Training the brain to eat healthily

In 2015 our average attention span is just eight seconds. Eight bloody seconds. That’s less than the humble goldfish (which is nine, if you’re interested).

As a digital marketer, this presents an exciting daily challenge – creating content, in a world with so much stimulus, that captures and keeps the attention of various audiences. Campaigns that keep attention enough to elicit an emotional response – whether that’s to like, comment or share a piece of content, take part in a competition, use a hashtag or follow a brand.

As a human – it presents a daily bombardment of information and distraction. 

I’ve spent most of today sitting about on the internet, scrolling endlessly through people’s lives, lying in wait for the next notification to reel me in, reading up on cat behavioural traits, browsing recipes, looking for races to do, reading blogs and various articles on nothing in particular.

Basically doing everything but what I planned to do today.

When I finally started to write I ended up straddling two blog posts simultaneously, not able to decide which to focus on.

Then I told everyone on Twitter about it and urgently went looking for this:

Sometimes, it’s impossible for me to focus on one thing at a time. Actually impossible. That eight second window doesn’t last long (about eight seconds, I heard), and as soon as I’ve remembered what I’m doing I’m promptly off Googling cat videos again.

The trap of the tech-sweats

I think (or at least hope) I’m not alone in saying that my short attention span is due to my over-reliance on technology.

In fitness: my Garmin and Microsoft Band are forever on charge should I need to record exactly what I’ve done, calories burned, heart rate and pace (and then use my iPhone to immediately tell everyone about it on social media). Because if it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen, right? 

In work: I work in digital marketing so am online all day, blogging, managing social channels, email campaigns and writing web content for clients.

In life: my iPhone never leaves my side – my trusty sidekick keeps engagements with friends, adds up my shopping, is my notebook, my alarm clock, camera and source of endless procrastination. I hardly ring anyone anymore because communicating in text form is more convenient and less disruptive. I really need to work on that, because a Facebook message is no substitute for a conversation.

It’s like I don’t need to use my brain any more.

Let me ask you, when was the last time you did any 

mental arithmetic? 

I mean proper, actual maths?

I was quite good at school and got a B in maths GCSE, but the other day I got proper techsweats when my phone died in Aldi. I went into the shop with 5% battery, knowing it wouldn’t last and that I’d have to (shock, horror), use my brain to add up as I went round. I did try, and it started well, but gave up when I got distracted by the winter cycling gear.

Today, I tried again and got up to about £36 before giving up when hubs put yet another awkwardly valued item in the basket (by awkwardly valued I mean not a nice round pound – my brain can’t handle anything else).

The total bill was £38.92, so not too far off, but my mind was exhausted and I wanted to vom all over my maths GCSE certificate.

Maths without my calculator makes me want to vom on my GCSE certificate

My over stimulated brain also has trouble with working memory. Today I kept forgetting the running total, and I’m forever keeping notes in my phone in fear of forgetting things people mention to me, like bands to listen to or things to Google later.

Every so often I go through the Notes app on my iPhone but much of it no longer makes sense because I’ve forgotten the context in which I wrote them.

And as for planning my working day, if Google Calendar didn’t exist I wouldn’t have a clue what I was doing at my desk.

Training the brain to eat healthily

I find all of this mindfulness, procrastination, attention span stuff fascinating so was keen to learn more when Weight Watchers got in touch about their Brain Boost campaign. They’ve partnered with neuroscientist, Dr Jack Lewis to conduct a survey of 2000 people (not all Weight Watchers members, I’ve been told), and found that the average Brit thinks about food for a total of nearly two and a quarter hours each day. 

That’s over two hours of thinking and talking about eating, mulling over whether that snack is healthy, what you’ll have for lunch, craving a sugar fix, planning your dinner, admiring your colleague’s food (I do this daily).

That doesn’t sound too unrealistic to me – I often spend stupid amounts of time planning and prepping meals and exercise for the week only to promptly forget about it as soon as I get busy or stressed. 

If I plan my meals and make my morning workouts I arrive at work focused, energised and ready to take on the world. If I get up late, skip a run and start the day with sugar, my good intentions go out the window and I crave comfort and convenience food.

I know my recently increased body fat percentage is thanks to my lack of discipline when it counts, regardless of how hard I’ve trained beforehand.

The Brain Boost campaign is all about looking at why our brains default to high sugar and high fat foods when we’re rushed off our feet, and training our brains to cope better with the day-to-day bombardment.

If we can improve our working memory and cognitive flexibility we can be more productive, focused and energised throughout the day, enabling us to make more strategic food choices in the evening rather than rely on instinct. There have been many times I’ve got home after a busy day and not been arsed to cook something from scratch so opt for a pub dinner or takeaway. I’m always sorted at breakfast and lunch.

My portions could do with sizing down again and I need to stop bingeing on carbs just because I ran or lifted heavy today.

My three goals over the winter are to get strong, fast and lean, and I know it starts in the kitchen so I need to get into the right mindset with my food again.

Naughty But Nice

Weight Watchers have identified three typologies for the most common types of eaters, with useful tips and advice to overcome mental barriers. I’m a Naughty But Nice eater, and have been given the following life hacks to help me get back on track:

  1. Tot up my shopping – improve my working memory by remembering shopping lists in my head and adding up totals as I go around. One step at a time on this – let me concentrate on the adding up first!
  2. Temptation distraction – divert my attention when coming into contact with tempting food. This will be especially hard when sweet treats are passed round the office…
  3. Daily down time – clearing my mind of life’s daily stresses to reduce cortisol levels (stress hormone), so I feel less frazzled by mealtimes and will be more likely to make the right decisions. I’m gonna do five minutes of meditation every day, and half an hour of colouring in before bed starting tomorrow. 

Over the next few weeks I’ll be practicing these tips in preparation for winter training to meet my goals of getting stronger, faster and leaner for next triathlon season. My first goal for my body fat is to get it down to less than 28%, and I’ll go from there with the help from Brighton nutritionist ninja Rachel Love.

Head over to the Brain Boost website to find out your typology and life hacks to help make healthier choices. You can also play the memory game to see if your brain needs training! My current record is 35 seconds, lemme know if you beat me!

Disclaimer: I was approached by Weight Watchers to take part in the Brain Boost campaign and have been compensated to write about my experience. All words, thoughts, confessions of tech-sweats and determination to do maths without getting angry are my own. 


Do you struggle with procrastination and productivity? Are you addicted to technology, and what’s the one thing you struggle with to stay on track food wise?


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