April 10, 2012

Brain fog

After a weekend of holiday eating and activities, I think it's appropriate to tackle the Energises pillar of the SHAPES model — it represents managing the ability of your body and brain to operate in a peak performing state.

Since my knee surgery last July, I've maintained a healthy diet and exercise regime to minimise inflammation (pain) in my knee. I've reduced, and in most cases, eliminated, processed sugars, breads and other grains, and animal fats. I also keep really fit exercising 3-5 times a week. It's paid dividends as far as recovery, but had some unintended benefits. Mostly around my levels of energy and mental clarity.

This weekend I indulged a bit too much on the high carbohydrate, sugary foods. The result? I woke up the next day with a foggy brain and exhausted body and am struggling to get my act together.

While many people associate a diet high in processed and sugary foods with weight gain and heart disease, you may be surprised to learn this also lead to a decline in cognitive functions - even from just a few meals. 

While our brain needs sugar to function, it is best sourced through fruits and vegetables. This enables your body to metabolise the sugars slowly and gradually, making it readily available for your brain and body to use as needed. Combine this with adequate exercise means you'll have less chance of excess sugar in your body that's stored as fat. 

The exercise also boosts circulation in your body and brain, supporting cognitive functions and general health and well-being. Exercise is associated with higher levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which promotes healthy nerve cells and seems to play a role in improving memory and recall.

A diet high in refined carbohydrates and over processed foods (white breads, sugars, cereals, soft drinks, lattes) leads to increased levels of insulin production, which plays a role in making glucose available to your cells. 

Eat this way often enough and your cells become resistant to insulin so the sugar goes straight to your fat cells where it is stored for future use. In other words, your hips and thighs get the sugar, versus your brain and body.

The problem is that your cells in your brain and body no longer have access to the fuel they need. They're starving while your body is storing.

The result? Foggy brain and sluggish body.

Highly processed, sugary foods taste good. They are engineered to appeal to our desire for an immediate fix and have been shown to have the same effects on our brain and bodies as drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. 

In the game of great leadership and peak performance, you need to think hard about the long-term effects. 

Try this on for one month. It's pretty simple and feels great. 

Eat mainly whole foods that look like something recognisable—steak, not sausages. Give up the sugars, fried foods and processed snacks. Get food from your fridge, not your cupboard and make sure you understand and can picture everything you put in your mouth. Personally, I can't imagine what Propyl P Hydroxybenzonate looks like so would prefer not to eat it. 

Try grilled versus fried foods. Eat plant oils versus animal fats. Raw versus cooked vegetables.

Then notice how much better you feel. Once your taste buds adjust to real food, you'll discover it actually tastes great and doesn't come with the brain and body fog.

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