Are you using the most of your brain’s energy?
If you’re feeling burned out, scattered brained, or befuddled, this is definitely the show for you.
Here with us today is Dr. Andrew Hill, one of the leading neurofeedback practitioners in the country.
Dr. Hill holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from UCLA’s Department of Psychology where he continues to do research on attention and cognition.
On today’s show, we’re chatting about:
- What to do about our befuddled brains
- Why social media is the opposite of neurofeedback
- How to keep a healthy brain as you age
- Wacky advancements in brain tech
- And tons more…
Let’s hang out with Dr. Hill.
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Dr. Andrew Hill: Brain Food, Finding Balance & Defy Aging
Alright folks, here with us today, Dr. Andrew Hill is one of the leading neurofeedback practitioners in the country.
He holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from UCLA’s Department of Psychology, and continues to do research on attention and cognition.
Dr. Hill, thank you so much for joining us.
Oh, thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Abel: So, I love this. People who are listening aren’t aware, but you’re surrounded right now by guitars and instruments.
Yeah, I am actually.
Abel: And I am as well. Oh my, you’re really surrounded. This is great.
Yeah, this is actually my yoga room. I come in here every morning and do yoga for 45 minutes or so, and there’s nothing in the room but a yoga mat and guitars.
It’s kind of a nice combination.
Abel: Very cool. And then when you have all those guitars hanging up like that, it affects the acoustics in a really pleasant, subtle way, too.
Abel: So we’ll talk about music, and how that’s kind of exercise for the brain in a minute, but I was going through some of your work and thinking about neurofeedback, in particular.
Especially in today’s world, like social media and all the conditioning that we’re used to, especially in the way that we interact with the machines is basically the opposite of neurofeedback, right?
It’s frazzling us more and more, and we almost need something to offset that, even if it is high-tech itself.
Yes. Certainly, we learn in lots of ways, and we can learn poorly, as well. Not all information is good.
And this concept sort of extends broadly. Addiction is just learning broadly, as well, so is fake media and developing a socialized mindset that is distorted and full of hate and violence through being fed nonsense.
You learn in lots of ways. Guarding the quality of information, just like the quality of food in your body, like quality of reinforcers you engage with day-to-day to manage some of that learning, I think, is our responsibility as thinking, feeling, learning creatures.
Abel: Maybe you can comment on the fact that most of the conditioning that happens to us, we’re not aware of consciously, right?
Abel: People will be like, “Oh, this isn’t happening to me.”
Well, I mean, most information we get in, we aren’t aware of.
Certainly, even verbal information, I would argue, verbal’s among the most human, and it’s among the most intellectual and cognitive ways that we communicate, in this language-bound way.
And we would say that if we understand a language, we understand the context of the communication. But 90 to 95% of the information that comes in in verbal communication is actually the non-verbal aspects—the prosody, the lilt, the tone, the strain in the voice.
You know, we’re adding video to this discussion so that we can get some nuanced face expressions, micro-expressions, some sense of other things that aren’t communicated by the way the words on a page would be communicated.
There’s a reason we act and have movies—not just books—there’s a very nuanced and rich way we learn.
And so that comes in and then we can extend that to a lot of science around the marketing of aspects.
We’ve really distilled and refined what will grab attention, like intermittent reinforcers, one arm slot machines or Vegas coin-gobblers.
Those things will cause us to learn especially well because the reward is unpredictable and not in a schedule, and intermittent, and it’s very unreliable in terms of rewarding—those are the most interesting things to our brain.
So, marketers know this and advertisers know this, and we have colors and shapes and sexy-ness and things that are spaced in such a way and grab the appetitive nature, the desire of the brain to grab things in the world by everything being extra juicy and sexy and salty and yummy.
And that will distort what we bind to.
This is why we have a crisis of metabolism, certainly, in the Western world, in this country, through many of us having the absolute perfect storm of nutrition, fat, salt and starch all in one giant quantity at the same time.
You can kind of do any of those things in isolation, no problem, and be fine.
But you can’t really do fat, starch and salt in large quantities together without dying. It’s a lovely way to die, and that’s about it.
So the reason we have those highly-accessible, high-reward value foods is because they cause a change in behavior.
They cause us to open our wallets and buy the can of highly-processed whatever it is food because they’re extra-rewarding.
We’re wired a little bit towards things that have super-high reward value.
The world wasn’t a world full of only richly-rewarding things, dietarily, over the past 100,000 years.
So, it’s a little bit hard to resist this kind of learning, and most learning does come.
You get abstract learning, not just food and obvious rewards, but the informational rewards, like social media and the news and things like that.
Again, we tend to take those sources that are external to us in social media and in news, and actually construct an in-group, out-group kind of distinction, and then take a whole bunch of information and treat it as trusted.
And therefore, anything that comes in from that particular source is how we’re really identifying ourselves.
In the modern world it’s about identification, to some extent. What are the politics of your identity here—what do you consider yourself?
And then when people talk about that self, that category you identified with, you really try to defend it, reject it.
There’s too much of things around managing. And that’s because you’re being told lots of things about that particular aspect of yourself, and you can be shaped into lots of behavior.
Like buying high-reward value, salty, fatty foods, like smoking in the 70s and 80s, like rallying hate and intolerance instead of love and acceptance.
It’s happening worldwide, it’s this push towards isolationism and nationalism.
It’s happening in many, many countries and causing more and more strife. It’s marketing. It’s nasty marketing, but it’s marketing.
And it’s effective because I think in a really, at least that particular aspect of dividing people from each other, I think that’s effective to get far field for a second, because we’re good at doing in-group, out-group stuff for evolutionary survival reasons, protecting resources.
Oh, it’s only so much. This wooly mammoth is only so much meat or something for the next month.
We better know who’s our family, so our tribe gets to eat—and the other tribe we protect our resources from.
And we’re good at doing in-group, out-group things.
Evolutionary, some good research out of UCSD, who I forget, he’s done some really lovely research on this from a sort of an ethnic bias and a bunch of other politics and policy, and we almost institutionalize subtle evolutionary pressures that we don’t need to.
Race and ethnicity is an artifact. It’s an artificial construct. It fails about three millimeters below what you can see.
Race is pure, ethnicity is not a construct, but that’s as much about culture as it is about genetics. But race, racial genetics is not a scientifically-valid construct in the slightest.
I say this to my students, and many of them feel very uncomfortable with this idea that I’m dismissing race as a valid construct.
But I’m not dismissing the cultural aspects of race or heritage or how you were built. And some of that is genetics.
But something like a third of your experience as a human—including development, including aging, including disease, including how you think—about a third of it is your genes.
There’s a huge amount of variability within the same rough genetic starting place for people, in terms of where they end up.
Even with exact genetics, in twin studies and things, you can get some pretty different effects in environment. Not completely, but a third of your experience.
And your brain aging, and your brain development, and your personality set points you start off with, it can shift a little bit. Personality’s a pretty stable resource across life.
But like speed of processing, working memory, some of those things that are the course resources—brain laterality, left and right, some development, language acquisition, math and language abilities—those things are a little bit built in, but not completely.
But broadly, everything else is learned, including who you hate, who you love, how much fat you have on your body at any one moment in time, which drugs you find extra-interesting and disrupt your life, and which relationships you find especially disturbing. It’s all learned.
“Shift Happens” & How to Lean In
And you can relearn that. That’s the nice thing. Peak Brain, my company’s official or unofficial motto is now, ‘Shift happens, get yours.’
So it’s like, “Come on, your brain’s changing, and your body’s changing, and everything’s changing all around you.”
I spent a lot of my life fighting change, and being like, “Oh my god, there’s so much going on, and how do I manage?”
Being at three jobs at once when I was working in hospitals or grad school, and all kinds of other career shifts.
So many aspects of my life have been just flat out grinding for 20, 30 years, and that works sometimes.
But it’s not the most efficient.
And instead of fighting, a lot of that grind is to drive my direction of change or goals or skills, or whatever thing I was trying to get, against the chaos.
I instead think that since we’re already being patterned by reality, we bounce off of reality and change ourselves to optimize gains and minimize pains. That’s what the brain’s doing.
So that’s why we learn so effectively from these carrots and sticks in media and news and things.
But I think instead of fighting against all those pressures, we have an opportunity to lean into the ones that cause the most shift, the best dynamic regulation, the shift, like direction.
Things like going keto or fasting to produce better insulin sensitivity, that’s about dynamic range.
So your insulin system doesn’t learn itself into a static place of insulin insensitivity, or cortisol doesn’t learn itself into a place of cortisol insensitivity to produce depression, sleep disruption, for instance.
But that’s learning. You think about the system as a dynamic system.
We’re really good at adapting to almost anything, but the place we stay the healthiest and the highest level performance is the place where we’re in that sweet spot, where we have flexibility to continue to change within the dynamic nature of the stressors and the information.
Not the edge of variability.
From a metabolic perspective, I’m sure this rings quite true for you, the idea that things must remain dynamic to remain healthy. And that’s broadly true, not just in physiology, I think, but in how we think and in relationships and in everything else.
So information can make your learning fairly rigid, and you can not think in as flexible or as dynamic ways as you might need to.
So, yes, you’re largely patterned by the world, to get off on a slightly esoteric tangent.
Abel: I dig it. Well, one of the things that happens with social media is it’s just so scattering.
So it’s like one of the things that I feel happened in the past five or 10 years, with the Internet especially, is that it’s become more and more lowest common denominator, more and more in your face with the things that you can’t help, the primitive lowest part of you can’t help but be like, “Ah,” because fear and terror and hate, these things are arousing, right?
They’re meant to get a reaction. Whereas, boring, good-for-you content doesn’t really stand out.
Also a huge amount of dangling information, like clickbait where, “Here’s a crazy headline!”
You’re like, “Oh, wait a minute, I have to find out what happens next.”
Or, “What’s the 3 crazy things I need to know about my weight loss or my mortgage,” or whatever it is.
There’s so much spam, but there’s a lot of even relatively good media sources that are doing clickbait-y type of things in their headlines.
What happens when you go there, you’re like, “The headline has no relationship to this article,” or whatever.
Abel: Or it’s incorrect, right?
Yeah, or it’s wrong, exactly.
Abel: It’s completely misleading.
Abel: A lot of times, the headline, the clickbait, will say the opposite of what the video actually says.
That’s what I mean. That used to be a few internet marketer scammers back in the day.
Right, and now it’s most people.
Abel: Yeah, and it’s literally main media—mainstream folks doing it.
And our threshold for vetting this information has dropped a little bit. I think that signal-to-noise ratio is dropping.
And more and more, you see people who should actually stop and look at something before they repost it, before they use it. They just pull something out that seems to match.
It’s equivalent to my students handing in the paper when they read the abstracts, and wrote a paper on the abstracts and didn’t actually read the papers. Versus someone actually looking at the thing and constructing some sense of the information they’re passing on.
And we’re doing that more and more.
I think we’re going to do that more and more because there’s so much more information flooding through us all the time, and we just can’t keep track of it.
But you have some responsibility, again, to manage what you think.
That’s the only thing. You can’t manage what happens to you, completely. You can’t manage all the stuff you experience.
You can manage how you frame it all and how you react to it.
So that’s the challenge, the ongoing challenge.
How Music & Language Balance Your Brain
Abel: I’d be interested in your opinion about this because you have such diverse experience, but for music, it’s exercising pretty much every part of the brain you’ve got, it’s keeping you sharp.
For me, I think it’s one of the reasons that I’m decent at hosting a podcast, because it’s all about timing, it’s about the repetitive nature of different tasks, and it’s about mostly focus.
I wake up in the morning and I practice piano for an hour, and then I practice guitar and do a little ear training, as well.
And so that is the opposite of what social media is doing with all those notifications and shapes and colors pulling you out.
Whereas, this is practicing the same skill for 15 minutes straight, or whatever, right?
Abel: So I’d be interested in your take on what exactly that’s doing.
There’s a lot of research showing that music is a whole brain phenomena, like you described, and it does a lot of stuff.
There’s a really great book by Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music.
Abel: Yeah, great book.
And he comes from, in some ways, a cousin school of neuroscience from me. With training, we sort of come from sister families, if you will.
And I have a very similar perspective on a lot of this stuff, as he does, but I’m a little more informed by the laterality, the left versus right organization of the brain.
I think a lot of how I think about the brain is because I was trained by laterality guys, split brain scientists, and things, named Dr. Eran Zaidel. He’s a left-right hemisphere attention guy at UCLA.
So, yes, for me, the biggest impact of doing music is, to some extent, balancing left and right hemispheres.
The other extent is doing the thing that language does.
Language is very, very special in the brain, and I believe that music operates in a very similar way to language when you’re a musician.
When you’re doing what you are doing, to some extent, what I’m doing, when we’re playing with music, practicing music. There’s this idea that if you become a musician, you can’t enjoy music the same way, you start to tear it apart and you hear the sour notes.
I would argue that happens when you’re a new musician, or a moderate musician.
With experience, you start to hear all the sour notes and the weirdness, and you think it’s great and you pick it apart intellectually.
As you’re learning the language, you hear the errors in the language, so to speak.
And once you become a deep musician, years and years and years of being musical, you start to hear the things that are beyond the technical execution.
And you start to be able to hear amazing music delivered by people who are actually sloppy players, or the homeless guy on the street who’s playing the public piano who is really not that great, technically, but oh my God, is he amazing at communicating emotion.
So, for me, it’s about language. And I think that language is a very special thing that is hard to hack in the brain.
I’m all about biohacks, about doing things to take control of the brain and the body.
Whatever you want to have in your brain and your body, you should have, seriously.
Whatever you want to have in your brain and your body, you should have, seriously. @PeakBrainLA Click To Tweet
There’s almost no limit to hacking the brain. If a human has had a resource or you know humans that can do things, or don’t have problems, or have certain resources available, you too can have those resources.
It’s not that hard. It’s kind of like looking at a gym bro who’s all jacked and walking around, going, “Oh, I’d love to have that kind of abs and pecs.”
You can, if you want to.
There’s a path to it. It’s not that hard, it just takes a little bit of execution and a little bit of planning.
In the case of getting like this, you want to do a lot of meal planning, and a lot of exercise, and read a lot of internet and forget to work out your lower half of your body.
But in the case of doing bio-hacking, there’s lots of things you can do.
Language is one of the hard ones because it has lots of critical periods where the brain stops developing, in a lot of ways.
So kids can generate language resources really, really well.
Chomsky was vindicated not too long ago, in that there are grammar-learning machinery bits in the brain.
The brain does actually have machinery with which to imprint grammar.
It’s ready to learn a structured process when we’re born, actually, before we’re born, there’s a built-in grammar learning system.
It’s a big controversy for many, many years, but Noam Chomsky asserted that it was true—he’s a neurolinguistic guy—and, yes, it seems to be true.
However, what language you learn isn’t built in. Babies can understand what their language is and what is not their language before they’re born.
The moment they’re born, a baby can tell my language, not my language, because of the statistical patterns they’ve been hearing for the past several months through the womb wall.
It does signal matching on the pattern of the language, the rhythms of the language.
So that’s the first socialization, is what rhythms sound nice in my environment.
And then when you’re born, you hear a new language, you’re like, “Whoa, that’s not my language, that’s weird.”
And you can tell, it’s really obvious when babies hear things that are novel.
So when you hit around 9 or 10 or 11, the brain finishes a lot of lateralization, a lot of division, and you end up with a left hemisphere, for most people, driven language system which is producing language in the front left, and receiving language or understanding language in the back left, oversimplified.
And occasionally, for a very small fraction of people, it’s reversed.
And, at that point, after that 9 to 11-year-old finishes doing that division, you actually lose the ability to hear new phonemes, new speech sounds.
So, after that, it’s very, very difficult to, for instance, learn a new language without an accent, nearly impossible for most people.
This is why accents are a thing, because any phoneme you haven’t heard before age 9 or 10, you probably won’t hear after age 9 or 10 or 11.
Evolutionarily-speaking, if you hear a sound, it’s probably a variant of a sound in your language, so you should be able to wrest that sound around into your understanding.
I have a very different accent than you do, for instance. We’re mutually intelligible, hopefully.
You know, right? But it’s a function of sort of distorting the phonemes you’re used to hearing yourself produce and matching them to ones I’m producing without noticing them.
And so, if I had a slightly different sound that wasn’t in your language, you would map it to a sound in your language.
This is why accents and weird speech are a thing. Music doesn’t seem to have the same critical period.
As you develop second language as an adult, you don’t develop the same region.
You develop some other regions actually, which you should do, you should develop second hemisphere language, essentially.
But music is a whole brain phenomena anyways.
So you work on that sort of symbol manipulation, timing, prosody, linguistic thing that we’ve been describing, but you work on it with a continually bilateral representation, motor integration.
There’s some theory that language is a motor skill, and that language came out of a motor, of a movement communication thing.
This is the movement theory of language, why we talk with our hands and things like that. But it may or may not be completely true or not only true. The only reason.
But music is something that requires motor integration. And there’s lots of evidence showing bilateral motor integration can repattern the brain.
Things from interactive metronome, working autistic kids, to really powerful things like Reinhard Flatischler’s TaKeTiNa, which is a rhythm training program that makes you do one rhythm signature in your hands, one in your mouth, step in a third time signature.
And sometimes there’s a fourth time signature with a piece of musical instrument.
And it’s great for someone like you who is a serious musician.
It’s also great for people who can’t hear time, because it basically embodies time.
In TaKeTiNa, you build up with a facilitator, embodying two or three time signatures at once, or a point of time at once, which is just Polyrhythm.
And if you’re a West African musician, you can do it. But if you’re not, it’s bizarre.
And if you think about it, you fall over and break and you can’t keep doing it.
But doing a little bit of TaKeTiNa, if you’re high-functioning or interactive metronome. If you’re not, we’ll do this interactive sort of cross-mid line voluntary control of motor and time.
That’s a lot of what music is doing, but tied into almost like a linguistic way of understanding, once you’re a musician, once you’re actually using music and not just technically executing.
Once music is not a foreign language, or an instrument isn’t a foreign language, like piano to me is a foreign language.
I enjoy the sounds that it makes. And I can sit there and go, “Hey, wait, this is a C. That’s this note. Ooh, that’s a cord. Ooh, cool.”
Or whatever, but I can’t play it. And even guitar. I’m like, okay, I know like six things. In spite of what you see around me, it’s like six things.
But you give me a couple of West African drums and I will just talk to you all day long, and I’ll play all day long, and I’ll play back and forth, and I’ll do phrases.
And I’ll talk with it, it’s fine. And I can give you mnemonic phrases and play them back in my hands, and it’s easy.
I can just think with music. If you’re playing piano an hour a day, you probably can do that, too.
You probably can improvisationally think with your sound coming out of your hands.
I would argue that’s closer to language at some point once it’s over learned, once it’s a system, instead of something like performance.
It’s not a sport. It’s not an exercise. You’re doing it now, and becomes a communication metric and modality.
And we feel it that way. Music changes how we feel.
Music changes how we feel. @PeakBrainLA Click To Tweet
It’s been that way. So I think you can develop that.
We sort of owe it to ourselves to develop music as language within our brains, and that will create a healthier brain.
It reduces aging, it reduces other aspects of mental illness and instability in the brain long-term.
There’s all kinds of research, and I can go into it, but you sort of owe it to yourself to exercise, to meditate, become a musician.
These are the low-hanging fruits for improving your brain and sort of keeping trajectories.
The Secret Fountain of Youth
I’m about trajectories. I’m a gerontologist.
So I teach gerontology to my students, about modifying very small things in your life day to day, tiny things that are effortless or small, that produce huge shifts into the trajectory.
You don’t decline over time.
You flatten trajectories of decline, or even hack yourself into improvements.
And you can do that with lots of things, actually, across the life course.
Easy things, like minimizing starch and sugar, maximizing fat, obviously.
But there’s lots of things you can do, and music becomes one of those things. Meditation becomes one of those things.
If you want to maintain or you’ve gotten yourself into difficult circumstances, you can do things like fasting to make a dramatic shift.
I had a lovely time fasting. I do this course in the winter at UCLA some years called ‘Psych Of Aging’.
And I make my students do a modifiable behavior exercise. They do a week and a half, 10 days of watching something in their life.
So they track their sleep and track their quality of life everyday, and watch some aspect of their behavior they think might not be ideal, or they might want to change.
Exercise, diet, some aspect, they just watch it.
And they make a change, and then watch it for 10 days, just a simple little experiment, a modifiable experiment. It’s really little, just to try something and have the experiment, and see how hard it is or easy it is.
And half of them are like, “Oh my god, this little thing I did makes a massive change my life.”
And then they become a bio-hacker. They discover they have control.
But I hadn’t ever really done real fasting. Starting at the end of January this year, I did an alternate day fasting for about four months.
Really enjoyed it. And lost 43 pounds.
And 12% body fat.
Abel: That’s awesome!
Yeah. And you know I got lots of energy. I’m waking up at 4:00 AM without an alarm every day, and hitting the world hard.
And it’s great, and really dialed in my energy in a way that is a little bit too energetic.
Abel: I know what you mean.
That ketone high is no nonsense. You have to be careful with that stuff.
Those naturally-occurring ketones are crazy in terms of energy and productivity.
But it’s about modifiable behavior, taking control. And I think music is one of those things for people.
I think you should, and can. Anyone can be musical. It doesn’t matter what you do.
If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing.
If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing. @AndrewHillPhD Click To Tweet
Everyone has the ability to do music. And I’ve done rhythm instruction with people with profound cognitive impairments.
I’ve done rhythm instruction with people who are some of the most gifted athletes in the world, and they all get rhythm pattern, they all get some benefit from it.
Just like with neurofeedback or bio-feedback on the brain with people that are profoundly impaired, with massive autism, and self-stimming, and no language, no eye contact.
And I’ve done neurofeedback with some of the highest-level athletes who were meddling in every pudding they walk by.
And it’s the same process of exercising the brain.
It’s just the difference between working with somebody who has some real significant deficit needs versus some performance goals.
But the overall process is the same, taking control of this stuff.
And so, again, I think music is one of those things, we owe it to ourselves to do more and more and more of, regardless of what it is, for us, you know.
Abel: I love that. Yeah, and especially if you look back historically, ancestrally, like you say, everyone was engaging in music, art, dance.
These things were all part of being human.
It’s not like there were singers and there were separate people who were non-singers, or even musicians and non-musicians.
But I am interested to dig in a little more and ask you, what is that threshold? Is there one where you transition into the musician?
Is it when you can improvise and speak with your instrument, maybe?
It’s a great question. I would say. Yeah, when you can reach for a sound and have it happen without thinking about it, without executing it.
When it stops becoming a tool and starts becoming part of your body.
The human brain does this very unique thing with tools. Primates, but mostly humans. When we use a tool, you know, a coffee cup, even a meditation bowl, whatever it is. Where, if we use it enough, we map it onto the brain as if it’s part of the body.
And we actually end up with a little area in the brain for using a tool—a coffee cup area, or a pencil area, or a mouse area, or a steering wheel area. And we map it briefly onto the brain’s extension over physical body, we learn to use it that way.
So I think, if you’re uncomfortable holding your guitar, and you’re fractured, like “note, note, note,” you’re probably aren’t yet a musician.
But if you only know one string, and you’re able to go up and down and have fun with it, you probably are.
Or if the only thing you can do is play a clave, you know, a wood block, and the only thing you’re doing is playing a son clave, go, go, go, go, go, one, two, do, do, do, and all you’re doing is that, and it’s in time, and you’re enjoying it, there’s nothing technically challenging, it’s about sitting in time, and feeling the music, then you’re a musician.
If you’re feeling the time and you’re communicating with the music, then you’re a musician.
And music’s about time, not about the sound.
I mean, you can have music with no melody, right? Rhythm is music.
And rhythm or sound in time is actually more about the space between the sounds.
Leaving time, as opposed to executing on the interruption of that silence.
So, that’s, I think, really the binding moment of music for people, is the ability to pattern your attention in time that way. And know when things are and aren’t happening, and turn off and on the execution.
When you bring in a motor execution component, i.e. you’re a musician, you’re delivering that staccato interaction, with time and information, off to another person.
I mean, I think you’re right. Historically, music was profoundly transformative for individuals, but it was also an incredibly social thing.
And even 80 years ago, 70, 60 years ago, in this country, we didn’t have much television. So after dinner, you all open up the Gibson cabinet or the mandolin cabinet, pull out your cello, your mandolin, your mandala, your violin, and everyone sat around in the family, and everyone knew an instrument or two, and played your instruments instead of watching TV.
Because that’s what you did, because you couldn’t afford electricity and you couldn’t afford lamp oil that night, or something, so you sat around playing instruments until you were tired.
So it was a thing we all did, and it was very, very social. But it’s communication.
And, again, if you can speak, you can sing. I think, if you can sing, you’re basically a musician.
So, speaking, if you route it through some prosody that has tone, you can actually route it through a different set of timing resources, and you become a singer.
This is why you can sing. This is why people who stutter can sing, even if they can’t speak.
Abel: That is fascinating to me.
Because you route it through music.
And you produce a common tone. If you can sing a little bit in your speech, you will never stutter, ever.
So if you’re ever stammering, put a little tone in your voice, you’ll stop stammering, and you can move around the stutter or the stammer.
It’s a really reliable trick because you switch circuits. You move from that Broca’s, Wernicke’s timing circuit on the left, that’s doing a weird thing.
It’s almost like if you stutter dramatically, usually, it’s kind of like having an audio delay in a monitor, where you just can’t speak because there’s a feedback delay, or you’re on a bad Skype call with somebody, and it’s like echoing.
Abel: Right, it’s rough.
You can’t speak, you can’t do it because you’re used to doing the monitor of your own speech with an area in the back of the brain.
You monitor your own speech. If that area can’t time what you’re saying reliably, then you can’t speak.
So we can get things like fluent aphasia, speaking nonsense. Or just some basic stuttering at the ends of those extreme spectrums for timing of speech.
But music ends up working through a different set of resources, and it brings in the whole brain, and doesn’t rely so much on that Broca’s, Wernicke’s timing system to input-output speech for you.
So, yeah, you can get a whole brain phenomena, and it’s another form of bio-hacking and exercise.
Abel: Yeah, and I also consider it dexterity practice. There are different aspects of my life that I want to keep up.
And it’s not just like the big muscle groups. I don’t want to just be strong, I also want to be precise.
Even if you just go back a little bit, shooting a bow and arrow, I’ve tried a few times, it is hard, it’s really really hard.
And to think back, it’s like a lot of us just used to be able to do that from being kids probably, right?
Abel: And so, maintaining dexterity, I think, is another kind of like side benefit of music.
It’s not the only thing, but it’s one of the side benefits of arts, in general, that really can, I think, improve the quality of life.
And especially when you look at some of these musicians or artists who are in their 80s, 90s, who should have been dead at 50, it’s amazing to see what they can still do.
Yeah, that’s right, exactly, like Keith Richards. And basically, every time you buy a guitar, somebody sacrifices a string to Keith Richards.
There’s a drummer who I learned a lot from, some of the people who learned from him, named Bobo Tyndale, a djembe player who died a few years ago.
And Bobo, at the end of his life, he was really quite ill, kidney disease, I think.
And he would come out on stage, helped by these two big, giant guys.
He would come and be helped out onto stage. And they would strap his djembe onto him.
And he’s probably early 80s at that point. And he would be very frail, and come out.
And then he would just start playing, and within five minutes, it was like the years just rolled off of him.
And by the end of his hour-long set, he was this vibrant, young, 40-year-old strident, walking up and down, and doing his thing, because of the music.
He had so many years of moving himself in that motor pattern and embodying music, that he still had the ability, even a fairly injured and crippled and ill body, to evoke that same kind of physiological vigor through music, by just engaging with it as a motor pattern, essentially, as an activity.
Abel: It’s inspiring. It really is.
Yeah. And you don’t have to be at that level to get the benefit, seriously.
You can just sit there and tap on your drum. I do a lot of drum instruction in West African Malinke drumming, Mande drumming, the weak hand on a bass drum is playing a bell.
So you’re playing ding, ding, ding, ding, and you’re playing a stick on the skin with your strong hand.
The weak hand’s hard to keep moving. If you aren’t used to using both hands, the weak hand’s hard to keep playing with.
So I have people grab an unsharpened pencil and play on their dashboard a simple, double, or shuffle, or triple, or something, to whatever song they’re listening to and try to keep consistency.
So a really great way of trying to entrain with time is use the wrong side of your body to play a simple entrainment, and you’ll find you can’t do it, if you haven’t practiced it.
Or you can do it, but you have no stamina, which is what usually happens. And so, that’s a really easy way.
There’s a bunch of physiological tricks for really taking quick control of systems, and timing control will repattern yourself and retrain yourself very rapidly.
So will doing things with controlling your breathing or controlling your gaze direction, these are biofeedback, if you will, control systems that are built in.
What your eyes are doing, what your breathing is doing will control the vagal tone and a bunch of stress responses, and how you slice up time, and a bunch of other things.
So you have some control over moment to moment states.
And then you can train traits by doing things like language training, workouts, exercise, neurofeedback, meditation.
And they train resources over time. You shouldn’t use meditation as a stress intervener.
You should use it to train a tendency away from stress over time and spaciousness. Not to meditate or be mindful to intervene in the moment of panic or stress.
Quick Tips to Avert Stress
It’s not really useful for that. But there are things you can do in the moment that are involuntary tricks.
Dr. Huberman at Stanford talks about changing the gaze direction, going from converge vision, where you slice up time very quickly, and you’re stressed, to diverge vision, looking at a horizon involuntarily down-regulates how quickly you slice up time, and completely breaks a panic, stress, rapid shifting.
I’m using this trick with a lot of my clients who have some stress response, and they’re loving this ability to pull back, look at a horizon, and just involuntarily drop.
And you’ve experienced this. If you’ve looked at an ocean or up at the sky at night, you’ve experienced a sense of bigness, but also a sense of almost like stillness.
That’s time shifting inside of you, part of that. And that is involuntary. It happens if you move your eyes from tight to open, essentially, to looking at a big horizon.
And there’s other things like extending the out breath versus the in breath will down-regulate.
But some of those skills have to be voluntarily controlled. And I really like to sit and help you get rid of the resources.
So most of what I do with people is neurofeedback, or exercising the brain through doing biofeedback on the brain waves and the blood flow to change the resources, essentially.
Abel: So what does that look like for people who aren’t aware of it?
Yeah. So broadly, neurofeedback, most of the field is focused on EEG training or brainwave training.
And brainwaves are electricity your brain makes in different frequencies all the time.
And you can exercise or tune up different frequencies to get different resources.
So people can come at this again from a symptom resolution perspective or a peak performance perspective.
But the idea is that you want to find a human goal or performance thing that’s in the way, and then exercise it, so that’s the very high level, to operationalize it.
We start the process with what’s called a brain map or a quantitative EEG; a QEEG.
We put a cap on your head, squirt it full of gel, have you sit still for a few minutes, and record resting baselines, very high-level trait resources.
And then compare your brain to a database of other people your age, and see how unusual you are, and look for the big statistical patterns there, and do some executive function testing, look for big patterns there against the population.
And try to find all the impulsivity, inattention, stress response, switching systems, speed of processing, lack of deep sleep, injury markers.
30 things or so I look for across a bunch of different physiological markers. But this is not medicine, where I’m saying, “I’m a doctor. Here’s what’s wrong. Here’s what’s unusual.”
It’s more like science or coaching, where we’re saying, “Hey, here’s some data. What are your goals? Oh, I think I see a thing in the data that will move your goal towards where you want. Let’s operationalize some stuff and get there.”
And I’m really emphasizing this coach-athlete or coach-performer relationship more than a doctor-patient because a doctor will set your goals for you and evaluate them for you.
“Oh, this is true for you. This is what’s wrong.”
But most neurofeedback people are doctors, or therapists, at least, and they have this top-down perspective, where they’re doing stuff for you and to you.
I really don’t like that. I think this should be personal training.
And so Peak Brain, my company, approaches this like fitness.
We assess your brain with a QEEG, an attention test, and say, “Okay, great. So it looks like your vigilance is lower than average by two standard deviations and you’re showing lots of delta waves. You aren’t getting good deep sleep. So you’re really burnt out.”
“Oh, and your alpha waves are slower than they should be so your speed of processing is slower. You must have some afternoon word-finding issues. Oh, you do? Okay. Well, it’s because of this deep sleep issue then. Then that’s why your vision sucks.”
“So does this matter to you? A: Is this valid? Oh, it is? This sounds true? Okay, good. And B: Does it matter? Do you want to work on it? Is it getting in the way? Oh, it does. Okay.”
So then once you have a sense of the big performance bottlenecks you want to work on, you do neurofeedback or biofeedback to get rid of those problems.
Here’s one example. In ADHD, and in all other forms of impulsivity, essentially, you end up with a high ratio of theta brainwaves to beta brainwaves.
Your theta’s high, receptive attention, noticing patterns, squirrel, but your beta, your linear gas pedal’s a little bit lower relative to the receptive, reactive mode.
Theta-Beta ratio. And so you can measure the amount of theta relative to beta, moment-to-moment, the brain’s making.
So you can stick a wire on the top of the head, a single wire, a couple of ear clips, just measure what’s coming off that attention management area.
And whenever the theta happens to dip a little bit, you go, “Good job, brain,” with audio and visual feedback.
And when the theta goes in the wrong direction, you stop the feedback, and the brain’s like, “Hey, I was watching that. Where is that information?”
And then the brain happen to change on its own, and we go, “Hey, good job, brain.”
So it’s, good job, no, good job, good job, good job, no, with a spaceship flying faster, or a Pac-Man eating more dots, or a car hitting more zombies, or something, or music swelling in volume when you’re studying, and then dropping away when you’re distracted or something.
So you can exercise certain resources, and it’s actually mostly involuntary.
This is operant conditioning, like Skinner’s pigeons, not Pavlov’s dogs.
You shape a behavior, shape up and down, very gently, certain amounts of brain waves, connectivity patterns.
And the idea is we think we know what we’re doing, we think we’re exercising your brain towards certain resources, and then tomorrow, the next day we see what happens.
Subtle shift, if it’s the right shift, we do more of the same.
So it’s kind of like iterative personal training, we do three to six months, really.
I get permanent changes usually about three months in, and I usually get about two standard deviations of change on executive function performance test about three months in.
So, yeah, it’s kind of crazy to say, but in-brain changes, actual measured physiology does not change otherwise.
And in performance, executive function testing, routinely, we get two standard deviations of change in three, maybe four months of 40 to 50 half-an-hour sessions of neurofeedback.
So it’s almost like permanent exercise in some way, because it rebuilds the machine.
The trick here is it’s kind of like you’re a personal trainer, working with clients, where, when a client walks in, you aren’t really sure, even after a fitness assessment, if they have one elbow per arm, or 17.
And so there’s a little bit of like, I wonder what will work for this person.
I think I know. We try it. Ooh, it didn’t quite work, let me adjust. But ooh, there we go.
And you have to very iterate and hunt in pack.
And so I do a lot of brain mapping, every 20 sessions, I map the brain again, and do a lot of very iterative, working on very core resource and building up more aggressive resources over time.
Have you report back your sleep, your stress, your mood changes to me day-to-day.
About five sessions in, you start feeling things, you’re like, “Wait a minute, I’m feeling a little different.”
It’s kind of like when you haven’t worked out before, about two weeks into going to the gym, one day, you get out of bed, you’re like, “Ooh, my balance feels a little different. This is kind of interesting.”
It’s subtle, and you’re like, “Ooh, I slept really well. That was great. Wow.”
Things will shift globally, and in neurofeedback, the first things to shift are sleep onset and sleep depth, and impulsivity, and afternoon fatigue, all kind of shift as well, in the first three or four weeks.
So, two weeks in, you’re like, “Wait a minute, I’m feeling tiny bit different.”
And then your sleep starts to change, and you report back, and you steer the process by saying,
“Ooh, this happened. I like it. Ooh, my sleep is thrown off this way, or I was a little more stressed or less stressed.”
And you report which resources are fluctuating, and you exercise those resources to get better change.
And then we go back to data every 20 sessions, map your brain, do attention testing, and I get about two-thirds of a standard deviation for most people, every 20 sessions of change.
So 50 sessions, four months of training, eliminate ADHD for everybody, just about, drops anxiety back to manageable levels, knocks seizures back, in the literature, by more than 50% on average…
And 5% of people get complete control. Everyone I’ve worked with with seizure has really dramatic changes, and has either almost none or complete control.
So I get better than 50% change in seizure. PTSD, I do a lot of free work with veterans, coming back with blast injuries, plus people with developmental PTSD, and things.
And PTSD, I often can’t get the veterans to finish their free programs, because halfway through, they’re feeling incredible, and they’re getting on with their lives.
And it’s often like a little hard for them to get to my office, but it’s the place that they’re getting the free service.
And once they’re feeling better now, they’re getting a full-time job, and they’re across town, and they’re great.
But the point here is not what these individual things are, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, seizures, migraines, it’s well, what’s your brain doing in your life?
Or if you have a problem, that’s a perspective, or what do you want it to do, if it’s fine.
You can go after brain activity, go, “Ooh, here’s a speed of processing thing, I want to be smarter.”
You can train up how fast you think, and perform better on intelligence tests.
I’m not saying it’s going to give you higher IQ, because I don’t believe in intelligence, really, as a valid concept in the brain.
But I do believe in things like speed of processing, and working memory, and depth of sleep, and recovering from stress, and resilience throughout high levels of performance and stress and changing dynamic constraints.
So those things are completely achievable for everyone, no matter what brain you have.
I mean, this process works regardless of who you are, and it works, basically, if you have a brain.
It was discovered more than 50 years ago, 52 years ago now, 1967.
Abel: Wow, I didn’t notice that.
This form by Dr. Barry Sterman at UCLA on cats, because it raised the seizure threshold of cats and made them resistant to having seizures from rocket fuel exposures dramatically.
And he discovered this by mistake, actually, a little bit. He did a learning experiment, and months later, these cats were seizure-resistant.
So the joke I tell now is that cats are really bad instruction-followers.
This is not a placebo process, it’s sort of involuntary exercise of your brain waves, you, as the voluntary skilled high-performance person doesn’t necessarily do something in the chair each time, you decide what to work on.
And then you decide if it worked the next couple of days, and steer what we’re trying, the iteration process.
But I do a lot of work or have, historically, not so much anymore, because I work more with really high-level people, but half of my clients are super-high performers now.
But I used to do a lot of work with very impaired people, a lot of non-verbal people, a lot of people in coma, autism, severely impaired cognitively.
And many of these people just not terribly checked in to the outside world.
And it works to push brains around, regardless, if you can perceive information, you can get training.
I’ve worked with people that are blind and deaf, and instead of using audio and visual, you put them on a rumble pad, a tactile rumble strip, or give them a teddy bear that they hold, and it vibrates gently whenever their brain shifts more towards a seizure-resistant state.
You train the seizures away in an autistic kid who’s non-verbal and deaf and blind, for instance, and having lots of seizures.
Really impaired brains often have seizures, once you get really severely developmentally-disabled, the incidence of other things goes way, way, way up, including seizures and sleep issues, and other stuff like that.
But, yeah, you can basically take control of your brain activity, is the take home message, so you should.
Just like you should be a musician, you should probably also meditate and manage the diet, whatever that is for you, and it’s different.
What’s the Best Brain Diet?
You and I would probably converge on a high fat, low carb, some periods of fasting, really healthy, whole foods kind of diet.
Other people have ethical, spiritual or other personal reasons for choosing plant-based diets that I don’t think are neuro-scientifically all that valid, but there can be some good reasons to do those diets, I think, for individuals.
The thing about humans and diet, humans are infinitely adaptable in the short-term. @AndreHillPhD Click To Tweet
And often pretty adaptable in the long-term. And you can look at cultures that have high starch diets, even like Papua New Guinea, where they have all ApoE4.
Most Papua New Guineans have ApoE4 status, meaning they oxidize starches really rapidly, and theoretically would produce a high Alzheimer’s, high atherosclerosis kind of population state, because they basically are primed to have the worst response to starch.
A standard Western diet would kill them, right? But Papua New Guineans have no atherosclerosis and no Alzheimer’s in spite of high ApoE4.
Because they live in a microbially-dirty environment and amyloid-beta is an innate immune molecule, so instead of causing Alzheimer’s, it’s cleaning up all the toxins in the jungle, essentially.
And the same thing, they can handle high starch because they aren’t just flooding amyloid with starch, essentially, or glucose.
It oxides rapidly. Glycation of amyloid and glycation of Lewy bodies and glycation of tissues in the brain is actually a major aspect of the diseases of aging, especially Alzheimer’s and aspects of Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia.
So, really huge to accelerate, to get kerosene on the fire of aging is starch.
Papua New Guineans, who have all the characteristics an American would die from rapidly, with diabetes and Alzheimer’s and cancer and high blood pressure, they seem to thrive perfectly well because they’re adapted to the environment.
The high ApoE4 balances all the risk factors, essentially.
You too can take control, you don’t have to go live in the jungle if you have ApoE4.
You can do things like minimize your starch, do sauna three times a week, do neurofeedback, meditate, exercise.
Again, the take home message here is shift happens, get yours.
Abel: Yeah. And just to be clear, neurofeedback is high-tech, but it’s not invasive, it’s not like you’re shocking your brain.
Not at all. We don’t zap the brain.
So we measure what your brain is doing moment to moment, and when the brain changes in a possibly desired direction, we applaud and reward it with only audio and visual, usually.
So the idea’s that there are forms of neurofeedback that do zap the brain, categorically, I can’t say there’s no zapping.
There’s a small fraction of the population that does zap, techniques like LENS, direct neurofeedback, HPN are all micro-stimulation technologies that will systematically do very tiny little zaps to break up scar tissue, essentially, in case of injury.
And HPN and CTE in NFL players are very successful, but you can do traditional neurofeedback, which is gently exercising the brain itself, and get just as good results.
So, I don’t do any zapping technology at Peak Brain, but, yes, we’re operantly conditioning, we’re teaching the brain how to change itself by applauding certain things it’s already doing.
It’s already changing a little bit here and there. We’re saying, “Yeah, yeah, more of that. Ooh, look, brain, good job, more of that.”
And since the brain likes input, after your training session, for the next 24 hours, it’ll do a little bit more.
Within 10 minutes, my dissertation work shows, in 10 minutes, the brain’s yoking to the frequency we’re asking it to make more or less of, it’s like, “Ooh, hey, interesting.”
And so the brain’s picking it up. You don’t feel it right away, you feel it maybe five, six sessions in, well, three to five.
But after a few sessions, you then feel it the next day, generally, a very subtle effect.
So the brain’s like, “Ooh, I got more input for dropping my theta today. That was interesting.”
So, tomorrow, your theta’s a little bit lower while the brain tries to figure out why it was getting more input for dropping theta.
And so, you, tomorrow, will go, “Oh, I felt less distractible. That was kind of interesting.”
Or, “I didn’t feel anything.” And we go, “Okay, we’ll adjust the protocol.”
But usually, you go, “Ooh, I felt a little bit of this.” Great, do it again.
The next day, the brain gets more of a reward, the next day you train, for its drops in theta, and the brain’s like, “Ooh, hey, look. I’m getting information again from my drop in the theta. That’s super exciting. I want to do a lot of that.”
So it does a lot in the session the next time. You feel even more.
And then, tomorrow, you feel a little bit different, and you say, “Ooh, I noticed something.”
So your job is to steer that course as things unfold, and executive function, stress, sleep, mood, attention, those things will fluctuate day to day, and you’ll report what’s happening.
We work you out and we build the workout machine with you, work you out, and then tomorrow, we go, “Hey, did your bicep feel it? Did you get the bicep workout? I’m not sure, I’m not sure how many elbows we’re working with here.”
And you’re like, “Yeah, I felt my bicep, it was kind of nice.”
Or, “No, actually, it was really sore. It was too much, or I didn’t feel a thing.”
You wouldn’t experience that doing curls, of course, but you can experience that in neurofeedback.
Didn’t feel much ’cause we didn’t land on the knee right away or over-trained you, where you feel super-fatigued later, or kind of lit up, and you can’t fall asleep and you clean your entire house.
Things can happen, so you have to be cautious not to push super-hard in neurofeedback. But it’s fitness. It’s like, “Let’s try something.”
Iterate, try something, iterate. And then go back to the data the way that we do it every so often to make sure that we actually know it’s happening.
Abel: Yeah, I love it. We’re coming up on time, but before we go, I want to make sure we talk at least for a second.
What can people do, like you said, to prevent big problems down the road?
Since you study aging, a lot of people are interested in what they can do now.
Yeah, there’s a couple big things everyone should do.
Minimizing starch is a huge one. We have so much processed fat, that it’s hard to avoid that if you’re eating anywhere, but starch is the killer when combined with anything else, free starch and high amounts of starch.
So people always then want me to quantify that, and it’s hard to do because people are so variable.
And if you’re the average person with relatively adequate insulin sensitivity, and you’re somewhat active, you can probably handle up to about 100 grams of carbs a day, and you can probably handle something like 20 to 30 grams at any one sitting.
And something more than about 25 or 30 will probably spike your blood sugar a little bit, and if you want to avoid insulin insensitivity, avoid spiking your blood sugar.
Keep starch consumption to below roughly 20 grams in any one sitting, roughly below 100 a day.
If you’re an athlete, you can go up a little bit on that, and then you can eat your carbs right after you work out aggressively hard to avoid bonking and to cause re-feeding of glycogen.
That’s the first thing you can do. It’s not that hard to do, 65 to 100 grams a day. If you’re a woman, you can go up more, 100.
Men who are athletes, more like 65, just want to stay lean. But that’s actually kind of hard to maintain.
It’s a lifestyle thing, it’s more of a Paleo keto thing, it’s fine. It works great.
You honestly can do lots with diet, you don’t have to just do that version.
The system is so dynamic that it actually responds really well to aggressive pushes.
This is why any diet works, any elimination diet works, period, for a while, anyone. It doesn’t matter what it is.
Eating nothing but cauliflower works amazingly well for five weeks, eating nothing but cabbage, nothing but meat works incredibly well.
Some of those diets are sustainable, some are not.
But you can do some crazy things, like you can eat whatever you want, completely 100%, 4000 calories a day, every other day if you want.
That is a sustainable way to eat, for many people.
You will maintain insulin insensitivity, you’ll maintain good cholesterol profiles, lipid profiles, and you’ll actually lose weight eating high starch and high fat on alternate days.
It’s actually not a great way to eat if you have risk of cardiovascular health and oxidation and some other issues, you can cause problems, but that kind of hormetic stress, pushing the system through flexibility points is not the worst thing in the world.
And I would agree that, in some ways, doing a really aggressive metabolic flexibility protocol, like alternate day fasting, is a little bit more evolutionarily-sound than keto or carnivore per se.
Let’s say carnivore, which is, of course, just meat. Variability, dynamism here is life, static is death.
And so I think you could have great abs, have great lipid profiles from eating keto or Paleo or carnivore for a long time, but if you haven’t fixed your insulin sensitivity that well, and you walk by a donut shop, and fall into a coma because you smelled some starch, something’s wrong.
Or if you can’t go to your friend’s house and have half of an apple cider, or something, that they made for you, or a nice bit of pie.
Maybe you don’t eat gluten, but someone made a pie. “Well, have a bite.”
I sort of view gluten the way that traditional old-school Tibetans view meat, like if someone else makes it, “Okay, thank you.”
And I’m really happy to have it, and this wheat stock diet for my lovely bit of pastry, great. But if I did it every day, I’d get in trouble.
Some of it is metabolic flexibility, some of it is some wheat intolerance, not gluten.
I actually do fine with gluten, but not wheat, oddly enough.
According to my functional medicine guy, my genes don’t like wheat but they’re okay with gluten.
But I find I can handle gluten in large amounts every so often, no problem, but, chronically, major problems. So I have to be cautious.
But you don’t have to do alternate day fasting, you don’t have to do keto or Paleo or primal or carnivore to get all the benefits.
Most of the benefits can be had with simple quote, unquote, “intermittent fasting” I.e., restricted time feeding.
Eat within, for men, an eight to nine or 10-hour window, for women, a 10 to 12-hour window every day. You can just do that as the first intervention, the lowest-hanging fruit here.
Although, only true if they’re full of water, like berries.
The lowest-hanging fruit is to have a time-restricted fit window, like eight to 10 hours for men.
The thing people often do wrong, in modern intermittent fasting culture, is they end their window just before bed.
You need to end your eating window at least three to four hours before bed.
Otherwise, you’re going to go to sleep with high insulin, suppress the only big, giant pulse of growth hormone you get 90 minutes later.
And if you’re 40 or above, you’re not getting any other growth hormone, basically, in your life, except for that small pulse you get 90 minutes after you fall sleep.
So you really want to have low insulin at that point, it’s really critical.
So my rule of thumb for my coaching clients is now, go to bed a little bit hungry, wake up energetic and full.
Go to bed full, wake up tired and hungry.
Abel: Yeah. Yeah.
So the only constraint there is if you have a history of privation, if you’ve grown up without food, if you’ve grown up with food being used emotionally or as a punishment, or with some neglect or abuse, food may be triggering, or going to bed hungry may be triggering.
So you may have to manage that a little bit and not trigger yourself just to have nice abs or to improve lipid profiles.
The other piece of it is that food is very personal.
Again, all these rules about food, I’ve learned to be very cautious about saying anything strong about food here because it’s very personal. But you should control your food.
The other evolutionary thing to balance about late night eating is that that’s where our appetite’s highest, because we wouldn’t necessarily eat three meals a day with lots of macronutrients in all forms every day.
We would eat every so often in large amounts, perhaps evolutionarily.
So, before the first fast we’re going to do every day, i.e. sleep, appetite ramps up.
So if there’s food available, we get it when it’s most useful, when we’ll deposit it as lipid, when we will not have to be active, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
So, nowadays, our appetite ramps up, of course, still before bedtime, and we give into it and snack, which is sort of a perfect storm against the standard Western diet, and insulin insensitivity, and a bunch of stuff like that.
So it’s very, very difficult to lean into high-reward value food late at night as a stress response.
It’s a perfect storm. Either food is difficult for you or sugar and high fat and salt food that’s repetitive, has high reward value, that’s soothing for you, and your appetite’s highest at the end of the night, perfect storm.
That’s why late night snacking is a thing.
It’s why there aren’t books on how to avoid early morning snacking. There’s no books on that.
Abel: That’s true.
There’s no books on why can’t you drink. Why can you only drink five beers? Why can’t you drink six?
There’s no books on how to get to the sixth beer, the seventh beer.
It’s because we’re trying to learn how to push against the system, and we have to learn to control handles on that system, and ghrelin and insulin and cortisol are doing things.
So knowing you get 75% of your growth hormone 90 minutes into the night means you shouldn’t eat before bed, ideally, if you’re not calorically-deprived.
And now you know the control system, you can get control over it, you can actually wake up with energy.
Intuitive Eating: Are You Doing it Wrong?
So, we shouldn’t rely on the reward value of things. I really hate this term intuitive eating, really hate it.
I think intuitive eating is great once you’re incredibly educated about how your body responds to things.
And you’ve done lots of insulin sensitivity stuff, you’ve felt stuff, you’ve fasted, then you can watch your body.
But if you’re used to responding to the ghrelin and insulin themselves, and the feeding, and the high reward value, if you eat like most people do, on the reward value and the time of the clock, then you’re not going to eat intuitively.
You’re going to eat towards reward value. That’s what people mean.
Most people, when they say intuitive-eating, it means eating in a structured way was too hard, and I’m going to eat how I want.
And most of them, there’s very few successful intuitive eaters, those who are successful have gone through lots of other things, and know what it means to have insulin surge, they feel it, they feel and they know, and they’re doing it.
Done a lot of self-experimentation, it’s not a category of eat what feels good or eat what you desire.
That’s the miss here. That’s the millennial mistake about intuitive eating.
It’s not about that. It’s about learning the actual, fairly rigorous experimentation process of figuring out what your insulin does, either subjectively or with a glucose monitor, and then eat ways that don’t cause inflammation, and don’t cause insulin insensitivity for you.
Most of those ways are similar, for most people, so you still have to adhere to them as rules.
There’s no magic formula for you, honestly.
You may have some specific allergies or sensitivities or nutritional needs, but most of these things work for most people.
And intuitive stuff, I find, unless you’re talking about a rigorous self-experimentation approach, I find is really more of an apologist for, oh eat what you want and don’t worry about it.
And I find intuitive eating is the opposite of orthorexia.
Orthorexia is the being rigid and adhering to rules so much that you’re like, “Oh my god, I sniffed a carbohydrate after my workout, and it was after the half-hour window. Aah! I’m not going to get any gains for the next six months now,” or something.
It’s kind of silly, and it’s an eating disorder, essentially. Adhering to eating and exercise and body stuff too much is a problem.
The opposite of that, the orthogonal thing to orthorexia is intuitive eating, I find, as framed by many people, you know.
And, again, I think there’s some truth to intuitive eating, but not if you use it as a panacea for why you shouldn’t follow any rules.
Where to find Dr. Hill
Abel: Right. I hear that. Well, we’re just about out of time, but before we go, let’s make sure we can find you.
Where’s the best place to find Dr. Hill’s work?
So, peakbraininstitute.com is our website, and we have lots of social media at @PeakBrainLA, and I’m also, I think @AndrewHillPhD on all the social media as well.
And so, please check us out on all the socials, and let us know your brain questions.
We have chat boxes on the site, with our senior staff standing by, to answer cool brain-coaching questions if you have them.
And we have physical locations to do neurofeedback and brain-mapping in St Louis, Los Angeles, Orange County, a brain-mapping station in Malmo, Sweden, a few others throughout the world.
So if you want to do some work with us, you don’t have to do it all in the office.
We can work with you for a couple of days in one of the offices, and then deploy neurofeedback gear, and get you training yourself at home or in your office.
So if you happen to come to one of our locations here in St Louis or LA or Orange County or Sweden, love to get your brain map at some point, and then we can talk about all your performance metrics at that point, on the show, if you’re brave.
Abel: That sounds like a blast. Yeah, I’m brave. I’d share all of my broken things.
Yeah, feel free. Always happy to come by. That’s right.
We’ll see how many head injuries and kind of like sleep habits you have, that aren’t working for you.
Abel: I have a few mulligan head injuries, I think. I was into mountain biking for a while, you know.
Ugh. We’ll probably see some evidence of that here and there. Yeah.
Abel: Yeah. I think we will. Anyway, that’s something to look forward to.
But, yeah, feel free. Love to see them. Cool.
Abel: Alright. Thanks so much for coming on the show, really appreciate it.
Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me. Take care.
Before You Go
Here’s a note that came in from Ted. He says:
“Abel, I just wanted to thank you for the positive impact that you have had in my overall perspective on holistic health.
I am 51 years old and thanks to your guidance and videos, I adopted a holistic lifestyle over 2 years ago.
I was a Type II Diabetic on insulin and metformin. I weighed 270 pounds and my A1c was 8.5.
After numerous side effects and realizing I was just treating symptoms, I went all in on intermittent fasting and a holistic lifestyle.
I now weigh 205 and I take zero medication. I do need to watch my carb intake, but I feel amazing. My A1c was just measured today at 5.7.
I am now gearing up for Phase 2 and I am applying detoxification practices. I will also be starting a 3 – 5 day fast.
I took a lot of notes on my holistic approach to type II diabesity. It makes me so upset to see the money being made in that industry and obviously the crap in the grocery stores is a gold mine.
Here is what I learned. Diabesity is a Metabolic disorder caused by high insulin levels. Treat the high insulin levels. 😛
Our kids need a better nutritional future. My 15 year old daughter loves your channel and your most sound recommendations.
I am so relieved that you and your family are safe after the Carbon Monoxide scare. Happy New Year!” – Ted, A Wild Diet Tribe Member
Ted, thank you so much for writing in and sharing this with us.
I’ve had a couple of notes like this where people said their teenage kids are listening to this show, and I love that.
Ever since we started this about 10 years ago, we decided to make this show family-friendly so that those of you out there with little ones can listen to this with them around.
It’s important to keep this available and accessible to all you. And I love that you listen with your family.
Also Ted, you’re down 65 pounds and you’re off all your meds, that is the goal, you’re doing it.
Dropping 65 pounds, that’s about the weight of our 8-year-old Labrador Retriever. So, well done, Ted!
And thank you for checking on us and mentioning the Carbon Monoxide scare. It was very rough, and our friends and community and people like you helped get us through the roughest of times, and we want to be there for you listeners and members of our community when you’re going through hard times.
So, on that note, don’t be shy. Drop me a line. You can sign up for my newsletter and then just reply to my email to you.
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What did you think of this conversation with Dr. Andrew Hill? Drop a comment below!