I’ve written before about Heroic* founder and fellow arete enthusiast Brian Johnson. Recently he declared that Brain Energy by Christopher M. Palmer was his new all-time most-recommended book. This caught my attention, and I immediately checked it out from the library. I immediately understood why this became Brian’s new all-time favorite, and I want to share some insights with you today.
Before you run out and buy a copy, understand that this book is filled with science and research. The vast majority of the book is Palmer providing explanations and evidence supporting his theory of brain energy. Only a fraction of the book is devoted to techniques you can employ to increase your brain energy.
This statement summarizes the essence of Palmer’s theory:
“Mental disorders—all of them—are metabolic disorders of the brain.”
He lays out a compelling case that all mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, eating disorders, alcoholism, and bipolar disorder, originate from a metabolic disorder. They all tie back to mitochondrial dysfunction. He cites mountains of research that show the same is true for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Understanding the common linkage between these disorders provides an entirely new perspective for approaching these problems. Palmer shares success stories throughout the book. Let’s dig into three key areas of focus to improve our brain energy. Whether you buy into Palmer’s theory or not, these strategies are worth considering.
1. Sleep & Light
Palmer suggests that sleep is the most important of all the things we can do to improve our metabolism. As I have written in the past, getting quality sleep is my top priority. Adults typically need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If you always wake up to an alarm and feel groggy, you probably aren’t getting the right amount. Here are some of my favorite sleep strategies:
- Don’t eat close to bedtime. I try and stop eating three hours before bedtime.
- Practice Digital Sunset. At least an hour before bedtime, stop using ALL digital devices. No phone, no computer, no TV. Spend time with your family, meditate, or read an old-fashioned book.
- Stick to a schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time, seven days a week. This aligns your circadian rhythms, which also have a significant effect on mitochondrial health.
- Darken your room. I got blackout curtains and removed anything that was emitting light
- Use a sleep tracker like the Oura ring to understand what’s working. Here’s my referral link, which includes a $40/€40 discount for the first five people who use it.
Another technique Palmer recommends is ensuring you get plenty of daylight. Usually, my morning run takes care of this; however, on cloudy, rainy days, I’ll use my Circadian Optics Light Therapy Lamp for 30 minutes in the morning.
2. Food & Fasting
Not surprisingly, our diet also significantly affects our mitochondrial health. Palmer has several case studies in the book where someone suffering from mental illness did not have success with traditional treatments but saw remarkable recovery when they adopted the Keto diet. You have likely heard most of this advice on your diet before:
- Eat whole, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Avoid processed sugar. Sugar from whole foods like fruit is fine.
- Consider the Mediterranean diet or the Keto diet.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
Palmer also suggests intermittent fasting (IF). I strive to fast for 13 hours or more overnight. Among the many benefits of IF is its ability to trigger autophagy. When this happens, the body starts a natural recycling process, beginning by identifying the underperforming cells and recycling them first, allowing your body to replace them with new cells.
3. Cultivating Your Life Purpose
The last area Palmer recommended was meaningful to me but a bit of a departure from the typical “exercise, eat well, get plenty of sleep” recommendations we usually hear. Cultivating our life’s purpose can also have a profound impact. Palmer suggests we focus on the four Rs:
- Relationships – developing close relationships with others.
- Roles – finding meaningful roles that enable us to contribute to society.
- Responsibilities – following through on our commitments and responsibilities. This includes our promises to others and our obligations to society, such as obeying the law.
- Resources – ensuring we have adequate resources (food, shelter, etc.)
Take a moment to assess how you are doing on the four Rs. Is there any area that deserves some attention?
I recently read Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, and I think it’s an excellent place to start if you want to cultivate your life purpose.
Putting It Into Practice
With permission from Heroic, I’m happy to share a Heroic live coaching session with Chris Palmer. This is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about Palmer’s brain energy theory and how you can apply this to promote your well-being.
Here are some areas to consider to improve your metabolism and support your mental and physical health:
- Prioritize sleep
- Get plenty of daylight or consider light therapy
- Improve your diet
- Consider intermittent fasting
- Cultivate your life purpose
* A brief disclaimer: I love the Heroic app so much that I am an investor. This is my referral link, and I will receive compensation if you use it to sign up.