We rarely associate our meals with workplace performance, but science is now telling us that what we eat has a significant impact. What you have for lunch can make a meaningful difference in your cognitive performance, energy levels and critical decision-making ability. Your food choices ultimately influence your workplace success.
Being properly fueled allows you to get the most out of your day and stay present through long meetings and stressful situations. Presentations in the boardroom, high-stress negotiations and client interactions require fierce concentration and brain power. Food helps fuel electrical impulses for learning, memory and other cognitive tasks.
Diets filled with energy drinks, fast food and sugar negatively affects your mood, learning and memory, whereas diets filled with fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds can enhance your concentration and outlook.
Plan your nutrition.
Staying alert on an empty stomach is difficult. It is imperative to plan your fuel intake throughout the day. Planning your meals and snacks in advance can take your work performance to the next level -- especially if your life is filled with meetings and deadlines.
Decide what you are going to eat before lunchtime arrives. This leads to balanced, smart nutritional choices, rather than a trip to the vending machine or candy bowl.
Keep your snacks or “fuel supply” readily available throughout the day so you have options that are nutritious and provide consistent energy boosts every few hours rather than eating one big meal at lunch time. Healthy snacking is the key to maintaining peak energy levels and boosting brain power.
Your health should be a top priority. By taking care of yourself, you are better equipped to do your job. You should take a break to replenish your body when needed, which is why having your fuel supply nearby, readily available and freshly supplied every day of the week is so important.
Food affects your brain.
If you’re seeking an edge to achieve maximum performance, intelligent food choices are key. To function at your highest performance, your mind needs nutrient-rich and low glycemic foods. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and foods with B vitamins, antioxidants and essential fats.
The brain relies on glucose as its primary fuel, according to numerous studies on glucose enhancement of human memory. Increases in circulating blood glucose can actually facilitate cognitive functioning. This phenomenon has been dubbed the "glucose memory facilitation effect,"according to a 2011 study in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews.
Spikes in blood sugar affect your brain and productivity. When food breaks down in our systems it converts to glucose. Having a steady glucose level in your body equates to better focus. You should avoid processed carbohydrates and refined sugars that will cause your blood glucose and concentration levels to spike.
Healthy snacks including fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables and protein bars will maintain your glucose at an optimum level. Eating quality protein and fats within each meal also help stabilize your blood glucose levels.
Eating disorders: a hidden danger lurking in Corporate America.
Eating disorders are more prevalent in the business world than many people realize. For many people in corporate jobs, skipping lunch is now the norm.
“Patients with eating disorders have the highest cortisol level in their systems, which means they carry an enormous amount of stress in their bodies," says Dena Cabrera, PsyD, clinical director of Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders in Arizona. "They have a high rate of anxiety, perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
High-pressure jobs and executive positions often come with long hours and a large amount of responsibility. Placing a person prone to anxiety in that type of environment is the perfect storm for an eating disorder to be triggered, Cabrera says.
People miss the signs because they don’t expect adults to have an eating disorder. In the United States, about 30 million men and women suffer from an eating disorder, meaning the person is so preoccupied with food that he or she cannot focus on other things -- including work.
Unfortunately, the pressure to perform at work leaves little time for self-care, which means that many individuals don’t seek help, Cabrera says.
“There is incredible stigma and shame associated with admitting or exposing mental-health problems, especially for someone with authority,” she says.
Treatment for eating disorders is widely available and successful when the disease is dealt with quickly. Facilities such as Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders have proven recovery models to help patients. There are signs to look for that a co-worker, employee or friend may be suffering from an eating disorder, including mood changes, significant changes in weight, eating very little or an enormous amount of food, changes in job performance and compulsivity on eating healthy or exercising, Cabrera says.
Focusing on nutrition should not be an afterthought.
The link between eating healthy and job performance is undeniable. People need to make their health and nutritional choices a priority in the workplace. In turn, they will be able function at the top of their game.
Likewise, employers should encourage their staff members to refuel with a snack and take time to eat a healthy lunch. Employers should set an example of what healthy “brain” food looks like. Instead of bringing donuts or pizza to a staff meeting, the menu should include fruits, vegetables and nuts.
This will not only help improve the health of your staff, it may just boost your bottom line as well.