We’re delighted to welcome August McLaughlin as our inaugural guest for the WriterStrong series. She’s our go-to person for healthy eating and mental balance, all of which help YOU be BrainStrong.
Please join us in welcoming August by heaping blog love on her in the comments section.
Imagine waking up one day to a blurry world. Faces and objects you normally see clearly are indecipherable fuzz, and when you open your mouth to speak, nothing happens. Desperate to communicate, you try to reach for a pad of paper, your computer—anything. But your hands fall limp.
This is what happened to Jean-Dominique Bauby—the former editor of Elle magazine and author of the novel turned award-winning film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He wrote the entire book using the one action he could manage: blinking his left eye.
Yes, we writers will write our way through any storm. Take our hands, our feet, our ability to speak or see, or contaminate us with influenza and chances are, we’ll find some way. We cannot afford to lose, however, our minds.
What does the brain need? A few primary things, according to biologists, psychologists and neurologists and extensive research—exercise, glucose and sleep. For optimized function, we also require an nutritious diet.
Eating Your Way to a Healthier Brain
by August McLaughlin
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables. We hear this all the time, and for good reason.Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables—such as berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes and leafy greens—are associated with improved memory and overall brain function, and a reduced risk for cognitive decline.
TIP: Eat at least one serving of fruits or vegetables with breakfast and at least two servings at lunch and dinner. 1 serving = 1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup cooked
2. Swap refined grains for whole. Refined grains, like white flour and instant rice, have had up to 90 percent of their nutritional content stripped away, including nutrients the brain adores. Whole grains, such as brown rice, wild rice, whole wheat, barley, spelt and quinoa, are loaded with brain-boosting nutrients.
TIP: Each shopping trip, buy a new or different whole grain food. Prepare a batch of brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat pasta to enjoy for the next several days.
3. Don’t diet. Dieting doesn’t simply starve your body; it starves your brain. Brain cells require at least twice as much glucose as other cells in your body. Going below your calorie or carbohydrate needs can cause foggy thinking, confusion, headaches, depressive moods, anxiety and creative dullness—not to mention hungry and deprived.
TIP: Instead of fixating on weight loss, focus on eating more nutrient-dense foods (like the ones mentioned here). This boosts your nutritional and brain wellness, and makes healthy weight control a byproduct.
4. Go fish! Fish, particularly cold-water types, like salmon, halibut and sardines, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids—nutrients many Americans lack that play a vital role in brain function. Symptoms of an omega-3 deficiency include depression, mood swings, sleep problems, skin problems and poor memory. (Blech.) The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice per week.
TIP: If you don’t eat fish, incorporate ground flaxseeds, canola oil and/or walnuts into your diet routinely for similar benefits.
5. Caffein-ate with caution. Moderate amounts of caffeine boosts brain function temporarily in some people. Consuming too much, however, or more than 3 cups (8-ounce cups, not Starbucks cups ;)) can offset your blood sugar and hormonal levels, lead to dependency and wreak havoc on your sleep. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and the brain is the first thing to suffer from sleep deficits.
TIP: If you gotta have your java, drink it early in the day. Switch to caffeine-free herbal tea later in the day, which provides antioxidants without the insomnia risks.
What habits do you have that rejuvenate your writing brain? Are there particular foods or habits that make you feel sluggish? Do you have any nutrition questions for August? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Before completing her first novel, In Her Shadow, August worked in the fashion, entertainment and wellness industries, wearing hats ranging from Parisian runway model to culinary coach. Considering her longstanding passion for thrillers, she wasn’t surprised when her attempt at a memoir turned quickly into a fictional tale of suspense. She is represented by John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management and is in the midst of completing her second novel, Beauty Complex.