I’ve been really interested in nutrition for a few years now. Anyone who knows me will know I’m not a massive ‘foodie’ and fine dining is largely wasted on me, but there’s something obvious yet profound about the fact that our brains perform better when they’re well-fuelled.
I guess it hit home for me around three years ago, when I suffered a really nasty bout of depression. I have terrible genes when it comes to mental health, but this was my first time being medicated for it. Save for a few afternoons in bed that no one really knew about, I carried on running the business and nobody really knew what was going on in my brain (I was CEO at the time, and although I wasn’t doing a great job, I managed to just about keep the show on the road). Once the fog cleared and I decided to come off the happy pills, I wanted to give my brain the best chance of being clear, sane and energised.
I set to work on controlling what was controllable: starting thinking about food intake, developed an exercise regime, hired a yoga teacher… Y’know, the stuff that privileged white people get to think about.
I hired an incredible nutrition coach, Colette Heneghan, who I’d known for a while. At her suggestion, I sent her photos of everything I was eating and drinking via whatsapp (she had me on mute, don’t worry). She held me accountable, cheered from the sidelines and offered gentle suggestions when I was eating bad stuff. We added more protein to my lazy, cooking-for-one veggie diet. We worked out that if I took a daily magnesium supplement, I felt stronger and that when I paid attention to vitamin-D and tryptophan in my diet, I slept better and had more energy. I could even concentrate properly on work again.
I also learned a hell of a lot. Like the fact that if you want to eat well from a supermarket, you just shop around the outside isles and avoid what’s in the middle. Like the fact that you’re more likely to put good food in your stomach for a whole week if you put good stuff in your fridge once a week. And more subtle changes in mindset, too – like the feeling of being ‘full-up’ doesn’t really have much to do with the brain being well-fed, and throwing a few random bits from the fridge together can actually be more nutritious than following a long Nigel Slater recipe. It’s about ‘nutriful, not beautiful’, as Colette puts it.
And after a few months, I realised I no longer needed to whatsapp my food: I’d changed my habits and there was no need for the day-to-day accountability.
Since then, the part that comes up with productivity ideas (which are all, in essence, how to do something in the laziest or simplest way) has been working out how to make all this nutrition stuff as uncomplicated and as accessible as possible.
So here we are. Colette and I had a fantastic kick-off meeting with my publisher, Icon Books, yesterday. We’re working on a book to bring accessible, practical, fuel-your-brain advice to everybody, for less than the cost of a service-station fried breakfast. It’s an exciting project. We hand in the first draft somewhere around May/June and the book will be out in early 2019. It won’t be a coffee table book with beautiful photographs of women and spinach, it’ll be the practical stuff like how to read food labels, how to lessen the effects of jetlag with avacados and how to eat well when you’re busy or tired. In short, it’s gonna be “nutrition for when you can’t be arsed”.
And we’re at that beautiful stage in the process – the bit I love the most – where anything is possible and structure isn’t final. Which means if you have ideas, questions or feedback, it could end up shaping how the book turns out. So I’d love to hear your thoughts.