Food for brain brawn… why you might dig Genius Foods by Max Lugavere

gfLots of interesting books going down my hatch of late thanks in part to a more intentional sleep routine I’ve been working on. Been a mix of fiction, some mindfulness stuff, a cool tome on how insight happens, and a somewhat steady diet of books on eating and wellbeing. All this reading’s had me thinking about some sort of virtual book club to gab with other folks on good books. Still noodling on that one but in the meantime figured I’d try my hand at a quick written recap of a good one I’ve found myself telling friends about a bunch lately… Genius Foods by Max Lugavere.

TLDR:

Great accessible read on the relationship between what you eat and how (well) your brain functions. Lugavere is a journalist by trade so the book hums along at a nice, clever clip while managing to unpack some pretty scienc-ey stuff (including the whole systemic inflammation idea which I found more graspable here)  in ways you can get your head around and use.

You might like this if:

You’re interested in low carb/higher fat approaches (including keto) – to my eye Genius Foods isn’t a strict prescription/call to arms for a ketogenic diet. It does though share a lot of philosophical ground so can add to your understanding of keto-ville and other very low carb paths. Even if you’ve already dug into other popular books on these topics. For example, I’ve read Grain Brain by Perlmutter and found Genius Foods to cover new terrain as well as similar stuff but in different ways.

You’re as curious about food’s impacts on the brain as on the body – Plenty of stuff to chew on here about long-term effects of nutrition and brain health, but also lots to consider about the near-term gain potential of eating change for day-to-day mental sharpness and clarity… not to mention mood, physical output, etc.

You have loved ones with or at risk of brain disorders like Dementia/Alzheimers – that was my starting interest. The author’s mother was diagnosed with dementia at a relatively young age so he set off to understand more about it and went deep on potential food connections.  I’m seeing it up close as well so am interested to learn all I can about potential choices each of us can make now to lower risk down the road.

You’re interested in practical ideas for incorporating lower carbs/higher fats – lots of books of this ilk have a plan to follow at the end and Genius Foods is no exception. I found examples spread throughout the course of the book just as helpful… like the deeper dive on a short list of brain-friendly foods and how to work them into daily life. Recipes so far have been helpful too though I’ve just tried a few (“cheesy eggs” are delish).

Some favorite concepts:

Hormesis, helpful stressthere’s so much talk these days about constant stress triggered by modern diets, life.  And for good reason…activities that cause the body to consistently flip on its self-preservation mode (versus the episodic “a tiger is about to eat me” response that the system was designed for) leave lots of our parts overstressed and prone to wearing out faster. But Hormesis is this notion that small doses of certain kinds of intermittent stress cause cells to adapt and grow in really helpful ways.  Some you may already do, and others that are pretty enjoyable like working out, hot/cold stress such as sauna/plunges, trying your hand at new things, fasting, eating those antioxidants, etc.

Sauna-Bath-Public-Domain

Neuroplasticity, brain growth can still happen – super cool and hopeful thing we now know that our brains are much more capable of growth and change than we thought even as we get older! Used to be there was this fixed view that after a certain peak age in our 20’s/30’s, the old noodle is on a steady decline to nowhere.  Not much to do about it. Well not so any more. We’re coming to understand that choices we can make (nutrition yes, but also things like mindfulness training for example) at any age of life can promote growth in parts of the brain that help us function better, and shrinkage in parts that don’t.  While I still sometimes dream of shoulder boulders from working out, I’m more excited these days about the potential for brain brawn so this is a super encouraging idea to explore.

There’s lots of other really interesting stuff in Genius Foods too, including a very helpful walkthrough of evolving discussions on fats and cholesterol.  And this concept, whether you want to be low carb forever or not, of becoming more metabolically flexible so you can ebb and flow more easily between burning carbs OR fat for fuel.  

All in all an engaging read on this most elemental of systems for health and happiness, the space between our ears.

5 things that got me out of sleep hell, and 5 that didn’t

Lots of voices I pay attention to have been preaching the better sleep gospel for a while, placing it right up there with nutrition, exercise, human connection and stress management on the wellness priority list.

It wasn’t until I hit a prolonged crappy stretch myself though that it really popped me in the nose just how profoundly sleep impacts daily happiness, much less long-term health.

After a bunch of experiments to get out of the bad way I was in, I’ve managed to pull the nose of the sleep plane up and wow, cruising altitude… with all its fluffy clouds and blue skies…is SO much better.

So I’m glad to share this rapid fire inventory of 5 things I tried that worked best, along with notes on 5 that didn’t do as much.

First, a quick recap of the crappy stretch, case any of it rings familiar…

In the midst of a bunch of life stressors (a mix of work and personal things that all seemed to egg each other on), I was rarely getting more than 5–6 hours a night, often less.

I’d wake up multiple times and worst of all… STAY awake often for hours at a time. It seemed the second my eyes would flutter open, a bunch of exaggerated worries would rush in like shoppers at a holiday sale, setting my mind racing on all sorts of amplified questions… “what’s going to happen, what if, why didn’t I”.

The resulting impacts ranged from general foggy-ness to low mood, anemic energy at the gym to, on some bad nights, a sort of anticipatory dread as the inevitable sleep fight approached. All in all, just a really big drag for me and no doubt the folks around me.

So I got into big time experimentation mode and here’s the recap of what’s gotten me to a reliable 7+ hours a night, and a lot less waking up.

Hope it helps. Other ideas welcome. Sleep’s a process. I’m in a better mode now, but always looking to find and share new stuff.

The 5 with biggest impact:

1. Trade afternoon coffee for evening tea — I used to love a big dose of java in the late afternoon. I’ve swapped that now with herbal tea. Still get the ritual and mental break, but now a longer break from caffeine before sleepy time.

2. Less booze, earlier — evening vino (or a wee dram as my Scottish brothers and sisters say) is an awesome part of the unwind at day’s end. But I’ve found I run better if I have one glass less, and imbibe no later than 8ish. Booze helps you fall asleep but it also makes you more likely to wake up, pee, etc. in the 2nd half of your night.

3. Reading (less blue light) before bedtime — aside from all the sciency stuff about less blue light from screens…big reasons I love this one… I’m reading more (like Black Swan Green, funny/sad, Brit-humor) which is fun and good for my brain. Also means I’m spending less time with my stupid phone. Recently layered on a pair of Swannies blue light blocking glasses to fuel that end of waking hours descent into sleep. Digging so far.

4. Quiet mind practices — this work to get out of your head and put some distance between you and the thought river flowing by has lots of bennies in terms of daily presence with folks in your life. But I’m finding it also really helpful for fighting the “wake up and worry” tendency that used to keep me up for hours. Two biggies for me… meditation (using Headspace, reading stuff like 10% Happier, Real Happiness), and 5 Minute Journaling.

5. Bedroom to sleep chamber mods — dark and cool… that’s what helped us. We got curtains, close doors to rooms where add’l natural light will peak in next morn, set the Nest to a lower temperature (mid-60’s) and rock ceiling fan.

The 5 with littlest impact:

1. Sleep tracker app — tried one of these for a while. Was interesting at first to see the curves and stuff. But ended up just confirming the crappiness, and not really actionable. Plus made me more, not less, connected to my stupid phone at bedtime.

2. Computer app for blue light — cool idea for your laptop to turn down the lights a bit after a certain hour in the name of better sleep. But for the most part just encouraged me to stay pecking away at the screen later than I should (and more separated from the peeps in my life) and was a pain when in different time zones on travel. Blue blight blocking glasses above proving a better fit for me.

3. Wake up light — idea behind this is great…. more natural waking, without the brain slammer of an abrupt alarm. In practice I found it less helpful. Not as needed in summer months when mother nature’s doing that work. And in winter, more of a full room wake move so tends to lock you and your partner into same time whereas a quiet alarm might not. Still use it for the better alarm sound options, but not sure I’d buy again given the price.

4. Melatonin/Benadryl — I’m not against an assist every now and again. And in a couple of desperate spots I did find that a Benadryl knocked me out. But I’d wake super groggy and doesn’t tackle the underlying sleep foes. Melatonin just didn’t work much for me.

5. Counting and flexing — In the depths of my wake up for hours stretch, these two came up a lot when I looked for tips on getting back to sleep. Counting sheep, or burpees, or whatever didn’t work for me any better at 46 than at 6. And the flexing deal where you go from feet on up, flexing muscles along the way, just made me more alert, and feel sort of like a dufus to boot. Been better for me to not get into these stretches in the 1st place.

Oh and one more thing that doesn’t help… 3 kids, a dog and a cat…but all so worth it (except for perhaps the cat).

How I meal’ed this — tuna cakes a la Herm

I love hearing from customers at our nutrition company how they take our meals and riff them up — heat them in a certain way, style on their plate, add stuff, mix with other stuff.

Great case in point… Herm, a customer and fellow gym mate kept coming up to me before class and saying “dude, you HAVE to try warming the tuna cakes… game changer!”

The tuna cakes photo on our website.

They’re indeed a big fave of mine so I was intrigued but I’ve always thought of them as an eat cold, right out of the container kind of dish. No more, thanks to Herm and his chef-level prescription for how to dial up our meal…

  • heat the tuna cakes — I did a quick pan crisping hit, then microwave pulse
  • make a bed of the fennel apple salad (cold) on your plate and drizzle the pesto sauce on top (also cold)
  • then lay the tuna cakes on top for a next level combo of flavors and warm + cool/crunchy goodness

So I did it last night and damned if he isn’t right… a meal I already loved and eat a ton, got yet better. My daughters and I took a few snaps, including my youngest playing chef and doing some drizzle work. Outcome isn’t going to win any food photography prizes but sort of fun to get our stylist on.

And reminds me of the enduring wisdom in playing with your food, prepared meal or no.

Active life gear tip: footgasms footwear… Allbirds

I’m not in Mephisto or Ecco land yet… that “style be damned” place where older folks went when I was a lad to plunk down some serious bread on elfish looking shoes that pampered their feet and seriously lightened their pocketbook, all in the name of comfort.

That said the pure comfort factor of what goes on my feet is definitely rising in importance as my 40’s unfurl. Even while I’m still somewhat moved by what a shoe looks like.


I’m sort of in the middle of that comfort vs. look continuum. Where one end is “to hell with how they look, give me max comfort for my beleaguered pavement pounders and I’ll pay” and the other is “shoes are the exclamation point… like the glasses of your lower half, they’ve got to be at least as great to look at as they are to walk in”.

At the same time I’m also trying to walk more than ever as a general matter, part of the simplify/take in the world around me jag I’m on with things like our 1 car (for 5 people) experiment, walking kiddos to school every day challenge, etc.


So I was pumped recently to come across Allbirds, a new shoe that’s sort of a sneaker, slip on and casual shoe love child. Had them now for several months during which I’ve worn them a ton just bopping around on the weekends, rolling to work and as my go to shoe for air travel.

Verdict so far? Major, major love for any situations where you’re on your feet aplenty on pretty even surfaces (sidewalks, roads, office floors, airports, train stations, etc.). With just a few questions still to be settled. Here’s the quick rundown:

Pro’s

  • Wicked comfortable, like sort of a footgasm kind of thing. The sole is squishy without being too much so. They’re wool (weird to think of I know) so super flexible and there was zero wear-in time to get comfortable. They immediately felt incredible.


  • Light as a feather. Again, the wool thing. Oddly haven’t gotten hot for me either (I’ve been wearing with socks in DC area summer, some say you can roll commando in them… pas moi). And the lightness makes them super easy to pack/throw in your bag if you need to.
  • Cool looking in a funky, unexpected sort of way. Subjective as hell, true. But I’ve got Vans, Blundstones, and hyper-colorful workout (Metcons) sleds in my closet and I get WAY more…”cool shoes, what are those?” comments with these suckers.
  • P.S. the packaging cleverly combines shipping box and shoe box for less material used… nicely done.


TBD’s/possible cons

  • Foot sloshing — yes a technical term. These foot haulers are very flexible and light. Most of the time that’s a big part of their comfort awesomeness. But I tried them on a light trail walk with some ascents and descents and my feet were all over the place/sloshing over the side of the sole. Same likely true for any meaningful running/sports play stuff. I.e. don’t retire your sneakers or hiking boots.
  • Durability — remains to be seen. Pretty good so far but I notice a little tufting of the wool by the laces and wool generally doesn’t feel like it’d be tough over the long haul in this use. But solid to this point after pretty heavy use.

At $95 a pair they’re not super cheap but foot happiness has been plentiful so if the durability holds up they could land way high up on the value scale among their competitors in my closet.

One other note, my wife got herself a pair (diff color but still a little weird when we don them at the same time) and has proclaimed her Allbirds the most comfortable shoe she’s ever owned, hands down.

So even if you’re not ready to give up on ribbing your Mephisto/Ecco-wearing parents or grandparents, you can still prioritize supreme comfort like an AARP boss to indulge your feet without throwing in the towel on look or breaking the bank either.

Waiting for slowpokes sightseeing at Cawdor Castle in Scotland

Just remember… it’s not a Why if you don’t use it (or don’t have a WINO).

Yes, my tv references are a little dated. I named a meeting at work recently the Conrad in memory of the great Hill Street Blues captain (Michael Conrad, RIP) who always sent his troops forth with “Hey, let’s be careful out there”. An 80’s teenager reference largely lost on my comrades, many of whom didn’t arrive til the Seinfeld decade. Which reminds me of this Costanza classic I thought of recently when confronting how shittily I’m using my Why for healthy living these days….

You see after sucking at fitness and healthy eating for my 20’s and much of my 30’s, I found a mix that worked a few years back, lost a bunch of weight, felt better than ever and started to see the world differently.

A bunch of big life stuff followed… quit my corp exec job, took a bunch of risk to invest in and join a startup (like 1 other person kind of startup at the time) for healthy living, and generally set life on its ear.

I also got super in touch with Why this healthy living stuff mattered to me at a personal level. Disclaimer… yes, I liked that clothes fit differently, people commenting on the slighter me, swimming outings feeling less fearsome, etc. That stuff mattered and made me feel good. Still does. Ain’t denying it.

But the more fundamental thing that hit me….I wanted to be able to participate in an active life with my 3 daughters and lovely wife until an unreasonably old age or until they no longer wished it so. First because my own pop was seldom able to do that with me after a bad car accident but when he did it was magic (hiking Cranberry Falls with a fake hip, cane and one bone in your arm is a hell of a thing). And second because I’m so crazy about the fam that anything limiting our opportunity to experience life together is a mortal enemy.

Fast forward 5 years and at 45 I’m in better shape than 35… still working out regularly, eating pretty dratted well, driven like mad by this Why, … but I’m not using the damned thing near enough. Thus my urging to myself and to anyone else out there feeling at risk of having a WINO (Why In Name Only).

How do I know I’m at risk of WINO status? Cause when I do honor the Why, it’s so awesome. But I still find myself letting the slings and arrows of work, daily life to-dos and the like take more precedence than they should over moments.

Cases in point:


That’s a shot from atop a big hill in the Highlands of Scotland where I recently took a quick trip with my older bro to sort out some family affairs (half Brit am I… think I would have voted Remain…mainly for the EU passport, don’t hate). He urged us to take some time out each day from the lawyers and real estate agents to soak up the place. So right. Felt so good scrabbling up to this spot, a 5 mile loop with plenty of elevation. Even better a rare moment with him, and an encounter with a late 60’s/early 70’s couple at the top… using their mobility to see the world together.

And this a video from an outing with my girls to a ropes course (Sandy Springs Adventure Park…. best in the area for any DC-MD-VA folks) sparked by my wife. I.e. “just set down other stuff, work, home projects, etc. and do this!”. Here the two olders and I are way up in the trees, we’ve been figuring out hard obstacles together, giving each other advice on overcoming fear… and then to the reward of a long zip ride before the next challenge. All I could think about was how great it was to be the parent in the tree, in the moment, in the fear… instead of the parent on the ground.

Both of these all about the same thing for me… figuring out ways to set down the urgency of now, of work, of should, of can’t wait, of stuff that’ll pass… in favor of moments…. that can’t be repeated but can be shared, that reward and honor all the effort to be physically ready and able, that can be looked back on together (like tonight with my middle daughter to choose this vid)… that matter, that last.

Robert… just remember, it’s not a Why if….

Struck between the eyes by 4 minute life lesson from Guy Clarke

I think I may be in a particularly susceptible stretch to the many charms of a storyteller like the late (sucks so bad that it’s so) Guy Clarke. I’m a middle age dude, rumbling along an unconventional/gut rattling entrepreneur’s road traveled typically by younger folks, with a gaggle of kids growing up fast and entering more complicated years, and parents growing old fast and entering more complicated years… all stuff that gets you to noodling on where it all leads, which stuff (increasingly no actual “stuff” for me but that’s another post) matters most.

If you’ve never listened to Master Clarke, cut that shit out, go try it, stuff is gold. If for no other reason, wherever your musical tastes land, than the stories and ideas he packs into the incredibly small (and easy to consume) spaces of a song. Stories, like my all time fave the Cape, that help with musings about the juggle of work, fam, play, etc. that I’ve found more common as the birthdays tick off.

So much to dig about the tale told here with Name That Tune economy of motion.

The wide open discovery and adventure of youth…

Eight years old with a flour sack cape tied all around his neck
He climbed up on the garage, he’s figurin’ what the heck, well
He screwed his courage up so tight that the whole thing come unwound
He got a runnin’ start and bless his heart, he’s headed for the ground

Getting in touch with the sterner stuff you’re made of as you get older…

Now, he’s all grown up with a flour sack cape tied all around his dream
And he’s full of piss and vinegar and he’s bustin’ at the seams
Well, he licked his finger and he checked the wind, it’s gonna be do or die
And he wasn’t scared of nothin’, boy, he was pretty sure he could fly

Then holding fast to the importance of kidness, rolling your own way, having the stones to tune out the “one should do _____” voices…

Now, he’s old and gray with a flour sack cape tied all around his head
And he’s still jumpin’ off the garage and will be till he’s dead
All these years the people said, he was actin’ like a kid
He did not know he could not fly and so he did

With the net result of not gripping the damned wheel too tight, of taking risk and seeking adventure without knowing the result, but with some pretty strong belief in extra gears you’ve got, even if you’re not sure you’ve engaged them yet.

Well, he’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape

Pretty killer stuff on the words alone (love this homage to his use of metaphor)… not to mention the full assemblage of the song itself. A story it’s easy to place yourself in somewhere… whether you’re living it in a way or aspiring to it… and come out better in your mind’s eye for having been up on that garage.

No doubt I have daily moments where perspective escapes me fully, and I’m fretting hard about near term stuff, about whether I’m doing enough for the various stakeholders in my life, about where all these choices are headed.

No magic cure for that for me, and perhaps a good thing to contend with in the larger balances. But takes like these from Obe Won Clarke certainly inject a dose of “it’s gonna be good, do your thing, trust your gut, and see what interesting shit happens” that feels (and sounds) really freaking good.