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How is it That the Most Intelligent People You Know Tend to Eat So Poorly?

I wish there was an easy answer. Alas, in my experience, there is not. However, there are some clues that may help you understand yourself or your loved ones.

For one, smart folks have a history of getting away with things. They have either talked their way out of having to go to gym class (possibly by being the only person at their middle school who can fix the principal’s computer) or have never needed tutoring to pass exams or manage to build an app that makes them ridiculously rich at an early age. With this experience, it is not a far stretch to conclude that the outcomes of poor eating will not apply to them.

Secondly, smarty pants tend to have their own personal version of logic. For example, they may say to themselves “If I eat this cookie, I will only have one half of my steak for dinner – therefore cancelling out this cookie.” Ummm, no. But that logic is not up for debate.

Third, brainiacs are smart in the sense of books, numbers, data, meta data, managing multi-faceted organizations, etc. And given that the brain is the number one consumer of carbohydrates, it not a coincidence that both during and after some heavy brain lifting – people often crave carbs. The issue here is eating the right kind of carbs. The best choice would be complex and whole food carbs – NOT processed, crunchy, curly orange ones.

Lastly, we all have experienced emotional pain, bullying, mean girls, thuggish guys, etc. However, for a lot of smart people, they have often had to withstand a bit or a lot more than most. Unresolved pain from social or family situations are often underlying factors for people who “eat their feelings” – and not in the form of half a grapefruit, but instead almost entirely in sweets and simple carbs. These food groups have been shown to release a small amount of “joy juice” aka – endorphins. These good feeling neuro chemicals give a brief burst of elation. This provides a powerful reprieve from feeling angry, misunderstood, situationally depressed, inadequate. Listen here for a short but very clear breakdown: "How sugar affects the brain" TED Talk by Nicole Avena.

A very tough battle indeed.

These are some of the puzzle pieces that are on the table for brain heavy folks. By no means does it tell the whole story, everyone is unique. But, in general terms, these are some of the hurdles they’re up against.

It has been my experience that standard fixes or interventions do not typically work. For example, in classic CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) – an issue or problem is identified or revealed (e.g. conflict with a spouse causing anxiety), a behavior than related to this problem – (e.g. smoking or over eating) is identified and then a very clear plan or method to change said behavior is mapped out.

Make no mistake, the smartest among us, will find this approach utterly dull, predictable, and extremely easy to beat. Yes, it would be much more interesting to them to “beat” this form of help versus using it to improve their life. Not that this is the only approach to correcting poor eating choices, but for the most part, when it comes to “out-smarters,” it’s a lot of dead ends and “good try’s” for those trying to help. Essentially out-smarters can be too smart for their own good and can back themselves into a corner of self-sabotage.

Does this mean all smart folks are doomed to poor eating and drinking decisions? Absolutely not. Plenty of high IQs have been able to turn things around and even lead others in their healthy pursuits. How so? For one, they’ve had to outsmart their own intelligence. This is a technique with entails an approach of simplification, honesty and accepting support. Simplification means taking out the over thinking/analyzing/mind games and getting to the bottom line (“this is an ice cream cone/I’ve had these before/I do not need one now in my life”).

Honesty is HUGE and important for everyone who is trying to make life changes. But for the high IQs, it is key. No more bogus “exchanges” or swaps of this for that. Put it all out there as to where you are and where you want to be and what are your blocks and hurdles. In addition, acknowledging how past emotional scars impact choices today – both positive and negative.

Lastly, accepting support from others. Very few people can make difficult life changes (which may sound dramatic, but for some giving up a favorite food or drink is quite serious) on their own. But smarties tend to be the last to admit that. Those who do, have a MUCH higher likelihood of success.

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