Plus, how to actually maintain your good intentions and sustain your diet come mid-afternoon.
Do you have good intentions about diet first thing in the morning, but by 3pm you’re reaching for something sweet? By evening, you’ve given up and eaten dessert, only to start all over again the next day…
Understanding your brain better will give you the tools to beat this pattern. Our pre-frontal cortex houses our ability to inhibit, which means it’s the part we use to stop ourselves from doing things. It’s the willpower for all our decision making. In the morning, when our brain is fresh and full of energy, our prefrontal cortex has plenty of control over our behaviour. We make choices that are healthy, productive and well intentioned.
But by 3pm, following the stress of the day and the amount we have already inhibited, our prefrontal cortex has run out of energy to hold us to our previous decisions. As the day wears on and we start to get tired, we lose the ability to inhibit our behaviour. We get to the point where we say “Forget that!” and end up eating an unhealthy choice, not getting out for some exercise, and finishing our day with a few beers or glasses of wine. That’s why we start to crack on our diets in the afternoon.
You can recharge your prefrontal cortex though! If you do this, then you’re able to inhibit more effectively throughout the day. This in turns means that you can stay in control of your decision making, and stick to your diet. Even late in the evening it’ll help you remember why you wanted to eat well, and you’ll continue to make choices to work towards that. Want to know how?
Follow this advice on both how to boost brain function and keep your brain fresh for longer:
- Stay hydrated: Take care of the basics first. Drinking plenty of water is important to keep our brain fuelled correctly. Prioritise this over coffee or alcohol.
- Get some exercise: Rather than sitting all day, fit in some exercise. Moving around keeps our blood pumping and restimulates us. Even if it’s just walking around the office, or taking the stairs to lunch, this is better than nothing.
- Take regular breaks: Ideally, we would take brain breaks every 1.5 hours. Short breaks between longer working sessions are best, and can improve focus by 16%. Recharging your brain at regular intervals is more successful than burning out, then trying to recuperate at the end of the day.
- Eat low carbohydrate lunches: High carbohydrate lunches can make us tired because they trigger a surge of the brain chemical, serotonin. If you get sleepy after a big meal of carbohydrates, be mindful if you have a task in the afternoon where you need to be alert.
- Multi-task less: Multitasking, in the neuroscience world, is actually called ‘switching’. You’re not actually doing multiple things at once, you’re switching concentration from one to the other. It usually takes 25% longer to complete the tasks when we multitask, as well as increasing our stress level. As multi-tasking drains a lot of mental and physical energy, we feel like we’re productive. However, multi-tasking only creates an illusion of productivity.
- Take a nap: If you do find yourself tired during the day, one of the best ways to boost your brain function is to have a nap. This is not a closely held secret – many European countries have a siesta as a regular part of every day! And for good reason; a 10-minute nap will deliver three hours of reinvigorated prefrontal cortex capability.
Doing the right things to refuel your brain throughout the day will put you in the best position at the end of the day to stick to your diet. You’ll have more control over your decision making, and get the right kind of feedback about your ability to create change in your life.
For more from Kristen Hansen, head to www.enhansenperformance.com.au.
Got 60 seconds? This video will make you relaxed and happier all at once