Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Write Snacks

The September 2006 print edition of Cooking Light magazine has a neat feature article by Dorothy Foltz-Gray on how certain foods may help improve brain function. The accompanying recipes surprised me, too -- who knew caramel apple upside-down cake was a mind booster?

Food has become a major pain in my ass over the last year. I'm lucky in that I don't have to battle an allergy as Marjorie does, but health concerns and the meds I'm on have totally changed my diet. But even before I went on the Diet from Hell, I was careful what I ate just before writing time. Plenty of foods can mess with my ability to write (like anything cooked, fried, or that contains dairy or animal products.)

I don't snack while I'm writing, although I always have a cup of tea on the desk. On my long morning break, I grab a whole wheat something and some fresh fruit that's light: bananas, table grapes (any color), apples (Granny Smiths), dried cranberries, raisins, and peach or pear slices. These are also good to eat outside on the porch, which is where I usually spend my AM breaks.

For my afternoon break I hit the protein and veggies: soy nuts, sunflower seeds, celery and carrot sticks, or if I'm really hungry, a whole wheat wrap with chopped chicken, diced onion and salad greens. I had to give up granola and cereal bars but I make my own trail mix, which is almost as good. If I have to write new material in the evening, something I try not to do, I'll make a big but light salad for dinner with dark green leafy greens, dried fruit bits, chopped walnuts or pecans and top it off with balsamic vinaigrette. If I eat a traditional dinner with the family I go for much smaller portions; I can't write on a full stomach.

I try to be cheerful about it, but reading all the labels, trying new alternative foods and finding diet-acceptable dishes at restaurants is exhausting. I rarely eat out anymore because even when it sounds okay, I don't know what goes into the dish. The wrong ingredients in something as blase as salad dressing can really screw up my meds.

Giving up ice cream, cake, chocolate (sob) chips, pie, and 99% of all meat for the whole-grain bark and twigs regime wasn't much fun for me, either, but gain came with the pain. Six months of suffering through faithfully sticking to this low-fat, low-cholesterol diet brought my bad numbers down forty-one points and my good numbers up twenty-nine. Naturally I'm still sulking. Dark chocolate M&Ms in the pound bags finally made it to my area (yeah, it took that long) and I can't have any.

What healthy snacks or meals have you found that don't interfere with your writing?

Related links: Cooking Light's Alison Ashton has a great primer article on the health benefits of seven nutrients found in food.


  1. I don't snack while I'm writing either; it only distracts me. I'm hypoglycemic, though, so when I feel my blood sugar getting too low I have to stop and eat something. Normally I'd be tempted to just keep writing, but when my blood sugar starts to crash, my brainpower takes a nosedive, so that isn't really an option. I don't have a problem writing on a full stomach, but I can't write when I'm hungry - hunger is often accompanied by low blood sugar, so even when it's not, I start expecting my mind to get foggy.

  2. Cripes S., if all I had to eat was what you've written, I'd starve!

    I like my steak/fish/chicken/pork and veggies accompanied by a nice red/white wine. And there ain't much wrong with me.

    I don't snack while working, I have to earn it. Once I do, it's a nice cuppa tea or coffee. No food though, that's for meal times.

  3. By amazing coincidence, yesterday I blogged about perfect toast. I won't repeat myself, but suffice it to say bad toast is the pits.

  4. Anonymous3:43 AM

    I'm a graduate student rather than a writer, but I sit at my desk writing most of the time anyway. *And* I wear braces. I long to sink my teeth into an apple - apples have always been my favourite "school" food - but I can only eat soft fruit until the braces come off. My favourite snacks (for lack of APPLES) are raisins, dried figs, dried apricots, baked bananas - or, when I feel like something savoury, baby tomatoes. (My husband informs me that popping fresh baby tomatoes is a perversion, but he wants that dissertation finished, so doesn't dare interfere. *g*) Chopped up apples are a possibility, but they don't taste the same somehow.

  5. Only coffee for me while I write. I only write in the morning, usually, so coffee is the perfect motivational treat.

    No food. Food is the mind-killer for me . . . while writing.

    One cup (maybe 2 max) of fresh ground French Roast beans and 1% milk. (high fat products = bad for me, sigh)

    After that I seem to be able to type faster. Odd that . . .

  6. My eyes always glazed over when my more athletic friends would lecture me about the value of drinking more water, but it has worked for me. I stick a water bottle on the floor next to my desk and drink from it all morning. Being hydrated helps me stay focused. Of course it had to be water that does that--why couldn't it have been M&M's?
    And by the way, how long have dark chocolate M&M's been available? I've never seen them here in the wilds of eastern Canada.

  7. Anonymous8:31 AM

    I don't eat when I'm writing, and there are times I even forget to bring my water in with me. Part of it is that drilled-in lesson from my parents that food/drink do NOT belong near the computer, and part is that I just forget the rest of the world when I'm writing. The only way I even know time has passed is when my roommate drags me out to dinner (and when he isn't home, it's usually the room getting dark that tips me off ^-*).

    When I'm editing, though, Quakes are my absolute favorite munchie...I just wish I could find the chocolate ones. *-*

  8. I hadn't thought about it before, but I took up the daily habit of writing at the same time I started running and yoga. I found the physical stuff demanded proper diet (basically avoid processed foods, sugar, fried foods) or I couldn't perform.

    Over the years knees and tendons demanded I shift to other athletic pursuits. I traded running for hiking and backpacking, but it still pretty much forces me to eat right.

    I'm another one of those low blood sugar brain fog people, so I tend to snack (and write) throughout the day. Salads, fruit, yogurt, nuts, protein shakes. By the time I feel really hungry I've gotten stupid (and cranky) so I try not to let myself run low.

  9. Oh gosh. Almost the exact opposite works best for me -- except the part about avoiding overly processed food. I weight train and eat a pretty high protien diet and most of my carbohydrates come from low glycemic index veggies. I also am trying to cut (lose weight to show muscle definition), so spread my calories over five mini-meals a day.

    A blood rare steak and I'm focused, buddy. I don't do that too often, just because of the expense. Like many people who pump iron, I have probably eaten a whale's worth of tuna. Even so, I find more mental clarity on a high meat diet. Weird, huh?

    I don't prefer to snack while I write, either, though I really enjoy cut up veggies and a garlic and olive oil dip. For those that are not vegans, cut up veggies and a dip of creamed cottage cheese and olives is really nice and filling. I am also fond of nuts. I use a custard cup to portion them out, cause it's easy to go overboard.

    *grin* I also make a shake of raw eggs, some cream, frozen strawberries and vanilla. I know, live dangerously!

    I don't think any one diet works best for everyone, though. I have a friend who would feel terrible eating as I do. She needs her whole grains and fruit. Too much meat makes her feel awful.

  10. Ice Water . . . an extremely large glass of it! I don't eat at all when I'm writing, I find it distracts me (and I hate food particles in my keyboard!)

    I recently became a vegetarian myself for health reasons but I've actually found it pretty easy going. For breakfast I do mixed fruits (fresh), lunch is usually a vegetable wrap or -if I'm REALLY hungry- I hit subway for one of their veggie subs (sans-cheese) with oil/vinegar . . . great stuff! Dinner is often rice/pasta with fresh veggies mixed in or soups. I've become a big soup fan. All fairly light stuff and it keeps me full, out of pain, and I can focus on the work.

    Can't say that I really miis the meat. I DO still hit the cookies now and again though! :-)


  11. this is probably where I don't talk about how the one pound bag of dark chocolate M&Ms provided the fuel to get through the end of writing my novel, right?

  12. That sounds like HELL.

    My Dh has been doing awesome with no sugar and fish oil. He has to go back to get his blood tested again, but last time it came down 23 points.

    I need to graze all day. I had some low blood sugar scares so I try and keep it high protien/whole grain. I do eat chocolate though. My hubs gets this wicked bitter chocolate powder (he manufactures sports nutrition products) at work and he brings it home for me.I mix a few tbsp's of it with cayenne/cinnamon/1% milk and a tablespoon of nautral sugar for hot chocolate. It completely kills any chocolate/sugar cravings I have. It's bitter and spicy but I love it. Other than that, I don't eat sugar/white flours either.(And no evil trans fats.) We actually feel sick when we eat processed foods now.

    Could you sprinkle bitter chocolate powder on lowfat ricotta or yogurt? You could make the hot chocolate without the sugar, I've done that too.

    Congrats on the 41 points. You deserve something like a bar of solid gold for that. That's a huge amount.

  13. I forgot-If you want I can have some of the choc powder shipped to you. It's not available in the stores but I'll be happy to send it.

  14. ick... my problem is finding something that makes me feel full enough that my belly isn't yowling while I'm working, but something that won't make me logy.

    it's worse since I've been trying to cut out the bad carbs. bye bye potatoe chips. sniff.

    salads do pretty good. toss some chicken on it and drink plenty of water... it does help some.

    i'm still tired as hell though lately.

  15. See, I always start with the best intentions of snacking my way through a bag of chips or a box of BottleCaps or some such while I write...and then the story sucks me in and I forget to even sip my iced tea. Shameful, I know.

    When the writing jones really takes me, I honestly need a keeper. Otherwise, I write for eight hours straight without eating or drinking anything, then come out of the fog ravenous and ready to crash. Needless to say, this happens often because my roommate for three years got married and moved out. I miss him!

    Plus, I dehydrate like a mud flat in the desert, so I really have to remind myself to keep something liquid handy -- preferably tea or flavored water. And, you know, actually drink it. My poor doctor says I'm the only patient he's ever had to tell to put MORE salt into her diet.

  16. I gave up many of my vices when I became a vegan. I still find it suprising to see how many foods contain things I don't eat.

    I don't eat while I write because I find that not being over full gives me a bit of mental clarity and creativity. I also work harder for a reward square (or two) of Green & Blacks hazelnut currant dark chocolate bar. Mostly I just drink water. I tried coffee for a while but I don't want that much caffiene in my system.

  17. I eat just about anything. I'm a big fan of organic foods but I'm not fanatical about it. Rudy's has a great organic whole wheat bread, it tastes better than the bread in regular stores. I get it at the health food store nearby.

    I switched my family over to 100% grassfed beef when I read that it actually produces good cholesterol numbers (because grass is better for the cows).

    I'm not really a sweets person (although I like ice cream and chocolate once in a while). I would rather eat another serving of dinner than eat dessert.

  18. I like Kashi's "Go Lean", the original, not the oatmeal crunchy whatever. Go Lean is nice and bland (no sugar spike) and stupidly high in protein and fiber, so it's filling on that level, and it's not so tasty that I'm going to eat eight cups of it. It's the perfect thing for me when I've got that "I want to chew on something" urge that's not quite hungry but distracting all the same. Plus, the cereal itself is...cohesive, does that make sense? The little shapes aren't going to get all flakey and crumby and stuck to my fingers, and if I drop some on the keyboard, I just pick it up.

  19. I usually have tea and/or water, and that's about it. Now and again on a rare occasion I will have a snack - which is almost always a fruit or a pastry - but usually no food. It gets in the way, it messes up my keyboard, and I either forget to write or I forget to eat.

  20. Anonymous10:19 PM

    I find not eating messes with my ability to write! Sometimes, when I am just about to write something, I find that what I really need to fuel my writing is ... food!. I get almost as hungry writing as running, believe me.


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