How Microbiomes Can Make You a Better Developer
If you struggle to keep up with the demands of software development, your diet may be to blame. Your brain relies on food for fuel for maximum performance, but not all fuel is made the same. Some foods are high in protein. Meanwhile, other foods are high in sodium and processed sugar.
Reflect on the meals you’ve had in the last week. How often did you forego cooking in favor of takeout? How many frozen meals did you microwave for lunch or after a hard day’s work?
Now reflect on your productivity last week. How much time did you set aside for improving your software developer skills? How many hours did you waste procrastinating?
If you are surprised at the results above, now is the time to assess your diet as a factor in productivity. A biological system in your body called the microbiome may be your new best friend.
Disclaimer: I am not a certified physician or nutritionist. Consult your doctor or nutritionist if you consider attempting a new diet. I researched microbiomes out of personal interest for over a year. I personally adopted the Keto diet, a low-carb and high-fat diet designed to lower blood sugar levels for both physical and cognitive benefits, while training for the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon.
By adopting a diet to improve my microbes, I was able to beat my personal record in the Los Angeles Marathon and quickly learn automation to earn my current job. Now, I want to share my knowledge with you.
Microbiomes and the Gut-Brain Axis
A good diet is not solely for the benefit of your digestive system or losing weight. A healthy diet can benefit an ecosystem of beneficial microorganisms that affects your central nervous system.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the microbiome consists of microbes that are both helpful and potentially harmful. Microbes are microorganisms inside of your body. They include bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses.
Whether these microbes are helpful or harmful depends on your dietary choices.
For example, if your diet consists of fast food at least five times a week, you will support the bad microbes that feed on high fat and sodium foods. On the other hand, if you focus your diet on vegetables and fish, you will feed the microbes that benefit your body.
The good microbes benefit more than your bodily functions. There is evidence that good microbes benefit your brain functionality. This concept is also known as the Gut-Brain Axis.
According to the National Institute of Health, the Gut-Brain Axis consists of bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. In other words, the microbes in your intestines help guide your mood and thoughts. If you’ve ever followed your gut instinct, you’ve unconsciously experienced the Gut-Brain Axis.
There are more use cases for the Mind-Gut Connection, which you can explore further if you are interested.
Stereotypical Software Developer Diet
The stereotypical software developer diet is not microbe-friendly. Eating two bags of Doritos and washing it down with Monster Energy sounds convenient for an all-nighter, but not beneficial in the long term. Yet, high-calorie foods and caffeinated drinks are staples of many gamers and developers.
It does not matter how good your metabolism is. When you eat unhealthy food, in the long term, your body will adapt, and you will experience an increase in body fat, fatigue, lack of focus, and food addiction.
High-Calorie Foods and Caffeine Dependence Ruin Productivity
Echoing the lack of focus, high-calorie foods and dependence on caffeine may be the No. 1 cause for your lack of productivity as a developer.
Take, for example, drinking a cup of coffee as the first thing in the morning before your daily stand-up. If you like to pour sugar and vanilla cream in your coffee, you are unknowingly feeding the microbes that are harmful to your body and mind. Sure, you may feel energized on your first sip, but a couple of hours after you finish your coffee, you experience the crash.
The natural response to subdue the crash is to get more coffee. If you also happen to get more coffee throughout the day, you are feeding the negative microbes in your body and repeating the crash cycle. The crash cycle is the cycle of a sudden lack of energy, a burst of energy from refueling your caffeine supply, followed by another dip in energy.
This cyclical lack of energy ruins your productivity because you produce fewer results throughout the day due to inconsistent levels of energy.
The physical responses your body experiences during the crash are brain fog, red eyes, headaches, fatigue, drowsiness. Each of these symptoms impairs your thinking and judgment. So, to reach the same level of productivity as you did after your morning coffee, you will need to invest more time in your task with a decrease in focus.
Weight Gain and Laziness Ahead
The crash is a symptom you can immediately recognize from your caffeine and food dependencies. Consistent bad dietary habits have negative accumulating effects you will not recognize until months pass.
For example, weight gain and body fat increase are some of the first symptoms that happen in the long term. In my personal experience, when the Stay At Home orders became enforced in March 2020, I gained 40 pounds from March to Sept. 2020.
The reason for this was that I began to work at home and made the “smart” decision to dirty bulk as a means to gain weight over what I perceived to be three months. For one, I was wrong about the length of the Stay At Home order. Second, my decision resulted in a food addiction consisting of high caloric intake and sugary meals.
In addition to my weight gain, I realized that my drive to work out and practice software development daily decreased. This brought me to the other subtle disadvantage of a bad diet: a lack of initiative.
Given that your microbiome helps influence mood, bad microbes support negative emotions and weaken your ability to take initiative. This is a possible reason for procrastination despite your ambition to learn the latest technology or get your own side-hustle started.
Take Care of Your Microbiome To Increase Productivity
We’ve seen the downside; what can happen in terms of productivity if you neglect your microbiome. Now it’s time to see what you can do to improve it, ultimately becoming a better developer.
Less Time Spent Cramming
When you take action to improve your microbiome, your ability to focus will be the first benefit you will experience. Borrowing from Cal Newport’s How to Become a Straight-A Student, productivity is time spent on task times the intensity of focus.
In other words, your good microbes can increase your ability to focus on a specific task and require less work to accomplish. So if you wanted to study up on machine learning in Python, you could learn by building a project in a couple of weeks rather than procrastinating for two months.
You will say goodbye to all-nighters.
Reduce Your Social Anxiety
Thinking outside of technical skills, you can use your good microbes to your advantage by reducing your anxiety in social situations. Despite the current social distancing rules, you can take the initiative to email or send direct messages to other developers at work, on Discord, or on a private Facebook group.
If you allow social anxiety to get the better of you, it can cost you a promotion, a new job opportunity at another company, friendships, or your ability to find a romantic partner. Your microbes can be your ultimate wingman—or wingthing—if you decide to make healthier dietary choices.
Microbes are not a proven method to remove social anxiety. However, good microbes are shown to relieve depression and anxiety. A high-sugar and caffeinated diet exacerbate anxiety by wiring your brain to imagine negative scenarios before initiating conversation. So, making healthier choices might give you peace of mind and turn you into the life of the party.
Beat Your Food Addiction
The key to increasing the quality of your microbiome is to replace high-calorie and sugary food with food that promotes probiotics, healthy gut bacteria. This change will not happen overnight, but here are some suggestions to help get you started.
Use a Calorie-Tracking App
Use technology to your advantage when tracking what you put in your mouth. My favorite app for tracking my food is MyFitnessPal. It is free to get started, and it helps you watch your sugar intake.
A hidden bonus about using MyFitnessPal is the ability to keep your meals predictable. It is tedious to pull out your phone every time you have a meal or snack. So, to make the process less tedious, you can use MyFitnessPal to your advantage by consuming the same foods throughout the week. So when it comes to your food, you eliminate the problem.
You can find inspiration for recipes that support a healthy microbiome from Mark Sisson, an expert on the Keto Diet, and Brad Kearns, a former professional triathlete.
Practice Intermittent Fasting
Another idea you may consider is practicing intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is the practice of not consuming any calories in a 16-hour window and consuming all your daily calories in an 8-hour window.
Intermittent fasting is a practice associated with weight loss, however, it can be applied to improve your microbiome. The purpose of intermittent fasting in this context is to eliminate your dependence on unhealthy food. So the next time you eat unhealthy food, it is by your conscious decision, not out of habit.
Better Gut, Better Mind
Before starting any new diet, do consult with your doctor or medical practitioner. Developers are quick to find the latest supplement, or some other shortcut, when trying to improve their performance. However, the answer to your procrastination may be sitting at your dinner table.
If you recently experienced chronic fatigue and lack of focus, you may consider reflecting on your diet. When you become cognizant of the foods and drinks you consume, you are making the active decision to feed microbes that are beneficial or harmful for your body and mind.
A change in diet does not necessarily have to be expensive nor require investing too much time. The simple act of choosing green tea over a vanilla latte can make a positive difference in the long term.