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Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

Eat well to work well: Good nutrition and productivity go hand in hand--an interview with Deanna Moncrief

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Nov 09, 2011 @ 12:50 PM

Wellness WebinarAs we continue to explore the topic of productivity in the workplace and the various factors that impact our productivity, like people, process, and technology, I asked Deanna Moncrief, our faculty member at People-OnTheGo and the facilitator of the Eat Well to Work Well Workshop, a few questions about nuitrition and productivity:
Question 1: How would you describe the relationship between nutrition and productivity?
Deanna: There is a clear relationship between the two.  Poor nutrition habits such as fewer than 5 servings of fruits & vegetables per day; diets rich in refined, processed, pre-packaged foods; skipping breakfast; consumption of more than 12oz (1 can) of regular soda (not diet) per day; and not enough water, can lead to various ways our productivity is impacted.  One way this happens is that the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs to function properly.  It’s like operating at 60% capacity.  We feel tired in the afternoon and productivity drops because we can’t concentrate, or we’re unable to efficiently handle the stress of our workday, or we have indigestion that is distracting us and preventing us from being in a good mood.  We know that a person’s health affects their productivity (and, by the way, likelihood of getting hired or promoted), and what a person eats affects their health.

Question 2: Do you think that the new digital age (where knowledge workers are tied to their computers a good part of the day) is impacting our nutritional habits and how?
Deanna: There have been many credible studies that show this is the case.  For example, those who are sedentary at work (any desk job), often choose low quality foods for various reasons, such as eating out of candy or snack jars for a quick pick-me-up, or they’re too busy to bring a healthy lunch or go out to get one, or even because their workplace culture isn’t big on “health food.”  As a result, putting on extra weight over time is very common.  Further, being overweight is now considered a causative factor for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a common and painful condition for those in front of computers much of the day.  Extra body weight causes the heart to work harder to pump more blood to the extremities, and sometimes circulation isn’t as efficient as it should be.  Overweight individuals are more than 60% likely to develop CTS than people of normal weight.  Poor diets are also directly linked to diabetes and cancers of the breast and colon, even if body weight is normal.  These serious conditions can not only lead to lost productivity because the afflicted person doesn’t feel well, there is also lost time from work for medical appointments or hospital stays.

Question 3: What is your top 3 suggestions for improved nutrition? And how do you think these would translate to improved workplace productivity?
Deanna: Great question!  Workplace productivity has been shown to improve when certain things happen: consistently stable blood sugar, adequate hydration, and proper body functioning (also known as good digestion, nutrient absorption, and elimination, for health aficionados).  How does a person get to that point?  It’s really not that hard.  My suggestions, in this order, are:
First, eat a breakfast every day that contains protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fat.  This could be as simple as having a yogurt and a handful of walnuts.  Or an egg and a slice of toast with peanut butter.  We’re not talking three course meals here, just something to “break the fast” and get your blood sugar stabilized for the next 3-4 hours.  
Second, ditch the sodas, flavored sugar waters, vitamin waters, and anything over two cups of coffee and just drink water!  Our bodies are mostly water and the feeling of thirst is a sign that you’re already dehydrated.  Dehydration causes mental and physical fatigue, two definite productivity-zappers.  
Third, eat as many non-starchy vegetables as you can.  If you wait until dinner to have a salad or a side of asparagus, you’ll never make it.  Start at lunch and have a salad as a bare minimum.  Make it colorful with lots of beautiful foods like radishes, broccoli, beets, carrots, celery, tomatoes – even fruits like mandarin orange segments or diced apples.  Be careful not to drown it in creamy salad dressing, although salad dressing is hardly the culprit for our American obesity problem.  The important thing is to get at least 5 (though I’d recommend at least 9) servings of vegetables per day.

In conclusion, Deanna added 
The trick to making dietary changes for the better is not to try to do it all at once.  If you just can’t give up your Diet Coke, then don’t.  But at least make sure you’re getting enough water too, by dividing your body weight and drinking that many ounces a day.  Add one serving of veggies (about as big as your fist) every week until you’re getting enough.  Eat something for breakfast every day.  The point is to pick one thing at a time and get used to it, no matter how long that takes.  Then you can move on to the next.  The journey will be well worth it, I promise.

Additional Resources

Check out the upcoming Eat Well to Work Well webinar that is coming up on Nov 18 and the special offer!
The Wellness Toolkit and step-by-step instructions for planning your wellness program.

Topics: wellness, productivity