How’s Your Focus?

Years ago I walked into Leroy’s coffee shop and from behind the counter Jill Berger greeted me with “Hi, Jody. How’s your focus?”

Astonished, because I’d just been thinking deeply about that very subject, I replied “a little fuzzy.”

Her smile widened, “Actually, I mean your car,” she said.

Whoops. I reported the Focus was dandy, although not so great in the snow.

My mental focus, however, was a little cloudy. I was working on my Masters Degree and needed a dependable supply of concentration. Soon thereafter I strategized and implemented a few focus-improving changes – protein and water intake topped the list.

Let’s talk about protein first. I encourage you to aim for around 20 grams of protein at each meal, especially breakfast. Do you get hungry in a couple of hours after your morning cereal? Of course you do. Carbohydrates can only provide a steady supply of blood glucose for about an hour and a half. Once your blood glucose (blood sugar) begins to drop, hunger sets in. That’s your brain doing its job. Protein assists by carrying you through the next couple of hours, staving off hunger by stabilizing blood sugar.

Protein in the morning sets into motion a day of sane food intake because your blood sugar remains more constant, which supports focus two ways. First, when blood sugar drops, the brain begins scanning for a food lift. It wants you to find more carbohydrates now – so begins a day of reaching for sugar, muffins, and caffeine, anything to appease the brain. The ups and downs of blood sugar falling and rising can be very distracting.

Secondly, protein keeps the brain alert. Alert is good when focus is the goal. Carbohydrates calm the brain and too many make the brain sleepy and sluggish as in “the mid-afternoon slump.” I prefer the combination of calm (carbs) and alert (protein) which translates to whole grains and high fiber carbohydrate choices. I emphasize vegetables and whole fruits, lean protein plus a little healthy fat at every meal five hours or so apart. Rule of thumb: have a little protein with your carbohydrates.

Water is the second key player in the quest for focus. Research shows that chronic dehydration shows up in the elderly as depressed mood, problems with focus and concentration, and physical weakness. However, when the elderly get sufficient water, all these symptoms improve. We require approximately 12 cups of water daily to stay hydrated. About four cups of that comes from our diet, leaving us eight cups to drink. In the United States, 20 percent of us drink no water at all and 42 percent drink a mere two glasses. Staying hydrated improves concentration, mood, and energy. Aim to drink a liter of water between breakfast and lunch and another liter between lunch and bed. I find it useful to fill a liter bottle and watch it disappear twice during the day.

Protein and water are game changers when it comes to focus. Try it for a week straight and see for yourself.

Jody S. Jessup, RD, MS, LPC, NCC is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Psychotherapist and Integrative Personal Wellness Coach. She has offices in both Sturgeon Bay and Sister Bay. She meets with clients face-to-face, on the phone and Skype. She can be reached by phone at 920.839.9900, email at [email protected] or visit her website