How to Feed Your Brain to Beat ADHD Brain Fog
“Garbage in. Garbage out.” True for computers, for your brain — and for your ADHD brain fog.
They say, “You are what you eat.” To the extent that’s true, you’d want to eat lots of “brain foods” and steer clear of “stupid foods,” right? Right. So if you want to beat the frustrating ADHD brain fog so many of us ADHD adults (and teens and kids) experience, we need to sort out the brainy from the stupid.
Because there’s a lot of stupid on the food shopping list of the average American — and Canadian, and Brit and everybody else.
In this blog, I’ll dive into the importance of feeding your brain for maximum focus and productivity, and to fight your “ADHD brain fog.”
ADHD brain fog is in part a function of…your diet!
I don’t know about you, but growing up, most of my food came out of a cardboard box. Ah, the ’70s. Breakfast was toaster pizzas. Or, if I was lucky, a Carnation Instant Breakfast (artificial eggnog flavor was my favorite).
And lunch? Peanut butter and mayonnaise on white Wonder Bread. Yum!
And it’s not that my family was poor. We just had very poor knowledge about how simple carbs and processed foods can sabotage academic success. My diet meant I had little fuel for my brain. And sadly, the idea that a donut or a croissant (again, all simple carbs) was a meal, lingered until well into my 30s, where I struggled as an ad executive with undiagnosed adult ADHD.
Then I learned the difference between brain foods and stupid foods, and that you can hack your brain with your diet choices to beat the ADHD brain fog and increase your productivity.
To do so effectively, it’s important to…
Stop Eating the Foods of the Past
Two food categories, in particular, are fast losing traction in the marketplace — and for good reason.
First is refined sugar, or sugars that have been stripped of their fiber. Our brains and bodies are not set up to deal with refined sugar, including and especially high fructose corn syrup. Refined sugar is a toxin. The liver cannot deal with it. Yet, the average American consumes 130 pounds of sugar a year. That’s why one-third of Americans have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (Most who do don’t realize it.)
Indications that refined sugar is on its way to becoming a food of the past: per capita soda sales are down 25% since 1998. Orange juice, once “part of a healthy breakfast!” but now seen as the unhealthy carrier of fiber-less sugar that it is, is down 45% in the same period. Sales of packaged cereals, just boxes of sugar and carbs, are down more than 25% since 2000.
And here’s why your brain should be happy to say bye-bye to sugary foods: Fructose targets the reward center in the brain, so you jones for more junk food like, well, a junkie. And you get no sustained mental stamina from it.
The second group likely to be relegated to the dustbin of dietary history is those foods in the center of the supermarket. The biggest food marketers, from Kraft to Nestle to General Mills, who make boxed, canned and jarred food products, are getting their butts kicked by the store perimeter. The marketers have profited for generations on cheap, shelf-stable foods that make up most the typical supermarket’s square footage, but the consumer is now avoiding these fake food aisles and sticking to the refrigerated perimeter where the real food is.
Here’s why your brain should be happy to say bye-bye to the store’s center: Most shelf-stable foods are loaded with simple carbs, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives and a fraction of fresh foods’ nutrient quality. Here’s a good rule of thumb from a top researcher in this field: “If you see a food advertised on TV, don’t eat it. If you wanted it or needed it, they wouldn’t have to advertise it.”
“If it’s advertised on TV, don’t eat it. If you wanted it or needed it, they wouldn’t have to advertise it.” – Dr. Robert Lustig, UCSF TWEET THIS
Some Simple Diet Solutions to Beat ADHD Brain Fog
In my award-winning Crusher™ virtual-coach videos, I teach 10 strategies for busy-brained people to escape the overwhelm. And the very first strategy I teach I call “Feed Your Brain.”
Why is this taught first? Because so many of us are eating poop that turns our brains into poop, and we can’t learn new productivity strategies with poop-for-brains. You can’t learn new productivity strategies when your brain is bogged down with stupid food.
And it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get the crap out of your diet and let the good stuff in. Here are four, easy-to-remember diet principles essential to the brain.
● SUGAR SUCKS
● CARBS KILL
● PROTEIN IS POWER
● OMEGAS ARE MEGA
FACT: Sugar and junk foods create a quick blast of energy but then metabolize away, leaving you with an energy crash. And guess what happens after that crash? You look for another energy blast, and grab another piece of sugary crap, never getting any sustained mental energy. So, if you’re eating a glazed donut for breakfast, you are kicking your own ass down the street.
FACT: Simple carbs are much like sugar in that they create a burst of energy that’s short-lived and then leave you in the mental gutter. Now, carbs don’t really kill — in fact, you can’t live without them. But stay away from simple carbs, easily remembered as “white foods:” white bread and pasta, white rice, white potatoes. Hunt down complex carbs instead: whole-grain breads and cereals, brown rice, yams.
Protein is Power
FACT: The brain makes a variety of chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, to regulate, among other things, alertness. Protein triggers alertness-inducing neurotransmitters that help you focus. You get quality proteins from fish, lean meat, beans, eggs, dairy and protein drinks or powders. And if you use protein drinks or powders, make sure they’re not loaded with sugar, because sugar sucks.
Omegas are Mega
FACT: Certain fatty acids, like the omega-3s and omega-6s found in cold-water fish, can improve brain function and memory. So, get more essential omega fatty acids. To get these and protein, snack on walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts and sardines. Then chow down on salmon, tuna, avocados.
And here’s a bonus: ZIMBY-6. (Z, I, M, B6) Zinc, iron, magnesium and vitamin B6. These are all shown to enhance brain function. Their food sources are many, but keep it simple and just buy some high-quality supplements.
So, all you need to know about diet for right now is: Sugar sucks. Carbs kill. Protein is power. Omegas are mega. And ZIMBY-6.
Take This Action Step to Start Beating ADHD Brain Fog
I feel strongly about this, and so should you — strongly enough to take some action on behalf of your starving, food-abused brain.
On a clean sheet of paper, write across the top, headings for the following five columns:
Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner – Snacks – Indulgences
List under each one the foods you most often eat. Then take a step back, scan the whole sheet and circle those foods that violate our principles of Sugar Sucks, Carbs Kill, Protein is Power and Omegas are Mega.
Now, picture each one you’ve circled in your mind with a big red X through it. Then, stab it, run it over with your car, get out of the car and stab it again. Repeat this exercise with all poisons.
Now that you know the basics of how to keep your brain properly fed for optimal function and overall wellness, perhaps this old adage will have new meaning: Garbage in, garbage out.
Keep that brain fed right, and whatever’s in your way will be yours to crush.
Alan P. Brown, an internationally recognized ADHD/Productivity Coach, TEDx Speaker and #1 Best Selling Author of Zen and the Art of Productivity: 27 Easy Ways to Have More Time, Earn More Money and Live Happier is the host of Crusher™TV, where he and his Guest Experts share simple ways to get more done in less time with less stress. Follow Alan on Twitter and on Facebook.