Over the summer I was working my way through Patrick Holford’s New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind. That was followed up with a lot of readings on brain development in babies and children for my pediatrics class. I learned a lot about the nutrient requirements for our brains, and I decided to make some smarter choices.
Our brain is made up of mostly fat, and for periods of brain development (like childhood and adolescence and intense studying) it’s a really bad idea to cut healthy fats from your diet. Of course, I avoid saturated fats and trans fats, but over the summer I started boosting my healthy fats intake.
I’m eating more avocados. More olive oil. More fish. More nuts and seeds. I switched from margarine to butter. From half-fat or zero-fat dairy foods to full fat ones. I stopped eating egg whites and switched to whole eggs. I’m taking fish oil and I completely banned aspartame (artificial sweeteners) from my diet for its neurological effect on the brain. I have basically adopted a diet close to what I would feed a child whose brain was just developing.
I thoroughly researched all of these changes, particularly around the topics of cholesterol and excitotoxins and the biochemical reactions of certain chemicals that cross the blood-brain barrier, as well as the different types of fats and their effects on the body (saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsatured, etc). Although many of the changes I made fly against the mainstream nutritional advice out there, I was confident that I would see some health improvements, particularly brain health.
What I’ve been seeing since September though, I never expected. The academic changes for me have been dramatic.
Previously, I studied constantly and got marks ranging from high 70s to low 90s. Since September I have yet to get one single mark below 95. And – I am studying significantly less.
Due to some added personal stress, marathon training, and distractions like thanksgiving weekend, I am studying about 35% less now than I previously was. During my anatomy course, I was going crazy forming mnemonics and reviewing them over and over again. For biochemistry, I mostly only made notes and read them over. I made only 2 mnemonics. I got over 100% on the first two tests (nailed the bonus questions) and ended up with a final course mark of 95%.
After that there were two books I had to read for my pediatrics course. I read one over the summer, and haven’t opened it again since then. I only got through half of the second book, and skimmed the rest on the subway ride going to my final test yesterday morning. Ten minutes before the test I memorized lists of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids) with strange names that had previously meant nothing to me. And remembered them through the entire test.
My short-term memory has evolved into something incredible to me. I am quickly learning to rely on it more and more. Previously, I had to repeat something a hundred times right before a test, then immediately write it down on the test paper before I forgot it. Now I read things over calmly and go through the test at a normal pace, pulling things out of my short term almost photographically. I remembered everything from the subway ride, recreated the lists of nutrients that I reviewed, and remembered all relevant information from my summer reading. I think I may have written a perfect test.
The test-writing process itself has improved. My mind feels focused and clear and sharp. I am never anxious or stressed. For most of my tests, I have gone for an early morning run before class. This does wonders to clear my head, and come test time I just breathe deeply and it all comes back to me.
I still study of course, and I would never discount the benefits of studying. But the payoff I get from less time spent studying is blowing me away. And I haven’t gained any additional weight, even though I’m tapering for my marathon and my activity level is much lower than usual.
It’s exciting to watch my marks shoot from 80s to 95+ based on purely nutritional changes!