The Impact of Diet on Productivity

People say a lot of things about me, but I'm often told (or accused) of being a machine for how productive I can be. It's true. When I'm on my A game, I can edit several chapters of a client's work plus write several thousand words of my own fiction.

To those who struggle to write, I guess it does look like I'm some sort of automaton, doesn't it?

I've been asked in the past what my secret is. I've always said something along the lines of “I sit down, shut up, and work.”

There is more to it than that. And it wasn't until I started trying to eat better and live healthier that I realized what it was.

My Diet Matters

I can hear some snorts from here. Some are born of disgust, some of satisfaction. Either way, what you eat and drink significantly impacts your mental capacities.

I learned this the hard way.

Now, here's the thing. You aren't me. You don't have my special blend of issues, nor do I have yours. I'm not a dietitian. I'm not a doctor. I'm an observer of the state of my body.

I'm not you. What works for me may work for you, but at the end of the day, you need to become an observer of your body. Why? Because no one else is going to do it for you. You're body is your responsibility, and how you take care of it is your choice.

But, here is how the various health things impact me.

About three weeks ago, I checked my weight on a scale and winced. I was up to 190. I was drinking soda daily — usually three or more cans in a day. Cherry Coke is my drug of choice, and it was recently sold in Canada again for $0.50 a can versus $1.00+ a can on the black market.

Yes, where I live, Cherry Coke was a black market item until about two months ago. This is when I gained over 10 pounds in short order.

Sugar, a Horror Story

Sugar is the absolute worst thing I ever did for myself. When I drink sugary products, eat foods with sugary pasta (yes, pasta has a notable amount of sugars in it), and otherwise splurge in the glucose department, my weight starts climbing fast.

With my climbing weight, I lose the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. My 1+ hour focus time deteriorates down to ~30 minutes. I struggle to get the motivation to sit down and work. I have to exercise my will power.

I feel sick. Not with a cold, but not well, either. It's a constant state of weariness that the winter isn't responsible for. It's that sluggish feeling when you get out of bed, not ready to face the world.

In short, sugar sucks.

Cutting back on Sugar

When I start cutting back on sugar, several things happen at once. First, lethargy hits. I mean, knock-me-flat lethargy. I sleep. In quantity. For an insomniac-prone girl, this is both heaven and hell.

Heaven comes from the whole getting sleep thing. Hell comes from the whole getting sleep thing whenever. One second, I'm working. The next, I'm wandering to the nearest soft surface, grabbing a cat, and taking a nap.

Sugar Addiction

I'm addicted to sugar. It's not a guess, it's a confirmed thing with me. You cut out my sugar for a day or two, and I am ready to attack anyone and anything, and climbing the walls. It's not pretty. I'm snarly. I'm grumpy. Lethargy levels go straight through the roof. I crave all of the sweet things like you wouldn't believe. It's a textbook case of withdraw.

It's not fun.

Some people say, ” Just go cold turkey!”

If I had two weeks where I could do nothing but sleep, drink water, and eat foods low in sugar, I would. However, I can't afford to take two weeks off. Sugar addiction is more than just a craving for sweet things. For me, my body is used to a set amount of sugar intake. It's too much, and my body doesn't know how to readily adapt to this resource not coming in. My body is used to hoarding all of the excess sugars and storing them as fat.

In short, my body freaks out if I try going cold turkey. It doesn't end well. Not for me, or for my short-term health.

The simple truth is, the same thing applies to caffeine. Sugar and caffeine are both stimulants, and amazingly enough, the impact on the brain can be similar. However, caffeine in controlled doses can be quite beneficial.

Sugar, especially the processed white stuff, the stuff added to sodas, and other forms (including high-fructose corn syrup) aren't good for you. At all.

Even fruit juices and vegetable juices can have an obscene amount of sugars added to them — all of them bad.

Life Without Sugar

At one point, I had cut the sugar completely. I think I went cold turkey. When it happened was a bit of a blur. That was the withdraw. There's no helping it now.

All I wish is that I hadn't started drinking sodas again.

But, when I was off sugar, I found my productivity levels were particularly high. I was focusing on single tasks for an hour or more at a time. I was able to drink unsweetened teas and water without feeling unsatisfied or craving something else.

I was able to think faster, think better, and I made fewer mistakes.

Sugar wasn't the only reason for this, though cutting it out was about 90% of the difference.

The other impact was the fact I was getting sufficient liquids each day. Dehydration does terrible things to the mind — it impacts your ability to think. Drinking water counters that, and encourages better thinking, intellect, and reaction times.

(Seriously. It's a thing. Go get a medical book or two from the library about the brain and read them, if you don't believe me. Water + Brain function = significant. Don't like the fact I'm not linking to this? Yea, about that. Go to the library. That's what I did for a lot of my basic knowledge. Wikipedia is only good so far, but for things dealing with your health, go to trusted doctors and medical resources… not wikipedia.)

In short, I worked faster, I worked harder, and I worked better. Most importantly, I feel better.

Bonus: I also lost 14 pounds in about 2 weeks as my body shed off the fat and regulated itself once again to normal-people standards.

But only after I conquered the need for sugar.

How I'm Quitting the Sugar This Time

My productivity, lately, hasn't been nearly what I want it to be. Sleep is in infrequent bursts, ranging from one to four hours at a time. I hate it, and my husband hates it, too. The sugar is, in its nefarious way, slowly killing me.

I have been making concerted efforts this week to cut back on sugar.

Today, I managed to sleep for eight hours in a twelve hour period of time.

After all of that sleep, I crumpled under the weight of addiction and had a hit of Cherry Coke.

It's okay, though — because I'm not going cold turkey. I'm allowed 3 cans of Cherry Coke in a seven day period of time. I'm not allowed to add sugar to my tea, nor am I allowed to add cream. I'm not allowed to have any sweets or candies, except as a husband-granted reward. (He's much more reasonable about these things than I am.)

I am not making a concerted effort to remove sugars from my meals.

This is how it's breaking down. First, I'm trying to eat more reliably. This means a big brunch, or a breakfast and a lunch, depending on how hungry I feel. It also means not eating more than I need to. I've always had problems stopping when I should feel full. (I have an issue where it takes me about twenty minutes longer than the average person to feel full, so I have to self-regulate the quantity of food I eat. Ironically, after cutting sugars a bit, and drinking water more reliably, my ‘feel full' sense has started working better. I don't know if this is related.)

I'm drinking a lot more water. I bought a rubbermaid bottle with the suggested daily amount of water a woman should drink a day on top of regular foods. My goal is to fill this up with water, or with no calorie, sugar-free flavoring and water, and drink this once per day.

Ideally, I'll drink two of them.

When I have my can of Cherry Coke, I will be following up with two of them, because the extra water will help purge the sugars a little faster and limit the amount of damage the sugars are doing to me. (I don't know the reasoning for this, just that there is a relationship between drinking lots of water after I drink sugar and not feeling as off as a result.)

It also limits the coming down after the sugar high. (Which is never a bad thing.)

Goodbye, Cruel Sugar…!

I just hope this time, after I spend a month or so dumping your lousy self, I won't fall prey to your deliciously sweet and terrible ways.

I want to feel better again. That means without you, excess sugars.

If I'm slow, lethargic, and reclusive for the next two weeks, you now know why.

Leave a Comment:

Judy Thomas says January 22, 2014

Sugar is okay in moderation but be very careful of the substitutes out there that are hidden in your food when it’s labled “diet”. Some of them are actually very harmful to us. Good luck, I really could not imagine my life with no sugar in it 🙂 You are very brave.

    RJBlain says January 22, 2014

    Thank you! I avoid the diet foods too — it’s really hard for me to cut the sugary drinks alone. I’ve failed a few time,s and I can see my weight go up a pound or two each time I do… which is a good reminder of why I need to cut out the sugars. And it makes me feel yicky.

    I’ll get there, though. Baby steps!

Diana Corlett says January 22, 2014

I commend you…I couldn’t give up sugar…although I find I’m eating less of it these days for some reason unplanned.

Gee says January 22, 2014

Wow! I learn something today. Thanks to this blog! I’m no soda drinker, I love dark chocolate and I cannot live without eating white rice in every meal. I wish to go back on no-carb diet.. I will! soon…

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