In the article I posted a couple of weeks ago, I talked about the importance of setting intentions. It seemed to be a timely topic given that many of us were in the process of making, or had already made, our New Year’s resolutions. For those that made resolutions, no doubt a good percentage of them were about losing weight or improving their diet. In fact, in an article published on December 23, 2020 on today.yougov.com, the author notes that 48% of Americans who made resolutions for 2021 resolved to lose weight, and another 39% resolved to improve their diet.
So how does what we eat impact our resilience? I am sure most of us are familiar with the Snickers commercials “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” Although they are funny, they do send a powerful message about what happens when we don’t fuel our body properly with food – we become irritable, we lack energy, and we are unable to perform at the level we are normally capable of performing. Now think of how resilient you feel when you are depleted, and your energy levels are low. Not very, I’m sure. The Snickers commercials are then excellent examples of how our physical health impacts our mental health.
Now, when we think about eating properly, most of us likely think about how it affects our weight and our heart health. Recently, however, I started reading: “Biohack Your Brain: How to Boost Cognitive Health, Performance & Power”, by Kristen Willeumier, PH. D., a neuroscientist (note: the references contained in this article are taken from pages 11, 12, 13, 14, 61 and 63 of the book). In her book, Dr. Willeumier talks about our ability, even as adults, to grow new brain cells through a process called neurogenesis. This is good news because, as she also says, growing new brain cells “…helps you to better deal with stress and can help mitigate mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and even posttraumatic stress disorder.” That is some pretty powerful stuff, but it does not end there.
According to Dr. Willeumier, in order to have optimal cognitive health and performance, we must boost the blood flow to our brain. Our blood flow can be negatively impacted by many things, including what we eat. Furthermore, blood delivers vital nutrients to the brain such as vitamins, minerals, fats, amino acids, and electrolytes. An entire chapter of the book is dedicated to developing a better brain diet. One of the things that stood out for me, at least as it applies to resilience, is her statement that “asparagus and brussels sprouts are rich in folate, which our brain needs for neuron function, stress reduction, mood regulation, and disease prevention.” I guess our mothers were actually right when they told us that we could not leave the table until we ate all of our brussels sprouts! They must’ve known we would be more resilient for it.
To me, it all comes down to this. Our bodies are like high performance cars – they need high octane fuel to function properly. So, the type of fuel we put in our body does matter. Low octane fuel will result in a sluggish performance. Here are some things that you can do to ensure that you are getting the good stuff:
- Avoid processed and industrial foods. They just aren’t good for you – simple as that.
- Eat plant-based foods (sorry fellow carnivores), such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. As an example, legumes are rich in vitamin B which is, according to Dr. Willeumier, “… critical to maintaining healthy levels of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin.”
- Plan your grocery store trip. Arriving at your grocery store with a list of good, healthy foods that you are going to buy, helps you avoid “winging it” which normally results in unhealthy, impulsive choices. Also, try to get most of your food from the outside aisles of the store – that is usually where the fresh or whole ingredients are stored.
- Plan out your meals for the week. Make food that you can store and have easy access to on those busy nights where you don’t really have time to make dinner. It helps you avoid the easy and unhealthy options.
- Incorporate a cheat day. Yes, I said it. You can’t be good all the time, so, give yourself a break and incorporate a cheat day where you indulge in at least one thing that is not necessarily “healthy” for your body, but does wonders for your spirit.