My Health Obsession

I’m not exactly sure when I realized I was a full-blown health obsessed maniac. It could have been when I spent 70 dollars on 10 blood ketone monitoring strips in order to see if I was producing enough beta-hydroxy-butyrate. Or maybe it was when I started taking off my shoes and squatting on the toilet bowl to go number two because I was convinced it was the natural human position for evacuation. Or possibly it was when I ripped a hole in my dress pants because I was rolling my hamstrings on a lacrosse ball while sitting at my desk. Or the second time that happened. Or the third. Somehow, despite these warning signs, the first time I actually took a step back and thought “maybe I’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole” was after spending time at work digesting this article:

Undercarboxylated Osteocalcin: Marker of Vitamin K Deficiency, or Booster of Insulin Signaling and Testosterone?

Did I have emails to file? Yep. Meetings to set? Of course!  But the allure of learning about Undercarboxylated Osteocalcin was too much to resist.

It didn’t matter that there were scripts piling up that I needed to read. This article was taking precedence. Finally, after  almost mis-scheduling a lunch due to nutrition article related distraction, I decided to take a step back. Things had gotten out of hand.  If it wasn’t Undercarboxylated Osteocalcin, it was intestinal permeability, or cranial electrotherapy stimulation, or apolipoprotein B, or the effect of pre-workout medium chain triglyceride oil on athletic performance.

It reached a point where I had to know if nitrites in bacon were something to worry about, or if it made a difference to only eat during daylight hours, or if LDL particle number was the real predictor of heart disease risk. I would go a month without eating starch, then a month where I was convinced that a lack of starch would lead to stomach cancer, then another month where I was positive starch would melt holes in my brain.

To say I’ve been pretty into fringe nutrition issues would be like saying Mel Gibson is pretty into Jew hating.** There was a time I was spending 2-3 hours a day scouring health blogs, reading research articles, and adding supplements to my Amazon wish list.

(** I had an interesting talk with a fellow Jewish assistant who wants to be an agent. He claims he would never, ever do business with Mel Gibson, even if he stood to make 10 million dollars off the deal. I kept raising the number, but could not get him to move off his stance. We’ll see how moral this guy is after going through the soul sucking journey of becoming an agent. Ten years from now I can see him attaching his Jewish client to co-star with Mel in a Henry Ford biopic if he stood to do well on the back end.)

I know health bloggers the way avid sports fans know players. I would love to somehow make a fantasy health league where you got to select a starting five using the following categories:

– A real doctor.

– A strength trainer.

– A holistic coach.

– A mental coach.

-A fringe lunatic who has gone so far off the deep end he probably eats snake venom for the hormetic response.

I would take Peter Attia as my real doctor, hands down. This dude is an animal. Heart surgeon, business man, long distance swimmer, and possessor of more will power than 10,000 Buddhist monks. In a recent blog post he mentions that while his peers at Johns Hopkins slept, he “would practice anastomosing 3 mm Dacron grafts together with 8-0 proline, over and over again” and “even built a model heart with a deep mitral valve to practice – a hundred times a day – one of the most difficult stitches in surgery, the “A-to-V” and “V-to-A” sutures through the mitral annulus.” God damn, dude. Take a nap. His classmates probably hated him. I love it. Highly recommended reading if you’re ever thinking about going into nutritional ketosis.

My strength coach would be Kelly Starett. Go to 1:34 and tell me you wouldn’t club a baby seal for that kind of ankle and hip flexibillity.

Let’s see Coach Fitz do that!

My holistic coach would be Chris Kresser. Though he owns the single most boring, monotone podcast voice in all of paleo-land, I like that he seems to be on top of his herb game. He’s always shouting out these crazy ass remedies that I’ve never heard of, but desperately want to try. Does it phase me that I ordered, on his recomendation, both Chinese Skullcap Root and Holy Basil Extract, and saw exactly zero noticeable results? Fuck no, it doesn’t. If ever get a urinary tract infeciton I am going to be all over some Nattokinase.

My mental coach would be Mark Devine of Seal Fit. This guy was working as an accountant, then one day he thought, “ya know what? Instead of auditing corporations, I’d rather be protecting America as part of one of the most elite units in the entire military. I’m going to be a SEAL.” Then he up and did it. If someone from our accounting department told me he was going to leave, enlist, graduate as the number one ranked trainee in his SEAL class, then become a successful entrepreneur, I would politely nod. Then I’d go to HR and tell them they hired an insane person. Mark actually did it. Quite impressive.

My fringe lunatic would be a nameless gentleman I heard about on one of Dave Asprey’s podcasts. Dave was interviewing Jordan Rubin, a shady sounding dude who is pretty fring-ey in his own right. Jordan has a large company that sells supplements, and the latest product they’ve been hawking is a dairy drink called Amasai. From what I could gather it is a supercharged, yogurt-kefir combination that will cure autism, heal wounds and solve world hunger. Jordan claims it’s the closest thing to human breast milk. Things took a turn for the bizarre when Jordan started talking about a certain “friend” of his. There was never a mention of who this friend was, or where he came from. He’s an enigma of the health world, maybe never to be heard from again. Here is what Jordan had to say about him (sic):

“There is someone on our property right now who is going on a 40 day, all Amasai diet. Every half hour, 5 ounces of Amasai. Some body therapies, we call it hydro-earthing. He’s walking in our grass barefoot, he’s jumping in our spring, really cool stuff. But, his only sustenance is Amasai. Why? Because he needs to go back to experience nutrition like when he was an infant.”

That’s a lot of crazy in one quote. I have so many questions. Are you paying this guy? How do you know him? And what is this “property” that you speak of? Is it a creepy, Manson-esque commune where you recruit drifters to try your mystical dairy drinks? What if he isn’t hungry every half hour? Do you shove the Amasai down his throat, foie gras style? Did you really just try to rename swimming “hydro-earthing” and pass it off as a novel idea? Why don’t YOU go back and experience nutrition like when you where an infant? If you’re so confident in the healing powers of the Amasai then what’s the point of testing everything on your prisoner friend first?!

I need to find this friend. He’s probably caged up, Jesse Pinkman style, dreaming of fine woodwork and dreading the delivery of his next five ounces of Amasai.

“I’m lactose intolerant! Make it stop!”

My fringe lunatic runner-up would be Jeff Leach of the American Food Project. Here he is on a recent podcast:

“I mean, I’ve been collecting my poo for a long time and keeping it in the freezer and having my own stool samples analyzed, which is a little creepy, but maybe that’s why I’m not married anymore!”

Yes, Jeff. I’d imagine that behavior played a role.

My fringe wildcard 2nd runner up is Dave Asprey himself. He claims to be the almighty sorcerer of nutrition: someone who would be a sick, dying mess had he not ninja-hacked his diet. He drinks butter in his coffee (awesome), stays lean while barely exercising (awesome) and recommends limiting orgasms to “about once a month.” (NOT AWESOME) Half the time I feel like he is the smartest, most evolved human on earth. The other half he comes off like an old-timey snake oil salesman with bizarre products and a get-rich-quick-scheme.

As I got deeper and deeper into the alternative health blogosphere, certain things kept popping up that particularly amused me:

1. THE PICTURES

All these guys claim that they are trying to stray from the mainstream dogma, but then they decorate their websites with staged glamour shots of themselves. Often they are just standing shirtless in the sun, with the light hitting at a perfect angle. Sometimes they are performing bizarre exercises.

“Squinting all day helps you burn 30% more eyelid fat.”
“Squinting is for pussies. Close your eyes as much as possible to really fire up your metabolism.”
“If you get mistaken for a homeless person stealing someone’s water, just laugh and flex your pecs.”

But somehow it’s worse if you don’t show your body at all. That takes the cheesiness to a whole new level.

“You’re killing that vest, honey.”
“If the book does well, can you touch me like you actually care about me?”
“Shut up and keep smiling.”

By all accounts the Calton’s are smart, kind people. Yet, if they showed up at my house, I would barricade the doors and call the police. I feel like those two have some serious Dexter potential. I also think they’re hawking all these supplements to fund their real dream of creating a two-in-one, full service, tanning and teeth whitening salon.

2. THE NAMES- The Bulletproof Executive, The Fat Burning Man, The Kraken, The Kiwi, Grok, etc. Do you really care about the benefits of grass fed bison, or do you just want an excuse to use your superhero nickname from when you were five?

3. THE CERTIFICATIONS- This is another instance where it’s all too easy to pick on the Calton’s. Jason Calton’s bio says he is a Ph.D., FAAIM, DCCN, CMS, CISSN, BCIH, ROHP, A.M.P. Jesus, dude. At a certain point he could be listing Microsoft Excel certifications he got in middle school and I wouldn’t know the difference. Maybe I’m just jealous because I only have a B.A.

4. THE INFIGHTING- You would think all the health bloggers would be content to run their blog, sip their Kombucha, and publicly shame the school lunch programs. But, that’s not the case. Even though a vegan diet and a paleo diet have much more in common with each other than with the Standard American Diet (Oreo’s, feed lot meat, 970 servings of whole grains per day) people will go to battle over their differences.  It makes sense when you think about how all these sites are competing for market share, but it’s still odd to see people bash each other when they have so much in common.

My favorite instances of this are when someone posts an unflattering picture of their opponent in the health community. It’s like watching Mean Girls played out with fitness nuts instead of high school girls. The high carb bloggers will post stuff like this, bashing high fat enthusiast Gary Taubes:

gtaubes-doughy1
This masterpiece of investigative journalism was done by a 36-year-old man.

Burn! You would think these were political candidates and not regular folks discussing what they like to eat. Yet, the intensity, at least online, can be off the charts. There are comment flame wars over the timing and amount of post workout carbs. You leave the thread worried that the two parties are going to fight to the death if they ever run into each other at a crossfit workout. Similarly, you can expect some nasty back and forth if the “legumes are the devil” crowd crosses paths with the acolytes of the Slow Carb Diet.

Even two premier, level headed, A- Listers can get into it. Stephan Guyenet and Gary Taubes had a back and forth regarding the true role of insulin in fat accumulation. It was like the Lincoln-Douglas debates of the paleo community.  They each dug in their heels, and things came to a head with this dramatic showdown at the Ancestral Health Symposium in 2011.

The three of you who clicked on that might be thinking “what the fuck did I just watch? Were they even mad?” Well, I guess that’s what passes for aggression when these people meet face to face. Almost interrupting someone and using a condescending tone are as intense as things get when they step away from the computer.

5. BAD SCIENCE

Sometimes, in the rush to sell the most e-books, people will publish incredibly deceptive posts. These posts always include copious links to legitimate studies to make it seem like their stance is backed up science. This article by John Kiefer is a prime example. It’s called “Why Women Should Not Run.” Looking back, the title alone is so ridiculous that I should have left the site immediately. But I didn’t, and being the sucker I am, I was actually sort of convinced that cardio was the devil and women should be banned from treadmills. Because look at all those studies he cites! There’s like, 80!

Later I came across an article that systematically analyzed the running post and concluded it was utter bullshit. Kiefer was cherry picking and manipulating data in a way that would have made Karl Rove proud. This was one of my favorite critiques of the original article (my emphasis): “Five of the eleven citations used here to support steady-state training’s detrimental effects specifically in women relied solely on male subjects [4, 5, 8, 9, 10], and two of those used rats [8, 9].” That killed me. It takes balls to write an entire article about women and then make your case using studies done on men and rodents. Maybe cardio isn’t right for all people, but it’s not going to make women weak, infertile messes.

Though it’s a struggle, I’ve been slowly developing a more sane attitude when it comes to diet. But, even though I went a little too far into the heart of the jungle, I actually really like a lot of the blogs I mentioned. And I still enjoy learning about all this stuff.  I think it’s made me a better, more informed person. Sure, there are times when I wish I hadn’t spent 60 dollars on 30 servings of a prebiotic, but at least I never spent three thousand dollars to go on The Low Carb Cruise.

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One thought on “My Health Obsession

  1. I’m health obsessed too, more lately now that I’m in my 50’s and unwell. Didn’t use to be this way when I was loving my 80 hr work weeks and running adventure endurance events. The more I read, research, and study, the more I realize I don’t know. Soon I will get to a place where I realize I don’t know anything at all. And then I will be smart and perhaps healthy again, but will I know it?

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