Ice cream and productivity

Life hack is an overused term that you probably hear on a semi regular basis. It sounds like eating ice cream making me healthier and more productive is some sort of ridiculous life hack. Hear me out, because it goes crazier and deeper than any mere life hack does.

Panic attacks

Roughly three years ago I had a panic attack. I was pushing myself to do more classes and perform better in them. I also had side projects and inefficient sleep, which cornered me academically. College was a part of my life I felt forced into and that I had no escape from. My sweet tooth grew each week, only temporarily cooled by ice cream. The stress built up, and I didn’t pay attention to it until my throat seized. Precious needed oxygen slowed down by the gripping python of stress tightening my throat. In the midst I rushed to the store on my bike as fast as my legs could go. I came for one thing: the ice cream. On the way back my bike computer showed 27 mph as I flew down the street with ice cream in hand. It must have been a confusing to see someone voraciously consuming ice cream while careening down the road. In retrospect this is a terrible idea I will never replicate, but why not laugh about lessons learned?

Despite the rush, this frenzy was calming to my mind. Exercise is a short and long term stress reliever, drawing my mind into something besides the stress. Consuming sugary and fatty foods like ice cream can very temporarily quench stress as well. Stress eating appears to be a response rooted in our physiology as this happens cross culturally.

I personally began observing this tendency within myself, and an unusually strong hunger for sweet foods is one of the first warning signs that my stress levels are rising. Ice cream just happens to be the optimal delivery vehicle for temporarily suppressing this stress response. It doesn’t solve the root of the problem.

Turning a weakness into an advantage

So you might ask the how can this possibly be good for your productivity. Eating ice cream every time you get stressed not only doesn’t solve the stress, it leads to obesity and diabetes over time. This is terrible for productivity or really anything past the five minutes of eating. What I did is find a way to turn this weakness into an advantage. The hunger is an inevitable cue for me living a life where stress can be managed but not eliminated. This is no longer a problem with unknown causes, but a habit to be fixed.

Feed the mind

Hunger itself is still actually a good thing, because it gave me an idea. Our stress in modern society is psychological, caused by our perception of deadlines, threats, failures. Since these stem from an unhealthy psychological state, why not feed the mind instead of the body? The new habit replaces the action of eating ice cream with feeding myself a healthier mental state. I keep a folder on my phone called “mental nutrition”, so that when I feel that hunger I can go through a guided meditation, some positive reading, or an uplifting podcast. Feeding the mind leads to a much better reward for this habit because it relieves the immediate stress and improves the mind for future stressors. I still get hungry, but with my new habit I can handle stress levels many times higher than several years ago. This makes me not only healthier, but more productive via the knowledge my habit feeds and fuels me with. Besides, how much work do you actually get done if you are overloaded with stress?