An all-day meeting. No, wait. An all-day brainstorming session. A room, a big table, 15 to 20 colleagues, a whiteboard. A time keeper. The charge: think hard all day while never losing focus. Be brilliant. Come out with a plan for the department, for the year.
Between you and me, I’m not very good at this. Not the thinking all day part, not the focusing part, and actually, not the brilliance part. Yet somehow I was invited to the meeting, because. Oh, because I own a watch. I was asked to be the time-keeper. Somehow, the most easily distracted woman in the room was charged with keeping us on task. We turned off our cell phones. We instructed everyone we were not to be disturbed. We would stay focused. No distractions at all.
Except for that large pile of scones, chocolate chip cookies, and sugary drinks in the corner over there.
Normally I can look right past these foods. I see them, say inwardly “I don’t eat that stuff,” and I move on. I wasn’t born being able to do that, but have worked for years to recognize and shun high-sugar, low-fiber foods. They are not good for me. They are not on my diet. That’s what I did when I arrived at this day-long meeting. I cased the joint, noted what was available, helped myself to the coffee, and decided snacking was out of the question this morning.
And that worked for the first couple of hours. Thinking, developing strategies, probing, expanding. These might not sound like the most active verbs, friends, but it was work. We were a unit of high-performance professionals from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, taking one day to set a new direction for a whole department. I don’t know about the others, but speaking for myself, I was working so hard, thinking with such intensity that tiny beads of sweat popped out on my upper lip and chin. The room became warm with the force of my own professionalism. Or maybe it was the heat of so many bodies. Or possibly it was the glitchy furnace. Whatever the reason, by 11 a.m., I was hot, drained, hungry, my blood sugar dropping through the floor, a headache coming on, my memory going fuzzy, and lunch was still a good hour or more away.
I normally have a mid-morning snack. I normally pack my food the night before a meeting like this, knowing I won’t be free to go find something good to eat. There won’t be cheese, nuts, veggies, fruit at this meeting, or any meeting. There will be cookies, donuts, baked goods, chips. No brain food, no sustenance, just white flour and sugar. At meetings, conferences, clubs, we humans have made a tradition of offering one another insulin releasing, non-nutritive substances, with the choice of corn syrup, caffeine, aspartame or nitrates to wash them down. We love this stuff, even as it kills us. I’ll choose the caffeine, or water if I’m feeling strong, and take breaks to nibble on nuts or string cheese or dried vegetables or fruits I nearly always carry in my bag to pull me through between meals. But this morning I had no snacks in my bag. I had forgotten to pack anything. Failed to plan for this day.
I looked over at the scones. They smiled back at me with love, all greasy, doughy innocence.
No, I reminded myself, I don’t eat those things. Another few minutes went by, and my head began to throb. In an hour I would have a full-blown migraine and be unable to finish the day. That would not do, I told myself. That would be irresponsible. Just a little sugar isn’t going to kill me, I reasoned. Just a corner of one of those scones may be all my body needs to push through, until lunch, until veggies and protein come along.
Here’s the impressive part. I was able to hold this debate with myself in my head for several minutes while simultaneously listening to my colleagues, reacting, and recording our entire transaction on the white board. While my reasoning mind was hard at work, my needy little prehistoric inner eyes kept darting over to the snack table, fixating on those scones. Not on the orange juice. Not the tomato juice. Not the far lesser of the evils set before me. The scones.
I saw my chance when one of us launched into a lengthy opinion. My inner predator made up its mind. A little sugar, in this instance, I was sure, was taking one for the team. I would be bad to be good. I went to break off a corner of a cranberry scone, one of those pound-and-a-half scones, which are really sugar cookies in disguise, that trendy little bakeries produce these days, and darned if a whole half of one didn’t fall into my hand.
I ate it. I was immediately sorry. It didn’t fix my headache. I found and swallowed my medication for that. Lunch arrived 20 minutes later, accompanied by large chocolate chip cookies. I ate one of those too. And I ate another one after the meeting, on the way home. Calculating my calorie load while finishing my cookie, I decided to skip dinner. Heaping terrible decision upon terrible decision, I went to bed early, sick, tired, hung over.
I am a classic sugar shark. And I’m not alone. This behavior is common among us. If we can stay away from the sugar, the white flour and potato snacks (sugar in disguise), we’re fine, but once we have a taste for it, once there’s a bit of it in the air or on the tongue, a feeding frenzy commences, and we’re not happy until it’s all been consumed. It took me days to recover from this feeding. I didn’t have too many calories, but too little protein, no good fats, no fiber, no sense. I made my headache worse, sent my blood sugar spiking and plummeting repeatedly.
I know my body, know how it responds to this food, I know all of this about myself, but for some reason, I just didn’t behave. I just didn’t plan. I should have healthy snacks with me always. Always. Knowing at the start of the morning that I would need food, I should have excused myself from the meeting until I found some.
And why am I writing all of this now? Just a cautionary tale. For you and for me. I hope to remember this adventure the next time I’m scheduled for a long meeting, so I’ll plan for it. I’ll ask the hosts to provide something other than sugar. Why not? I hope you can think about your options the next time you’re faced by a snack table or charged with filling one. If it’s your meeting and you want to get the best out of people? Feed them veggies, nuts, fruit, cheese. Offer water and teas among your drink choices. If you’re headed for a day-long trip, visit, or seminar, pack along foods you know you can nibble without difficulty.
Never let your inner shark do the thinking for you.