The Perils of Working on an Empty Stomach

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Now that I’m in my mid-30s, I try and pay attention to what I eat. My wife and I take special care to eat fresh meals and avoid anything that is “processed.”

Besides the what, we also try our best to eat when we need to. Trying to sleep when I’ve got a hole in my stomach is next to impossible for me. Study upon study has shown how not eating has terrible consequences for your physical health.

However, an increasing body of evidence shows that hunger also affects your brain and your ability to focus.

For instance, if you’re hungry, the brain’s hypothalamus kicks in to help restore some balance to your body. Your body also produces a hormone called ghrelin when your energy levels get too low from a lack of food.

With all of this activity going on, it’s no surprise that it can be difficult to concentrate when you’re hungry.

According to the UCLA Health System, poor diet and eating habits affect your ability to think clearly and be effective in your job. It also causes higher levels of stress and other negative effects that can affect your productivity.

To put it another way, poor nutrition can result in a 66% increased risk of lost productivity according to research from Brigham Young University.

One other study though seems to contradict this consensus. In this report in the New York Times from 2006, researchers at Yale found that hunger caused mice to comprehend information more quickly and retain it better. The researchers injected one group of mice with the ghrelin hormone, administered tests, and then placed each group in a maze.

Surprisingly, the group with the higher levels of ghrelin performed better. Lead researcher Tamas Horvath explains – “When you are hungry, you need to focus your entire system on finding food in the environment.”

How to ensure you maintain good focus and productivity through your entire workday…

While there are many other factors like stress and sleep, making sure you eat healthy and regularly is one of the best ways to maximize your productivity. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that proper nourishment could increase national productivity by an astounding 20%!!

The best advice to ensuring good nutrition is to remember your mom’s advice to eat your breakfast and your vegetables. Don’t skip meals – you may think you don’t have time to grab lunch, but the time you save may vanish when you can’t focus and get things done in the afternoon.

Also, grazing on healthy snacks like almonds or fruit in between meals has been shown to keep metabolism high and the mind sharp.

This handy little infographic produced by MindFlash provides some great tips on specific food to include in your diet.

Charter Oak blog image 06-17-15

Image Courtesy of MindFlash

I understand – it can be hard to eat fish and avocados all the time. The important thing to remember is the true value of eating well and exercising. While you may think it’s only good for maintaining a healthy weight and waistline, increasing evidence and my own personal experience shows that eating well, and eating regularly, is vital for making your workdays as productive as possible.

How about you? Does your ability to focus and get things done decline if you’re hungry?

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