How healthy are you?
Before your eyes glaze over and you click away, first take a moment to do a simple thought experiment.
The last time you binge watched anything, or went to the cinema, sat through the pre-show, the trailers, the advertisements and then two hours+ of movie…how did you feel when you got out of the chair?
Did you have a kind of foggy sensation in the head?
Did you stretch your back or shoulders?
Did your hips feel even a little bit stiff?
If you’re under thirty-five, it’s possible you don’t even notice the effects of all that sitting. For everyone else, though, even a couple of hours of sitting still can make themselves felt.
If you’ve ever felt groggy, after watching a movie or way too many consecutive episodes of <insert your favourite TV series>, then remember what that felt like.
Now, the thought experiment. Double or triple the time you remain unmoving and concentrating intensely on one screen. How would you feel, do you think, after three times as long?
Even worse, those twinges and the foggy brain sensation don’t just double up if you double the time. It’s a mathematical progression, getting worse in a ratio, not in proportion to the time you’re sitting.
Of course, this thought experiment is directly related to marathon writing sessions, which I do six days a week.
Up until four weeks ago, I had no problem getting through those sessions. I have a standing desk, a drafting chair for when I need the break.
If you’re throwing popcorn at me and shouting “Exercise!”, I will nod sagely and agree that exercise is vital, but this post is not a guilt prod to get you up and moving each day.
No, this is about something far more basic.
I have blithely mentioned here and there on this blog that staying healthy and eating well have an impact on your creativity and your ability to write fast. You probably agree with that statement without even thinking about it.
Until this week, I did not realize how profoundly and to what degree food impacts your output. I had merely an intellectual appreciation for the mind-body connection.
Now I know the connection. I understand how important it is. I know in my gut how much your diet can screw up your writing.
A lot, it turns out.
As in, massively.
For years I have been following a ketogenic diet–since long before it became trendy. I follow the diet for medical reasons. It’s only when I really get serious and knuckle down and track my carbs that I actually lose weight. For me, it’s a lifestyle choice, not a weight-loss regimen. This post is not meant to be an endorsement of any particular diet. Keto works for me–or it did work. After so long, though, I kinda lost track of the reasons why I started it.
One of the few drawbacks of keto is the lack of crunchy stuff in the diet. The mouth-feel of potato chips, for example, is something that is next to impossible to replicate in any low carb substitute.
Gradually, my cravings built up, and I started cheating and eating crap. Chips and chocolate, my particular weaknesses. Oh, and licorice. Just bits and pieces here and there to start with. Nothing to seriously impact my health, although it was more than enough to kick me out of ketosis. Then I had enormous trouble getting back to ketosis, which involved strict eating once more.
Three weeks ago, a friend suggested I try Intuitive Eating, and I bought the book and considered the “no-diet diet”. It makes sense on the surface. So I switched over.
And was swiftly reminded of what I had forgotten: I am a carb addict. Intuitive Eating works when you slow down and appreciate food, and stop when you’re full. That is a flat out impossibility for me. I can’t stop after a few mouthfuls. It’s impossible.
I thought I’d give it time and eventually, the need to eat excessively would fade.
After just over two weeks of runaway eating, and stacking on way too many pounds for me to comfortably confess here, I mentally threw up my hands and declared enough was enough, I’m going back to keto. I’m comfortable with keto, I like the health benefits. The natural hunger suppression that comes with ketosis is a neat side benefit. With some research, I would be able to find ways to deal with the cravings for carbs that build up over the long term (and I did learn one or two hacks to deal with them).
Last Monday, I went back to keto.
If you know anything about the ketogenic diet, you’ll most likely have heard of the ‘keto flu”. While the body adapts to burning fat as a fuel source, instead of glucose, there are some less than comfortable side effects, including brain fog, lethargy…and in my case, a monster headache that didn’t go away for three whole days.
I didn’t write a single word that whole time. Just looking at text made my head throb. As I wrote on Monday, I called in sick. I didn’t expect the flu to last for three whole days, though.
While I was avoiding text and therefore forced to contemplate life, I realized something chilling: It wasn’t just the three days of transition that had wiped out my writing. The work logs on this site document that I haven’t had a good solid week of writing for more than three weeks.
In other words, when I stopped keto and switched to eating crap with a vengeance, my work output dropped to a trickle.
Today (which is the day before this post goes live) is the first day I’ve been headache free. I’ve reached ketosis, which the lack of hunger and uptick in energy confirms.
There is no way in hell I’m going off keto again. Not in the foreseeable future, at least. I have successfully scared the crap out of myself with this experiment. It was a costly reminder of the benefits of a clean diet.
Which brings me to the point of this post.
What is your diet like? You might think you’re doing just fine with your current food choices. But maybe they aren’t serving you as well as you think they should.
Are you lethargic, always tired, and your motivation is in the toilet? Is getting to the keyboard and writing each day elusive for you? If there’s no obvious reason why your ass is dragging — lack of sleep, high stress, etc — then there’s a chance that what you’re eating is making you feel that way. Especially if you’re not eating clean.
What you define as a healthy, clean diet is up to you. I’m not pushing a low carb diet at all. I also spent three years on a raw vegan diet, many years ago, and I felt wonderful on that, too.
You know if you’re eating clean, or not. There is a plethora of information out there ready to educate you on the best diet for you. I will limit myself to the single observation that sugar, in all its forms, has some nasty side effects that directly impact cognition and brain function, as well as some super-nasty long term effects, including feeding cancer cells. Alzheimer’s is also called Type III Diabetes because of the sugar connection. Research is bringing the negative effects of sugar to light every day and it’s scary. Even if you change nothing else about your diet, do consider eliminating sugar. Your brain will thank you. [More info here, and especially here and also here and dozens more here.]
I do know that just winging it and eating whatever you want doesn’t work. I don’t think it would work for anyone, frankly. But you can experiment and figure it out. Eat a very clean, strict diet for a month or more. The longer you sustain the disciplined eating, the more effective the experiment. And the effects of healthy eating can take a while to kick in, too. While you’re eating strictly, keep writing as you would normally, but keep a daily log of word counts (if you don’t already), and also some comments about how you feel, how the writing went, what your mental state is like while you’re writing, and during the day in general.
Then go back to your old diet for a few weeks. Write and keep logs again.
If your old diet is a far extreme from the clean diet, I predict that your daily word counts will be as massively impacted as mine were. Then you’ll have your answer.
If you’re one of the few lucky ones whose physiology doesn’t seem to be affected by their food in the slightest, then you can carry on as you were, and know that your diet is not a factor.
For everyone else, I just know the results of your experiment will hand you…well, food for thought.
Try it and see.