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“The belly rules the mind.” (Spanish Proverb)
If you’re anything like most people, you’ll tend to have a pretty uniform pattern of high and low energy periods during your work-day. Typically in the morning you’ll stumble into the office feeling like you’ve been mauled by a gang of rabid wolves. As the day wears on, the light from your laptop screen will slowly penetrate your brain and you’ll begin to wake up until you reach something like a productive state right before noon. At lunch, you munch down whatever is put on your plate quickly so you have time to see Davidson from marketing squirting milk out of his nose. Back at your desk, the post-lunch low leaves you wishing you had one of those Stephen Hawking-wheelchair computers so you wouldn’t have to go to the effort of actually talking to other people. It’s only in the late afternoon you begin gathering steam again, and unless you get caught in a vicious cycle of emailing “Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme walk into a bar…”-joke emails with a colleague, this is your best chance of getting some real work done during the day.
Obviously, there are many drivers behind this pattern, but one of the main ones is nutrition, which affects your blood sugar level, which in turn directly translates into whether you feel energetic or tired. A few common meal-related mistakes during the working day can rapidly cut into your energy and productivity. In fact, it’s a wonder employers don’t address this more vigorously, considering it’s costing them in both sick days and productivity, but since it’s up to you, there are a few key mistakes that are quite easy to avoid:
- Eating sugary snacks: You might think that a Mars-bar is just the kick you need to get some work done, but you’re probably wrong. All it does is it creates a momentary spike in your blood-sugar, which your body will try to counteract with a corresponding insulin spike. Unfortunately, the insulin lingers longer in your system than does the Mars-bar, dragging your blood-sugar to a phlegmatic low for a long time.
- Overdoing lunch or breakfast. At first glance, a big, heavy meal may seem like it will keep you going, but in fact it does the opposite. Blood rushes to your stomach to handle this massive digestion task, leaving you desk-zombieing for hours.
- Not eating any snacks at all. Ideally, you want your blood sugar level to stay quite stable during the day. The current standard practice of only having two massive meals a day is not a good way to do this. Small, healthy snacks like fruit or nuts can help keep your energy-level stable.
A few simple steps you can take to switch to more productive afternoons:
- Try to choose lunches with low amounts of so-called high GI-carbs (white bread, potatoes, pasta), as they trigger similarly high insulin responses as sugary snacks, resulting in lowered blood sugar. Insulin also indicates to your body that it should store energy as fat, thus hindering your project of still being able to see your toes at the age of 40. A light lunch with a side dish of vegetables, salad or soup is perfect as it only triggers a limited insulin-response.
- Decide the previous afternoon what you’re going to have for lunch the next day, and stick to that. When you’re hungry, the temptation to have a bigger, fattier meal than you need is hard to resist, so it’s best to make your decisions while you’re still objective.
- Buy an assortment of fruits to keep by your desk so you can grab one in the morning or afternoon as an energy booster rather than turning to the vending machine.
- Consider making a commitment contract with a colleague so that you remind each other of the need to have lighter lunches.
- Prepare your “Person of the Year”-award acceptance speech for all the extra work you’re getting done in the afternoons!