February 21, 2019. By Lori Patterson:
I recently read “The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory and Joy in Just Three Weeks” by Dr. Mike Dow which discussed the reasons your thinking feels “foggy” or bogged down at times. Though we all feel this way at some time, it can be easy to miss the common triggers of the symptoms if not mindful. Most of us have heard the causes of these symptoms before, but it’s interesting how self-improvement advice can resonate at different times in our lives. For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the more common causes again.
Frequently the reason for brain fog can be a simple imbalance due to a poor diet and lifestyle. While it’s easy to pinpoint the culprit of brain fog after a heavy lunch, carb-filled meal or a heavy sugar rush, longer term or frequent fogginess may be less identifiable. Each, however, can be combated with simple food switches or by adding foods that may help stave off the effects of a poorly balanced meal, and it is important to note that the best foods for brain health are not always those you would assume.
There is a reason you may feel foggy after indulging in a less than ideal meal or treat: blood sugar (glucose) affects brain chemistry. As most of us know, sugar rushes result in crashes instead of sustained energy. The contributing sugars can come from simple carbohydrates, refined or processed foods, or sugary desserts. These high glycemic index (or GI) foods include white and wheat bread, rice, cookies and even some fruits. By adding or substituting complex or healthy carbohydrates to your diet, “Low GI” foods such as beans, nuts, and berries, can provide the brain with the all-day energy it requires to help keep you mentally fit.
Some energy-saving swaps in everyday meals include choosing:
- Salmon salad instead of tuna salad
- Black beans and nuts instead of animal protein
- Clean seafood, starting with one serving per week
- Green or black tea instead of coffee (if possible!)
In addition to planning meals in accordance with a preferable GI Index, an increase in anti-inflammatory foods can result in improved mood and the sharpen brain as well. Studies show that the Mediterranean Diet which emphasizes olive oil, fish and nuts is probably the healthiest way to eat for good health in general. According to the Mayo Clinic, the key components of the diet are as follows:
- Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
- Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
- Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
- Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
- Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
- Enjoying meals with family and friends
- Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
- Getting plenty of exercise
Brain chemicals need to be in balance for optimal brain health. When your brain is healthy you are likely to have constant or more frequent feelings of “All is Right” and “Life is Enjoyable” and “I can meet life’s demands.” When brain chemicals are out of balance feelings are more likely to include anxiety, impulsiveness or lack of motivation. These feelings can lead to bigger problems such as weight gain, sleeplessness and depression. When the brain begins to lose balance, you brain fog may set in, with thoughts scattered and just not feeling like yourself as your mood, energy, and spirit begin to tumble as well. If you know you had or will have a meal with poorer nutrition, plan to eat a balanced meal next rather than giving up on healthy choices for the day in order to avoid prolonged poor habits. Staying active, even just going for a quick walk to give your brain a chance to rest, can help clear the fog too.
According to The Brain Fog Fix, in addition to a balanced diet and to aid in a long-term fix, lifestyle should be considered as well. The key to feeling better is rebalancing the three brain chemicals: Serotonin, Dopamine and Cortisol. Some approaches and long-term considerations discussed by Dr. Dow include a focus on being physically active, mentally positive and spiritually balanced. The malnourished brain can balance its own chemistry if it has what it needs on a regular basis: proper nutrition, moderate exercise, sufficient sleep and purpose/meaning.
Being aware of how you feel can be your best tool to help you fix the fog before it really sets in. Being mindful can also allow you to control your thoughts and boost your energy by refusing negative pitfall thoughts and using perspective with purposeful thoughts instead. Additionally, Dr. Dow suggests that “Paralysis Analysis” (thoughts of excess, worry, over-analysis and negative thoughts) create mental paralysis. These negative, distracting thoughts within yourself are not helpful and just make you feel worse. Instead, try to fill your mind with purposeful thoughts. Begin by rating your feelings when situations occur, and then be mindful to change. You often can choose how/what to focus on and condition your brain for positivity as discussed in another wonderful read, “The Kindness Cure” by Dr. Tara Cousineau. The Kindness Cure is an interesting resource for gaining an emotional perspective for optimal brain health and for understanding how mindfulness helps you be attentive to your needs and be present in your life instead of allowing any fog to cloud your life’s importance.
Although occasional food switches may help keep brain fog at a minimum, nothing replaces commitment to a healthy diet and lifestyle, including a positive outlook. Many find that gradual adjustments or an “80% of the time” improvement plan works for them. If you are embarking on a mission to reduce your foggy days, remember that changing habits takes time and so be kind to yourself through the journey!