The Ultimate Way to Improve Your Digestion

Friday dinners in college were absolutely spectacular. We’d get to the dining hall about 5:30 and often be there until after 8. Petch and Matty, Carter, Justin, Buzzy, Stevens, MacDaddy, Fran, Quail, Burke, et al. It was incredible to eat slowly and linger over conversation and banter. Simply being together and sharing a meal was the real prize.

Fast-forward 20 years to last week. Or the week before. Or the week before that because this is a regular occurrence for me these days. We gather at my place or a friend’s place. Everyone brings something to make. Someone puts on Pandora or Spotify and we’re all cooking away. Last week, I was making fish tacos. My one friend was making dessert from the strawberries we picked earlier in the day. My other friend was making a spicy rice dish. We all shucked some oysters when we got hungry. We lingered for hours and talked about everything going on for us. I treasure this quality time while sharing a meal.

I live for lingering dinners like this. There’s something so life-giving about savoring a meal with my close ones. It doesn’t get any better than that.

As an exercise physiologist and nutritionist, there’s something fascinating about these kinds of lingering dinners with others that’s a bit more scientific than my sheer love of them: digestion.

Savoring a meal with your close ones is the absolute best way to improve your digestion. More so than any factor related to nutrients.

Savoring a meal with your close ones isn’t only life-giving in an emotional sense, but also physiologically. Doing so actually gives you more life from the food you eat than any other way of eating.

To understand how this works, let’s take a dive into the human autonomic nervous system and two if its three branches: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

Your sympathetic nervous system is activated anytime you’re expending energy or stressed. This is your fight, flee, or freeze system. The more stressed you are, the more it’s activated.

Your parasympathetic nervous system is activated anytime you’re storing up energy or relaxed. This is your digest, absorb, assimilate, and eliminate system. The more relaxed you are, the more it’s activated.

When you’re in a stressed state, and your sympathetic nervous system is activated, most of your body’s resources, of your resources, are directed to your muscles. You’re preparing to fight, flee, or freeze.

When you’re in a relaxed state, and your parasympathetic nervous system is activated, a great deal of your body’s resources, of your resources, are directed to your stomach, your intestines, and your other digestive organs. Essentially, it’s all hands on deck for digestion.

These two systems work in opposition of one another. That is, you can’t have them both running at the same time. It’s either or.

With a basic understanding of our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in place, let’s now consider a powerful question:

Of all possible experiences we can have as people, what most powerfully brings us into a sympathetic state and what most powerfully brings us into a parasympathetic state?

As you think of your answer, consider our evolution as humans. Consider our classification as mammals. Consider what makes you feel your best.

Here’s the deal. When we’re with our tribe, our peeps, our friends, our family, it brings us into a parasympathetic state. When we’re by ourselves, it brings us into a sympathetic state. We’re social animals and being alone, including eating alone, isn’t something we’ve done very often in our 2.5 million years as humans and many more millions of years as pre-human mammals.

This is why I loved lingering dinners with my friends during college so much and why I love lingering dinners with my close ones these days. When I’m doing so, I’m in resonance with some of my deepest, most primal needs.

In many circles, discussions of eating well have sunk to lifeless discussions of nutrients only. To confuse getting enough vitamin B12 and magnesium with eating well is a grave error in whole-hearted explorations of wellness. Of course, nutrition is important and nutrients are essential, but eating well is about savoring delicious real food with our close ones. And, because the systems of nature are so sublime, when we do so, we actually get more vitamin B12 and magnesium from our food and into our bodies, into us.

Remember, your parasympathetic nervous system is your digest, absorb, assimilate, and eliminate system. In the process of digestion, you break food down into nutrients. In the process of absorption, you move nutrients from your small intestine into your bloodstream for distribution throughout your body. In the process of assimilation, you make new cells, tissue, and organs from these nutrients. In the process of elimination, you remove waste products from your body.

These glorious processes are, literally, what keep you alive and well for seven, eight, nine, or 10 decades. These glorious processes are how your body literally maintains its structure over time. You literally are the food you eat.

Here’s the pivotal nuance. You must be in a parasympathetic state for your body to digest food, absorb nutrients, and make new cells, tissue, and organs. That is, your body makes new cells, tissues, and organs only when you’re relaxed. Eating in a stressed state inhibits these life-giving processes.

The ultimate way to improve digestion is to bring back family dinners. Or friends dinners. Or dinners with whomever you’re close to. Often. All the time.

Photo 183--Two People Sharing a Meal

And resist the temptation to eat while driving, watching television, using your phone, or even reading a book. These are all stressful conditions in which to eat. They all divert resources from your digestive organs to other parts of your body. Let’s consider watching television. When you watch a person get shot in a cop show, your body reacts as if you were actually witnessing a person being shot. When you watch two people argue on the “news”, your body reacts as if you were actually witnessing two people arguing. This isn’t relaxing stuff, of course. In fact, it can be quite stressful. This means impaired digestion and the gradual breakdown of your body. Without strong digestion, absorption, assimilation, and elimination—no matter how high-quality the foods you’re eating are—you literally fall apart.

You might be wondering, “When I have dinner with my family, it’s chaos,” or “When I have dinner with my family, it always goes off the rails into a horrible conversation about politics.” These are valid points worthy of our consideration. Eating with your close ones only improves your digestion if your close ones are your close ones in reality, not in name only. That is, we must be in intimate, harmonious relationships with people to reap the benefits of those relationships, both from the perspective of digestion, and from the larger perspective as well, of course. Realizing that your meals are hardly a joyful, peaceful sharing of food and good times with others can be a great signal that it’s time to do some work to improve your relationships. Those hard conversations are always worth it. Taking those risks are always worth it. When we face what’s really going on with courage, it’s always a win.

In our culture of quick fixes, many people will offer you a pill to improve your digestion. I’ll give you a much more life-giving offer:

To improve your digestion, you must actively cultivate intimate, harmonious relationships and you must make it a priority to eat meals with your close ones as often as possible. We’re made to enjoy meals with our peeps. Let’s make family dinners important again!

A lifetime of lingering meals with people I truly love and who truly love me sounds damn good to me. How does it sound to you?


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



Antibiotics and Antidepressants and Painkillers! Oh, My!

We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Or any society resembling a thriving one. Indeed, most people are sick and pop pills to ease their burdens. According to a study article published in the prestigious Mayo Clinic Proceedings (1), people in the United States pop a lot of pills to ease a lot of burdens:

  1. 68.1 percent of people in the United States are on at least one prescription medication in a given year. (1)
  2. 51.6 percent of people in the United States are on at least two prescription medications in a given year. (1)
  3. 21.2 percent of people in the United states are on at least five prescription medications in a given year. (1)

Photo 182--Drugs

If “universal healthcare” means everyone is on pharmaceutical drugs, we’re well on our way. We’re about growth here in the United States. Growth of our economy, growth of our military, growth of our empire, growth of our televisions, and now, yes, growth of our reliance on medication:

“Prescription drug use has increased steadily in the United States for the past decade.” (1)

“This increased use resulted in increased spending on prescription drugs, which reached $250 billion in 2009, and accounted for 12% of total personal health care expenditures.” (1)

“Drug-related spending is expected to continue to grow in the coming years.” (1)

As a country, why do we need so much medication? As a country, why are we so sick in this great United States?

This is the land of the free (except for the at least five million slaves who built this country) and the home of Segways and subsidized genetically modified corn, that’s why.

Wellness isn’t a priority. Wellness isn’t even on the map.

Our ascent toward universal pharmaceutical-drug use mirrors our ascent toward universal lifestyle disease (a.k.a. non-communicable disease).

That’s what these are drugs are for. They’re for non-communicable diseases. You don’t catch type-2 diabetes. You don’t catch cardiovascular disease. You don’t catch dementia. You don’t catch osteoporosis. You don’t catch depression. These are lifestyle diseases. They’re the direct result of unmet needs.

Unmet needs. This is an incredible way to look at this problem. We have needs. We have a need for nourishing movement. We have a need for nourishing food. We have a need for sleep. We have a need for rest. We have a need for fulfilling relationships. We have a need for fulfilling work. When we meet these and our other needs, we thrive. When we don’t meet these needs, we get sick.

Our culture isn’t set up at all to provide for our needs for nourishing movement, nourishing food, or much of anything nourishing at all. We have a culture entirely set up for industry. People here are trained from birth to be cogs in an industrial machine. We’re not about wellness; we’re about production at all costs, including human costs (which is also why this country was built by slaves, by the way). The result is epidemic sickness.

When people get sick, we give them pills. We’ve got pills for everything. These aren’t potent life-giving pills. They don’t fill you with life; they just keep you from keeling over so you can keep working in the largest factory ever built that spans from coast to coast. The United States is a sweat shop, in ever-so-cunning disguise.

If you’re popping pills, it means you’re so far out of balance that you’d be dead, or at least not functioning very well, without chemical intervention, without these pills to prop you up. It means you’re far from thriving. That’s sad. We’re all born with the brilliant capacity to shine brightly, not to suffer, not to get by.

And these pills all have “side effects”. Every single one of them has a label detailing their “side effects”. These include some quite nasty “effects” like fatigue, weight gain, diarrhea, nausea, anaphylactic reaction, and, of course, death. These aren’t “effects”; these are problems.

Of course, pharmaceutical drugs have their place. But doesn’t it make sense to decrease our reliance by boosting our wellness? To me it does.

To boost our wellness, we must create a culture of wellness. We must come to value wellness as much as, if not more than, productivity. We should value productivity, just not at all costs, including human costs. I know that might sound sacnationalist (like sacreligous, but for countries) to many, but if we’re not well, what good is the rest of what we are? That’s just common sense.

The fallout of these misguided values is all around us. Concomitant with our rampant pharmaceutical-drug use, we have a $38 billion self-storage industry with eyesore facilities on every corner. We have lots of stuff. And lots of sickness. Is that a coincidence?

Besides, what good is all this stuff if we’re all so sick? What good is having cool stuff if everyone is anxious and depressed and living with the imminent threat of cancer and dementia? What good is it?

What are we to do about this mess?

We could rail out against the drug makers. But that won’t change a thing; they’re job is to sell drugs, not make you well. We could wait for the government to create wellness in our culture. Don’t hold your breath; people in government are there for their power, not your wellness.

The only thing to do is to create a culture of wellness ourselves! A culture that meets our needs!

It starts and ends with each of us. As each of us lives better, our culture will become a culture of wellness. It’s the only way.

Here are a several of the many possible ways for each of us to do just that this week:

  1. Walk somewhere. Anywhere. Walk to work. Walk to church. Walk to school with your kid. Take a stroll after dinner.
  2. Shop at a local farmers’ market or farm. Locally sourced food is the freshest and therefore the tastiest and most nourishing. It also uses less energy and creates less pollution since the food doesn’t have to be transported very far, if at all.
  3. Have a great dinner with your close ones. Think Thanksgiving, but for no reason (except the reason of eating great food and being with people you love spending time with which actually is a great reason!). Invite your favorite people. Make it a potluck so it’s easy breezy on everyone. Sit, eat, talk, laugh, listen to music if you like, enjoy yourself.
  4. Set yourself up for a great night’s sleep every night. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Allow yourself the sleep you need.
  5. Do something very restful. Linger in a bath for as long as you like. Lay in a hammock on a beautiful day.
  6. Release toxic shame. Don’t do any of these things to be “good” or to avoid being “bad”. Going for walk and eating vegetables aren’t penance. Take care of yourself because it feels good to feel good.

Imagine a United States where people value their lives for more than how much shit they can get done, how much money they can make, and how much stuff they can own. Imagine what that would do for our society.

Imagine a United States where people live with less toxic shame. Imagine a United states where people walk around, eat real food in lingering meals with their close ones, get great sleep, and savor some rest on a regular basis. Imagine what that would do for our society.

It’s the only way we’ll ever reverse our trend toward voluntary extinction.

The answers to wellness won’t be found in a biochemistry lab and they won’t be found on the Senate floor.

We already know what to do. It’s simply up to us to do it. It’s 100 percent up to us to create a culture of wellness and a society worth being a part of. We have it in us. I know we can do it.

We can do it. Instead of romanticizing how the Spanish take siestas, the Italians regularly enjoy big family gatherings around delicious food, and the Swiss walk and bicycle everywhere; and simultaneously complaining about how we’re so busy here with no time to take care of ourselves and enjoy our lives; let’s make our culture a thriving one. I’ve been at it for years. Who wants to join me?

(1) Age and Sex Patterns of Drug Prescribing in a Defined American Population. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2013, 88(7), 697-707.


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



Narcissistic Masturbation: Don’t Take a Wrong Turn in the City of Self-Love

The story I’m about to tell you really happened! You can’t make this stuff up!

I recently gave a talk on content marketing to a group of entrepreneurs. Several people came to talk with me afterward, but the conversation I had with one particular man is one I’ll remember for the rest of my life. During my talk, I read one of my articles aloud as an example of engaging content. In the article, I mentioned that self-love is the foundation of wellness. When I read that part, no one reacted in any significant way, at least not that I noticed. But it really struck a chord with that particular man. “I really want to talk with you about something,” he said. I assumed he had some content-marketing questions as did most everyone else, but that’s not what he wanted to talk about; he wanted to talk about self-love.

“Do you know what comes up when you Google ‘self-love’?” he asked me. I gave him a do-tell look. “Masturbation,” he replied with all of the implied shame that’s common in some corners of our society. I nodded, indicating that I heard him, and let him continue. “And in my spiritual community, we consider it selfish to take care of ourselves. We believe we should take care of others. What you described in your article, self-love, meeting your needs, it seems really narcissistic.”

This was a very though-provoking experience for me: I said “self-love” and he heard “narcissistic masturbation”. I didn’t judge this man’s comment, but rather realized immediately the possible ambiguity of my language. Apparently, something got lost in translation.

I’m going to challenge myself enormously today to create a working model of self-love in order to create greater clarity around what exactly it means to love yourself. This way you’ll be less likely to take a wrong turn in the city of Self-Love and up on Narcissistic Masturbation Street.

This is no small challenge. Love is difficult to understand and define. Love, true love, is also very rare these days so very few of us have a lot of examples to build our models from. Yet, the presence of true love will turn anyone’s life into heaven and the absence of true love will turn anyone’s life into hell. So getting a grasp, even an initial foothold, on what love really is, and what self-love really is, has the power to set us free. Because self-love is certainly the foundation of wellness.

I accept this challenge and I invite you to come along with me for this exploration. First, we’re going to look at both the passive and active components of true love in general. With a model for true love in place, we’ll then look at how we can love ourselves. Finally, we’ll tie it together and come to an understanding of how self-love and love in general can be perfectly balanced such that self-love is neither narcissistic nor masturburtory, but, in fact, quite life-giving. This is going to be big fun!

Passive and Active Love

I love my nephew Ben’s playful nature. When I spent some time with him a few weeks ago, at one point, he was putting on different hats, putting on different masks, changing “costumes” every few minutes and laughing it up the whole time along with my other nephew and my nieces. He’s got this amazing full-of-life smile too. These are a few of the many things I love about Ben. I love Ben.

When Ben was a bit younger and we’d go for a walk, I’d hold his hand when we’d cross a street. When he was learning to ride a bike, I’d walk beside him to make sure he didn’t fall. When he had questions for me, I’d answer them honestly. He doesn’t need me to hold his hand crossing the street anymore and he rides a bike just fine without me, but he still has questions and I still answer them honestly. And I ask him a lot of questions about him. I want to know what he’s experiencing and how he’s feeling. When he opens up to me, I listen with my full attention. These are a few of the many ways I care for Ben. These are a few of the ways I love Ben.

My love for Ben is both passive and active.

My passive love for Ben is the experience I have of being deeply satisfied by his existence. Passive love just exists. I don’t have to take any action or make any effort to experience it. It just is.

My active love of Ben is each conscious choice and conscious action I take to care for Ben. This is a great responsibility and requires significant action and effort on my part.

Passive Love Is Out of Your Control

Let this statement wash over you:

You can’t make yourself love someone or something that you don’t love and you can’t make yourself not love someone or something that you do love.

Try this. Cue up one of your favorite songs of all time and play it. What happens? You immediately feel more. You feel more alive. You might want to dance or run. You might want to reach out to someone. You might cry. Whatever you feel, you feel some version of more alive than you did before you listened to the song.

This is passive love. You just love that song. It just resonates with you. It just does.

Now go find a kind of music you can’t stand and play it. What happens? It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard, right? Just not a good experience. Keep playing it and try to love it. Try really hard to love it. Try as you might, you’re not going to love it. You might find some elements you can appreciate a bit. You might be able to gain some understanding into how others might want to listen to it. In other words, you might be able to tolerate it. But that sure ain’t love.

No go back to the song you love and play it again. Try to not love it. You might be able to find some elements to knock down a bit if you really try, but it won’t feel natural to do so and it won’t take your love away. You might end up listening to the song a few times. Have you ever listened to a song over and over and over again because you love it so much?

That’s passive love. You just love that song. You just do. You can’t help it.

Passive love is out of your control. You can have two doctorate degrees. You can be a master of self-awareness. You can be a world traveler. But you’ll never be smart enough, self-aware enough, or worldly enough to tame the wild beast called love (passive love).

That’s why it’s called falling in love. You can read all the relationship books in the world about “stepping into love” and “conscious connection”, but when you meet someone or get to know someone that you love, it’s over. You’re drawn to them. Nothing is going to stop you. The same goes for songs, cities, activities; you name it. You love what you love. Don’t even try to stop yourself.

And don’t try to make yourself love someone or something either. It’s tempting. You’ve been taught that you can do anything you want if you want it bad enough and work hard at it. Action and effort work well in educating oneself, in building a business, and things like that. But not with love (passive love). You can’t make yourself love someone or something. You either do or you don’t.

If you try to make yourself love someone or something that you don’t love or if you try to stop yourself from loving someone or something that you do love, you’re not being true to yourself. If you persist, you’ll end up contorting yourself until you’re no longer recognizable to anyone else or to yourself. You’ll cease to be you.

Active Love Is a Verb

Active love is a verb. It’s an action word. To love (active love) someone/something means to care for them/it, to tend to them/it. The tending, of course, varies greatly depending on the nature of the relationship. You tend to your children, clients, friends, life partner, vegetable garden, yoga practice, and Earth in very different ways. But in every case, loving (active love) someone/something is consciously, actively caring for them/it. It’s doing things for their benefit. It’s wanting them to be well and doing everything in your power, as is appropriate to the relationship, to ensure their well-being. It’s giving them/it your all. It’s giving them/it everything you have.

You can’t simply be drawn to someone/something. You have to tend to them/it and to your relationship with them/it. In other words, active love is a practice. Active love is a commitment.

Active love isn’t a spectator sport. Active love is active. You don’t experience active love, you do active love.

Active love isn’t for the meek or the lazy. Active love gets messy and requires a lot from us.

Active love is for the bold and passionate. Active love gets really juicy and it’s where many of life’s riches are found.

Making Active Love Tangible

What does it mean to tend to someone? Good questions. I make my efforts of active love tangible for myself by doing three things for people:

  1. I accept them.
  2. I have compassion for them.
  3. I’m kind to them.

Acceptance, compassion, and kindness give us a framework for how to love (active love) someone.

I continually ask myself: “What choice do I make that offers this person my full acceptance, compassion, and kindness?” Then I act from that state. I do what is accepting, compassionate, and kind. That’s how I do active love.

Sometimes understanding what something isn’t helps us understand what something is. The opposites of being accepting, compassionate, and kind are being judgmental, indifferent, and mean. It’s very powerful to reflect on how often we’re being accepting/judgmental, compassionate/indifferent, and kind/mean and acting from those states. Doing so enables us to make better choices and to love better.

True Love

To experience true love, we must fully allow love to flow in our lives (passive love) and we must consciously, actively care for others (active love).

Passive love is a force of nature and must be completely left alone. Active love must be stewarded continuously. For passive love, you do nothing at all. For active love, you give everything you have. It’s a sublime paradox that allows the mysterious aspect of love to live and breathe so we can be wowed by in over and over and also hands us the ultimate responsibility to be the person who cares for certain specific people in various ways during our sacred lives.

Making It About You

With a working model for love, we can now explore what self-love is. Very simply, self-love involves both passive and active love experienced in relationship with yourself. Let’s dig in.

True Self-Love: Passive Self-Love

A few days ago, I had a text exchange with three peeps that was absolutely hilarious. I have a quick wit and have for as long as I can remember and I experienced this a great deal of it during this exchange. I love that about myself. I love myself. This morning, writing a different article, two amazing ideas came to me for subtitles. My mind has this incredible way with words and concepts and sometimes I’m truly blown away with the stuff I come up with. I love that about myself. I love myself.

Just like I am with Ben, I’m deeply satisfied by my existence. That’s passive self-love. We all have gifts, traits, quirks. They vary and range tremendously, of course. And each one of us is absolutely wonder-full. Allowing ourselves to be and noticing the wonder that’s us, like we notice it in others, like we notice it in nature, is all it takes for passive self-love.

The good news is this is really easy to do once you’ve released one big piece of societal programming. The bad news is that this requires you to release a piece of societal programming you’ve probably been relying on heavily your whole life: self-esteem. That’s right—you have to let go of your self-esteem.

Self-esteem is loving yourself because you’re tall, you’re a good singer, you have great legs, or you’re good at basketball. The problem with this is that it puts you right smack dab in the middle of a lifelong game of compare-yourself-with-others. Loving yourself because you’re good at basketball means constantly going through life comparing your basketball ability with others. When you deem yourself better than others, you love yourself. When you deem others better than you, you don’t love yourself. And you’ll never be good enough over the long-term. There’s only one LeBron James, and if he lives a long life, he’s going to live the majority of it not being the best basketball player in the world. For his sake, I hope he loves himself for something more than his basketball ability.

I love my quick wit. But I’m not trying to win the Quick-Wit Olympics. I’m not comparing myself with others. When I learned to love who I was, independent of how I compared with others, my life opened up stratospherically.

I invite you to opt out of the self-esteem game and instead start noticing yourself. When you start noticing yourself, you’ll start a process of rediscovering yourself and you’ll fall back in love with yourself. You won’t be able to help it. Because you simply are wonder-full. The wonder is there. It always has been. You only have to notice it. Like I felt when I drove across the country and, in the plains of eastern Wyoming, came face to face with the Rocky Mountains for the first time, the wonder of you will blow you away if you allow it to. The wonder of you is no less majestic than the Rocky Mountains.

True Self-Love: Active Self-Love

About a week ago, I had this massive desire to do something really fun on the summer solstice. I really wanted to do something with some friends and I really wanted to do something outdoors. So just like I might help Ben arrange a game with others when has a desire to connect, I planned a beach picnic.

I help Ben meet his needs. I help myself meet my needs. It’s the same thing. I do this with all of my needs like my needs for nourishing movement, nourishing food, sleep, rest, etc. Consciously, actively meeting our needs is the active love of self-love. Every time I ask for something I need in one of my relationships, it’s an act of self-love. Every time I take a step to make my work life even better, it’s an act of self-love. Every time I eat something nourishing when I’m hungry, it’s an active of self-love. Every time I take a break and get the rest I need, it’s an act of self-love. Just like I tend to Ben, I tend to myself.

Active self-love is the continual tending to myself with acceptance, compassion, and kindness that ensures my well-being. It’s a great responsibility and a great honor. No one else can do these things for me. I alone have the privilege of ensuring my well-being in these ways. And, of course, you have this privilege too.

True Self-Love: Two Guidelines

Mastering both passive and active self-love can be as easy as loving ourselves the way we love other people. In any given moment, the questions below can be very helpful in creating guidelines for ourselves.

  1. If one of my friends was in the situation I was in right now, what would I do for them.

For example, if a friend was staying at your home for the weekend and they mentioned they were getting hungry, you’d probably do something to help them have a meal or snack. It sounds simple, but many, many people will go out of their way to feed their friends, but will go all day without eating. When we treat ourselves the way we treat our friends, we’re generally on track with self-love.

  1. Can I treat myself right now like I’d treat a child in my care?

This brings much needed tenderness to your self-love relationship. Of course, you’re not a child anymore, and, as such, your needs are very different than a child’s. But just because your all grown up, doesn’t mean you have to treat yourself without tenderness. Your life is as valuable, precious, as sacred, as anyone else’s. Reflecting on how you care for a child in your care and bringing some of that gravitas into your relationship with yourself can be a boon to your self-love.

Being in Harmony with Yourself

I think the man at my talk got tripped up and took us down Narcissistic Masturbation Street because our society presents a veritable array of toxic mimics of love, and subsequently self-love.

True love isn’t owning someone. True love isn’t using someone. True love isn’t having someone in your life for what you can coerce from them, be it money, status, sex, praise, etc. In our commodity-focused culture, people have, very unfortunately, been cast into the role of commodities as well. People aren’t resources. People aren’t utilities. People are people.

Idolizing someone isn’t true love. Putting someone on a pedestal isn’t the same thing as appreciating someone’s humanity.

Praising someone isn’t true love. Telling someone that they’re better than others (that’s what praise really is) isn’t the same thing as caring for someone. In fact, putting yourself on a pedestal and praising yourself is the surest path to following in the path of Narcissus himself.

A better way to think about self-love is that it’s about being in harmony with yourself.

There’s an absolutely incredible way to gradually come into greater and greater harmony with yourself. It’s spend quality time with yourself. I mean to really be there with yourself. You can do this anytime, anywhere. You can do it right now.

Our society does a great job of distracting us from ourselves. “I’m a shiny watch, look at me, come by me.” “I’m two talking heads on your television arguing about the best way to end the almost 20-year war in Afghanistan, look at me, come get angry with me.” “I’m a book on how to organize your time better, look at me, come read me.” These distractions are everywhere. They’re insidious. And they all threaten to take us from ourselves in the present moment.

The first step you can take to come into harmony with yourself is to actually be with yourself. Let other things go and really be with yourself. To do so, you even have to get out of your own mind. It can be very hard to get out of your mind because from almost the moment you were born, and certainly from the moment they sent you to school, society has been doing everything they can to put you in your mind (really to put their mind into yours).

Your mind is you, your mind is a vital part of you, but it’s not the whole you. Your heart is also you. Your body is also you. And your heart and body are incredible gateways for beginning the journey back into harmony with yourself. When you can get into your body and into your heart, then, and only then, are you starting to get in touch with yourself.

What emotions are you experiencing right now? Fear? Shame? Anger? Sadness? Peace? Joy? In every given moment, we’re experiencing emotions.

What sensations and instincts are you experiencing right now? Are you cold? Hot? Are you hungry? Full? Are you energized? Tired. In every given moment, we’re experiencing sensations and instincts.

Feeling sad, feeling peaceful, feeling hungry, feeling energized—that’s YOU. You might define yourself as a teacher and mother from Minneapolis who likes folk music, but in this moment, what you’re actually experiencing is YOU. Those labels are the plane ticket, they’re not the adventurous trip. What you’re experiencing right now is YOU. The blood, sweat, and tears—the LIFE—that’s YOU.

Being in harmony with yourself, loving yourself, is simply about being really in tune with YOU and, in the present moment, meeting your needs. Every time you lovingly respond to an in-the-moment need, you’re coming more into harmony with yourself. This is self-love.

Photo 181--Sunrise

There’s No Neutral Gear in the Transmission of You

Life and people, including you and I, are dynamic. We always have needs. From the moment we’re born to the moment we die, we have needs. In this sense, we’re “high maintenance”. You don’t get a job with the right salary and benefits and a spouse with just the right specs and call it done. You’re never done. You never arrive. You always have needs.

In any given day, in any given hour, in any given moment, you’re either in harmony with yourself and meeting your needs or out of harmony with yourself and not meeting your needs. There is no neutral. You can’t coast. You can’t ignore yourself. You can, but this is neglect. Self-neglect. Neglect isn’t nothing. Neglect is considered by many counselors/therapists to be the most harmful form of abuse. Self-neglect is self-abuse.

“The alternative to self-love, in other words, is self-destruction. Because you won’t take the risk of loving yourself properly, you will be compelled instead to destroy yourself.”
—Alan Watts

The Perfect Balance

It’s possible for all of this self-love to, in fact, turn into an act of masturbation, but there’s an easy way to ensure that it doesn’t. Life, like sex, is best enjoyed in connection with others. I use a straightforward, albeit sometimes challenging, guideline to keep me loving well, loving truly, and I offer it to you for your consideration:

In any given moment, do the most loving thing for everyone involved.

I use this guideline to help me make day-by-day, moment-by-moment decisions on how to love thoroughly well. This guideline places two very life-giving demands on me:

  1. It demands me to consider everyone affected by my actions. From a person that might be in my immediate presence, to a person far away both geographically and in reference to the situation at hand. As such, it excellently buffers any tendency I might have toward selfishness, to making my life all about me.
  2. It demands me to consider myself, because, of course, I’m one of the “everyone” involved. This prevents me from being a martyr, something our society loves for us to do. This is important because you and I are worthy of well-being as much as anyone else and it’s good to remind ourselves of this.

This perfect balance was echoed thousands of years ago in the Jewish text the Pirkei Avot:

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
Pirkei Avot, 1:14

When we let the sentiment of these questions sink deeply into us, we come to understand that we can love ourselves and love others. In fact, we must love ourselves in order to love others. To drive this point home, let me hand the mic to Maya Angelou:

“I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”
—Maya Angelou


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



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 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 like vegan donuts. 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 foods like cauliflower and Twinkies, and between foods like kale and Cheetos 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.