What Vegan Donuts and Chicken McNuggets Have in Common

Both Cheetos and kale are vegetarian. Are they the same thing?

Both Chicken McNuggets and chicken are animal foods. Are they the same thing?

Alas, many people don’t bother to make distinctions beyond the plant/animal status of foods. Let’s explore how this might drastically misguide your food choices!

Overheard at Cookouts

It’s cookout season here in Portland so I’ve been around a lot of people eating recently and that means I’ve been around a lot of people talking about eating. One thing I hear often is the blanket deification of plant foods and the blanket demonization of animal foods.

(referring to their plate full of food) “I know, I know, I should eat a salad.”

(referring to the large piece of meat on another person’s plate) “Whoa, you went with the heart-attack special, huh?”

(referring to the piece of lettuce on their hamburger) “Well, at least I have some green on my plate.”

(referring to the cake their eating) “Don’t worry, it’s vegan.”

(denying the offer of a chicken kabob) “No thank you, I don’t eat meat. I have high cholesterol.”

Bigger Thinking

As we all know, eating well is a big part of being well. But what exactly is eating well? It’s a big question I’m going to tackle today with some other big questions, lots of information, and two very mind-expanding scientific studies.

Today, we’re not going to talk about the myth that, for an omnivore (that’s us), plant foods are superior to animal foods. By definition, an omnivore thrives on both plant and animal foods. That’s the foundational fact for busting that myth. We’ll come back to that, in much more detail, another day.

Today we’re going to discuss the full spectrum of choices available to us as omnivores because it’s a much more important topic.

The key word here is: choices. I won’t make any recommendations or even suggestions as to what you should eat. To do so would be an act of force against your very being on something very personal and very sacred: how you feed yourself. I value your freedom and autonomy as much as any person does, maybe even more than you do. I won’t tell you what to do. Instead, I’ll offer a great deal of nuanced thinking to bestow you with the power to make the best choices you can make for yourself in your self-care.

I acknowledge that ideas counter to the wholesale deification of plant foods and wholesale demonization of animal foods might seem very strange at first. But I invite you to explore this with me with an open mind and a desire to lean toward the truth.

Let’s get started. Buckle your chinstrap. We’re about to go for quite a ride.

Question 1: Are Cheetos the same thing as kale?

Both Cheetos and kale are vegetarian.

Cheetos are unnaturally orange, unnaturally crunchy bits made of corn processed to oblivion combined with corn oil, canola oil, or safflower oil (most likely whichever is cheapest at the time (and remember: you get what you pay for)) and finished off with, among other ingredients, maltodextrin (highly processed sugar) and a substance known in the food-processing biz as yellow 6 (other ingredients combine with yellow 6 to make the nuclear Cheetos’ orange). Frito-Lay also lists “natural and artificial flavors” among Cheetos’ ingredients. They don’t tell us what those are.

Kale is a leafy, green plant that grows in the ground and is great in salads, soups, and smoothies. No yellow 6. Just kale.

Both Cheetos and kale are vegetarian. But they’re very different foods.

Question 2: Are Chicken McNuggets the same things as chicken?

Both Chicken McNuggets and chicken are animal foods.

Chicken McNuggets are, in fact, nuggets that contain chicken, along with over 40 other ingredients including autolyzed yeast extract, modified food starch, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added, and dimethylpolysiloxane. That’s just the McNuggets; don’t forget the dipping sauce. McDonald’s Tangy Barbecue Sauce is mostly high fructose corn syrup (highly processed sugar) and is made up of over 20 other ingredients including dextrose (more highly processed sugar), natural smoke flavor, caramel color, and sodium benzoate.

Chicken is great rubbed with lemon zest and herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme and roasted in an oven. No doctorate in chemistry required to read the ingredient list. Just chicken.

Both Chicken McNuggets and chicken are animal foods. But they’re very different foods.

Question 3: Is spinach grown 3,000 miles from where you live the same thing as spinach grown 10 miles from where you live?

Both spinach grown halfway around the world and locally grown spinach are vegetarian.

Spinach grown states, countries, and continents away from you is picked, then “preserved” from the time it’s picked until it arrives in your locale, which can be as long as a week. As soon as spinach is picked, it begins losing nutrients. Spinach in an airplane or tractor trailer is losing nutrients every minute. As the clock ticks, the nutrients disintegrate.

Locally grown spinach is picked the day before you buy it, sometimes even the morning of the day you buy it. No lag time between picking, purchasing, and consumption. Just really fresh spinach.

Both spinach grown halfway around the world and locally grown spinach are vegetarian. But they’re very different foods.

Question 4: Is cod fished from the ocean 3,000 miles from where you live the same thing as cod fished from the ocean 10 miles from where you live?

Both cod fished halfway around the world and locally fished cod are animal foods.

Cod fished from seas that aren’t the ones you can also go swimming in after a short weekend drive or sooner (I’m lucky to be able to smell the ocean from where I write this article) is often frozen in order to preserve it for its long trip to your neck of the woods. We all know that freezing changes the nature of fish. And if it isn’t frozen, it’s slowing rotting and losing its nutrients as it makes its thousands-of-miles trip to you.

Locally fished cod is fished nearby and delivered to your food store immediately. No previously frozen cod that just earned frequent-flier miles. Just really fresh cod.

Both cod fished halfway around the world and locally fished cod are animal foods. But they’re very different foods.

Question 5: Are factory-farmed strawberries the same thing as organically grown strawberries?

Factory-farmed strawberries and organically grown strawberries are both vegetarian.

Factory-farmed strawberries are grown in overworked soil depleted of nutrients and sprayed with pesticides like tetrahydrophthalimide, pyraclostrobin, and fenhexamid, to name a few.

Organically grown strawberries are grown in carefully managed soil rich in nutrients and left alone to grow naturally. No pesticides with names you can’t produce. Just strawberries.

Factory-farmed strawberries and organically grown strawberries are both “vegetarian”. But they’re very different foods.

Question 6: Are eggs from factory-farmed chickens the same thing as eggs from free-range chickens?

Eggs from factory-farmed chickens and eggs from free-range chickens are both animal foods.

Factory farmed chickens are forced to “live” in tiny pens with no room to move and limited access to the outdoors, are forced to eat grain that isn’t natural for them to them to eat at all, and are frequently treated with antibiotics (because they’re sick) that end up in their eggs.

Free-range chickens, although not wild animals, live a much more natural life by comparison. They mostly live outdoors with ample room to move, they mostly eat foods that are natural to them, and nobody shoots them up with drugs. No antibiotics (because the chickens are well and don’t need them). Just eggs.

Eggs from factory-farmed chickens and eggs from free-range chickens are both animal foods. But they’re very different foods.

Question 7: Are organically grown blueberries the same thing as blueberries gathered in the woods?

Organically grown blueberries and blueberries gathered in the woods are both vegetarian.

Like organically grown strawberries, organically grown blueberries are grown in carefully managed soil and otherwise left alone. They’re also grown in rows largely in isolation from other plants and from animals which isn’t the way blueberry plants exist naturally.

Blueberries gathered in the woods aren’t directly manipulated by people very much, if at all. They’re a truly wild food.

Organically grown blueberries and blueberries gathered in the woods are both vegetarian. But they’re very different foods.

Question 8: Is grass-fed beef the same thing as venison that has been hunted in the woods?

Grass-fed beef and venison are both animal foods.

Grass-fed cattle, like free-range chickens, mostly live outdoors with ample room to move, aren’t given antibiotics or hormones, and primary eat grass, the food natural to them. The males are also often castrated. These are very much domesticated animals. Grass-fed beef is meat from domesticated animals.

Deer are wild animals. Fully wild. They live a wild life from the second they’re born until the second they die. Venison is a truly wild food.

Grass-fed beef and venison are both animal foods. But they’re very different foods.

Question 9: Are vegan donuts the same thing as a vegetable salad made from locally grown, organically grown vegetables; other locally grown, organically grown plant foods; and other foods locally gathered from the woods?

Vegan donuts and a vegetable salad are both vegetarian.

Vegan donuts are made from highly processed flour and highly processed sugar, and are deep-fried in highly processed vegetable oil. All of the ingredients are grown in a distant locale. All of the ingredients are factory farmed. Many of the ingredients are genetically modified.

A spectacular vegetable salad could contain a plethora of locally grown, organically grown vegetables; other locally grown, organically grown plant foods like fruit, nuts, and seeds; and could even include locally gathered wild foods like mushrooms (mushrooms aren’t a plant or an animal for the biology fans keeping score at home). No processing at all. Lots of life in this food.

Vegan donuts and an amazing vegetable salad like are both “vegetarian”. But they’re very different foods.

Question 10: Are fish sticks the same thing as striped bass fished from the ocean two miles from where I live?

Fish sticks and striped bass fished from the ocean two miles from where I live are both animal foods.

Fish sticks are pieces of white fish (the flesh is white) like cod, haddock, hake, or pollock breaded a mixture of highly processed flour, highly processed sugar, and highly processed vegetable oil. The fish is fished in a distant locale. All of the plant ingredients are factory farmed. Many of the plant ingredients are genetically modified.

Striped bass, like venison is a 100-percent wild food. A striped bass lives a wild life from birth to death. No processing at all. Lots of life in this food.

Fish sticks and striped bass fished from the ocean two miles from where I live are both animal foods. But they’re very different foods.

Question 11: Which is more nourishing? Vegan donuts or striped bass fished from the ocean two miles from where I live?

Vegan donuts are vegetarian. Striped bass fished two miles from where I live is an animal food.

Vegan donuts are a vegetarian food that contain almost no nourishment, are processed beyond recognition, and contain known harmful ingredients.

Striped bass fished from the ocean two miles from where I live is an animal food that’s full of nourishment. As natural as food can be. The definition of natural.

When making choices of what’s a more nourishing food, there’s a lot more to compare than simply the plant/animal status of the foods.

Question 12: Which is more nourishing? Fish sticks or a salad made from organically grown vegetables and other plant foods gathered from the woods?

Fish sticks are an animal food. A vegetable salad made from organically grown vegetables, other organically grown foods, and other foods gathered from the woods is vegetarian.

Fish sticks contain some nourishment since they are made with wild fish (cod, hake, haddock, and pollock are never farmed), but not much since they’re a highly processed food. They also contain known harmful ingredients.

A vegetable salad made from locally grown, organically grown vegetables; other locally grown, organically grown plant foods; and other foods locally gathered from the woods is a “vegetarian” food that’s full of nourishment. Not the definition of natural. Not as natural as food can be. But very, very natural.

When making choices of what’s a more nourishing food, there’s a lot more to compare than simply the plant/animal status of the foods.

Expanded Selection of Choices

We now have four more layers of choice available to us:

  1. We can choose foods based on their level of processing.
  2. We can choose foods based on their freshness.
  3. We can choose farmed foods based on how they’re farmed.
  4. We can choose between farmed foods and wild foods.

When we consider these choices, and consider the questions we’ve reflected up today, it becomes clear that plant and animal foods can both range from horribly farmed and severely processed to absolutely wild and the epitome of natural (or very close to it). There’s much more to consider than only the plant/animal status of a food.

Food Wars: Episode V—The Science Strikes Back

This brings us to the results of a scientific study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (1). Researchers determined the risk of developing coronary heart disease from three ways of eating: what they called a way of eating based on “healthier plant foods” (think vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes), what they called a way of eating based on “less-healthy plant foods” (think processed grains and processed plant foods of all kinds), and what we could consider the typical way of eating of a person in the United States.

They assigned the way of eating of a typical person in the United States a hazard ratio of 1. This gives us a way of comparing the other ways of eating to a norm.

A person who ate a lot of “healthier plant foods” had a hazard ratio of 0.75. They were 25 percent less likely to develop coronary heart disease.

If we stopped there, we’d be back at the cookout demonizing animal foods and deifying plant foods. But the study revealed a great deal more information.

Can you guess what the hazard ratio for developing coronary artery disease was for person who ate a lot of “less healthy plant foods” like possessed cereal, processed crackers, processed juice, Cheetos, vegan donuts, etc.?

I’ll tell you this: It was higher than it was for those who ate a lot of “healthier plant foods”. Do you think it was still better than the hazard ratio for the typical way of eating of someone in the United States? About the same? A little bit higher? Remember, this is a vegetarian diet.

What do you think the hazard ratio was for those who ate a lot of “less healthy plant foods”?

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer: it was 1.32. A way of eating based on “less-healthy plant foods” made a person 32 percent more likely to develop coronary heart disease!

There’s a difference between tomatoes/bananas/almonds/pumpkin seeds/oats/chickpeas and highly processed plant foods. The level of processing, the level of life left in the food by the time we eat it, is a major factor in how nourishing a food is.

In the words of the researchers:

“Higher intake of a plant-based diet index rich in healthier plant foods is associated with substantially lower CHD [coronary heart disease] risk, whereas a plant-based diet index that emphasizes less-healthy plant foods is associated with higher CHD [coronary heart disease] risk.”

Food Wars: Episode VI—The Return of the Science

Let’s now consider the results of a scientific study published in another cardiology journal, Circulation (2). Researchers determined the association between eating two particular types of meat and the development of both coronary heart disease and type-2 diabetes. They specifically examined the association between processed-meat consumption and these diseases and red-meat consumption and these diseases.

What did they find?

Processed-meat consumption was associated with a 42 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease and a 19-percent higher risk of type-2 diabetes compared to their norm (also a typical western way of eating). Sorry Oscar Meyer; this isn’t good marketing for you.

What about red-meat consumption? This is red meat we’re talking about. You know what they say at about red meat at cookouts, right?

Before you read the answer, jot down a guess. How was red-meat consumption associated with coronary heart disease and with type-2 diabetes? What do you think?

You might want to double-check your chinstrap at this point.

Red-meat consumption wasn’t associated with coronary heart disease or type-2 diabetes. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

Just as we discover in the first study, processing is a big factor in how nourishing a food is. Processed-meat consumption was associated with a much greater risk of developing both coronary heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Red-meat consumption (this is unprocessed red meat we’re talking about) wasn’t associated at all with the development of coronary heart disease or type-2 diabetes. The level of processing, the level of life left in the food by the time we eat it, is a major factor in how nourishing a food is.

In the words of the researchers:

“Consumption of processed meats, but not red meats, is associated with higher incidence of CHD [coronary heart disease] and diabetes. These results highlight the need for better understanding of potential mechanisms of effects, and for particular focus on processed meats for dietary and policy recommendations.”

The Shortcomings of Studies on Vegetarianism

These studies don’t even consider how fresh foods are, how the farmed foods are farmed, or if any of the foods are wild. Simply by exploring the effect of processing on food, we lean toward some profound truths.

There are hundreds of studies that could appear, to the untrained eye, to demonstrate that vegetarianism fosters wellness, but most studies comparing vegetarian ways of eating with ways of eating that include the consumption of both plant and animal foods make one massive oversight: they consider all plant foods to be the same and they consider all animal foods to be the same. Their most egregious error is that they consider all meat to be the same. In most studies, “meat” could be anything from wild scallops to Chicken McNuggets. From free-range chicken to Oscar Meyer bologna. From wild lobster to the beef jerky for sale at the gas station. From grass-fed beef to SPAM. This is a spectacular error. If we’re going to make the distinction between foods like whole grains and Fruit Loops, between cauliflower and Twinkies in our investigation of and discourse around eating well, we must make the same distinctions between natural meat and highly processed meat. If we’re being intellectually rigorous, it’s an absolute necessity that we do so.

Other Ethical Considerations

Many people, myself included, choose foods based not only on how well they feed us, but based on other ethical considerations as well. I consider how my food choices affect other people, other animals (it’s true, we’re animals; ask the biology fans keeping score at home if you don’t believe me), and Earth.

It’s far beyond the scope of this article to take a deep dive into this topic. That said, for those interested in exploring this on your own, I encourage you to consider doing an exercise like the one we’ve done above by asking yourself a series of similar questions. For example:

Which is better for my fellow people, other animals, and Earth? Vegan donuts or striped bass fished from the ocean two miles from where I live?

Explore these questions about other ethical considerations with the same level of scrutiny we’ve applied to nourishment. Consider the plant/animal status of the food. Also consider all of the other factors about foods as we’ve done with nourishment.

For example, for vegan donuts, consider that all of the grains that go into making the flour and all of the plants that go into making the oil are farmed. This farming is large-scale factory farming of the highest order. Consider the impact of this kind of industrial farming on other people (like immigrant farmers working in deplorable conditions), on other animals (like the dozens of animals displaced from their natural habitat as a result of the clearing of a single acre of woods for plant farming; like the dozens of animals killed in the tilling of a single acre of land for plant farming), and on Earth (like getting blasted with pesticides).

I don’t use this example to make a case against vegetarianism. I use it because it’s an excellent example of clear, critical, empirical thinking. This is thinking that acknowledges what’s actually present, everything that’s actually present, not only the parts of what’s present that we “like”, and dismisses anything that isn’t actually present (things we manufacture in our minds).

The cookout talk about plant and animal foods often extends beyond considerations of nourishment to equally short-sighted statements about the impact of consumption of plant and animal foods on other people, other animals, and Earth. I continue to vehemently stand for your freedom to choose to eat what you want to eat. I also vehemently stand for intellectually honesty in discussion of these topics. That’s why I used the example I used. Not to make a case against vegetarianism, but to offer some facts you probably haven’t been told so you can be better informed. With full information, you can be truly free to make choices that are yours. With only some of the truth (which is no truth at all), you’re being subtly, but very powerfully controlled by languisites. But when you really think for yourself, you have the possibility of true freedom. And true freedom is a prerequisite for true wellness.

I encourage you to continue to explore what you eat, and if you want to go even bigger, how you live, with this level of open-mindedness.

Photo 180--Big Sky

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

(1) Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-Based Diets and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in U.S. Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2017, 70(4), 411-422.
(2) Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Circulation, 2010, 121(21), 2,271-2,283.

Epilogue (Comedy for Wellness Geeks)

I literally can’t pronounce the pesticide “tetrahydrophthalimide”. How does one make a “phth” sound? Are there any chemists or linguists out there who can help me out?

I want to be a fly on the wall when yellow 6 and natural smoke flavor go on a first date. Which one of them will be more fake?

All right, that’s it for me!


There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.


Big Pharma Has Some Serious Competition

On a sunny, summer morning, Janelle stops by a cobbler’s shop on her way to work.

Cobbler (smiles while looking up from his breakfast, a vegetable omelet with avocado slices on top and some fruit salad on the side): Morning. How can I help you?

Janelle (handing a pair of shoes to the cobbler): The heels on these are loose. Can you fix them?

Cobbler (inspecting the shoes): Yes. It’ll be $25. I’ll have them ready for you by Thursday. You can pay me when you come back to get them.

Janelle: Awesome. Thank you. Your breakfast looks very good by the way. You’re a healthy eater, huh?

Cobbler: Oh yeah. It feels good to feel good, right?

Janelle: Amen. Do you take supplements too?

Cobbler: No, that’s not my thing. I’m a food guy.

Janelle: But you know about the benefits of supplements, right? Making sure you get lots of the right nutrients is the key to staying well, you know.

Cobbler: It’s funny you say that. I was just reading about a few studies on this. One that jumped out at me dealt with lycopene and cardiovascular disease. (1) I have the paper right here:

“Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major contributor to morbidity and mortality in the United States and worldwide. A link between diet and CVD [cardiovascular disease] is well established, with dietary modification a foundational component of CVD [cardiovascular disease] prevention and management. With the discovery of bioactive components beyond the essential nutrients of foods, a new era of nutritional, medical, botanical, physiologic, and analytical sciences has unfolded. The ability to identify, isolate, purify, and deliver single components has expanded the dietary supplement business and health opportunity for consumers. Lycopene is an example of a food component that has attracted attention from scientists as well as food, agriculture, and dietary supplement industries. A major question, however, is whether delivering lycopene through a supplement source is as effective as or more effective than consuming lycopene through whole food sources, specifically the tomato, which is the richest source of lycopene in the Western diet.”

Janelle: Oh neat. What a cool study. They’re directly comparing getting lycopene from supplements and from tomatoes. What did they find?

Cobbler: It was actually a review study. They reviewed several clinical studies:

“In this review, we examined clinical trials comparing the efficacy of lycopene supplements with tomato products on intermediate CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk factors including oxidative stress, inflammation, endothelial function, blood pressure, and lipid metabolism. Overall, the present review highlights the need for more targeted research; however, at present, the available clinical research supports consuming tomato-based foods as a first-line approach to cardiovascular health.”

Janelle: So I’m better of putting tomatoes in my salad than I am taking lycopene supplements?

Cobbler: Yes. That’s what the science shows. Or making chili. Or tomato sauce. Having sliced tomatoes. You name it.

Janelle: You’ve really got me thinking.

Cobbler: There’s another really interesting thing that happens when people take supplements. It’s called the licensing effect. Basically, when people take supplements, and believe that supplements keep them well, they use it as license to engage in harmful behavior. I was just reading about studies of this too (2):

“The use of dietary supplements and the health status of individuals have an asymmetrical relationship: the growing market for dietary supplements appears not to be associated with an improvement in public health. Building on the notion of licensing, or the tendency for positive choices to license subsequent self-indulgent choices, we argue that because dietary supplements are perceived as conferring health advantages, use of such supplements may create an illusory sense of invulnerability that disinhibits unhealthy behaviors. In two experiments, participants who took placebo pills that they believed were dietary supplements exhibited the licensing effect across multiple forms of health-related behavior: They expressed less desire to engage in exercise and more desire to engage in hedonic activities (Experiment 1), expressed greater preference for a buffet over an organic meal (Experiment 1), and walked less to benefit their health (Experiment 2) compared with participants who were told the pills were a placebo. A mediational analysis indicated that perceived invulnerability was an underlying mechanism for these effects. Thus, a license associated with the use of dietary supplements may operate within cycles of behaviors that alternately protect and endanger health.”

Janelle: Oh my! I know so many people like that! This woman at work is always taking her supplements and she also drinks more wine than almost anyone I know and brings donuts into the office at least once per week.

Cobbler: Yeah, that’s licensing. She’s convinced herself that since she takes supplements she’s all set and then she does these other things that are detrimental to her well-being.

Janelle: I guess that’s the promise of well-being in a pill without having to really do anything else.

Cobbler: People love popping pills, Janelle. They love the promise of the quick fix. Big supp is well aware of this and they prey on people’s weakness. Big supp is a $37 billion industry and it’s growing rapidly. They’re on their way to catching up with big pharma.

Janelle (smiling): Bigg supp. That’s good. It sounds like they’re out to get us too.

Cobbler: They certainly don’t have our backs. Most people selling these supplements have no training at all in any field even remotely related to wellness. Maybe worse, some are wellness professionals who absolutely know better and are taking advantage of their position of authority to prey on people and make a buck. A lot of bucks. I’ll text you a video of a news report showing “Dr. Oz” testifying to the Senate if you want to see what a smarmy liar hawking supplements really looks like.

Janelle: Yuck! I guess the one thing I feel okay about with all of this is that at least supplements can’t do any harm. They’re probably a massive waste of money, but they’re basically harmless, right?

Cobbler (giving Janelle a look indicating he knows something to the contrary): There’s actually a huge study called the Iowa Women’s Health Study with results published in the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine. (3) The researchers followed over 38,000 women for 18 years. That found that only calcium supplements were associated with lower mortality. Every other supplement studied either had no effect on mortality or increased mortality. That included multivitamins which were associated with a six percent increase in mortality risk. This is publicly available information. Anyone can read about the Iowa Women’s Health Study on the Internet. But you’re not going to hear about it from anyone selling supplements:

“In agreement with our hypothesis, most of the supplements studied were not associated with a reduced total mortality rate in older women. In contrast, we found that several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements, including multivitamins, vitamins [sic] B6, and folic acid, as well as minerals iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper, were associated with higher risk of total mortality. Of particular concern, supplemental iron was strongly and dose dependently associated with increased total mortality risk.”

Janelle: Yikes! People really should be aware of this.

Cobbler: Yes. Another great study to tell people about is this one in which researchers examined the contents of dozens of supplements from a dozen supplement companies. (4) This’ll make anyone think twice about supplements:

“Product substitution occurred in 30/44 of the products tested and only 2/12 companies had products without any substitution, contamination or fillers. Some of the contaminants we found pose serious health risks to consumers.”

Janelle: I’m not sure what’s most egregious: substitution, contamination, or fillers. It’s an unholy trinity of unethical practice!

Cobbler: Yes, it’s the Wild West out there. There could basically be anything in supplements.

Janelle: But all you hear is that they’re so “natural”.

Cobbler: Supplements aren’t natural. Nowhere in nature are there isolated antioxidants or isolated probiotics or isolated nutrients of any kind. It really makes no sense to take supplements when all of the nutrients in supplements exist in food in their actually natural form. The mignons of big supp are always blasting big pharma and claiming their supplements are natural, but no pills or powders are natural. Supplements don’t grow on trees.

Janelle: Ugh. The marketing is so over the top. They make supplements seem like the be-all, end-all to well-being. What do you do when one of those supplement salespeople gives you the hard sell? One of my other co-workers has been on my case for months.

The cobbler turns around and walks to one of his work benches and returns with a shoebox in his hands to show Janelle.

Cobbler (handing Janelle the shoebox): I give them this and tell them it’ll be $600.

Janelle (curiously going through the shoebox): There’s one rubber soul, a bunch of thumbtacks, six pairs of shoelaces (two of them are almost torn to shreds), some sandpaper labeled “insole”, two uppers which may or may not fit with this one soul, a screwdriver labeled “toe cap”, some glue, and a shoe horn with a really jagged edge. How is this worth $600? I could get a highly functional, really beautiful pair of shoes that are already made for me for $75. These are shoe parts, some that won’t work, some that are downright dangerous, and some that aren’t even what they say they are. And I’ve got to try to put the shoes together by myself. And you’re going to charge me $600?

Cobbler: Exactly. That’s why I prefer food over supplements.

Janelle (stunned and shaking her head): Today is going to be an interesting day.

Photo 179--Supplements for Dinner

“There is no greater enemy to a thing than its predatory mimic.”
—Stefan Molyneux

Author’s Note: Nutrition supplements have their place. In fact, I take fermented-cod-liver oil daily and I periodically recommend nutrition supplements to my clients. It’s the indiscriminate use that’s unwarranted. Be careful out there. Get advice from professionals you trust. Inform yourself. Science is your friend.

(1) Whole Food Versus Supplement: Comparing the Clinical Evidence of Tomato Intake and Lycopene Supplementation on Cardiovascular Risk Factors. Advances in Nutrition, 2014, 5(5), 457-85.
(2) Ironic Effects of Dietary Supplementation: Illusory Invulnerability Created by Taking Dietary Supplements Licenses Health-Risk Behaviors. Psychological Science, 2011, 22(8), 1,081-1,086.
(3) Dietary Supplements and Mortality in Older Women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2011, 171(18), 1625-1633.
(4) DNA Barcoding Detects Contamination and Substitution in North American Herbal Products. BMC Medicine, 2013, 11(222), 1-13.


There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

Friends Are Benefits

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
–Thomas Aquinas

“A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Photo 178--Friends

Wise words from our ancestors. Wise words.

There’s a fascinating scientific study that drives this point home. (1) The researchers brought each subject to the base of a steep hill. Standing there, by himself/herself, looking up the hill, each subject was asked to estimate how steep the hill was. On another occasion, each subject was brought back to the same hill, this time accompanied by a friend. Looking up the hill, with their friend literally standing by their side, each subject was again asked to estimate how steep the hill was. Subjects estimated the hill to be less steep when their friend was there with them. Imagine the steep hills you’re facing in your life. Your friends make them less steep.

Another fascinating scientific study elucidates the clear body-heart-mind connection and the impact of friendships on our tangible, “physical” well-being (2). Researchers examined the relationship between the quantity and quality of subjects’ friendships and their probability of developing a cold. Controlling for other variables known to cause colds, having more, high-quality friendships was inversely proportional, in a linear relationship, with the probability of getting a cold. Our friends keep us well.

Lack of friendship, on the other hand, is literally deadly. A massive body of research implicates social isolation as a leading cause of premature death.

“The quality and quantity of individuals’ social relationships has been linked not only to mental health but also to both morbidity and mortality.” (3)

“These population-based data contribute to a growing literature indicating that loneliness is a risk factor for morbidity and mortality and point to potential mechanisms through which this process works.” (4)

“Overall, the influence of both objective and subjective social isolation on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality.” (5)

Well-established risk factors for mortality are behaviors like smoking and unprotected sex. A sedentary lifestyle. Consumption of junk food. Add lack of great friendship, or we could call it chronic loneliness, to the list. That’s how important friends are.

It makes sense; we’re social creatures. Highly social. And when we’re lacking in intimacy with others, we experience it as stress. When it persists, we experience it as chronic stress.

Chronic stress results in chronic inflammation, and that sure ain’t a good thing. In fact, it breaks a person down and is part of the development of every chronic disease. As we continue our walk through the scientific studies on the relationship between friendship and well-being, let’s consider the research on this (6):

“The physiological processes underlying the association between social relationships and health have been increasingly investigated in recent empirical research. One area of growing interest is the role of inflammation in linking social factors to physical health outcomes. Inflammation has been identified as a reliable predictor of many morbidity conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, and arthritis. While acute inflammatory response to a particular pathogen or injury is a crucial part of immunity, systemic and low-grade inflammation with no clear pathogenic target damages healthy tissues over time, therefore increasing risk for age-related chronic illnesses.”

“Research across behavioral neuroscience, immunology, and epidemiology has found chronic psychosocial stress to be a strong predictor of inflammation in the absence of infection or injury. Studies have found that the physiological processes involved in the stress response (i.e., the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system) can act to modulate inflammatory processes, thus providing evidence of a crucial biosocial linkage between experiences of psychosocial stress and the illness consequences of inflammation. Several studies have documented that chronic stress diminishes the ability of the immune system to respond to anti-inflammatory signals, and others have linked particular psychosocial stressors to immune dysregulation.”

This inflammatory process, this immune dysregulation, this chronic sickness, and even premature death, can all be prevented, with friendship, as the same researchers inform us:

“Studies over the past several decades have provided overwhelming evidence for the importance of social involvement and interpersonal relationships on individual well-being.”

“A large and growing body of social, demographic, and epidemiologic research has firmly established the important role of social relationships and connections in shaping social and physical functioning and well-being of individuals. Social ties and support have been linked to improved mental and physical health, a greater capacity to cope with stress, and increased longevity.”

Let’s hangout in the journal section of the library, my favorite section since college, for just a few more minutes. This next finding I have to tell you about is really interesting. Researchers studied women diagnosed with breast cancer. (7) They examined the relationship between the subjects’ levels of social support and their probability of survival. The looked specifically at levels of social support from all of the various relationships in the subjects’ lives. As you can probably imagine by now, having higher levels of social support was associated with reduced mortality. That is, having better social support increased a woman’s chances of surviving after her cancer diagnosis. It get’s more interesting than that. Considering their choice of words, the researchers found it interesting too:

“Interestingly, being married was not significantly associated with reduced mortality; our results are consistent with the notion that among women, the most important source of social support is often not the women’s spouses, but other significant network members.”

This is an important consideration. Our culture places a great deal of emphasis on the spousal relationship or life-partnership in a person’s life. You know, the whole find-your-prince charming, find-your-princess thing. The implication is that if you do that you’re all set relationship-wise. As much as those relationships are important, and they surely are, we need friends too. We need friends specifically and we need more that one person we’re close with. More that one person we can count on.

I’ve been in the library a little too long at this point and I’m yearning to go for a walk with my friend. I’m not kidding, it’s beautiful here today and as soon as I finish this article, I’m going for a walk around the city with my friend. I can’t wait. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one final study on friendship. The researchers examined the relationship between Facebook use and various measures of wellness. (8) Here’s what they found:

“We investigated the associations of Facebook activity and real-world social network activity with self-reported physical health, self-reported mental health, self-reported life satisfaction, and body mass index. Our results showed that overall, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with well-being.”

“The negative associations of Facebook use were comparable to or greater in magnitude than the positive impact of offline interactions, which suggests a possible tradeoff between offline and online relationships.”

That’s right. Time and energy spent with your “friends” on Facebook compromises your flesh-and-blood friendships, the ones Aquinas and Emerson spoke of with so much gratitude. I think we’re all wise enough to understand why. And this compromise, it turns out, compromises our well-being. Let this study be a spotlight on the difference between Facebook “friends” and real friends.

A friend is someone who you can totally be yourself with. Who wants to know all of you. Who wants to magnify your ups and buffer your downs. And allows you to do the same for them. Friendship is a true treasure.

When it comes to your wellness checklist for today, I invite you to make sure to include nurturing your friendships on your list. It’s easy to check off doing a great workout and eating some great meals and feel solid in our self-care. But there’s more to it than that and, clearly, friends both make life better and keep us well. May your friendships be a bright spot in your day today.

(1) Social Support and the Perception of Geographical Slant. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2008, 44(5), 1,246-1,255.
(2) Sociability and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Psychological Science, 2003, 14(5), 389-395.
(3) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-Analytic Review. PLOS Medicine, 2010, 7(7), 1-20.
(4) Loneliness, Health, and Mortality in Old Age: A National Longitudinal Study. Social Sciences & Medicine, 2012, 74(6), 907-914.
(5) Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2015, 10(2), 227-237.
(6) Social Support, Social Strain and Inflammation: Evidence from a National Longitudinal Study of U.S. Adults. Social Science & Medicine, 2014, 107, 124-35.
(7) Social Networks, Social Support, and Survival After Breast Cancer Diagnosis. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2006, 24(7), 1,105-1,111.
(8) Association of Facebook Use with Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2017, 85(3), 203-211.


There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

Four Ways to Improve Your Relationship with Your Body

I spent some time with my elementary-school-aged niece and nephew last weekend. They were their usual high-energy selves, but I noticed something else in them for the first time. They’re “growing up”, and in our culture that comes with a lot of pressure to “look good”. They were talking more about how they look and they were talking more about how others look. Their judgements were pretty harsh. It was sad to see. Of course, my niece and nephew are the product of our culture.

As a person starts keeping score and giving themselves and others points for looking good (“thin face”, “ripped shoulders”, “great legs”, “awesome abs”, “muscular thighs”, etc.) and taking points away from themselves and others for looking bad (“fat ass”, “scrawny arms”, “stupid checks”, “ugly love handles”, “saggy arms”), their relationship with their body gradually gets worse and worse.

Imagine you were in a friendship and every day your friend rated you on your shoulders, arms, hips, butt, and thighs.

“Hey Alex, I want to hear about your work, but first things first: Regarding your butt, I give it a 7.5 for required elements, an 8.2 for technical merit, and 5.5 for presentation. Trust me, I’m being generous compared to the German judge. It’s nice to see you by the way.”

Yikes, right? How would it feel to be judged like that?

We’re wired for acceptance, compassion, and kindness, not continual judgement. But this is exactly what we do to ourselves when we develop a relationship with our bodies that’s based on constantly rating our “parts”. And we come to have very strained relationships with our bodies.

Have you ever felt this way? People come to me every day telling me that they do and I sure get it as I felt this way for many years. It’s everywhere. In a land where the practice of ethics is practically a vestigial tail, killer abs and a rocking ass are now values.

When you grow up in this milieu, it’s judge or be judged. Judge and be judged. It’s a constant struggle, and until you opt out, it’s a zero-sum game that’ll keep you from ever being able to be yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with admiring the beauty of people. People can be as beautiful as everything else in nature. There’s nothing wrong with admiring the beauty of another or of oneself, especially when you’re able to see true beauty.

The problem comes when one turns killer abs and a rocking ass into a toxic mimic of beauty. When looking a certain way, whether natural or not, whether life-giving or not, becomes a false god, you’ve certainly lost your way. When that’s your reality, whether it’s for 10 minutes now and again, or for 10 years, you tend to feel pretty shitty. Pretty empty. And scared. If you don’t have the look you think you need to be accepted, you constantly seek it. If you actually have the look you think you need to be accepted, you constantly defend it, as losing it would be a hard blow to take.

Many people defend their looks vigilantly with toxic exercise practices, toxic eating practices, and just as much so, with cosmetics and clothes designed to boost, brighten, define, enhance, hide, lift, shape, slim, etc.

This defense is big business. The cosmetic industry had $84 billion in revenue in the United States in 2016. For comparison’s sake, the budget for the United States Department of Education in 2016 was $68 billion. Sara Blakely, the celebrated entrepreneur who brought us Spanx is worth 1.14 billion dollars. Martin Luther King Junior (look him up if you don’t know what he brought us) was killed before his 40th birthday. American values.

How would it feel to put down your sword and never need to defend your looks again? To let your body be the wonderful creation it is?

Take great care of it, yes, of course. Take great care of yourself and others, for sure. I know of no greater value than well-being. But leave the judging to figure skating. Let your body be.

Something that really helps cultivate a better relationship with our bodies is to come to appreciate all that they are. To take a wider perspective in how we relate with our bodies. To appreciate more than our body’s shape, size, and overall look. Here are four exercises for you to try. These can be done alone or with others. They can be done in your mind, but I recommend writing down your reflections and observations as this tends to make this a bit more real for most people.

Amazing Things My Body Does (Movement)

Make a list of some of the amazing ways your body has allowed you to move around recently in ways that made your life awesome.

For example, in the last week or so (these are real examples for me):

  1. I helped my friend move lots of heavy objects out of his basement.
  2. I did a flow-yoga workout and really enjoyed it.
  3. I’ve walked to and from my co-working space (about 30 minutes each way through the heart of Portland) every day this week.

Amazing Things My Body Does (Non-Movement)

Make a list of some of the amazing things your body has allowed you to do recently (non-movement) that made your life awesome.

For example, in the last week or so (these are real examples for me):

  1. I volunteered at my local soup kitchen and had some fantastic conversations with both the patrons and the social workers there.
  2. I played “hospital”, which was more like “emergency room” with my niece and nephew and we had a great time. We laughed a ton as we all took turns being physicians and patients (patients with some rather silly ailments).
  3. I took a detour on my walk home from work and sat by the ocean and listened to the waves roll in and out.

Noticing the Beauty in People’s Bodies

As you go about your day, find the beauty in the body of every person you see. It could be the spectacular color of their eyes, the freckles on their arm, or anything you find beautiful in each person.

As you notice the beauty in other people’s bodies, you’ll start noticing the beauty in your own body more.

Noticing People’s Fullest Beauty

As you go about your day, practice witnessing a person’s fullest beauty, not just how they look, but how they move, how they speak, and their full depth. Appreciate the true beauty of people.

As you notice the fullest beauty in other people, you’ll start noticing your fullest beauty.

These exercises help you expand your relationship with your body, making looks a smaller part of the relationship. If that sounds good to you, give them a go.

Epilogue on Our Twisted “Beauty” Culture (In the Style of a Dystopian Children’s Book)

Photo 176--Twisted Beauty 1

“Are you telling me this isn’t appropriate attire for installing sewage pipes?”

Photo 177--Twisted Beauty 2

“I was going to stop by the store and get a canvas, but why don’t I just paint on your face since you’re here?”


There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.



You Gotta Eat to Procreate

I don’t know if there’s something in the water, or it’s simply the circles I’m running in right now, but biological clocks have been ticking all around me these past few weeks. It’s a wonderful thing to witness: a person deeply in tune with their all-consuming desire to use their life to create life. It’s truly beautiful.

Photo 175--Baby and Mom

I’m also running into lots of people doing something rather curious these days. They’re typically fairly vital people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, but especially so in the younger half of this mix. What they’re doing is not-eating. They call it intermittent fasting.

There are various intermittent-fasting protocols, all characterized by some form of extended not-eating. A common approach is to limit oneself to an eight-hour eating window each day. That is, the person allows themselves to eat during a certain eight hours of the day and they fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day. Others limit themselves to one meal per day, effectively fasting for 23 hours at a time. Others eat as they like on some days and fast on other days, refraining from eating, despite their hunger, for entire days, sometimes multiple days in a row.

Although the science of intermittent fasting is not without evidence of benefits (all of this evidence is found in very short-term studies mind you), there’s a very important scientific study you need to know about if you, or your potential co-parent, happens to be interested in both making a baby and intermittent fasting.

Researchers put a group of rats (rats are used in scientific studies because their behavioral, biological, and genetic characteristics are similar to those of people), both male and female, on a common intermittent-fasting protocol and took measures of the levels of key reproductive hormones in the rats (1). What did they find?

Intermittent fasting Is birth control.

In the words of the researchers:

“Significant changes in body weight, blood glucose, estrous cyclicity and serum estradiol, testosterone and LH [luteinizing hormone] level indicated the negative role of IF-DR [intermittent fasting dietary restriction] regimen on reproduction in these young animals.”

“Together these data suggest that IF-DR [intermittent fasting dietary restriction] regimen negatively influences reproduction in young animals due to its adverse effects on complete hypothalamus-hypophysial-gonadal axis and may explain underlying mechanism(s) to understand the clinical basis of nutritional infertility.”

“The current data suggests that IF-DR [intermittent fasting dietary restriction] regimen adversely affects reproduction in young adult rats by disrupting estrous cycle in female rats as well as altering serum concentration of estradiol, testosterone and LH [luteinizing hormone] in both male and female animals.”

We’ve come to a crossroads. Many of the methods our culture is putting forth in the name of “wellness” are actual preventing new life from being created; that’s how far off the mark they are.

It’s clear where this comes from. We’re a people living with tremendous insecurity and so much of that is based on our looks. So much, too much, of many people’s identity revolves around how they look. As such, we have millions and millions of men and women of mating age doing every and all biohacking protocol then can find on Instagram in the name of making their thighs slimmer or getting their abs to really show. And to make this even more twisted, our culture has come to worship extreme leanness so much that many people go for it at all costs. Far too many, sadly, equate their ability to enter into a loving relationship with another with their body-fat percentage. The irony, of course, is that this biohacking often done to make oneself more attractive to a mate is making one incapable, of, um, mating.

Nature is a fierce truth-teller.

Let’s call a spade a spade: For many people, intermittent fasting is a socially acceptable eating disorder: “I’m not starving myself, I’m intermittent fasting,” they say. If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.

And whether you’re a pig or a rat or a human, you gotta eat to procreate.

You can’t make sperm or eggs, nor can you make the hormones required for reproduction, from air and water. You won’t do very well trying to make them out of brotein shakes and princess potions designed to sculpt your shoulders or slim your hips either.

Food, glorious food, enough to satisfy your hunger, is what’s needed to maintain robust vitality.

And we’re talking about more than just reproductive ability here. If intermittent fasting can stop you from reproducing, rest assured there are other problems occurring in your body, in you, when you’re participating in extended not-eating, voluntary or not. And it’s not only intermittent-fasting protocols that get people to not not-eat. It’s dieting. Cleansing. Detoxing. These are all structured not-eating protocols. They’re all about excluding and/or restricting certain foods or all food. These starvation protocols, often very well-intentioned, but just as often very misguided and very misinformed suck the life right out of you as this study reveals. When you’re hungry and you don’t eat, whether there’s not enough food available, someone keeps food from you, or you keep food from yourself, it’s starvation. No more, no less.

I have an invitation for you to a different devastatingly logical approach to eating well that in my vast experience as a wellness coach I’ve witnessed work really well for a whole lot better than glorified starvation for a whole lot of people, as well as for myself:

  1. Eat real food.
  2. Eat when you’re hungry.
  3. Stop when you’re full.

Let that sink in for a moment and see if you can find even the glimmer of a hole in the logic of it. It makes sense.

Hunger serves a very important role in our existence. It doesn’t exist to be ignored and suppressed. How does it make sense to disregard and neglect my hunger? Should I also ignore my fatigue and not-rest and not-sleep. Should I also ignore and suppress my loneliness and non-connect? Is there value in denying my experience? If there is, I don’t see it.

But when I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, wow, it feels very powerful. I’m in harmony with myself. And, frankly, that’s one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my life so far. What would our world be like if we were all a bit more in harmony with ourselves? How does it sound to you?

Is your relationship with food a harmonious one? Or have you jumped on and off diets, cleanses, detoxes, and fasts more times than you can count? How would it feel to opt out of these zero-sum games (they really are games) and come into this simple, straightforward, absolutely liberating approach? Chew on that for a bit.

This isn’t my first rodeo of witnessing a booming fad diet. Putting my Nostradamus pants on, I’ll tell you this: Five years from now, no one will be talking about intermittent fasting.

Five years ago, everyone in diet circles, from nutritionists to bodybuilders, from physicians to that aunt everyone has who knows everything about nutrition despite riding the diet carousel for decades and having a bachelor’s degree in history, was boldly proclaiming that they have the answer. The answer to obesity, the answer to chronic-disease, the answer to all of the world’s ills, they all swore with all their hearts was to eat six small meals per day. Like the intermittent-fasting fadists, they could show you lots of scientific studies (all short-term as well) to prove their point.

If you see with clear eyes, you’ll see that some of the very people who passionately told you that eating six small meals per day was the way to go are the very same people telling you today that intermittent fasting will save your life. That’s how fadists operate. When something is trendy, nothing can convince them that it isn’t effective. As soon as it’s not trendy, they’re the first to tell you how stupid that approach was.

People who go on diets always talk about how stupid the last one they did was, unaware that it won’t be long before they’re saying that about their new crush.

Let’s pause for a moment and integrate what we’ve mined so far today. Rigid and ridiculous diets can make you infertile, and if they can make you infertile, they’re clearly disturbing the optimal function of your body, of you. Rigid and ridiculous diets always have and always will come and go as fads. In their boom cycle, they’ll always seems so smart. In their bust cycle, it’ll always be clear how stupid they are.

On that note, if you’ve had enough heavy lifting for today, class is dismissed. Really, if you walk away from this article solid in that wisdom, I feel really good about the work we’ve done together today. But, if you want to go really deep, if you want to mine a real gem, spend a few more minutes with me and we’ll get to the heart of the matter.

Control. Control is the heart of the matter.

At a fundamental level, life is hard. We all live knowing that one day we’ll die. We all live knowing that everyone we have an intimate relationship with will one day die.

That’s just the fundamental difficulty. We also live in a society with rampant abuse (including neglect, a wretched form of abuse), addiction, and apathy to name a few of our biggest ills. Most of us were raised in families and communities in which abuse-addiction-apathy was simply the norm that they tried to cover up by having someone’s mom bring orange slices to the soccer game.

The result today is a rat race of epic proportions. The tangible realities for many are empty relationships and empty jobs, seasoned with a great deal of stress and coped with via various escape vices.

It can all seem really out of hand. Trust me, I get it. And when one’s life is clearly a slow-motion train wreck in process, one seeks control. It’s natural to want to take the wheel of the ship. But when one gets there and sees the rough waters, sees what really needs to be done to courageously move into fulfilling relationships and fulfilling work, sees what really needs to be done to courageously move into harmony with themselves, many people say something like, “Starting Monday, I’m going gluten-free.” Or low-carb. Or low-fat. Or low-whatever or whatever-free.

It’s simply something to control.

It’s a lot easier to make harsh food rules for oneself than it is to rescue one’s heart from the brink of extinction. It’s a lot easer to make harsh food rules for oneself than it is to fight tooth and nail for the inner joy and peace that’s our birthright. It’s a lot easier to make harsh food rules for oneself that it is to enter the wild world of one’s real desires for one’s one life that’s ending one day at a time.

For those who’ve stayed after class, and want more from our work together today than an understanding of how diets are harmful, I have some important questions for you. I’m confident that if you answer these questions with all of your heart, you’ll never feel any pull toward an insane diet again. You’ll be free to eat well and really enjoy it. And you’ll be on your way to getting much, much more from your precious life.

  1. When that trendy new diet or cleanse or detox or cleanse is calling to you, what do you think it’s going to give you? What is it a replacement for?
  2. What do you REALLY want? Deep in your bones, what do you REALLY want? What have you ALWAYS really wanted?
  3. Can you take one, just one, courageous step today into what you have really always wanted?

Let me be real clear that I know this first-hand. I get this like few people get it. Why do you think I was swimming, cycling, and running 35 hours per week in the Colorado mountains when I was in graduate school and a graduate teaching assistant? At the time, it felt a lot easier to ride my bike in the pouring rain to get my workout in than it did to face and deal with the nagging, not-going-away realities of my life to that point which included some pretty horrible shit. It felt like having a maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max) of 80.something (crazy high!) and a body-fat percentage of 4.something (crazy low!) would solve my problems. I get extreme exercising, eating, and body manipulation. I get it well. I don’t talk about or write about anything I don’t know about deep in my core. I love science and I love digging into scientific studies, but this wellness coaching stuff, this bringing the new-paradigm in well-being to the world, isn’t academic for me. This is deeply personal.

I couldn’t solve my problems by exercising like a maniac and you can’t solve your problems with intermittent fasting or any other extreme approach to exercise or eating. A “perfect body” isn’t the answer either. You’ve got to face yourself head on and sort yourself out.

You can solve your real problems and you can have your real desires. It can be done and it’ll be one of the richest experiences you ever have in your life. It might sound daunting, but you don’t have to do it alone. In fact, you shouldn’t do it alone. There are an abundance of counselors/therapists, coaches, and others who can walk the path with you into the you you’ve always wanted to be and the life you’ve always wanted to live. Friends, true friends, are invaluable in the process too. Absolutely invaluable. A spiritual practice that nourishes you can be a tremendous support. Reach out for all the help you need. YOU REALLY CAN DO THIS AND YOU’RE SO WORTH IT.

I hope at least a few are on your way to mining a real gem today.

It turns out, that unsubscribing from the crazy diets, cleanses, detoxes, and fasts won’t only help you bring new life into the world if that’s something you want to do, but it’ll also be an important step in bringing new life, renewed life, back into you.

(1) Intermittent Fasting Dietary Restriction Regimen Negatively Influences Reproduction in Young Rats: A Study of Hypothalamo-Hypophysial-Gonadal Axis. PLOS ONE, 2013, 8(1), 1-15.

What to Eat (In Three Sentences)

I woke up at about 3:30 this morning sweating profusely having just woken from an intense dream. It was Final Jeopardy and Alex Trabek looked right at me and said, “What should I eat? Thirty seconds, ladies and gentlemen. Good luck.”

As the Jeopardy music played, I confidently wrote my answer. (This article works best if you play the music for effect.)

Going into Final Jeopardy, I’d amassed $21,500. The pesky professor from Tacoma, Washington to my left was right on my tail with $21,000 and the contestant to my right, one of my middle-school science teachers (dreams are weird like that), had amassed an impressive $19,000. It was anyone’s game.

The music stopped and Alex turned back to us.

He read Ms. Codianne’s answer aloud: “Watch your carbs. Control your portions. Cheat on Sundays.” “No, I’m sorry, that’s incorrect,” Alex said.

He turned to Professor Williamson and read her answer: “Eat 40 percent carbohydrate, 30 percent fat, and 30 percent protein. Weigh your food and keep a log of how many calories you consume.” “That’s not it either, Margaret,” Alex said politely.

Finally, Alex read my answer:

  1. Eat mostly hunter-gatherer foods.
  2. Eat some agricultural foods if you thrive on them.
  3. Eat very few, if any, industrial “foods”.

“Yes, that’s correct, Jason! Nicely done!” he proclaimed excitedly. “Jason, you’re our winner! Congratulations!”

That’s when I woke up. My heart was pounding! It was exhilarating!

This is truly the answer I’d bet all my money on to the question, “What should I eat?” My answer to the question of what to eat never changes. It doesn’t blow in the wind every two years or two weeks. My answer isn’t trending. It certainly isn’t based on a fad.

In fact, my answer is based on deep study of humans and our ways of eating for a few million years. Let’s dig in.

From about 2.5 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago, every single human lived as a hunter-gatherer (some people still do). Hunter-gatherers can also be called foragers. Very simply, foragers obtain food by finding it in their environment. Around 10,000 years ago, humans began domesticating both animals and plants for food, and from this time forward, most humans lived in societies based around farming. Around 300 years ago, humans began making things in factories, and from this time forward, including this present moment, most humans, more every day, live in societies based around industry.

The advent of agriculture around 10,000 years ago is generally referred to as the Agricultural Revolution. The advent of industry about 300 years ago is generally referred to as the Industrial Revolution. Both of these revolutions set the world on massively different trajectories. They did nothing short of change life on Earth.

And both of these revolutions dramatically changed the way we eat.

Prior to the Agricultural Revolution, humans sustained themselves on some combination of vegetables, meat (all kinds), eggs, fruit, nuts, and seeds.

With the advent of agriculture, three foods were introduced to the human way of eating for the first time ever: legumes, grains, and milk. Legume and grain plants existed prior to the Agricultural Revolution, but without farming practices, they were few and far between and not a readily available source of food for humans. Mammals have been making milk for as long as there have been mammals, but humans never dared to drink it from another animal until they domesticated animals. (Imagine walking up to a wild mama buffalo and trying to drink her milk. Your life would be over in a flash.)

With the advent of industry over the last 300 years or so, millions of new “foods” have been introduced to the human way of eating. These are the “foods” made, or processed, in factories. They’re the packaged “foods” that make up the over 45,000 “foods” for sale in most food stores these days.

From certain viewpoints, this might all be considered “progress”. But there’s one (there are many, but we’re going to focus on one in this article) very big problem that this “progress” has caused: We now have a food supply that’s completely mismatched with our genome. Understanding the time context of human existence and these pivotal revolutions drives this point home. This is where this gets juicy.

In the timeline of humanity, the 300 or so years that we’ve had access to industrial “foods” is 0.01 percent of the total time we’ve been humans. If we represent the timeline of humanity as a 24-hour clock, we’ve only had access to industrial “foods” for nine seconds.

In the timeline of humanity, the 10,000 or so years that we’ve had access to agricultural foods is 0.4 percent of the total time we’ve been humans. If we represent the timeline of humanity as a 24-hour clock, we’ve only had access to agricultural foods for six minutes.

In other words, the human genome is extremely well-adapted to hunter-gatherer foods, it’s not very well-adapted to agricultural foods (how much so is debatable), and it’s not at all adapted to industrial “foods”.

The evidence of this is all around us. Chronic disease, as well as obesity, are exponentially rising in all industrial societies. When a society “progresses” from agrarian to industrial, it always comes with chronic disease and obesity. The invention of industrial “food” came with an enormous side order of epidemic chronic disease and obesity. In no place on Earth has the former ever come without the latter.

The advent of agricultural wasn’t easy on humans either. It brought with it the first decreases in human stature and strength ever in our evolution. That’s right, people were getting bigger and stronger, bigger and stronger, bigger and stronger as foragers, but got smaller and weaker for the first time in our evolution as soon as farming began.

Not convinced that we’re not well-adapted to legumes, grains, and milk? Ask the 10 people in the closest proximity to you right now, if anyone is allergic to gluten (a component of most grains) or lactose (a component of milk)? I bet you’ll get four or five hands raised. And those are only the people who know they don’t digest grains and milk well. And legumes, well, all you need to know is: “Beans, beans, good for your heart, the more you eat, the more you fart.” I’m not sure if my mom would be proud of me or not for talking the physiology of farting, but here are the CliffsNotes: If a food makes you fart, you’re not digesting it well. And if you’re not digesting a food well, you’re not getting its nutrients. It might seem like humans have been farming “forever”, but 10,000 years is a blip in time when compared to the 2.49 million years humans existed without farming.

Now you have a straightforward, powerful guideline to evaluate the quality of a food and how well it matches your genome. When you’re thinking about something to have with your lunch and your staring at some berries, some rolls, and some Skittles, you now know you’re looking at a hunter-gatherer food, an agricultural food, and an industrial “food”, respectively. It really can be that simple.

Hunter-Gatherer Foods Agricultural Foods Industrial “Foods”
Vegetables Legumes Processed cakes, cookies, etc.
Meat (all kinds) Grains Processed crackers, chips, etc.
Eggs Grain Products Processed dips, jams, etc.
Fruit Milk Processed juice, soda, etc.
Nuts Milk Products Processed frozen dinners, microwave dinners, etc.
Seeds Other, ad nauseum

To make specific decisions about what to eat while using this guideline, I invite you to listen to your body to yourself. Do you thrive on a little more fruit or a little less fruit? A little more meat or a little less meat? Is it beneficial for you to include some legumes, grains and/or milk in your meals? Which grains? Tune in. Your body, you, have the best answers to these questions. Pay attention to your digestion. Your energy levels. You’ll digest the food you thrive on easily and it’ll leave you feeling energized. Foods that aren’t as good of a match for you will leave you feeling bloated, gassy, and lethargic. I invite you to really tune into yourself and really get to know yourself and which foods are best for you. I call this attuned eating. It positions you as the caption of the ship called you.

Photo 174--Woman Food Shopping

To make this really work for you, I invite you to work on releasing any guilt or shame that might remain as part of your relationship with food. If, as you read this article, you hear me saying that hunter-gatherer foods are “good”, agricultural foods are “bad”, and industrial “foods” are “really bad”, it’s a good sign you might be experiencing this edible complex I’m referring to. Don’t fret. I’ve been there. Most of us have been there. This is extremely common in our authoritarian-based society in which we’re raised with parents, teachers, ministers, and the government telling us what to do, usually to drive their agenda, not to foster our well-being. I invite you to start to create an autonomous, dignity-based, respect-based relationship with food, eating, and yourself. Instead of making choices within the good-bad, guilt-shame framework, I invite you to think about eating as an opportunity to take care of yourself, and in that spirit, nourish yourself. You’ll be surprised how freeing it is to make choices without the threat of a harsh taskmaster declaring you good or bad and using guilt and shame as a means of modifying your behavior. If your goal is to eat well, when you couple this important knowledge about evolutionary biology and nutrition that I’ve presented here with an accepting, compassionate, kind relationship with yourself, eating well gets relatively easy and really enjoyable. It’s been a boon in my life to release my inner harsh taskmaster. If I can do it, so can you.

May you have many wonderful nourishing meals with your close ones. It doesn’t get any better than that.


There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.


How to Use the Latest Technology to Boost Your Wellness

Start by getting into your car. Drive to the nearest dumpster and throw in your Fitbit. And throw in anything you use to count calories too.

Really, you don’t need this stuff and, frankly, these types of devices and apps could really mess you up. According to a recent study article published in the scientific journal Eating Behaviors (1):

“Individuals who reported using calorie trackers manifested higher levels of eating concern and dietary restraint, controlling for BMI [body-mass index]. Additionally, fitness tracking was uniquely associated with ED [eating disorder] symptomatology after adjusting for gender and bingeing and purging behavior within the past month. Findings highlight associations between use of calorie and fitness trackers and eating disorder symptomatology.”

For emphasis: “Findings highlight associations between use of calorie and fitness trackers and eating disorder symptomatology.”

You might find this surprising because there’s a pervasive paradigm that exists that tells us that anything that gets a person to eat less and move more is helpful. This is a faulty paradigm. (Stick with me for a few minutes; I’m going to tell you about a much better one.)

I’m not surprised that the use of movement trackers and calorie counters is associated with the development of eating disorders. Nor are many of my colleagues (physicians, other wellness coaches, and other wellness professionals) when I talk with them about the results of this study. To those of us who work closely with people on adopting great wellness habits, this is a no-brainer. We’ve seen these types of approaches fail miserably more times than we can count. We also see them cause a great deal of harm on a regular basis.

What did you think was going to happen when you rewarded people for taking steps and for not-eating? This is a simple Pavlovian effect. Each time they step, bing, they get a reward. Each time they not-eat, bing, they get a reward. It might sound pretty good to you so far, but in practice, this gets real ugly real fast for many people. There’a an important perspective you must take to really get what can go wrong here: Anyone with any insecurity (there’s a lot of that around here), could have trouble stopping. They’ll keep stepping away and not-eating away while you throw them doggie treats. And if I can take 5,000 steps, maybe I can take 10,000. Maybe 20,000. Maybe 50,000. If I can keep myself under 1,500 calories, maybe I can stay under 1,400. Maybe 1,300. Maybe I can fast one day per week. That’s a zero-calorie day. Then I’ll be doing really good.

This thinking happens. All the time.

Sure, most people using these methods don’t develop full-on eating disorders. However, millions of people live with an inordinate amount of self-oppression as they become calories-in, calories-out automatons. (If this resonates with you, hang tight. There’s a much better way to take care of yourself and that’s where we’re headed. By the way, I wouldn’t actually call the “calories-in, calories-out” approach a method of self-care; I’d call it a method of self-domination.)

“Eat less, move more” is the mantra of this often well-intentioned, but thoroughly misguided paradigm behind these devices and apps. Most people say it like this to themselves: “Eat less (you gluttonous pig), move more (you lazy bastard).” The part in parentheses isn’t usually said in words, but it’s often very much there in spirit. People often say to me, “I know what I need to do: Eat less (you gluttonous pig), move more (you lazy bastard).” I can feel their self-loathing when the say it.

I never like hearing this. Honestly, it always makes me very sad. I was a fat teenager. And when I didn’t get any support from the adults in my life, I turned to our society for the solution. Our society shouted back meanly, “Eat less (you gluttonous pig), move more (you lazy bastard)!” And since no one was offering a better solution, or any other solution at all, “eat less, move more” became my mantra.

Those were some hard times. My self-talk transformed from that of what you’d expect of an adventurous, life-loving young man to that of what you’d expect from a harsh taskmaster. I wasn’t in harmony with myself at all. I was controlling myself with a berating tone. I wouldn’t wish that kind of experience on anyone. In fact, I’d like to turn it around or prevent it for as many people as I can.

Of course, discipline is a useful trait, but it so easily slip-slides into self-domination and self-oppression for so many as studies are revealing. Another 2017 study article published in the scientific journal Eating Behaviors (2) looked at the calorie-counting feature of the My Fitness Pal (I think you need better friends) app. Here’s what the researchers found:

“We found that a substantial percentage (~75%) of participants used My Fitness Pal and that 73% of these users perceived the app as contributing to their eating disorder. Furthermore, we found that these perceptions were correlated with eating disorder symptoms. This research suggests that My Fitness Pal is widely used in an eating disorder population and is perceived as contributing to eating disorder symptoms.”

For emphasis: “This research suggests that My Fitness Pal is widely used in an eating disorder population and is perceived as contributing to eating disorder symptoms.”

Science is bringing a very important issue to the forefront. “Eat less, move more” is extremely dangerous. Besides, it’s a faulty paradigm based on entirely false premises.

First, it’s based on the premise that human nature is to eat more than one needs to eat and cause themselves great harm and therefore people need massive restraint and the tools that teach massive restraint in order to eat well.

Second, it’s based on the premise that human nature is sit around all day long and therefore people need every form of carrot and stick possible to get them off the couch and doing something for crying out loud.

People, like all other animals, have evolved to enjoy and nourish themselves with food and to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. That’s our nature. Two factors of modern life have converged to create the possibility and the reality of overeating for many people.

The first factor is fake food. Fake food, junk food, industrial food, whatever you want to call it, is 95 percent of what you find in food stores, including places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market by the way. It’s all of the lifeless, barely perishable “food” that makes up almost all of the over 45,000 “foods” sold in most food stores. Fake food is so adulterated that it never truly satisfies. There’s a reason No One Can Eat Just One. There’s a reason you can’t stop eating fake food. It isn’t providing your body, you, with what you need. When you eat fake food of any kind, your body “says” to you: “Thanks for the energy. I appreciate it. But I also need some magnesium, some zinc, some vitamin A, and could you pick up some vitamin C on your way home, honey. We’re way low.” When your body needs nutrients, it “speaks” only one language: hunger. Since fake food is extremely nutrient-sparse, and can never truly satisfy you, it will always leave you hungry. Real food, on the other hand, is extremely satisfying. I dare you to even try to eat two pounds of broiled salmon or four pears or a whole bowl of guacamole. You won’t be able to do it (unless you push hard past your body’s clear signals that it’s satisfied and had enough which I obviously don’t recommend). Your body will “tell” you in no uncertain terms that you’ve had enough. When you eat six or eight or 10 ounces of salmon or maybe some scallops, or when you eat two apples or maybe a big bowl of berries, you stop wanting them. It’s the exact opposite effect of eating LAY’S Potato Chips. Back to guacamole (a dish usually made from real food like onions, tomatoes, and garlic, along with avocados of course). You might be thinking that you could eat chips and guacamole all day long. And, alas, you have seen the light. Chips, even the organic, gluten-free ones, are fake food with very few nutrients. Fake food never satisfies. Real food (like real community, real friends, and real life partners by the way) always satisfies. Always. Fake food (and all things fake) never satisfy and always leaves us wanting more. The invention of fake food created the phenomenon of overeating.

The second factor is chronic stress. Chronic stress, most commonly stemming from relationships and work lives that don’t meet a person’s needs, alters one’s normal appetite-satiety response via “emotional”* eating. This is eating when one is bored, lonely, stressed, and/or tired, but not hungry. Chronic stress isn’t an aspect of modern life, it is modern life for far too many people. In short, chronic stress lowers one’s levels of reward chemicals (dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, etc.). That feels bad and these bad feelings are your body’s way of nudging you to meet your needs. You might need more intimacy in your friendships. You might need more meaning in your work. Both of those would boost your levels of reward chemicals and have you feeling good. But eating some cookies does the job too. Really. Food makes you feel good. And, sugary junk food makes you feel really good really fast because it rapidly increases your levels of reward chemicals. But the high only lasts a few minutes. Then you need more. So you overeat. The invention of fake food created overeating, and the expansion of chronic stress as a way of life took overeating to a whole ‘nother level.

Now let’s talk about movement. When I visit my brother Jeff’s family, this is how it typically goes down. I pull up to their house and before I can put my car in park, my niece Julia and my nephew Jack are running toward my car. I get out and pick them up and hug them and in about 60 seconds flat, we’re into our first activity: the bouncy game. That’s the one where I hold Julia and bounce her up and down on the couch. Then Jack when he shouts, “My turn!” Then Julia again, upside down this time. I sit down to rest, and Jack asks excitedly, “Want to put out some fires, Uncle Jason?” We run through the house together. He’s on Engine 34, I’m on Ladder 12, and we find fires all over the house one after the other. As soon as we get our trucks back into the firehouse (the one we made out of blocks), Jack shouts, “Fire in the kitchen!” and we’re off again. This continues nearly all day. I get small breaks for reading them a book or putting together a puzzle, but most of the day, we’re running around, wrestling, putting on a rock concert, or something like that. My point: It’s human nature to move around. It’s only the sit-down, shut-up factory-education system and other cultural factors that train us to be sedentary. Labor-saving devices have created the notion that there’s really no reason to move around and use our bodies to do something, when a machine can do it. But even this doesn’t take away most peoples innate desire not only to move around, but to enjoy moving around. What are people doing in retirement communities? People who have all the time in the world to do whatever they please? Many are playing golf, swimming, going for walks. Most people like to move around throughout the life cycle, from childhood to old age.

People don’t need to be forced to “Eat less, move more!” They don’t need to be poked and prodded. It’s harmful and it’s not even necessary.

In other words, we don’t need to “whip ourselves into shape”. Let the spirit of that phrase really wash over you for a moment. Consider the use of the word “whip”. Does this paradigm serve us? Is it even humane?

So if you’re not as lean, fit, happy, and healthy as you want to be, and if “eat less, move more” isn’t the answer, what are you to do? What are you to say to yourself?

I offer you the wellness mantra of the 21st century: “Nourishing movement, nourishing food, nourishing life!”

You leave self-domination and self-oppression at the door and you nourish yourself with movement, food, and lots more. You truly care for yourself.

Let’s get specific:

  1. Identify some types of movement that you enjoy. I know you enjoy some movement. Just like Julia and Jack, you were born to move. Strip away all the bullshit “no pain, no gain” programming you received from physical-education classes, sports, terrible gym programs, your parents, and your culture at large. Underneath it, what forms of movement do you enjoy? Still not sure? Try some new things. Go for a hike. Take a dance class. Learn to play racquetball. Walk to work. Or walk with your family after dinner. Don’t settle until your doing movement you enjoy. That’s nourishing movement. You see the clear difference, right? You’re not doing this to burn calories. You’re not doing this to prove to yourself or anyone else that you can suffer. You’re doing this to nourish yourself with movement. This is no-pain, all-gain exercise.
  2. Start eating lots of real food. Shop the perimeter of the food store. Or do like I do and shop at the farmers’ market where there isn’t any fake food to be found. Turn your kitchen into a farm-to-table restaurant. Make dishes you find delicious. Savor them with your close ones. That’s nourishing food! The difference is clear here too, right? You’re not doing this to limit your caloric intake. You’re not doing this to be “on” some rigid diet/cleanse/detox/fast. You’re doing this to nourish yourself with food. This is dogma-free, enjoyment-full eating.
  3. Take care of you. Yes, you. Get the sleep you need. Get the rest you need. These next two parts are very simple, hardly ever easy, but so worth it and key to your well-being. First, go for, and create what you really want in your relationships. Second, go for, and create what you really want in your work life. How fulfilling your relationships and work life directly impacts your well-being in massive ways. You’re so much more than a calories-in, calories-out automaton; you’re an amazing person. Seriously, you rock, and no one deserves to have their needs met more than you do. Meeting all of your needs—all of your needs—is what wellness is about. Embracing your humanity and meeting your personal needs for meditation, solitude, time in nature, creating art, taking in art, hobbies, volunteering, relaxation techniques, and spirituality all play a role in you being your best, in you thriving. That’s nourishing life!

Doesn’t that sound a whole lot better?

This is self-care. This is doing things for yourself, not to yourself.

I invite you to reflect on this new paradigm and consider how it feels to you.

I know for some of you, this will definitely resonate. Others will still be tempted by the “eat less, move more” paradigm, it’s devices and apps, it’s pervasive advertising. I know the person in the Fitbit add has a great ass and a great smile to boot. They look so healthy and so happy. I get it. Do you remember the Marlboro man?

Photo 173--The Marlboro Man

People in cigarette ads always look life their lives rock too. Can you say emphysema, lung cancer, and premature death? Ads can be (often are) deceiving. Don’t be fooled by the Fitbit ads. Listen to the science. Twenty years from now, it’ll be mainstream knowledge that these devices, apps, and approaches are terribly damaging. People doing it today are just like the physicians who used to smoke in their offices. We know better now. (The scientific studies I’ve described and cited in this article make it perfectly clear.) I’m saving you 20 years on this one by letting you know now. Stay on the cutting edge with me. Be free. Live well. Enjoy life. Thrive.

Author’s Note: I’m not attacking the businesses or products mentioned in this article. I have no interest in attacking people, businesses, industries, products, or services. I have great interest in dismantling harmful ideas and paradigms and introducing life-giving ideas and paradigms and presenting them as an option for people.

Author’s Note: Children are being harmed by the antiquated, failing paradigm of “eat less, move more” too. Check out this important article put out recently by the National Eating Disorders Association.

*I put “emotional” in quotes in when using the term “emotional” eating because there’s no separation between our “physical”, “emotional”, and “mental” existence and our “physical”, “mental”, and “emotional” processes and “emotional” eating clearly has overlapping emotional, physical, and mental components.

1) Calorie Counting and Fitness Tracking Technology: Associations with Eating Disorder Symptomatology. Eating Behaviors, 2017, 26, 89-92.
2) My Fitness Pal Calorie Tracker Usage in the Eating Disorders. Eating Behaviors, 2017, 27, 14-16.


There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.