by Linda Nelson, CMP
As a meeting professional, my number one goal is to ensure that your meeting or conference is successful. We have all attended conferences where the fluorescent lighting, the carb loaded food, the uncomfortable chairs, and the boring speakers make us wonder why we even bothered.
In order for any meeting to be successful, the participants must be operating at his or her best! Over 20 years of planning meetings, I have seen trends come and go, and I have seen the need for lean, productive, efficient, and effective conferences become a vital part of our industry.
At the heart of any successful meeting is the health of the participants. It is not our job to impact the lifestyle of our participants but we can plan a meeting in such a way that we are doing everything to ensure each participant is functioning at their optimum while in attendance at the meeting.
I like to think of this as planning Brain Healthy Meetings. These are meetings that are intentionally planned to minimize the factors that often drain our brains at meetings. Research says that the average human can concentrate on something actively for 8 seconds, and that we can keep refocusing our brain for about 20 minutes at a time. In order to get the most out of any meeting or conference, we want to limit those things that cause our brain to function poorly. This brain drain can be caused by sitting for too long, eating unhealthy food, not drinking enough water, and death by powerpoint to name just a few.
Healthy Brains start with what is on the inside. I like to start by offering brain healthy meals and snacks, and plenty of water. Eating healthy isn’t just a preference, scientific research show the connection between what we eat and how well our brains function. According to Dr. Eva Selhub in Harvard Health Publications, “ Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the “waste” (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.”
She goes on to explain the science behind Nutritional Psychiatry.
“Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.”
I like to replace the typical carb overloaded meals with those that have simple proteins and are more veggie based. You don’t have to change everything. Making small tweaks to your menu can provide a healthier option for those who choose it. We have seen more and more people that are taking advantage of the healthier options. After a recent conference I received this feedback, “thank you for the healthy meal options during lunch and breaks, its much appreciated” Janet Hendley, UNCG, School of Nursing.
Remember: healthy doesn’t have to be boring. Meals can still taste great and provide the slow releasing energy that keeps each of us operating at our best.
In an article on the SmartMeetings website, Andrea Sullivan of BrainStrength Systems, a leading researcher in the field, states, “One of the biggest challenges we face in the meetings industry is how to support attendees in remaining alert, energized and in a learning state throughout the day and the conference,” says Sullivan. “Food plays a huge role in this: What we eat greatly influences how we think and how we feel.”
Research is still evolving, but Sullivan points out that neuroscientists are now able to identify the effects of some specific foods on brain functioning. That should make devising an attendee-boosting menu a no-brainer. Just as illuminating, it makes clear which foods to avoid.
Some suggestions for Brain Healthy Meetings:
Breakfast: Greek yogurt, berries, steal cut oatmeal or whole grain bread with smoked salmon.
Morning break: Smoothies made with veggies and berries; Make your own trail mix, with nuts, berries and some good dark chocolate,
Lunch: Instead of sandwich and chips, think soup and salads. Grilled chicken or glazed salmon with a salad or a healthy selection of vegetables are a good option.
Afternoon break: Fresh fruits, raw nuts. Fresh veggies and hummus. Fruit sushi or apples and peanut butter. If it is hot, consider a fresh fruit Popsicle or ice-lolly.
Dinner: Salads, or a meal that includes a healthy protein, served on a bed of lettuce or greens or whole grain pasta make a satisfying but not a gut overwhelming meal. Don’t skip Dessert. A light sorbet or granita, meringue or pavlova with fresh fruit. Or consider a smaller portion of a traditional dessert.
Choosing what to serve is just as important as what you don’t serve. Avoid the obvious, fried foods, salty foods, and sugary snacks.
“There are two things I feel are most important for groups and planners to understand,” says Sullivan. “The first is the need to keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. We do this by serving low-glycemic-index foods while minimizing white flour and sugars—the typical continental breakfast featuring bagels and pastries has got to go. “The second is to minimize salt, which has an immediate effect of constricting circulation—within 30 minutes! This leads to decreased oxygen in the brain, harming our ability to think clearly.”
Linda Nelson, CMP is the Founder and CEO of To PLAN Ahead LLC and has more than 20 years of experience in event planning conferences and special events. She began her career in the meeting planning industry in England with the Plymouth Visitor and Convention Bureau where she worked as a Tourist and Conference Destination Manager. Since moving to the U.S. 25 years ago, she has continued her meeting planning career and in 1997 earned the designation as a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP). Linda feels very fortunate to have worked with clients such as Hewlett Packard, Agilent, Intuit, Applied Materials and many more. Previously, she worked as a Meeting Planner for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and since forming To Plan Ahead, EPRI has continued to be a loyal client. Linda travels extensively, both nationally and internationally, and has excellent knowledge of the benefits that her international clientele provides. As a member of the Founding Board for the Northeastern Chapter of MPI (Meeting Professionals International), she served as the Vice President of Communications. In 2008, she was awarded Professional Excellence in the Meeting Industry by the chapter. She is a member of SPIN.
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