If you’re struggling against writer’s block, it’s easy to blame yourself. When we hit the writing wall, we blame our brains, we blame our lack of willpower, we even blame our job: but have you ever thought of blaming your diet? So, what should writers eat?
If you’re feeling tired, continually uninspired and you just can’t find the spark to string a sentence together, it might well be because of what you’re eating.
Creative jobs place heavy demands on our brains. We need to be at peak performance all day to produce our best work and what we eat fundamentally affects our productivity.
So what, when and how should we eat to get the most out of our brains.
The idea of ‘brain food’ isn’t just an old wives’ tale: some food groups are fundamentally important for maintaining optimal brain function:
- Fish is very high in omega 3 fats, which are essential for healthy brain function.
- Eggs contain choline, which enhances memory and reaction times.
- Unsalted nuts and seeds are a great source of protein and fats which provide long-lasting energy.
- Blueberries contain antioxidants, which improve memory.
- Bananas have just the right amount of glucose content to keep our energy levels up.
- Whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice are much better than their white equivalents because we digest them more slowly and therefore don’t experience creativity-killing energy spikes and troughs.
How to eat at work
How you plan your meals throughout the day is very important and can make a big difference to your productivity.
- Breakfast well. Quickly grabbing a coffee and heading straight to work is an easy, but unhealthy habit to fall into. And, if you’re skipping breakfast in order to lose weight, it will likely backfire. Look for meals with protein (eggs, fish, meat, dairy), complex carbohydrates (whole grain bread, cereals), vitamins and fibre (fresh fruit) to keep you ticking over until lunch. Read this leaflet from the British Dietitians Association for more information.
- Plan ahead. When you work from home like we do, it can be very tempting not to have anything prepared for lunch. Improvising won’t just cost you time, it’ll also mean you’re not really keeping track of what you’re eating. Either have leftovers to heat up or something pre-made like a sandwich or soup.
- Bring snacks. Old-school health advice says that snacking is bad for you, but that’s simply not true. To avoid peaks and troughs and maintain a constant energy level throughout the day, eat three smaller meals and two scheduled, healthy snacks. Apples, bananas, nuts and cereal bars (look for products which don’t include high fructose corn syrup) are a great way to keep your energy levels up. Make sure you don’t over-indulge though: even healthy snacks can quickly lead to a sugar crash.
Tips from our team
You can find hundreds of advice-pieces on blogs, take inspiration from your favourite authors, or even consult a dietician, but really, you need to experiment with your own diet to see what keeps you productive and creative.
Here are some tried-and-tested tips from the Articulate team to get you going:
- Clare – ‘I always have breakfast – I can’t work without it (usually a bowl of cereal). And a proper lunch that you don’t leave too late matters as well. Overall, I find mindless snacking is so easy when you’re working (especially from home) but it almost *never* helps. The exceptions I have found are a slice of toast or a banana – they work if you are really hungry not just procrastination hungry.’
- Matthew – ‘I like porridge with sultanas on a cold morning. I don’t think it makes me a better writer. I just like it. But, I’m pretty convinced that chocolates, cakes, cookies and other sugary treats actually slow my brain down, tasty as they are. Also, I’m not very good at self-restraint so if there’s a packet of biscuits I *will* eat them all in one day, so I try not to have anything like that in the house.’
- Sarah – ‘I eat so much fish, it’s supposed to be brain food isn’t it? A lot of oily fish for breakfast/lunch, and we were given a Nordic cookbook for Christmas, so have been working through that (skipping the whale meat ones). I do feel like all the omega 3 does my brain some good.’
- Liz – ‘I love avocado on toasted granary bread with a poached egg on top (sometimes sprinkled with a few dried chilli flakes) for either breakfast, brunch or lunch. I had that the last two days because I was feeling tired and sluggish, and it’s definitely given me a boost as I feel much brighter today. I snack on nuts and raisins. Doesn’t that make me sound virtuous … I won’t mention the family sized panettone that I am single-handedly working my way round!’
- My two cents – I’m one of those people your grandparents refer to as having hollow legs, so I’m a big believer in the high-protein, high fat content of meat. There’s a lot of mixed opinion about the benefits and negatives of red meat, but it gives me plenty of energy which I need to keep my creativity levels up all day.
So that’s what works for us, but what works for you? Let us know in the comments.
(Hat tip to Flickr user maciekbor for the image)