Primer: General Philosophy of the Genius Diet and A Few Non-Intuitive Tips
Many of the best practices in improving productivity, creativity, and alertness are also scientifically proven to help people become more physically fit.
The reason busy professionals are so prone to weight gain is that the brain can signal us to consume hundreds of more calories during bouts of complex problem solving. Fortunately, sugary snacks happen to be just one way to feed the brain; nutrient-dense foods, quick exercise and mindfulness also quench the brain’s cravings in equally or even more efficient ways.
That is, calm focus is a fantastic shield against overeating, compared to a mind that starved, stressed, or sleep deprived. The very things that make us better and happier at our jobs are also great ways to become physically fit.
Some tips from peer-reviewed studies to combat overeating include:
- In one study, participants solving complex problems snacked less if they were asked to do a brief bit of exercise, because movement can be as effective as eating to getting nutrients to the brain (in this case, a nutrient called Lactate).
- In another study, participants who took a mild walk outside were satiated with less chocolate than those who remained sedentary.
- Getting at least 20 minutes of blue-sky sunlight in the morning (with no glasses or contacts) and blocking that same blue spectrum of light before bed increases sleep quality and reduces stress by helping the brain better regulate Melatonin production (most electronics give off blue spectrum).
- Early morning meals with higher protein and fat content both improve cognitive functioning and lead to less calorie consumption; the body can be trained to feed more off fat than carbohydrates after extended periods of a more balanced diet.
Overview Of Tips
This particular post is an à la carte buffet of science-tested techniques for improving physical fitness and intelligence at the same time.
I decided to start collecting these peer-reviewed techniques after a decade of roller-coaster dieting, since my waistline would inevitably expand when I had to prioritize work over my personal health. I eventually incorporated enough techniques so that being physically fit was an essential part of my productivity habits*.
The strategies are sub-divided in three main sections
- Food and Nutrition
- Physical Exercise
- Daily Habits (meditation, sleep, etc)
Each tip is stand-alone. Basic elements of the Genius Diet are at the top of each section and fill down with more advanced (and experimental) strategies.
For a table contents, with links to a quick start guide, a rapid weight-loss version, and more, click here
Section I: Food and Nutrition
What’s the best food for optimal cognition?
It’s easier to think about what foods should be avoided, either because they cause a nasty blood sugar crash or because they’re known to cause adverse cognitive effects.
Unfortunately, harmful foods happen to be exceedingly common in the standard american diet:
- White carbs (flour, rice, popcorn, potatoes), gluten-free grain substitutes, and processed grains (e.g. corn flakes, puffed rice)
- Sweeteners (all types of sugar, syrups, fruit juices, processed honey, agave, and aspartame)
- Blended or juiced foods
- Fish high in mercury
Research suggests that high-fat, low-carb diets increase cognitive speed processing and complex carbs like Oatmeal provide sustained attention into the late morning better than a low-fiber, high carb cereal.
What’s the best breakfast for optimal cognition?
A wonderful review of all the research from Tufts university suggests that the best breakfast is an equal balance of carbs, fat and protein. Fat and protein smooth out the impact of carbs to the brain.
A few studies do show that that high-carb meals, like juice or fruit-loops, have a positive effect on cognition, especially memory. This is why people aren’t crazy to crave sweet breakfasts. Ice cream — no joke — is known to improve scores on tests of cognitive performance.
However, sugar acts like a drug: there’s a short-term boost to the brain, but the longer-term consequences of a blood sugar crash have nasty consequences later in the day. Prolonged unhealthy diets can lead to inflammation and weight gain that create a downward spiral of stress, obesity and lack of cognition.
That is, sustained attention requires slow-burning energy stores.
This is why number of studies show that natural sugars or complex carbs, such as oatmeal, sustain the cognitive boost for a few more hours during the day compared to processed sugars.
My favorite breakfasts:
- Raw honey and full-fat greek yogurt
- A microwaved sweet potato dripping with lots of grass-fed butter