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Optimizing Your Genius Eating Environment with Max Lugavere

Max Lugavere is a filmmaker, health and science journalist and the author of the New York Times best-seller Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life, published in 8 languages around the globe and The Genius Life: Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary. He is also the host of the #1 iTunes health podcast The Genius Life.

Lugavere appears regularly on the Dr. Oz Show, the Rachael Ray Show, and The Doctors. He has contributed to Medscape, Vice, Fast Company, CNN, and the Daily Beast, has been featured on NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, and in The New York Times and People Magazine. He is an internationally sought-after speaker and has given talks at South by Southwest, TEDx, the New York Academy of Sciences, the Biohacker Summit in Stockholm, Sweden, and many others.

From 2005-2011, Lugavere was a journalist for Al Gore’s Current TV. He lives in New York City and Los Angeles.

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How do you set up your eating environment to have optimal brain performance and power?

What you eat matters, especially for your gray matter. You already know the importance of what to eat. But did you know that there are ways to make healthy eating much easier?

Today I’m excited to have Max Lugavere back on our show. Max is a filmmaker, health and science journalist, and best-selling author of Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life and The Genius Life: Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary.

Establishing healthy eating habits starts by setting yourself up to win. This includes everything from understanding how to shop for groceries to eating mindfully. Listen in as Max talks about simple ways to set up your ideal eating environment to optimize your metabolic health.

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"What you eat influences how much you eat."

Max Lugavere

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It’s Not What You Eat, It’s How You Eat

  • In everything you do, it’s important to remember the 5W’s and the H—who, what, why, when, where, and how.
  • It’s not what you learn, but where, how, and when. It’s the same with eating.
  • You want to feed your brain by really paying attention to how and when you feed your body, along with the environment you’re eating in.
  • There’s a common belief that you’re operating under the guise of freewill, but there are so many external forces that dictate how much you eat.
  • For example, studies have shown that you tend to eat more when your food is served on a bigger plate, and you eat less when served on a smaller plate. Same portion size, different results.
  • Portion control is super important because it’s something most people struggle with.
  • Two-thirds of adults in America are either overweight or obese, with the trend heading towards half of the adult population being obese by 2030.
  • Obesity is not a cosmetic issue. It is a systemic metabolic problem that affects how your brain works.
  • There have been correlational studies that show the wider your waist is, the smaller your total brain volume is.
  • One of the primary issues relating to being overweight and obese comes from overindulging—especially on sugary, refined grain flour products and unhealthy oils.
  • This promotes a condition in the body called insulin resistance.
  • The brain thrives in a state of metabolic health and insulin resistance is the opposite.
  • You want to get your body in a state of optimal metabolic functioning so that your brain works not only the best that it can, but also has a better chance of warding off conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The number one rule is to cook at home more.
  • It doesn’t have to be every meal, you can partake in the conveniences of the modern world. But more you can cook at home, the better.
  • You can get in the habit of doing that by stocking your home with healthy foods.
  • As you shop around the supermarket, you want to make sure you’re shopping around the perimeter of the supermarket as opposed to the aisles.
  • The perimeter is where all of the minimally processed, whole foods are located.
  • And most supermarkets are designed the same way.
  • Perishable, fresh foods tend to be around the perimeters because that’s where they put the refrigeration, which is massive machinery.
  • The aisles are where the ultra-processed, shelf-stable, packaged convenience foods are.
  • 60% of the food adults consume come from ultra-processed foods.
  • These foods tend to have long ingredient lists and they live in the aisles at the supermarket.
  • The problem is ultra-processed foods drive overconsumption by around 500 additional calories a day.
  • They’re designed to promote overconsumption.
  • The National Institutes of Health have funded studies where they put volunteers in controlled living environments where they’re fed what’s called ad libitum meals—meaning they could eat as much as they wanted.
  • One of the most pivotal studies in 2018 showed that when given access to ultra-processed foods and allowed to eat to satiety, participants tended to eat to fullness, which is already overconsuming their calorie budget by 500 calories.
  • If you overeat 500 calories every single day over the course of a week, that’s a pound of fat gain.
  • When these same participants switched over to a diet that was focused around minimally processed foods, they effortlessly came in at a calorie deficit.
  • Minimally processed foods are the foods that you buy the ingredients for and cook at home.
  • What you eat influences how much you eat.
  • You can’t control how much you eat without looking at what you’re actually eating.
  • Food quality is so crucial.
  • When you make a shift in your diet and upgrade the quality of your food, with minimum effort you’ll control the amount you’re eating.

Foods To Focus On

  • One of the greatest tools Max likes to offer people is to focus on protein.
  • There are three macro nutrients: carbs, fat, and protein.
  • Packaged foods tend to be mostly carbohydrate and fat based.
  • Protein is the most satiating of these macro nutrients.
  • If you’re hungry, focus on protein.
  • Protein also breaks down into the amino acids that support brain function.
  • Amino acids provide the backbone to your neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and even melatonin.
  • Protein is essential in preserving muscle mass, which is crucial as you age because it allows you to stay mobile so you can continue to exercise.
  • Exercise is one of the most important ways to support your brain health and brain function, and protein directly supports this.
  • The idea that too much protein is bad for you has been thoroughly debunked in scientific literature.
  • You can basically eat all the protein you want.
  • On top of that, it’s really hard to overconsume protein because it is so satiating.
  • Focus on proteins like wild salmon.
  • Wild salmon is rich in DHA fat and has a potent marine carotenoid astaxanthin, which is one of the most powerful protectors of the brain.
  • A great source of vitamin E and other important micronutrients is grass-fed beef.
  • Researchers speculate that in addition to accessing the meat of ruminant animals, it was cooking that helped release all of the nutrients in the meat.
  • This is what supported the growth of the brain throughout evolution.
  • Other types of seafood are bivalves.
  • They’re a wonderful source of vitamin B12 and zinc—which are important for good mental health as well as supporting the immune system.
  • Eating any of those three things is going to make a marked difference in your health, the way you feel, and the way your brain functions.
  • If you eat all three, it’s a homerun.

Create Healthy Food Habits

  • Setting yourself up to win is all about establishing healthy habits.
  • You want to make what’s good for you easy.
  • One valuable mindset hack is to visualize that what you put in your shopping cart is going to end up in your stomach.
  • If you’re putting trigger foods in your cart that are going to be difficult for you to moderate, you’re already setting yourself up for failure.
  • It doesn’t matter who you are, when you open a pint of ice cream or a bag of chips, it’s going to take real mental muscle to moderate the consumption of those foods.
  • Junk food companies love to say: just eat less and move more.
  • But what they aren’t acknowledging is that their foods are explicitly designed to drive overconsumption.
  • They pay food scientists millions upon millions of dollars to do focus groups to make sure their food is impossibly delicious.
  • The scientific term is hyperpalatable.
  • You won’t find foods in nature that are as delicious as a Cool Ranch Dorito and they know it.
  • That’s why ultra-processed foods underlie the obesity epidemic.
  • Even more damaging, when you are unable to stop consuming these foods or moderate your consumption of these foods, you can experience feeling like a moral failure.
  • You might think you’re not good enough or you don’t deserve a healthy body or good metabolic health.
  • But that’s not true.
  • You’re human and that means you’re programmed after eons of evolution to seek out foods that are very energy-dense and calorie-dense.
  • Calories weren’t always something you could count on for the majority of your time evolving as a hunter-gatherer.
  • You had to go out and procure the food yourself. There wasn’t a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s on every corner.
  • In addition, these foods activate the dopamine rewards in your brain.
  • And these ultra-processed foods are mostly carbs and fat.
  • Going back to protein being the most satiating macronutrient, the one characteristic of all ultra-processed foods is that they are low in protein content.
  • The combination of being very high in carbs and fat are why these foods underlie the obesity epidemic.
  • They’re also creating the new diabesity epidemic, which is the concurrent presentation of type-2 diabetes and other related illnesses along with obesity.
  • It’s important to know that food affects your behavior.
  • Foods that are designed to promote overconsumption are foods designed to create repeat customers.
  • You have to be able to look at certain foods and identify them for what they are rather than feeling caught up in disappointment, depression, and failure for eating too much.

Be Mindful

  • The state that you’re eating in makes a difference.
  • When you’re stressed out, you’re not digesting your food efficiently, which means you’re not extracting all of the nutritional value of your food.
  • You want to make sure you’re sitting while you eat.
  • Take a deep breath to activate your parasympathetic rest and digest mode.
  • Be really present with your food.
  • There are studies showing people who eat while distracted—watching television or scrolling on their phones—overconsume by about 15%.
  • Being mindful about your food increases satiety and reduces how much you eat.
  • Once you have the knowledge, you can work on making incremental improvements in your life.
  • Being mindful also includes what we’ve been talking about—being aware of what you’re eating.
  • Many people struggle with their weight but rather than focusing on calories, focus on the triggers surrounding what you eat and how you eat.
  • Be present, be mindful, and be aware that there are forces outside of your control that impact your behavior.
  • Usually, those forces are in place thanks to billions of dollars in corporate interests.
  • They want you to be glued to your television screen.
  • The nightly news uses a “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality to make sure you tune in every night.
  • And the news airs around mealtimes.
  • You can take power back by being more mindful of all of these aspects around food and eating.
  • Mindfulness is powerful and you can practice being mindful in other areas of your life as well.
  • The state you’re eating in internally is just as important as the food you’re eating and the external environment you’re eating in.
  • It all affects how the food is processed and digested.
  • There have been studies that show the thermic effect of feeding.
  • You actually burn calories through chewing and digesting your food.
  • Another study out of Japan followed a group of females and showed you can actually boost your metabolism through mindful eating.
  • There’s a misconception that your metabolism is slow or that it slows with age.
  • You can boost your metabolism simply by slowing down while you’re eating.
  • Remember: what you eat matters, especially for your gray matter.
  • And it’s not what you eat, but how and where you eat.



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