Deep fried Twinkie burger anyone? Head to Philadelphia’s PYT Restaurant if you’re craving pork and beef patties topped with bacon and cheese and sandwiched between two deep-fried Twinkie buns. Wow.
I jest, given that my annual striper fishing trip with brother and brothers in law took place this past Halloween weekend. And though we didn’t have access to the Twinkie burger, the four of us did manage to consume five different half-gallon flavors of ice cream, potato chips, corn chips, pita chips, strawberry licorice, mammoth egg sandwiches with sausage, pizza, fast food muffins, beef, pork, and high carb beverages. Add late night movies and football games with early morning departures for eight hours fishing at the beach, and you have the makings of a typical testosterone three-day weekend (which was fine when we were in our 30s and 40s). Fishing is hard work, but it was the lack of sleep and the food consumption that really did us in.
When I taught my late afternoon graduate classes the following Monday, I was really fatigued. I wasn’t thinking so clearly either. Thankfully, my students are wonderful, bright, and full of positive energy, which made my job as “guide on the side” relatively easy. On my ride home later that evening, I checked in with one of my brother in-laws to see how he was doing. My sister, a teaching assistant, answered and immediately commented on the crazy behavior of her kindergarten students that day who were “bouncing off the walls.” Mark it up to all that Halloween candy they ate over the weekend we both agreed. HMMM. My brother-in-law texted me later in the week saying he was still totally exhausted, but the weekend was worth it. I chuckled.
In all seriousness, diet, sleep, and excercise tremendously impact our capacity to think, work, socialize, and simply function. Compromise any one of the three, and you will have problems. I try to “Sharpen the Saw” weekly with my Covey Planner, and after a weekend of bad food, lack of exercise, and limited sleep, I’m reminded what a difference it makes to my mental and physical well-being. Obviously, the same rules apply to all of us, particularly children. I can’t tell you how many parents have come to me when I worked as an elementary principal to declare their child had ADD or ADHD. These were parents of 5, 6, 7, and 8 year olds. Parents who were diagnosing their child’s hyperactive behavior, lack of focus, and oft-times lethargy as a functional impairment of the brain. Whenever we had such discussions, I’d first ask about the child’s diet. Did they drink soda? Fruit juice? Fast food? Candy? Fruit? Veggies? etc…. The next question would be regarding exercise. Did they run and play games with friends? Ride bicycles? Swim? Sled? Play sports? Play video games? etc. Lastly, did they get 9-11 hours of sleep? My objective was to help them think about environmental factors they controlled that could contribute to their children’s ADD/ADHD-like behavior.
We are what we eat. We do better when we sleep well, and we function stronger when we exercise regularly. Simple as that. Dr. Gomez-Pinilla sums it up beautifully in his Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function:
Diet, exercise and other aspects of our daily interaction with the environment have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. We now know that particular nutrients influence cognition by acting on molecular systems or cellular processes that are vital for maintaining cognitive function…. Emerging research indicates that the effects of diet on the brain are integrated with the actions of other lifestyle modalities, such as exercise and sleep.
With that in mind, I think next year the boys and I will ease off the ice cream and other goodies and move on to more healthful items. We’ll also get to bed earlier and sleep a little later. We’ll cut out the bad movies, drink more water, and work in a documentary or two. Maybe we’ll even go for a long walk each day on the beach. On the other hand, it is just one weekend in the year:).