This morning I got up really early for my marathon training. I had a class at 10 – a test and two major assignments due. So the pressure was on to postpone my run to later in the evening, but I’m happy I didn’t.
A few weeks ago I had a major exam that I was really stressed about. I got up really early to study on the day of the exam but ended up running a 10k instead. I didn’t have time to look at my notes that entire morning (though I had been studying a lot leading up to that), walked into class and wrote a 96% exam. I was hoping to repeat that today.
My test went well. My papers have been handed in, and I feel like I could run a half marathon right now – which is great because I’m running 20k tomorrow morning. I also feel like my mind is more focused.
A lot of people are familiar with the fact that exercise improves brain function. But lately I’ve been fascinated by how our diet directly affects the brain.
The brain is something I have been interested in ever since my partner’s traumatic brain injury a few years ago. A very long process of tests and experts and counselors and therapy made only one thing abundantly clear: We don’t really know a damn thing about the brain.
Yesterday I mentioned carbohydrates. Glucose (from carbs) is the most critical nutrient for brain function. Our brains are absolutely dependent on it in order to function. When our glucose levels fall, we can begin to experience dizziness, headache, blurred vision, blunted mental acuity, emotional instability, confusion, and abnormal behaviour.
Even more interesting than that is the link between a low-carb diet and various psychological disorders such as depression. Although this is acknowledged, dietary therapy is very rarely used to treat depression. Some of these studies state that the simple elimination of refined carbohydrates from the diet and the replacement of these with carbs from whole foods sources is all that is needed for effective therapy of many depressed patients.
I heard something else this week that really bothered me. A friend of mine works in a group home in Toronto. This is a government-run home for troubled teenagers. She told me that they are fed refined and processed foods on a daily basis, for all three meals. In the entire house, there is not one single serving of fresh fruit or vegetables.
The link between diet and behavoural issues is controversial, but hard to ignore. Criminologist Alexander Schauss conducted several large studies on this topic that included over 6,000 inmates in 10 penal institutions in the US and 3,999 incarcerated juvenile delinquents studied over two years. He published all his findings in Diet, Crime, and Delinquency, linking the consumption of refined carbohydrates to criminal and aggressive behaviour.
In Vancouver, BC there is a child care worker named Tim Head who has been working with problem children and their parents for over seven years. He writes that when he includes a dietary focus (when allowed by the parents) to their therapy, he sees dramatic improvements in the children he works with: the disappearance of hyperactivity, academic gains, increased problem solving capabilities, and new leadership roles.
Some of you are familiar with my sister Emma, who has had her own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. I spoke to her about the importance of eating well, and she decided on her own to give up McDonalds. She’s still sticking with this and we’ve seen improvements with her as well.
Truly – we are what we eat.