every which way and still just can’t stomach it, then don’t.
- What food makes me feel awful? Chances are, this list includes fried food and sugary desserts – again, add to that “occasional treat” list!
- What eating schedule works best for me? If you just can’t eat in the morning, then don’t. But do concentrate on small shifts in schedule so you aren’t eating the bulk of your calories late in the day.
Finally, stock up on those foods known to benefit the brain by increasing attention span, improving concentration and focus, minimizing fatigue, and prolonging those blood sugar crashes that lead to the HANGER that can really wreak havoc on your focus and clarity. Instead of relying on the SAD Diet – and appropriate acronym for the Standard American Diet – a diet heavy on processed foods, added sugars, fried foods, saturated fat, the works – find ways to incorporate foods that provide important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Great options include:
- Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc.)
- Fish (salmon, cod, tuna, sardines, trout)
- Nuts (any type)
- Dark chocolate
- Popcorn (without butter)
- Beans (any type)
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale)