Part 1 – Power It Up with Food
It’s that time of the year again! The time when worry reaches its peak. The time when study schedules are printed out, motivational tales are belted out, several hundreds of worksheets are prepared, portions are hurriedly completed, and the air gets polluted with tension, irritation, tears, and fears.
The root cause for all this headache is the absence of focus. The truth is children can’t force themselves to concentrate even if we shout “Focus” from the rooftops. It is because the brain simply doesn’t work that way. It can’t be switched on and off at our convenience.
We Are What We Eat
Have you heard the story of the boy who was too tired after school to focus on after-schoolwork? Or the one about the other boy who was too distracted to concentrate on studying? What about the story of the girl whose mood bursts and crushes constantly put her parents at unease over whether she would perform well or not?
Unfortunately, these very real tales happen in many houses including yours and mine. When my then eight-year old’s attention constantly began to wander away from his work, affecting his performance, I began to recite everything from advice to threats to get him to focus on his work. But nothing worked.
It was then that I began to wonder about what was going on inside his brain to stray him away from his more important job on hand. It was also at that point that I realized that the right question to wonder about was – why was the brain not accepting what was being fed to it?
And the answer to the question – it is all because the brain was not being fed right.
It is the brain that feeds instructions and information on what answers to write, what steps to follow, how to remain confident, and stay focused on the work at hand. And it is food that feeds the brain. This automatically makes food the core for brain-building efforts.
To figure out what is the right food, we need to first understand what is wrong food.
Of course, junk food, sugary snacks and foods with preservatives are the wrong foods. They contain chemicals that mess up the brain’s chemistry, leading to disruptions in the neural network that is the base for information storage and recollection. When the chemistry of the brain misfires, it leads to dullness, causes anxiety and increases hyper-activeness. Food affects everything from cognition to emotion.
The Wrongs of Eating
My friend’s son is a home-grown boy, so much that he eats almost every vegetable and fruit that can be named. But, he has trouble concentrating. He fidgets a lot, and finds it very difficult to sit in one place for a specified period of time. If you are wondering why, then the answer is an overload of sugary candies and the temptations of artificial sweets. Despite the discipline my friend maintains at home, she is unable to exercise control over the sweets that are handed to him by friends and family.
So, what is it about sugary stuff that makes kids hyper-active? The blame is not in the sugar, though. It lies in the artificial food additives, colours, sweetners, and preservatives. And kids eat a lot of it. Since many companies are not required to reveal what goes into the artificial colouring, we really have no idea about what our child is eating. And that is a scary thought. The “factory food” choices that we have created for our children is the culprit behind increasing hyper-activeness.
We never pay attention to a drain until it gets clogged, and clogging is the result of a slow build-up. The effect of preservative loaded food on the brain is similar. The build up is slow, and we notice it only when the situation screams, problem.
My son, on the other hand, is a sitter. He sits for a meal, and sits down after a meal. In other words, he tends to shift towards dullness that is riddled with a lot of day-dreaming. And obviously, I can’t expect miraculous concentration powers when he is sitting down for school work.
I had grown wiser over the years, and had cut out the junk food from his diet, even moving to the extent of coding him successfully to resist giving in to the call of the delicious junk. Yet, the dullness remained. I found my answer when I figured out that while he was not eating wrong, he was not eating right either. Neither were his meals balanced, nor was he drinking enough water. Better health doesn’t just stop with eliminating the junk, it also beings with the inclusion of the right diet.
Eating right is as simple as eating fresh, home-cooked meals; biting into nutrition-rich, balanced diets; eating on time; snacking on fruits and nuts; drinking plenty of water; and enjoying everything that is keeping us healthy.
While eating right is a simple thought, eating right is a challenging habit to start and stick onto, especially when it comes to children whose persistence and determination at getting what they want seems to be increasing with every generation.
It takes great perseverance to look into your child’s forlorn face and declare a firm “no” to that candy. Or sit with him patiently as he takes his own time cribbing over every bite of the spinach. But, when you don’t give in or give up, perseverance always delivers rewards.
Introspect your Child’s Eating Habits
Answer these questions to assess your child’s eating habits
- How many times does your child eat junk food during a week/month?
- How many times does your child eat artificial foods like candies, soft drinks, etc – is it daily, weekly, monthly?
- What does your child eat for snacks?
- How many times does your child eat vegetables every day?
- Does your child’s meal contain all the essential nutrients? Read here for information on what your child should be eating.
- How many glasses of water does your child drink every day?
- Does your child eat meals on-time every day?
- Does your child complete his meals?
- How quickly or how slowly does your child eat?
- Does your child enjoy eating home-cooked food?
- How often do you give in when your child asks for junk or restaurant-prepared food?
- How often do you give up when your child refuses to eat home-cooked meals?
Let’s begin our children’s journey with real food now, since the best path to a focused brain moves through better eating habits.
Here’s to healthy eating, higher focus and better performance!
– Kanika Kumar: I am a writer. I am a story-teller. I am a poet. I am also a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister. I am many things. But, more than anything, I am a wanderer. As I continue to ask and discover the answers, I know I have begun a journey that connects me to everything within and around me. You can read my self-introspective stories here
Stay tuned for more articles on how to prepare your child physically, mentally and emotionally for the challenges of academic performance.
If you are looking for expert help for your child, contact Abirambika Ravivarman, who is a Life Coach, and is currently coaching my son on overcoming his exam fears.