It's Therapeutic Thursday AND my 50th blog post! I can't believe I hit 50. It feels like a birthday, albeit a fairly young birthday in blog years ;). In the spirit of staying young, I want to hit on a topic that I feel is so important to a writer's health and productivity. Food.
Food for thought...literally. We often hear writers complain about their muses going into hibernation. We've all read articles on how to battle writer's block. Some even claim that writer's block doesn't exist...that it boils down to nothing but writer laziness. Well, when it comes to serious writers, laziness is a strong word, and I think that it may carry the wrong connotation. Drained is more appropriate. How would you feel if you starved yourself for days? How would you feel if you ran a marathon, but didn't drink or eat afterwards to replenish your reserves? Drained of energy. Jittery. Unable to focus or think worth a darn. Guess what? Your brain needs nourishment too. I'm not talking about a day at the spa, a nap, or a movie. I'm talking food.
Studies have shown that thinking actually drains the brain of energy. Seems like common sense. I don't know about you, but I feel hungry after typing away at pages and pages of a manuscript. Seriously though, all that plotting, creative thinking, emotional investment, and editing we do actually depletes energy stores in our brain. That's why we feel exhausted after writing. That's why we can reach a plot problem and not see a solution until we've eaten dinner and had a good night's sleep. It's also why not eating breakfast is like trying to drive to work on an empty gas tank.
So what should we be feeding our brain? The brain is made up mostly of fat. That means it needs fat (fatty acids) to be healthy, but the good kind of fat like we get from olive oil, avocado, seeds, and nuts. The myelin sheath that protects neurons and promotes rapid signal travel is also made up of fat. See how important it is? Omega 3 fats are extremely critical to good brain health. You can find these in seafood, flaxseed, and walnuts. Omega 6, found in fruits, other seeds and certain nuts, is also important, but the balance between 3 and 6 is a bit off in today's diet, compared to that of the cavemen. The abundance of processed foods, even those using healthy oils, has tipped the scale for omega 6. More omega 6 than omega 3 in our diet can lead to inflammation, including that of the brain. The trick? Eat more foods high in omega 3 and opt to eat natural sources of omega 6. The less 'off-the-shelf' foods, the better.
By the way, TRANS/HYDROGENATED OIL is POISON for the brain! It actually weakens brain cells and disrupts communication and mental performance!
The brain also runs on glucose for fuel. Yep, sugar. But not the refined, bad-for-you, table sugar. The brain breaks down complex carbs from whole grains and fruits to gather the glucose it needs to function at optimum levels. If you gorge on refined sugars that put you at risk for diabetes, you'll actually starve your brain rather than feed it. That's why simple sugars lead to a sugar crash experience...jitters...inability to concentrate etc... That's also why following a low glycemic index diet works so well and a zero carb diet doesn't. By eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and complex carbs that don't sugar up our system too quickly, we give our brains the constant energy source it needs...and it gives back by letting our muses work their magic.
The brain also needs amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and essential micronutrients found in a balanced, varied diet. A few other foods that boost our concentration and thinking are caffeine, chocolate, and blueberries. Good news, huh? Caffeine, even that from chocolate, has been shown to increase short term concentration and focus. As with everything, don't overdose. Chocolate, the dark type (lower fat and sugar), is full of antioxidants that help protect against cognitive decline. All you need is once ounce per day and that'll keep the calories in check. Blueberries are high in antioxidants and have been shown to protect the brain from oxidative stress. In studies, they actually brought the learning capacity of older rats up to par with younger rats!
Okay, I tried to keep it basic, but I'm probably boring you with facts anyway. Hear me out though. Think about it. Maybe the way to mastering your muse is to feed it. I did a recent blog post about being cave women at heart. Well, we need to eat like cave women and men if we want to keep our minds healthy. Measure out a handful of nuts and dark chocolate chips (about an ounce each) and keep them on your desk for snacking instead of chips or candy. Have some blueberries, whole grain, and coffee at breakfast. Try it and you might find yourself spending less time zombie staring at your computer screen and more time quality typing.
I really did skim over brain/diet detail, but if you're hungry for more check out The Brain Food Pyramid by The Franklin Institute's Resources for Science Learning. Click on each of the brain's essential components. Interesting stuff made simple.
Here's to a year of good food, excercise, and healthy muses!