Food for thought - Glucose levels affect willpower and mental focus

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 by: Paula Rothstein
Tags: glucose, mental focus, health news

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(NaturalNews) Have you ever wondered why you sometimes lack the ability to make even the simplest decision at certain times of the day, such as minutes before you break for lunch? And upon your return you are able to tackle the same task with ease? A recent study performed by a group of social psychologists revealed that the brain undergoes chemical changes when glucose levels are low, and these fluctuations influence both our focus and willpower. Therefore, instead of pondering the important details of, let's say, an intricate accounting problem, when glucose levels are low, the brain shifts its focus to more immediate needs, such as replenishing the body's energy supply.

Glucose, used in this capacity, is the newest revelation made by scientists attempting to explain the overwhelming demands of rapid decision-making on the individual. This theory, however, is merely a fresh application of a long-standing hypothesis first posed by Freud. He believed in a human quality called "ego depletion": that the self (or ego) needed a transfer of energy to perform mental activities, and that these stores of energy are finite. It was not until the end of the twentieth century, however, that scientists began applying his theory in the context of "decision fatigue", a state even more acutely felt in this age of fast-paced technology and information overload.

Reaching beyond the impact of glucose on decision-making skills, psychologists at the University of Wurzburg tested the strength of individual willpower when confronted with a series of challenges related directly to pleasure. Armed with a blackberry as a recording device, 200 individuals were asked to document the number of times in a day they were confronted with desire.

The study concluded three things: (1) people spend between three to four hours each day in a struggle over whether or not to resist a particular desire; (2) frequent episodes of denial made it increasingly more likely that the individual would give in to the next temptation; (3) glucose stores influence the ease with which an individual approaches each struggle of will.

So what can you do to fight the fatigue of decision-making and desire? The following are two possible methods (not addressed in the study) that may prove helpful:

1. Meditation: Literally step away from the problem

Rather than munching your way through a stressful day, take 5 minutes and close your eyes, breathing in and out deeply. If possible, empty your mind of all distractions and unnecessary entanglements. Try to free it from the pressures of your day. Another possibility would be to seize some quiet time for yourself and go for a short, brisk walk.

2. Give in to desire!

Instead of repeatedly denying yourself what you want, as appropriate, you could change the object of your desire to a positive, yet similar choice. For example, if you have been trying to eliminate sugar from your diet, a different approach would be to allow yourself a taste that is sweet throughout the day; however, change it to raw honey in your tea, dried fruit on cereal, a superfood smoothie made with cacao. The general idea would be to replace an unattainable desire with another pleasure that could lead to long-lasting, successful results.

Most likely, Freud would have been intrigued to learn that mental energy could be influenced by fluctuating glucose levels. Understanding the influence of food on thought and willpower is a fascinating breakthrough, and it empowers the individual to plan meals and snacks more effectively throughout the day. At the very least this discovery gives context to something we suspected all along.

Sources for this article include:

About the author:
Paula Rothstein is a freelance writer and certified holistic health coach active in the area of natural health and health freedom advocacy. As a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she has gained insight into the political nature of food, the failings of a drug-dependent healthcare system, and the uniqueness of individual health. For more information, please visit:

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