Nutrition, diet, and productivity

I’ve been away from the blog for 10 days now…not that you’re counting…completing my 2007 preparations.  Corporate America is back to work, so my training business is back into the swing of things.  And so is my diet.  Not a diet as in "lose weight," but a diet as in a meal plan.  After weeks of eating improperly, I’m back at it.  Having a balanced diet will help you be more productive; poor eating habits can make you fuzzyheaded. The American Dietetic Association in Chicago says that people perform less efficiently on an empty stomach. Fatigue from low blood sugar levels leads to poor concentration. So your brain needs to get away from work to function optimally. You can’t expect your car to start if you don’t put gasoline in it, and your body is the same way. It’s also easier to catch colds and other viruses when your body is weak from a lack of nutrients.

If I’m the morning speaker at a conference, I always ask my client if breakfast will be served prior to my presentation. If the reply is, “Yes, we’ll have a continental breakfast,” it means sugary pastries and muffins: no eggs, fruit, yogurt, or granola. So I make my own breakfast arrangements before arriving because the last thing the client wants is a sleepy speaker.

Similarly, when I conduct on-site training in a large organization, I’m always amazed at the array of available food. Someone made cookies and someone is having a birthday. There are leftover donuts from the board meeting, vending machines full of fat and sugar products, and the bottomless pot of coffee…. No wonder it’s so hard to eat right with all these food temptations and few healthy alternatives in your workplace. It all begins with you making changes to your eating habits. Here are some tips to get started:

Have healthy alternatives on hand. One of my clients in Denver , VISA DPS, offers one of the best little employee perks I’ve seen: fresh fruit in every break room. Oranges , apples, and bananas are available for the taking. Steer clear of “sleepy foods” that have refined flour and sugar like bagels, muffins, cookies, pasta, donuts and bread items, which are common items on the catered breakfast meeting menu. Sleepy foods will “drop” you an hour later. Keep food on hand that contains healthy ingredients. Purchase the following items to keep in your desk drawer: snack boxes of raisins, dried fruit, low-fat granola bars, power bars, cans of juice, snack cans of fruit, nuts, and whole wheat bite-sized cereal pieces.

Don’t go more than six hours without eating. Personally, I never have to worry about this one. How can you forget to eat? Go longer than six hours and your blood sugar level will drop, leading to headache and fatigue.

Drop the guilt. Many people wear the “I never have time to take lunch” like a badge of honor. If you’re so pressured that you can’t break for lunch, get some perspective. Are those deadlines really life-or-death issues? If they are, so be it. Most aren’t, and if you’re panicking about some future event, ask yourself if you can’t focus on one half-hour at a time. Taking time out to feed your body is not an indulgence you can’t afford—it’s a necessity you can’t afford not to take.

Be consistent. When I’m traveling out of state for a speaking engagement, it’s tempting to order a big, fattening dessert from room service. “After all, I am working hard, I deserve it,” I might justify to myself. But when I feel sluggish and bloated the next day, it’s never worth it. Paying attention to the foods you eat will help you today…and tomorrow.

Keep track. I have a hard time remembering how much of what food group, how many calories in a serving, how much of what food is a serving, blah blah blah.  So I  made a chart for myself to follow that I hang on my refrigerator and check off as I go, making sure I’ve had the right amounts of the right foods to maintain a nutritious balance and weight control. You can use mine as a guideline and create your own based upon gender, calorie requirements, and weight goals:

Download serving_size_chart.doc

Here’s to eating right for greater productivity!