How does eating well promote and sustain cognitive functions such as focus, decision-making, creativity for problem solving and emotional intelligence? How can eating well help mitigate the potential detrimental impact of long work hours, high levels of stress and often significant travel?
To answers these questions and more on the link between eating well and performing well read on.
1. How important is eating well in sustaining and promoting leadership functions such as focus, decision-making, creativity for problem solving and emotional intelligence?
The foods you eat provide nutrients to your body enable its core eleven interconnected and interdependent body systems to function. It’s these systems that enable your ability to remain energised, think clearly, engage, motivate and collaborate with others, and remain self-directed and focused. Choosing to eat nutrient dense food gives your body the foundation it needs to achieve and sustain optimal function.
2. Leadership roles in today’s business world can involve long work hours, high levels of stress and often significant travel. How can eating well help mitigate these detrimental influences on leadership performance?
It is important to understand the body does not distinguish between the sources of stress, whether it is unhealthy and/or not eating, pressure of high work demands or toxicity from chemicals you’re exposed to. These sources of stress can all impact and undermine optimal physiology.
Eating nutrient dense foods enables the body to undertake repairs, maintenance and growth on an ongoing basis. If it is experiencing stress physiology, these demands upon it increase.
Asking your body to repair, maintain and grow particularly where demands are increased without giving it the nutrients it needs, is like asking a person to dig a hole without a shovel.
3. What do you see as the largest impediment to leaders optimising their performance by eating well?
It means we don’t view and distinguish food in terms of the quality and density of the nutrients they offer our bodies.
As a leader or emerging leader, I encourage you to reframe food in terms of its nutrients, how it enables you to sustain your ability to make decisions, to engage, relate and motivate and to combat the impact of busyness and/or stress that generally forms part of a modern working life.
4. Are there particular food groups which you would recommend are generally beneficial for a busy, stressful, cognitive function driven leader?
A balanced nutrient dense and varied eating plan is the foundation for high performance. However, stress places heavy demands on the use of key nutrients by the body, in particular nutrients required to run our energy systems and combat the load of stress. It is therefore important, we eat nutrient rich foods that include magnesium, B Vitamins, healthy fats as well as include moderate amounts of quality carbohydrates.
5. Are there any food groups or types which you’d recommend be minimised, or avoided all together?
Foods sit on a spectrum, at one end are healthier foods and at the other are the least healthy foods. I encourage you to eat from the healthier food end most of the time. However, if you occasionally stray, it will not be the end of the world. In business, we often talk about the 80/20 rule. You can apply this to healthy eating.
Food at the healthier end of the spectrum includes 5 daily serves of vegetables, 1-2 daily serves of fruit, 2 ½ – 3 serves of protein, approximately 4-6 serves of quality carbs (e.g. brown rice, legumes, quinoa, whole-meal grains, couscous and pasta), quality fats found in foods like avocado, extra virgin olive oil, cold water oily fish, nuts and seeds. And, 4-6 glasses of water daily.
On the other end of the spectrum are processed and refined foods, take-away, poor-quality fat dense foods, foods high in added sugar and excessive intake of stimulants like coffee and alcohol.
6. Would you say supplements have a role to play, or is ‘real food’ always the best source?
I love the expression, ‘just eat real food’. Supplements can play a role for those who are experiencing poor health and are working with an appropriate health practitioner to re-establish improved health.
I do not support self-prescription. Supplements have a ‘therapeutic range’. It means there is a dosage that is most effective. Below and above this range, the supplement can be either ineffective or potentially have toxic side effects, particularly if the supplement is taken over a longer period of time. If considering supplements, speak to an appropriate health professional.
7. How can a business play a role in optimising their leaders’ and employees’ performance by supporting them to eat well?
I strongly encourage ownership and accountability when it comes to healthy eating. However, businesses can support this by creating an environment that encourages and supports healthy eating habits. We model the behaviour of others, in and out of work, but in work particularly our leaders. If it is normal practice for leaders to skip lunch or inhale lunch on the run between meetings, we can feel compelled to do it ourselves.
To begin focus on simple basics. Be seen to stop to eat a healthy lunch, to make time to sit and chew your food, to support the creation of communal places for people to sit, eat and relax over food and by giving your support to things like easier access to healthier snacks. You can progress from there.
8. How can leaders play a role in benefiting all members of their business to optimise their performance by eating well?
Model healthy eating behaviour themselves. If it is clear your employees do not sufficiently understand the link between healthy eating and sustainable high performance, invest to help them build this insight. For example, run a workshop or if you have staff widely dispersed consider a webinar to deliver practical and compelling insights on the links between healthy eating and how they enable sustainable performance.
9. If you were to give leaders just one piece of advice in regards to eating, what would it be?
Aim to eat intuitively, this means you need to build awareness of how your body responds to foods. Be aware we are all a little different, so what works for you for healthy eating plan may not work for others. Focus on what you need to function optimally. If you need guidance, seek it out.
About the author: Jan McLeod
High-performance mindset and peak wellbeing coach, mentor, speaker and facilitator. Through workshops, webinars and coaching, Jan helps individuals, teams and businesses understand and apply the fundamentals of what, why and how of building a sustainable high-performance mindset and peak wellbeing. You can view more from Jan at Mad for Health and The Capacity Equation.