Is the boss sending you and your team for a polygraph? You’re probably feeling nervous and wondering what will happen a few days from now when you step into the exam room. Relax; it’s common for people to feel out of their comfort zone when they learn they’re going for a lie detector test.
There are many factors influencing the outcome of the polygraph exam. How you sleep the night before taking the lie detector plays a huge role in your mental state on the day. What you eat on the day before the exam on test day also affects your well-being and emotions.
So, what’s the optimal diet to eat on the day before the test and on test day? Are there foods you should avoid? This post gives you everything you need to know about the best food and beverage choices to ensure your polygraph exam is successful.
The Impact of Food on Polygraph Exam Results
Food plays a central role in our lives. What we eat determines our physical and mental health. Making the wrong food choices can severely impact your performance and how you feel. So, it makes sense that eating well would affect your polygraph results.
The polygraph exam focuses on monitoring your vital signs during the questioning process, looking for signs of activation of the fight-or-flight response. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for activating the fight-or-flight mode, and we can’t control it with our conscious mind.
However, the nutrients and calories we feed ourselves impact the health and status of the nervous system. For instance, eating too much sugar and consuming too many caffeinated beverages isn’t good for our health and state of mind.
Sugar and caffeine are nervous system stimulants. They ramp up the central nervous system response, keeping us on edge. When you’re preparing for a polygraph exam, your mind has a natural fear of the unknown.
As a response, the subconscious prepares you for what it considers a potentially threatening event. It does this by priming the sympathetic nervous system to activate the fight-or-flight response. If you’ve ever seen a kid that’s eaten too much sugar or you’ve drunk too much coffee in the morning, you’ll know what we mean.
The child acts over-energetically; they can’t sit still and find it hard to pay attention in classroom environments. If you drink too many energy drinks or coffee, the caffeine in these beverages makes you feel jittery and on edge. Both sugar and caffeine also result in a crash later in the day, making you feel lethargic and irritable.
Understanding the Science Behind Food and Lie Detection
So, our sugar and caffeine examples present scenarios that set us up for a bad time in the polygraph exam room. With the sympathetic nervous system primed to activate the fight-or-flight response, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.
Let’s explain why. The polygraph machine monitors your vital signs. It checks your physiological feedback from the instrumentation connected to your body, looking for irrational changes. When the fight-or-flight response launches, it causes a flood of adrenaline and cortisol to enter the bloodstream.
As a result of these biochemicals rampaging through your body, you experience an increase in blood pressure, elevations in heart rate and respiration, changes in skin electrical activity (think goosebumps), and your sweat gland activity increases.
The polygraph machine notices these changes, presenting the information via charts to the examiner. If the examiner asks you a question that activates the fight-or-flight response, they’ll assume you’re acting deceptively, lying to them with your answer.
When we lie, we do so to protect ourselves from something. It’s a similar reaction to running away from something we find scary. Both examples require the brain to signal the central nervous system to activate the sympathetic nervous system and the fight-or-flight response.
So, if you consume too much caffeine and sugar before the exam, you’re priming the sympathetic nervous system to launch the fight-or-flight response at the smallest indication of a threat. That could end up being problematic for you in the exam room.
When we take a polygraph, we’re already feeling on edge, regardless of the food we eat. It’s a jaunting experience for most people because we don’t know what to expect. So, if the examiner asks you a question that makes you feel nervous, your body feels a heightened response, compounded by the caffeine and sugar.
The Benefits of a Healthy Meal Before Your Polygraph Exam
Eating properly before your polygraph exam is a sensible choice to ensure the best outcome from the process. We’ve already discussed how sugar and caffeine are bad choices for food and beverages before your polygraph exam.
Most people don’t realize that many foods contain sugary carbohydrates and stimulants. We don’t have to tell you about the dangers of eating candy or drinking sugary energy drinks before the polygraph; that should be a no-brainer for most people.
However, there are other foods to avoid that have high-carb contents or contain ingredients with stimulants. For example, cereal isn’t as good for you as you think. You might see your bowl of Captain Crunch in the morning as being good for you. After all, cereal is a nutritious breakfast, right?
The reality is cereals come packed with sugar. It’s a refined carbohydrate and one of the worst breakfast choices you can make. Oatmeal is a much better choice. Sprinkle some stevia on it if you think it’s bland, or add some honey to it. It’s a slow-digesting carb giving you a smooth release of energy through the day and no crash.
Before you eat something, look at the nutrition label on the packaging, it will tell you how many carbs you’re getting from sugar in a serving. Avoid eating sugary foods the day before and the morning of your exam, and you’ll find you don’t feel as on edge when you take the polygraph.
Most Americans enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, and that’s fine. Leaving out your morning cup of Joe might even have an adverse effect on your exam performance. The body adapts to stimulants over time, so if you don’t have your morning cup, you might feel foggy during the workday.
Having a cup of coffee is fine, but don’t drink too much of it. The same goes for tea; it also has high caffeine content. Many people find they don’t sleep well the night before the polygraph because their mind is weighing the possibility of potentially failing. As a result, they wake up in the morning and feel groggy.
To wake themselves up, they pass Starbucks and pick up a triple-shot latte to get them through the morning – that’s a mistake. The additional caffeine primes the nervous system, making you feel anxious. Instead, listen to a guided breathing meditation before you go to sleep; you’ll find it easier to fall asleep, removing the need for the extra coffee the following morning.
A Guide to Eating for Optimal Polygraph Exam Results
So, what’s the optimal diet for the day before and the day of your polygraph exam? We put together this example of a nutritious, healthy diet to help you get the best results.
Eating to Improve Polygraph Accuracy
The goal of eating right for the exam involves leaving as many stimulants and high-glycemic carbs out of your diet as possible. For breakfast, eat some eggs and have a slice of toast or two. Eggs are high in fat, providing a sustained, slow release of energy throughout the morning.
Bread, especially white bread, is a “fast” carb, meaning it quickly finds its way into your bloodstream, prepping you for a crash. However, nutritional science shows that by toasting the bread, you increase its glycemic index, releasing it slowly on a similar scale to oatmeal.
Stay away from eating too much fruit or jams in the morning. These foods have a high-glycemic index and a similar effect on the body as sugar. Fruit juice is one of the worst choices to make as it has a similar profile to soda in terms of fast carbs.
For lunch, have a salad or something like a tuna-mayo toasted sandwich. Avoid eating bread-based sandwiches or pasta. In the evening, stick to a protein, like a steak, chicken breast, or fish. Combine it with vegetables and avoid the carbs if you can.
On the morning of your exam, repeat the previous morning’s meal. If you’re worried about the fat and cholesterol in eggs and how they could affect heart health – don’t.
Despite what people tell you, medical science shows no connection between dietary fat and cholesterol and poor heart health. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence it’s actually good for your cardiovascular system.
Snacks and Beverages Recommended Before Your Polygraph Exam
If you snack on something before the polygraph, ensure it’s low-carb or a low-glycemic carb. Avoid eating things like chips, candy, and soda, and stay away from office donuts. Snack on some trail mix or have a piece of fruit. Stick to fruits like bananas, watermelon, and blueberries; they’re the better choice over oranges, grapes, and other fleshy fruits.
If you feel like having a warm beverage before your exam, lose the coffee and have a cup of chamomile tea instead. Chamomile has a potent nervine effect on the CNS, making you feel relaxed but not sleepy. Avoid drinking green tea, it might be really good for you, but it contains caffeine.
The Role of Supplements and Vitamins in Polygraph Preparation
There are several supplements that provide calming effects on the body and mind. For instance, taking a dose of L-Theanine (Suntheanine) with your coffee in the morning helps to remove the jitters from your Joe. 5-HTTP is another great choice for a supplement with calming effects on the nervous system. Take a dose of GABA the night before your exam, and you’ll find it helps you get to sleep.
The Importance of Timing Your Meal Before Your Polygraph Exam
Meal timing before your polygraph test is another critical consideration to take into account. After we eat, the body sends blood to the stomach and digestive system to help digest the food. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the other part of the autonomic nervous system to the sympathetic nervous system).
Eating too close to your exam makes you feel lethargic. While that might seem beneficial to make you feel more relaxed, it’s quite the opposite. When the parasympathetic nervous system activates, it makes the sympathetic nervous system more prone to activation and overreaction.
Don’t eat anything for the two hours before your exam, and you should be fine.
The Risks of Hunger and Dehydration During Your Polygraph Exam
Being hungry and dehydrated before your exam is a big no-no. If you practice intermittent fasting and you’re used to not eating in the morning, that’s fine. Please don’t change your strategy on test day, as it might have counterproductive results.
Intermittent fasting is a good strategy because it helps you regulate and maintain blood glucose levels until the mid-afternoon when you have your first meal. So, if you practice IF, keep it going, and don’t change it on test day. However, if you’re used to eating in the morning, don’t change that either.
If you feel nervous and don’t have any appetite on test day, force yourself to eat something, even if you don’t want to. Being hungry sends the nervous system into overdrive; it’s a primeval response.
As a result of being hungry, the brain tells the sympathetic nervous system to prime the fight-or-flight response because that primal part of your brain is telling you it’s time to go hunting, and you might experience threats to your life while you’re out gathering food.
Ensure you drink at least a few quarts of water before the polygraph exam. Similarly, when you’re dehydrated, the body goes into fight-or-flight mode because it’s desperate for liquids. Being dehydrated makes your body desperate for water, and you’ll end up over-responding to the examiner’s questions.