Meeting nutritional needs keeps us feeling good and is critical if our bodies are to function at their best. Hunger is a distraction and associated low blood sugar quickly leads to fatigue and low energy levels — wreaking havoc on our ability to focus. Research has shown that inadequate nourishment can reduce efficiency by 20% and that poor nutrition is directly linked to absenteeism, sickness, low morale and higher rates of accidents. As with every aspect of our HALT Campaign, a break from work gives an opportunity to recognise and act accordingly where possible. A healthy meal or snack at an appropriate time can help to improve concentration and boost our energy levels, as well as reducing levels of stress. Effective nutrition of course depends largely on what you eat outside of work, however at least a third of our daily calories intake should be taken during working hours. The timing and contents of these calories is a really crucial ingredient (pun intended!) when it comes to how you perform and therefore the level of care you offer to your patients.
Take a break and stay hydrated!
Research shows that being dehydrated by just 2% impairs performance in tasks that require attention, psychomotor, and immediate memory skills, as well as assessment of the subjective state.1 Put simply, being dehydrated affects your ability to focus. A lack of focus can be an important early indicator of dehydration and can raise awareness of a lack of fluid before the thirst sensation becomes apparent. Whilst drinking plenty of water might sound quite obvious, in practice, it isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. However, developing a strategy that helps you to stay better hydrated at work, could be the single biggest thing you can do to increase your cognitive abilities. Help yourself and your colleagues by demonstrating and encouraging these simple steps in self-care.
Quality over quantity
Having a break is a great opportunity to recognise and meet your physiological and emotional needs. However, when it comes to nutrition it’s as much about what you get as it is about how much and when you get it. Consistently eating foods that support healthy brain function increases concentration and can even help you have more patience with distractions. A study from the British Journal of Health Psychology found that the more fruits and vegetables people consumed (up to 7 portions), the happier, more creative and engaged they tended to be.2 Fruit and veg contain vital nutrients that foster the production of dopamine which plays a key role in the experience of curiosity, motivation, and engagement. They also provide antioxidants that minimise bodily inflammation, improve memory, and enhance mood. In addition, another study showed that diets high in trans and saturated fats can negatively impact the brain, influencing learning and memory.3 Food for thought...
Creating effective habits
Most of us ‘know’ the facts about effective nutrition, yet we don’t always make smart or logical decisions about our diet. In part, it’s because we’re at our lowest point in both energy and self-control when we are hungry, but it’s also because we are creatures of habit and habits are often created unconsciously, beyond our logical control. The good news is that contrary to what many of us may assume, the trick to eating well is not learning to resist temptation. It’s about making healthy eating the easiest possible option and to consciously create effective habits.
Here are a few suggestions (2,4): 1) Plan ahead – make decisions about what you are going to eat before you get hungry 2) Grazing – eating smaller, more frequent meals helps to maintain your glucose at a more consistent level than depending on a single feast. You will be more likely to perform at your best if you graze throughout the day. 3) Path of least resistance - make healthy snacking easier to achieve than unhealthy snacking.
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1. Adan A. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012; 31(2): 71-78.
2. Connor TS , et al. Br J Health Psychol. 2015; 20(2): 413-427.
3. Gómez-Pinilla F. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008; 9(7): 568-578.
4. Friedman R. What You Eat Affects Your Productivity. https://hbr.org/2014/10/what-you-eat-affects-your-productivity