A Powerful Wellness Lesson from Our Past

I had a spectacular conversation with a friend recently. It went roughly like this:

Me: “What’s up Hip-Hop? How are things on the Waterfront?”

Hip-Hop: “Great, man. I love it here. I love the smells of the ocean, the breezes, the people. It reminds of the time I spent in Greece. How are you? What’s new?”

Me: “Well, I have lots of exciting stuff going on. But, first, I really want to ask you about the study published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association recently. The one on drugs. Have you read it? (1)”

Hip-Hop: “Oh, the trends in heroin use?”

Me: “No, prescription drugs.”

Hip-Hop: “No, I haven’t seen that one yet. Do tell.”

Me: “This is big, Hip-Hop! They studied prescription drug use here in the United States. In 2000, 51 percent of adults in the United States were on at least one medication. In 2012, it’s up to 59 percent, an eight percent increase in those 12 years!” (1)

Hip-Hop: “Yikes! Something isn’t right; you people aren’t very well.”

Me: “What do you mean ‘you people’? You’re one of us now.”

Hip-Hop: “You know I’m just visiting, brother. I’m content to stay in the spirit world for a while longer and keeping checking out Earth to see what’s going on these days.”

Me: “But you’re still planning to come back, right? You can’t remain a ghost forever.”

Night Walk Man Alleyway Scary Alone Ghost

Hip-Hop: “Yes, like I told you last week, I’m in the process of filling out my reincarnation application, but it’s going to take me a little longer, then I still have to see if I get accepted.”

Me: “Hip-Hop, we need people like you. I’m sure you’re going to get in.”

Hip-Hop: “Thanks for vote of confidence, J. I’m certainly doing my very best.”

Me: “We could use you, and, personally, you know I’d love to spend some time with you in your flesh, so to speak.”

Hip-Hop: “I know. I appreciate your friendship too.”

Me: “So what do you make of this dramatic rise of drug use we’re experiencing? Use of antihypertensives increased from 20 to 27 percent, use of antihyperlipidemics increased from seven to 17 percent (more than double), and use of and antidepressants increased from seven to 13 percent (almost double) in that time.” (1)

Hip-Hop: “What do I make of it? Your hearts are broken for one; the numbers don’t lie. And the ways you’re living aren’t in harmony with nature, so you’re creating all this disease. It’s obvious: You need to take better care of yourselves and one another.”

Me: Yeah. “For sure. That’s what I’m working on, you know. It’s my life’s work.”

Hip-Hop: “Stick with it, brother. Keep facilitating the self-care movement. Help people thrive. You know that’s how it works. People who thrive don’t get sick. Those drugs have their place, of course. It’s how heavily you all are relying on them that’s scary. It’s a canary in a coal mine. Something isn’t right if the rate of drug use is increasing that fast. People really aren’t meeting their needs.”

Me: “It gets worse. One of the other startling results from the study was the increase in polypharmacy.”

Hip-Hop: “That’s a thing?”

Me: “Yeah, it was new to me too. You’re considered polypharmic if you’re on five or more prescription drugs. In the 12-year study period, polypharmacy increased from eight to 15 percent (almost double).” (1)

Hip-Hop: “Yikes, I guess the poly lifestyle isn’t for me. There’s nothing sexy about being on five medications.”

Me: “No, I wouldn’t say so, Hip-Hop, you smart ass.”

Hip-Hop: “So much can be done to prevent disease. It’s all in how you all are living. I see it every day. Even the people here on vacation look stressed. You’ve got to get back to basics. Enjoy moving around, eat from this ocean and this land, get plenty of sleep and rest; you know what I’m talking about.”

Me: “You’re preaching to the choir, Hip-Hop. I’m working on this with everything I have. I’ll be back at it tomorrow.”

Hip-Hop: “I know you will, my friend. I know you will.”

Hip-Hop: “Hey, speaking of living well, we’re getting together for oysters Friday, right?”

Me: “Yeah, you’re on. I can’t wait. Catch you later.”

Hip-Hop: “Catch you later, bro.”

Hip-Hop: “Goot, wait. I forgot; I’ve got a gift for you.”

Me: “Really? I like gifts.”

Hip-Hop:” I made up these t-shirts and I have one for you. Here.”

Me: “Oh, I love it. It’s so you. Thanks, Hip-Hop.”

I put on my new t-shirt right away and headed off empowered by some of my friend’s favorite sayings.

On the front of my new t-shirt, it read:

“Walking is man’s best medicine.” (circa 300 B.C.E.)
–Hippocrates of Kos (“Father of Modern Medicine”)

On the back of my new t-shirt, it read:

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” (circa 300 B.C.E.)
–Hippocrates of Kos (“Father of Modern Medicine”)

(1) Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States from 1999-2012. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2015, 314(17), 1,818-1,830.


Is “Life” Getting in the Way of Your LIFE?

“I want to exercise more, but I can’t seem to find the time. Life keeps getting in the way.”

“I get together with my old friends once a year. I miss the days when I had great community and friends in my life, but life makes it really hard.”

“I know I should sleep more. Ugh, life is so busy.”

“I’d really like to move into work I love to do, but life takes priority right now, you know what I mean?”

Not exactly. What’s this “life” you speak of? Can you hold it in your hands? What color is it? What does it smell like? What does it sound like? How does it feel on your skin? Can you show it to me?

It’s a construct you’ve made up, that many people have collectively made up and you’ve agreed to. It’s no more real than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. It’s not a very benevolent construct. Its primary role is to tell you what you can’t do. Specifically, it tells you that you can’t do the things you want to do because it’s the priority.

Is “life” really a thing? Does a person show up at your home in the morning wearing a Patriots jersey with the name “Life” on the back above the number 44? Does this person handcuff you and drag you to a job you hate? Does this person make you live where you live? Does this person crush your desires and intentions? Does this Life character control you?

It might seem this way, I get it. But I don’t accept it. Because this “life” you’re letting control you, is stealing your LIFE. The LIFE you feel when you’re engaged in work your love. The LIFE you experience when you’re with your close ones. The LIFE you experience when you’re full of vitality and fitness. That’s LIFE.

Photo 129--Two People Laughing

That’s the gal that shows up at my home each morning, “LIFE” tattooed boldly on each of her forearms. She opens her arms wide and asks, “What do you want to do with me today?” I’m learning to say yes more and more. You?

Unfortunately, more people today than ever are living in Thoreau’s “quiet desperation” and accepting “life” like helpless balloons blowing in the wind. I offer up instead William Ernest Henley’s approach to life from his poem Invictus:

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Take the wheel, my friend. Take the wheel.


It Feels Really Good, It Costs Nothing, and It Sheds Bodyfat

Can you guess what it is?

It’s something you love to do. It’s absolutely free. You do it literally every day (I missed one day in my life; that was a special day).

It boosts your wellness and it’s a great way to lose excess bodyfat (or prevent the accumulation of excess bodyfat).

It’s not an exercise program. It’s not an eating program.

A study article published in the interdisciplinary medical journal Science Translational Medicine (1) has the answer: sleep.

In the study, subjects spent five weeks getting normal sleep and three weeks getting 5.6 hours of sleep per night. Measures of blood-insulin levels, blood-glucose levels, and resting metabolic rate were taken from the subjects. Lack of sleep was associated with lower blood-insulin levels, higher blood-glucose levels, and lower resting metabolic rates.

That glorious Sunday morning feeling when you linger there. That delicious feeling when your head hits the pillow and you cozy up under the covers after a full day. Oh, how good it feels to sleep.

Photo 126--Sleepy Feet

And just how good for you is it? Let’s ask the researchers:

“The robust changes we observed with exposure to chronic and concurrent circadian disruption and sleep restriction have potential relevance to the millions of people who experience these challenges on a daily basis and who are more likely to develop the metabolic syndrome and diabetes.”

“Findings of particular clinical relevance for exposure to chronic sleep restriction with circadian disruption include a 32% decrease in insulin secretion in response to a standardized meal, a very large effect that led to inadequate glucose regulation: glucose levels were higher for a longer time and rose to pre-diabetic (type-2) levels in some participants.”

“Finally, the 8% drop in RMR [resting metabolic rate] with sleep restriction and circadian disruption, assuming no changes in activity or food intake, would translate into ~12.5 pounds [sic] increase in weight over a single year (120 kcal/day X 365 days / 3500 kcal of fat mass), which has clear clinical relevance as chronic sleep restriction with circadian disruption is endemic in our society.”

Three weeks of lousy sleep led to a pre-diabetic metabolic state in the subjects and lowered their resting metabolic rate by an amount that would result in 12.5 pounds of bodyfat gain in a year if they continued their sleep-deprived ways.

It’s good and it’s true: Sleep makes you well and lean. Sweet, decadent pleasure can be very good for you.

Wellness isn’t a no pain, no gain game. In wellness, exercise and eating are the cool kids in our Puritan culture. When it comes to wellness, sleep is certainly not a cool kid; it’s one big outcast. Tell your friends you get eight or nine hours of sleep per night and they look at you like you’re a jerk. With exercise, you can push yourself to the point of exhaustion. With eating, you can deny yourself the sensuous enjoyment of food and the satisfaction of a fully belly. Pushing and denying are gods in Puritan culture. Pleasure is about as big a sin as you can commit. That’s why most people who get feedback from a physician that they’re on the road to type-2 diabetes or who’ve got that 12.5 pounds of excess bodyfat hanging around don’t turn to sleep as part of their solution. Science tells us they should. If art is more your thing, so does William Shakespeare:

“O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee?” (Henry IV)

“Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.” (Julius Caesar)

(1) Metabolic Consequences in Humans of Prolonged Sleep Restriction Combined with Circadian Disruption. Science Translational Medicine, 2012, 4(129), 1-19.


The Price Is Right

“Come on down, Julie from San Francisco, you’re the next contestant on The Price Is Right!”

“Julie, our game for you today is a food game: Which Costs Less? (The crowd cheers excitedly.) I’m going to show you two baskets of food and you’re going to guess which one costs less. Pretty simple, right? (Julie takes a long pause.) Julie, you look really excited. Are you okay?”

“Jason, I can’t believe I’m here! I’ve wanted to be on The Price Is Right my whole life!”

“I can tell you’re thrilled to be here, Julie! Let’s get going with our game!” (The crowd cheers enthusiastically.)


“In basket 1, Julie, we have one pound of organic broccoli, one pound of wild-caught cod, and one pound of organic Gala apples purchased from a local fish market and a local farmers’ market.”

“In basket 2, Julie, we have a box of Raisin Bran cereal, a bag of Tostito’s tortilla chips, and a bottle of Mott’s apple juice all purchased from our sponsor Walmart. Everyone loves Walmart, right? Yes, give it up for Walmart! (The crowd goes wild.)”

“Jason, I really think I’ve got this. I’m a great discount shopper. I grew up reading the food flyers with my mom and cutting coupons. In our family, we really know how to save money and get the best buy on food. I really think I’m going to get that car!” (Julie jumps up and down unable to contain herself.)

“Okay, which cost less, Julie, basket 1 or basket 2?”

“It’s basket 2, Jason, I know it is!”

(The Price Is Right losing horn.) This article works better if you play the horn for effect.

“I’m so sorry, Julie. It’s basket 1. Let’s take a look at the costs:

Basket 1, if purchased once, would cost $18.97.

Basket 2, if purchased once, would cost $8.47. So far, you’ve made the right choice.

Basket 1, if purchased weekly for 50 years, would cost $49,322.00.

Basket 2, if purchased weekly for 50 years, would cost $22,022.00. Wow, that’s a lot less!

But in the final 25 years, a person eating the low-nutrient diet of basket 2 would incur an additional cost of $5,000 per year for the treatment of type-2 diabetes, and in the final 10 years, an additional cost of $48,000 per year for assisted-living care. So when we add in the medical costs associated with basket 2, we have a whopping grand total of $627,022.00.

A person eating the high-nutrient diet of basket 1 would incur an additional cost of $2,000 per year in medical expenses over the 50 years for a total additional cost of $100,000. That’s a grand total of only $149,322.00.”

It turns out cheap “food” (food-like packaged goods) isn’t so cheap after all, and those “expensive” vegetables, fish, and fruit are actually quite the value.

And that’s only considering the financial value. The true wealth that comes from eating well is found in how tasty real food is and how good it feels to be well.

Prominent medical journals confirm what we can all see clearly if we’re willing to look: How we eat affects our wellness (in both directions). (1-4)

According to The Lancet Psychiatry: “We advocate recognition of diet and nutrition as central determinants of both physical and mental health.” (1)

According to the Annals of Internal Medicine: “Better diet quality at midlife appears strongly linked to greater health and well-being among those surviving to older ages.” (2)

According to the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences & Medical Sciences: “The results of the present study add to the growing body of literature that demonstrates that diet quality is associated with functional status in older adults.” (3)

Powerful words from powerful authorities and simple common sense of any person living in tune with nature, and their nature, both tell us: It pays to eat well.

Editor’s note for fun (the editor is the same person as the writer): When this article came to me in a dream, I really did say, “Give it up for Walmart!” At that point, I woke up in a cold sweat.

Editor’s note for financial and economic critics: It’s true that for many people much of their treatment for type-2 diabetes is covered by their medical insurance. It’s true that for many people assisted-living care is paid for by Medicare and/or long-term-care insurance. But the more medical care we collectively use, the higher everyone’s insurance premiums are. And most of us pay into the Medicare system via Medicare tax. Increased need for medical care inevitably means higher Medicare tax. When a person willfully avoids self-care that leads to more medical care, we all pay for it. It may not be as expensive for an individual as I portray in this article, but it’s more expensive for all of us. Public-health leaders are well aware of this:

“The costs of health services are increasing globally, and are likely to become unsustainable unless members of the public become more fully engaged and take a greater responsibility for their own health. Personal prevention measures, such as we describe, could have a large impact on the costs of healthcare services. Ultimately however, decisions about behaviours [sic] lie with the individuals and there is therefore an urgent need to establish a more effective partnership between health services and citizens.” (4)

  1. Nutritional Medicine as Mainstream in Psychiatry. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2015, 2(3), 271-274.
  2. The Relation of Midlife Diet to Healthy Aging: A Cohort Study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2013, 159(9), 584-591.
  3. Higher Healthy Eating Index-2005 Scores Are Associated with Better Physical Performance. Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences & Medical Sciences, 2012, 67(1), 93-99.
  4. Healthy Lifestyles Reduce the Incidence of Chronic Diseases and Dementia: Evidence from the Caerphilly Cohort Study. PLOS One, 2013, 8(12), 1-7.



Do You Know How to Be Well?

I met a man recently at a party and we got to talking about wellness. He was telling me about his plans to “lose weight”. This was my favorite part: “I know what I have to do. I’ve lost 50 pounds six times.”

He meant it. And technically, he’s right. He does know how to lose weight. He’s lost a lot of weight and he’s done it several times. In a certain light, this man could be considered an expert on weight loss.

But you can see the hole in his logic, right?

Let’s say the powers that be in your city decide they want to build a new bridge across a river. They hire a pedigreed civil engineer and she designs a bridge. Millions of dollars are spent, tons of steel are erected, and there you have it—a fancy new bridge. People drive over it and it’s the prize of your city. Then it collapses six months later and hundreds of people perish in the river below. Is this engineer a bridge-building expert? Does she know how to build a bridge? Of course, not. Imagine they re-hired her six times.


That’s what party guy is doing. Does he know how to lose weight? Hell no! He knows how to build an inevitably collapsing bridge.

He told me, “I cut out fat and salt. I make all my food for the week on Sundays and I portion everything out. I eat the same thing every day. It works every time.”

It sure is sexy. It’s the works-every-time part I reject. It hasn’t worked once.

Which brings me to my question: Do you know how to be well or do you think you know how to be well?

Are you actually in tune with yourself and your needs? Is the way you’re taking care of yourself working for you? Will your approaches stand the test of time or will your bridge collapse one day too?

I challenge you with these questions the same way I challenge myself with them often. Once we close the doors on what isn’t working, we can be open to what will work. I’ve released so much of what I thought I knew about wellness in order to let in more and more wisdom over many years. Is there something for you to release today?


Kill the Diet Foods Before They Kill You

In my friend’s kitchen recently, an acquaintance proudly let me know she was having a no-calorie hot chocolate. She had that look on her face. You know the look: “I’m really doing this. I’m so smart. I have my willpower all mustered up. I’m going to get skinny now.”

I’ve heard this before from this woman. The first few times, after making sure she wanted advice, I told her how diet foods (and the avoidance of calories, protein, fat, and/or carbohydrate that is the intention of most diet foods) weren’t her solution to being leaner. She seemed to hear me, but she’s still at it with the diet foods.

The fact that I’m a wellness coach doesn’t faze her. The fact that I have the lean look she desires (the man version anyway) doesn’t faze her. The fact that I’m eating a hearty meal, with, um, calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrate in it right in front of her doesn’t faze her. Sometimes a person just isn’t ready. She’s not ready to hear it from me.


Maybe she’d be swayed by a 2015 study on diet-soda intake (1):

“In a striking dose-response relationship, increasing DSI [diet-soda intake] was associated with escalating abdominal obesity.”

To be clear, “escalating abdominal obesity” isn’t researcher speak for beach body.

I spend very little time thinking about the shape of my body these days. I live to be well, not to be a Calvin Klein model. That said, being lean and being well do tend to go together. But it’s being well that makes you lean, not being lean that makes you well. And those diet foods certainly don’t make you well (1):

“High incidences of overweight and obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus, kidney dysfunction, heart attack, and hemorrhagic stroke have all recently been associated with frequent NNSI [non-nutritive-sweetener intake] and DSI [diet-soda intake].”

That sure ain’t good. Don’t have a (Diet) Coke and a smile, I guess.

I’m not casting stones; I’ve been there. As a fat teenager in a culture where fat equals outcast, and without any training in how to make peace with my reptilian and mammalian brains, I set out to be not fat as quickly as I could. This included a diet that revolved around my mom’s cardboard-like rice cakes, every kind of low-fat cracker I could get my hands on, and, yes, lots of Diet Pepsi—a diet nearly void of nourishment.

I learned the long, hard way (understatement alert) that I need food to live. I need whole natural, real food—the kind with calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients in it. I get energy from the food I eat. I’m made from the food I eat. Things work much, much better for me on a diet of tomatoes, cod, almonds, pumpkin seeds, raspberries, and the like, than on so-called diet foods.

It’s simple, it feels good when you do it, and it keeps you well (and lean) in the long-term:

Eat real food. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Enjoy meals with your close ones whenever you can.

It’s only a radical concept because of the time and culture you grew up in. Those four poignant sentences describe how 99.9 percent of people have eaten for 99.9 percent of the time there have been people.

A really helpful distinction that will help you move into eating like this is to think of eating as an inclusion-based activity, not an exclusion-based activity. In other words, think of eating as something you to do nourish yourself, not as a game of restriction. This is a great concept to reflect on and will radically change how you approach eating.

You’re worth feeding yourself very well. How would you like to feed yourself today?

(1) Diet Soda Intake Is Associated with Long-Term Increases in Waist Circumference in a Biethnic Cohort of Older Adults: The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 2015, 63(4), 708-715.


The Church of Wellness

Early in working with a client (before I use my life-changing voodoo on them), I often have conversations that start like this:

Me: “How have you been doing?”
Client: “Oh, I’ve been bad. So bad!”

Even though this happens a lot, I still do internal double-takes when someone tells me they’ve been bad. I’m immediately transported to a drafty confessional in the church I went to as a boy wondering if I really had to tell the priest I masturbated. It gets worse. In my horrific flashback, I’m not a horny teenager, I’m the frickin’ priest, the sultan of shame. I determine whether you’re good or bad, whether you get a one-way ticket to heaven or hell. Spoiler alert to Catholic novices: You’re most likely going to hell. Because you’ve been bad. Really bad!


How do I know you’ve been bad? You just told me for crying out loud! I asked you how you’d been doing (as a wellness coach, not as a priest), and you told me you were bad—your words, not mine. I wasn’t actually asking a good-or-bad question. But you’re conditioned, so you cast me in the priest role and yourself in the sinner role. Even if you were lucky enough to have grown up in a way that didn’t include a church where it was common for priests to sexually abuse children, you grew up in a Judeo-Christian culture steeped in shame. Shame is the lens you see the world through. It’s why you call yourself bad. You miss a workout—you’re bad. You eat something less nourishing—you’re bad.

You come to me looking for me to issue 10 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers and I’m just not playing. I don’t agree with you. You’re not bad. You never were.

You don’t have some of the skills of self-care as well-developed as you’d like—that’s all. It makes sense actually since no one ever taught you. In fact, they did everything they could to strip your natural ability to care for yourself from you.

You loved to play and play and play. They told you to “settle down”. Then they sent you off to sports practices run like boot camp by suburban dads. (Boot camp turns people into highly efficient killers.) “Is exercise fun? Is it war? You tell me to stop when I want to run. You tell me to run when I went to stop.” No wonder you’re confused.

You knew when you were hungry and when you were full. But they knew better and force-fed you with the choo-choo spoon and indoctrinated you into the clean-plate club. Good-bye instincts for eating well.

Getting your natural ability to take great care of yourself back is actually fairly easy because, well, it’s natural to take great care of yourself. But, and it’s a very important but, you’ve got to get shame right out of the way. It blocks any chance you have. If you’re caught in a tango with a personal trainer, nutritionist, other professional (or worse, yourself) that revolves around them telling you the rules, you failing and telling them you’re bad, them telling you to try harder and lamenting why you won’t just do it, and you, in a twisted way, enjoying their priest-like shaming, then hit the eject button right away and abort your mission. Self-care need not be a game of rules and sins and penance. That approach feels lousy and doesn’t work. I encourage you to let it go.

Instead, today, I wish you a day of self-care that’s your choice, done for you, because it feels good to do so. You’re allowed to feel good as you take care of yourself. I encourage you to give it a go. Here are three ways to do that today:

  1. Think about a form of exercise you really enjoy doing. Perhaps you love to go hiking? Maybe you feel great doing yoga? Or you’re in your element while swimming? The important distinction here is pick a form of exercise you want to do—not one you think you should Make plans to do the workout you enjoy.
  2. Go to a food store you like (I love my local farmers’ market) and buy a supply of vegetables you really enjoy. Pick vegetables you find visually appealing and tasty. Then plan a meal that centers around these vegetables. Be sure to select vegetables you love—not vegetables you think you should love.
  3. Call a friend you really want to spend time with. Identify an activity you’d both enjoy doing and put it in your calendars. Most activities are better with friends, so if it feels good to you, invite a friend or friends to workout with you and share in your delicious meal too.

This all gets you flexing your want muscle and lets your should muscle atrophy. When you start to feel your should muscle getting weak and your want muscle getting strong, you’re really getting the hang of this! You’re living from your true self, not from shame. You were never bad. You were always and will always be amazing!