Once upon a time the nutrition blogosphere I enjoyed participating in was lit with a debate on whether or not fasting was hurtful to your metabolism. The age old adage that eating six meals a day was better for your metabolism was spit on by the intermittent fasting (IF) enthusiasts. They argued that short term fasting had no effect on your metabolism, because in the long run you would be receiving the same amount of nutrition.

Theories are wonderful, but if they don’t hold up in practice, they are useless. Theories like these are rampant in the nutrition science world but real life practice will tell you what works best.

Maybe the theory is true. But what if there are other factors that lower metabolism that are affecting the intermittent fasting enthusiast? It is still useless to hope that the theory will work because those other confounding factors need to be sorted out.

Here’s a little bit of a backstory:

I swallowed the intermittent fasting bug whole. I started fasting for 18-22 hours (sometimes 24) five days a week. The successful IF trainers however seemed to advocate 16 hour fasts. By the 16 hour period, I decided that I could go longer. I had a lot of energy. This was because my body, young and fresh, had a lot of reserves, or yin. Whether or not you like the concept of yin and yang, it’s a nice model for what’s about to happen.

With time, I had less and less energy from fasting; my yin was being depleted. I talk about this in an old youtube video of mine (enjoy the ponytail look I am sporting).

I remember the FIRST DAY I tried intermittent fasting. I was apprehensive and honestly a little bit nervous (I know pretty innocent and cute back then). I was scared of not eating for so long.

After a few hours, working at the grocery store, I exclaimed in my head: “this is like crack!!!” (I was probably 18…me and my friends thought jokes like that were funny but I guess my sense of humor is much more refined now…I sound like a snob don’t I).

I felt so energized. Stimulated. Intense. Excited. Scattered but I felt focused. I never felt anything like it.

That feeling was my fresh young body, relatively unstressed, living a simple life under a steady roof, activating a healthy stress response to the stressor of fasting. This stress response serves to tap into existing energy stores (adipose tissue and glycogen) to raise blood sugar levels.

From an energetic perspective this makes a whole lot of sense. If you don’t have food at the moment, you need to find some or you will die of starvation eventually. Being able to have MORE energy from fasting is a pretty cool way to deal with not having food.

I regularly started fasting for 18-22 hours. The more the better I figured. But I didn’t want to fast for too long because I was afraid of losing muscle mass and strength. Unlike other IF’ers, I didn’t take any amino acid supplements to prevent muscle breakdown. I wanted to be all natural. My stubbornness taught me some important lessons about health and about myself.

Working Out While Fasting

My goal with IF was body recomposition, or getting shredded. I wanted abs and muscle. I also was intensely focused on improving my vertical jump and 100m dash times. My training involved low-rep strength training and explosive lifting emphasizing my lower body. Deadlifts, squats, lunges, and various plyometrics were my mainstay. For my upper body I just lifted everything heavy, including bicep curls which didn’t make my arms any bigger (my arms really don’t grow easy…my ideal physique is a well-built athletic look…basically Andy Whitfield in Spartacus).

After 16-20 hours I would work out TRAIN. I released a lot of aggression in the gym in my college days. I looked forward to working out intensely and posting on this forum about my progress.

Eventually, the high from fasting faded. My workouts became less aggressive.

Energetically it felt like I was getting beat down from these workouts and the fasting whereas previously I felt like I was on TOP.

This little distinction may not make much sense scientifically, but that’s exactly what I felt. I would perform my deadlifts calmly and try to survive the weights more instead of destroying the workout metaphorically.

Fast-forward to the present day and heavy weight lifting sometimes makes me lightheaded. I am intolerant to the training regimen I had before that kept me at 10-11% body fat with decent abs and some impressive lifts.

The Stress Equation


The rigors of school, a part-time job with a commute, and some financial stress meant that I had a lot more stress than a full-time athlete. In addition I didn’t have regular massages or sports medicine doctors taking care of me. I did everything myself which takes more energy. I trained however very often and very intensely, and I would have trained even harder if I had more time. I had the drive of a champion, and this led to me burning out completely to the point where I literally became intolerant to intense exercise.

Even playing some tennis would make me lightheaded after a while. The mechanisms are beyond the scope of this post, but I can share some theories. When you lift heavy, your blood pressure rises a LOT. The systolic value gets to the 400s (reference definitely needed; I read it a while ago). Something in the nervous system is responsible for raising that blood pressure adequately. Without adequate recovery, that thing in the nervous system got tired. I was not able to raise blood pressure as much and started feeling light headed. I never came close to passing out but I had to sit down and sometimes I saw stars.

I would also experience some lightheadedness from simply standing up. I knew I had a problem so I eventually lowered the intensity and frequency of my lifting and solved those problems. I haven’t attempted any heavy deadlifts in a while and don’t plan to still. I remember my resting blood pressure declined to 100/55 mmHg back in those days of adrenal fatigue. Now I’m back at around 120/80 and have more energy.

The point here is that the stresses of intense exercise training compounded the acute stresses of fasting. The amount of cortisol my body had to secrete to deal with that type of training while FASTED was probably very very high.

Not only did that high not feel as good, I felt worse from fasting. I would feel strangely calm, tired, and not as focused. If fasting is good for you why should you feel like shit?? I realized I needed to end my fasts when I started feeling these symptoms. I INSTANTLY felt better. The changes in my mood and energy levels were night and day when I ended those unhealthy fasts in a stressed state and ate some food, no matter what it was.

Incomplete Theories

Fasting and strength training was supposed to be an acute stress. The blogosphere enjoyed this idea of acute stress. It was better than endurance training long term which in theory could evoke a chronic stress response. I swallowed the pill and realized this was a short-sighted view. Clearly for me dieting and very intense strength training became a chronic stress. I knew this wasn’t healthy but I kid you not, I did not know how to fucking stop. I use strong language because this was a very interesting period of my life.

Back to the Main Question: Do Regular Meals Improve Your Metabolism?

This post was supposed to be about regular meals and your metabolism. Unfortunately I am not the type of person that can keep things succinct but I’m working on it.

So, in the short term, not eating any food for a long time can lower your metabolism. At first your metabolism is increased, but after that high goes away, your body will slowly shut down. Then, you will die from starvation.

Similarly, going on a low calorie diet to lose weight also lowers your metabolism. This is manifested by cold hands and feet and a general decline in vitality. It’s a smart thing for your body to do in order to compensate for the reduction in calorie intake. Your libido also slows down because your body doesn’t want to raise a child if there isn’t much energy to do so.

Skipping one meal however probably won’t do much to slow down your metabolism. You will simply want to eat more later.

But if you do it all the time, maybe eating more later won’t be enough. Maybe that chronic stress (assuming that it does in fact become chronic) is NOT adequately balanced by simply eating the same amount of calories later. If you ate regularly, you’d receive the same amount of calories but would you have the same level of stress? I am not sure but I suspect that there would be more stress. I should look into the literature to find more answers to this.

I can tell you this though. I crave sugar after my first meal of the day when I fast. This won’t happen if I eat regularly. Who knows, maybe I eat the same amount of sugar overall in one day, but I crave an Izze or another kind of fruit soda usually after I fast. I’ll eat a meal but my stomach won’t be able to fit too much food so I become hungry quickly after. Then sometimes I need to take a nap.

Clearly something is going on that involves my body trying to undo the damage from the stress associated with fasting. Everyone is different, but my body is a bit stressed out too so maybe it’s more intense.

The Microcosm Within the Macrocosm

I believe that things that happen on a very small scale (the microcosm) resemble things that happen on a very large scale (macrocosm). Something a cell is experiencing may be analogous to something you are experiencing in your body.

Me skipping breakfast today in this example is the microcosm. Me starving to death is the macrocosm. The action of skipping one meal, versus every meal till death, is very different. But it resembles starvation quite a bit as well.

Thus, doesn’t it make sense that on a microcosm there are cellular changes occurring that directly resemble the changes occurring in starvation?

I think it does. It’s debatable for sure but it makes sense to me based on my experiences, which I trust more than the rabbit hole you can go down from trying to understand the literature.


My goal is to STOP skipping breakfast. I don’t want the microcosmic changes of skipping one meal anymore. I feel full but want sugar. I feel like there’s something missing. I am in graduate school and am recovering from years of intense lifting which caused adrenal stress. I need to make a concerted effort in healing my metabolism.


I don’t skip breakfast anymore to lose fat. I do it due to time constraints and because I know I can handle it and I’ll have a little high off of it. My body just needs more rest than stimulation, so for my metabolism’s sake, regular meals, including even a tasty cinnamon roll I snacked on for breakfast, is better than just the coffee I’d normally drink.

In addition, the regular meals will prevent the fatigue, distractibility, and stress I experience when the hunger from not eating does NOT lead to a seemingly healthy stress response. How can that be good for me? It’ll take a while to have the full answer on that, but for now I trust my instincts on that one.


I’ll be starting up a newsletter again. In it I’ll share my brief opinions on trending health topics. The goal is to avoid confusion and help arrive at true health. I am also working on a free guide on how to stop being confused about health. It’ll be the first ever written book from me and I can’t wait to share it with you. I will let everyone on the email list know about it. If you’re interested sign up below and you’ll hear from me soon.

I’ve been on websites that attract the type of person who is vehemently against pseudoscience. Most of the time, they fail to realize that they are also doing pseudoscience. The following example of “evidence-based” medicine is no more than an example of pseudoscience, defined as an incomplete understanding developed from an incomplete set of evidence and data. The actual definition according to merriam-webster is “a system of theories, assumptions, and methods erroneously regarded as scientific.” That works too.

Now let’s clarify something real quick. I don’t think orange juice was banned. However, the articles that reported this story used orange juice in the picture. 100% orange juice. That is a completely different thing from “juice.” Juice could include koolaid. Another article called it “fruit juice” and included a quote from a parent who commented how he didn’t see 100% juice as a bad thing. Clearly, there is some CONFUSION here on drinking 100% fruit juices and thus I am mad.

Here is the story. As you can see, the concern is that more kids these days due to obesity are developing NAFLD, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This is when your liver is unable to process glucose and fat and basically becomes fat itself. There is impaired glucose regulation and obesity is a major risk factor. Therefore, we should be asking: “what causes obesity?” The doctor who was cited throughout the story claimed that fructose leads to NAFLD. There IS certainly evidence to support this. However the evidence incriminates SSBs–sugar-sweetened beverages. We’re talking about the drinks I grew up with like caprisun, koolaid, and tang. Sodas and energy drinks are also SSBs. 100% orange juice or 100% fruit juice is NOT an SSB. Fruit punch is an SSB.

And that sums this up. There isn’t any link between drinking 100% fruit juice and NAFLD or obesity. Obesity certainly is not caused by drinking some fruit juice. Kids are also very active and may crave some sugar and a cooling beverage like a 100% fruit juice is not unhealthy. Koolaid and other sugar sweetened beverages? Definitely limit those.

What did those artificially flavored synthetic chemicals in the watery-soup of a proteinaceous muscle-building drink do to my body?

Years ago, specifically, say, 5 years ago, when I was super into whole foods only diets and did not eat out, drink alcohol, consume artificial things, the idea of consuming Muscle Milk never crossed my mind.

But after burning out my adrenals from lifting too heavy too often, and after being so rigid in my diets that I was not a normal person and achieved no health benefit from doing so, I’ve learned something really simple about food: it’s not that simple and it’s not THAT important. Yea you feel good when you eat healthy foods, but we don’t know what’s healthy.

Most people’s ideas about a healthy diet is something that is catabolic: it breaks down tissues in the body because of the low calorie content. A healthy diet should actually have a good balance between anabolic and catabolic substances. You don’t need to eat salads and granola: that’s something you should eat if you’re 100 lbs overweight.

That being said, I chose between the lesser of two evils today. It was either drink some Muscle Milk because that’s what’s available at the gym, or eat nothing because I don’t have time to get an actual meal. I’d much rather make my own whey protein shake because it tastes way better than Muscle Milk but the nutrients in there gave me energy.

I walked into my lab class feeling energized. My stress levels were lower too (stress hormones go up after intense quick workouts!).

If I hadn’t taken this, I would have been less healthy. I would have been stressed. No meditation wouldn’t help. I need calories. The protein isolates helped my muscles recover.

The findings we’ve made from reductionist science has allowed a product like this to be successful on the market. I bet you I could drink it every day (not worth it though imo) and not have any issues!

If you understand this you’re golden. If it disturbs you, perhaps you’re too rigid with your food habits. Perhaps you wonder if having something artificial will take a year off your lifespan. It won’t. It won’t because food is not that powerful. But eating bad foods day after day and living OUT OF BALANCE will take quality years away from your life.

By drinking the Muscle Milk, part of me achieved a healthful balance, and I felt great.

I ate so clean that I was a lean mean clean eating machine.

My meals were devoid of added sugars, added salt, sugar-sweetened beverages, empty calories, vegetable oils, and were pretty bland. I ate brown rice with eggs for dinner basically. Sometimes I added a little ketchup.

For snacks I would eat a bag of nuts. Or maybe some cheese. Both were low-carb options. I might eat some fruit too. For breakfast I would either eat a few eggs or make a smoothie with some lettuce and melon.

I also was into superfoods, like spirulina, maca powder, goji berries, and the like. None of these things are foods. Those were just marketing terms designed to get you excited about what these unpalatable things will do for your health. Maybe they’ll make you feel great but they are supplements. That was the clean eating myth.

The premise of clean eating

People who are into clean eating are usually into weight loss or lowering their body fat and going to the gym. I’ve noticed that many of them are young and have caught the bug. The media infected their brain and they live in Western society.

People who defend clean eating acknowledge the obesity rates and cite it as a way to escape from that. In reality it’s just an addiction and a lifestyle engendered by a desire to change body shape and composition. When you want to change how your body looks, it can get so bad that you’ll eat the craziest things to get there.

So I see a lot of young people and sometimes older people with the bug talk about clean eating but they all seem to be interested in going to the gym and staring at themselves in the mirror quite often.

Where clean eating fails

Clean eating isn’t therefore about health. It’s about looks and it’s a product of Western culture and consumerism. If lifting weights and working out a lot and then having a low body fat percentage is healthy, then it would work. People who are naturally lean can eat whatever they want. That’s healthy.

Clean eating supports that “eat less move more” mantra. That just doesn’t work forever, and it may be a bad idea for young healthy individuals.

It may certainly improve the health of people who are obese. But the research hasn’t shown it to help people who aren’t obese. Mediterranean diets have been studied in the literature and definitely the epidemiological research shows that avoiding really bad foods and lifestyle habits like drinking often, smoking cigarettes, and eating fast food is going to be better (duh). But that doesn’t support clean eating from an evidence-based standpoint.

That doesn’t matter though because more importantly, clean eating also isn’t instinctual or based on our body’s internal feedback. When we eat, our bodies tell us how we feel about the food: how filling it is, how much energy we have, and if we want to eat it again. By convincing ourselves that eating clean is going to be better for us (as i’ve done), we won’t listen to what our bodies are telling us. And then in the long run, we may end up with imbalances.

This is what clean eating really looks like.

IG: @sbcahealth

That’s an old post of mine on instagram.

So I hope you agree that clean eating isn’t the same as healthy eating. However, the USDA and most places you learn about nutrition probably think they’re the same, because the USDA’s healthy eating index basically tells us to eat more grains, fruits, dark leafy greens, seafood, nuts, and avoid saturated fat and sugar. It’s boring and uninstinctual that’s why few people do it. People try to eat healthy for 30 days at a time (like that new diet book that came out) because afterwards, their bodies tell them they’re out of balance.

The really “dedicated” people (idiots actually), won’t listen to their bodies. They won’t make excuses. They think they’re working hard by trying to get a six pack in the gym at 5 AM. And they will likely have elevated stress hormones and in the long run that will cancel out any potential benefit from being physically active. Only their positive attitude, as long as it isn’t destroyed by stress hormones, keeps them going.

Physical activity by the way, as referred to in the literature, and as recommended by doctors for patients who desperately need it, is about walking, hiking, being outside, and not sitting down as much, and doing some moderate exercise. That has been studied in the literature. Going hardcore in the gym has not. Hey, that doesn’t mean the gym is bad. I’m really against that type of dismissive evidence-based thinking because it’s unscientific. However, it says something about human nature. Most people listen to their bodies, and don’t workout that hard when they do workout. 

And I think that’s healthier than being ‘dedicated’ and having rigid fitness goals. Add clean eating to this and it’s a recipe for disaster. I did it for years and developed adrenal issues which I’ve been healing on and off for a year since I let go of lifting as heavy as possible. It’s just that at my age (24), I have a lot of energy and can quickly get addicted for some reason to physical activity. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it’s because I started playing various sports as a young kid. Now that I follow my body though, I feel a lot better.

So what is healthy eating?

I will cover this in more detail in a separate post, but healthy eating CAN indeed include some of the things the research has shown, but if it is based entirely on that, the subjective intuitive aspect will be missing. And for something so intuitive, nutrition science is completely unnecessary to achieve perfect health and to look great naked.

And the other thing is, many different diets could be healthy. So it’s hard to say what healthy eating really is. We know what unhealthy eating is but there is a lot of delicious room for making eating healthy. Beyond healthy, food should be nourishing. If you eat beans, low fat dairy, small portions of meat, and salad as your dinner, that may be perfectly healthy according to the USDA, but is it nourishing? Probably not as much as full-fat dairy, more meat, and foods you really crave.

So enjoy this picture of a curry I made with some lamb and quail eggs (I normally don’t eat quail eggs but found them in an asian grocery recently) and lots of spices. I ate it with white rice, which I prefer taste-wise over brown rice, like the vast majority of people in the world.

IG: @sbcahealth

P.S. When I was a lean mean clean eating machine, I would never have agreed with this stuff. But I didn’t know what I was doing to my body. There are certainly people who believe in clean eating and going to the gym who are listening to their bodies, but the whole ‘dedication’ and ‘fitspiration’ mindset can lead to doing way too much for what is healthy to achieve something that is just a trend among a certain group of people.

If you want to read more content like this, subscribe to my email list (below) to be notified of when my guide to stop being confused about health comes out. For being a subscriber, you’ll get it for free. It will cover how to think about health, where to get information from, how to analyze ideas, and several myths.

Carpe diem.

I’ve wondered how to live “naturally” for a while. I probably got into it when I started learning about the paleolithic diet and how humans used to just roam around like gorillas and munch on leaves, dig up starchy tubers, devour wild berries, and hunt game.

It sounded like an awesome lifestyle to idiots like me who wanted to live “naturally.” I mean it’s actually a shitty lifestyle. Life today is way better, let’s just establish that as a fact. We don’t have to spend hours searching for food like animals do. We can do fun things with our time and just buy food to save time. Now buying food all the time will likely not lead to the best health, but I’m just saying; we have more time because we don’t have to spend all day hunting and being hungry.

But that life could be wicked fun too. What if you were part of a community that did everything together? The men went out and found food. Women made crafts and such. Kids played all day long and learned from the elders. It could be a very abundant lifestyle filled with more joy than people experience in today’s hyperstimulated environment. I don’t go out hunting with people I could call family and just chill all day. I have to work in order to buy food so I don’t die. I study because I have the choice to and it’s my passion; but it takes a lot of energy. I don’t have basic skills that I would have if I was a hunter-gatherer. I live in a city away from family, alone.

I eventually realized something. There is no one natural lifestyle. Culture also influences lifestyle, and it’s hard to call anything “natural.” Your best bet at figuring out what’s “natural” today is studying what extant hunter-gather tribes and other indigenous people do. But still, among those people are many permutations of what is natural. We have the ability to define natural, with our intellect. We can pave the way.

In contrast, you could easily study the natural lifestyles of various animals. Lifestyles would differ depending on the species, but there would be some predictable elements. With humans, the only predictable elements are that we shit, eat, sleep, and reproduce. But how we do those things can differ depending on culture. We defecate in toilets today, but “naturally” you could just use a hole in the ground and some buckets with water to clean yourself. We shower in the shower, whereas poor people in India bathe in the Ganges river.

There is no natural.

Nevertheless, it’s still inspiring to watch this documentary on gypsies in northern India. They are so happy, at least as portrayed in the film.

The men go out and look for cobras, honey, meat, and the women make crafts and do other things.

I think even though there is no real natural, there are shared elements among indigenous people’s lifestyles. One is that they walk a lot to find food or whatever. They do a lot of chores. They spend lots of time with their kids. They spend lots of time outdoors. They have a strong sense of community and family. They play. They certainly don’t eat processed junk food. They take things slowly and aren’t in a rush to accomplish things either per se. They have passion. In this case, the featured gypsies make all their own clothing and take pride in their dance. People travel from all over the world to learn dance from this beautiful people.

So let’s make a list of the elements that comprise a natural lifestyle:

  • Traditional diet with fresh foods
  • Time spent outdoors and in the sun
  • Community and family
  • Responsibility
  • Passion/crafts/arts
  • Play

And if the assumption we hold is that a natural lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle, then these elements comprise a healthy lifestyle as well. I see no reason to disagree that a natural lifestyle with those elements is a healthy one.

However, when we get into the semantics of diet, as some people do when discussing a natural lifestyle, we forget the more important parts. We can thrive on a variety of diets. But we need social circles and community, play, passion, and the other elements listed as well for a healthy existence. There’s no point getting caught up over what exact diet we should consume.

So in conclusion, the advocates of “primal” living definitely have some of these elements down. I understand and share their desire to live naturally. They just want to be healthy and want to get away from the mundane lifestyle they were living before. They may have rigid diet beliefs, but I have to agree that the thought of having all these elements in my lifestyle is a beautiful and inspirational one that puts a smile to my face. I think I have the passion element, but it’s accompanied by stress.



Sociologists posit that groups form around ideas in social movement theory. Actually this theory is way more complex but this simple definition makes sense.

Can you think of ideas that have caused groups to form in the world of nutrition, health, medicine, and science, and the fitness industry? Here are a few that come to my mind:

· Veganism
· Crossfit
· Paleo
· FOAMed (Free Open Access Medical Education)

Each one of those words I listed involve groups of people who are advocates for the lifestyle and philosophy. How do these ideas get spread? By whom?

Well, someone decides to create a business or be an activist. They have to market themselves for people buy their product or idea. They have to build an audience that trusts them. Once this occurs, their audience will even vouch for them.

Another great example of this is the biohacking movement.

Biohacking is a term that some guy came up with that involves “hacking” your own biology using science and nutritional supplements, diet, and lifestyle. Well, the real biohackers in my opinion are pharmaceutical companies. But I get the point. I’ve been all about biohacking for a long time, but once it became a term that someone marketed, it became a “thing.”

Once it is a “thing,” it may have certain beliefs associated with it. For example, much of the biohacking community believes in ketogenic diets and drinking coffee with butter. They back up their beliefs with some cherry-picked evidence, but at the end of the day, their beliefs are just that: paltry beliefs. Sure, it may work for them. Go by feel and listen to your body. Experiment.

But just remember this process, because if you aren’t aware of this, you will get your information and even knowledge from within a particular movement. This means that the ideas you bought into will be skewed to favor whatever group it’s coming from.

Say for example, you question if meat is healthy. You go on google and search “meat healthy?” You will come across both sides of the story. You click on an interesting looking article that tells you meat is healthy. It’s healthy because it’s what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate and they were healthy. It’s healthy when you go out and hunt your food and are active. But since we’re not hunters, what we’re going to do is some high intensity intermittent exercise to mimic the diet of our ancestors.

You find this interesting and start implementing some of the ideas. You see some results and feel better than you ever have in your life. You are now an advocate of this “primal” lifestyle.

Welcome, you have now joined and bought into the thought process of an entire community built around ideas that serve to sell a product and lifestyle.

But what if other diets could have produced similar results? What if you made slightly different tweaks to your diet and felt just as great? You’ll never know. Because now, you know this works, until one day, it doesn’t anymore.

I never thought that I would have anything in common with an anorexic girl until I read this from a girl named Lindsay:

“The first thing that crossed my mind when I fell off my bike was that I had only completed 5 miles of a 25 mile training ride. When would I fit in the extra 20 miles?” 

This quote is from this qualitative paper in Sociology of Sport Journal. The full-text isn’t available unfortunately unless you have access through your institution. In this paper, and collaborative ethnography as they called it, the authors shared a few diary entries of a girl named Lindsay interspersed with their analysis.

I came across this paper when searching for information on the sociology of eating disorders about 1.5 years ago. At the time, I had ended my orthorexic ways for the most part, but was still pretty much addicted to my weightlifting routine. Earlier that year in 2013, I started training back squats with a fiery passion. My friends noticed in class (it was a weightlifting class I took for my kinesiology major) that my eyes were very red after my sets of squats. They felt like they were burning a bit too. It was one of the weird symptoms I had developed from maxing out every single time I went to the gym.

The burning eyes feeling I experienced from squats lingered with me during the day sometimes, leaving me with this odd sense of fatigue in my classes and a desire to close my eyes or meditate. I remember I had days where I just woke up like that. The cause was certainly my unwavering desire to reach my fitness goals and years of trying to perfect my diet to stay at a low body fat. Chronic stress in other words.

I again noticed similarities in my personality and habits while reading Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too, by Jenni Schaefer. I read the book to see how she resolved her eating disorder. Although the voice inside her head that tells her she is fat is still there, she says she has learned to separate from the voice and not let it control her life. I will never understand what that exactly is like, but I do understand what it’s like to be too much of a perfectionist.

When I read the quote I shared from Lindsay, I took a step back and immediately realized that I wasn’t the only one with perfectionist tendencies. Then, I had a crazy thought…

Not only was I not the only one who thought about how much training they had left after an injury or something that interferes with their training, there are probably millions. How many people out there have the “eating disorder mindset,” or the preoccupation with food and body weight (and shape) as it is typically referred to in the literature?

The number doesn’t matter; it’s in the millions. What mattered to my core as a human being with an identity was that, like other people who obsess over their diet and training, we were infected by something and had lost control of ourselves. Even though we thought we were in control of our lives, we had been exposed to some virus that hijacked our lives. This virus made us think we enjoyed our wonderful health-conscious lives, but we thought about it way too much and it consumed us. It took time away from socializing and from exploring other things we found interesting.

I don’t have regrets. I did enjoy lifting weights and still do. I still like to cook my own food and feel better when I eat nutrient dense food along with enough calories. But, I have mostly killed that virus and thus, I’m not a robot anymore.

The way I was living felt like the way a robot lives in a way. It’s the analogy I came up with for myself. The media’s messages were implanted in my head, I had internalized those messages, and then acted in a predictable way (became a personal trainer and “knew” a lot about how to be healthy and lose weight).

There’s nothing unique about it. I see it everywhere on instagram, on social media, etc. People read a few things, get infected, act in a predictable manner (do more research, tell their friends, change their diet, preach pseudohealthism-new word I just made up). Some people go on to develop orthorexia, disordered eating pathology, or eating disorders. All because of a virus.

In conclusion, I learned that I had a virus. This helped me do something very positive for my health: start finding a balance. The exercise I was akin to me shooting up adrenaline. I had a feeling for a while that being so aggressive and so high on adrenaline in the gym every time I went to the gym was probably not healthy, but I didn’t fully accept it until my health started to deteriorate.

I’m still in the process of recovering from the chronic stress caused by maxing out and not eating enough calories for years. I exercise less frequently now and don’t push myself. I can’t anymore actually because I don’t have the energy. But on the positive side, I live with more purpose and I have more energy during the day to do things. I have a better mood because I didn’t max myself out the day before in the gym. At least, that’s the theory.



Like women, men suffer from body image issues as well; at least, Western men do. A book called “The Adonis Complex: How to Identify, Treat and Prevent Body Obsession in Men and Boys” delineates this idea, which, judging by the number of one star reviews written for it, is controversial to say the least. I googled “Adonis Complex” because the title of the paper I will discuss today is “Male body image in Taiwan versus the West: Yanggang Zhiqi meets the Adonis complex.”

More broadly than masculinity and muscles, physical fitness has been linked with work ethic as well. The origin of this idea is unclear, but in America, it may be traced back to President John F. Kennedy’s admonition to the nation on their poor physical fitness levels.

In an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated in 1960 titled “The Soft American,” he said:

“For physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies.

In this sense, physical fitness is the basis of all the activities of our society. And if our bodies grow soft and inactive, if we fail to encourage physical development and prowess, we will undermine our capacity for thought, for work and for the use of those skills vital to an expanding and complex America.”

Today, many people use this idea to spread motivational images. They associate hard work with a fit-looking body. I’ve criticized this idea before on instagram. Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 12.12.26 PMI call it fit-looking because fitness to me is more about biological fitness, which doesn’t require lifting weights at the gym to optimize, but can.

To me, it’s quite obvious that lifting weights isn’t related to hard work or masculinity. Working hard in the gym is quite an easy thing to do in my opinion. Although it does take dedication, the goal is so desirable, and the steps required to achieve it are so mindless, it’s a very common pursuit.

But on a global level, not everyone is yet infected with this virus. In Taiwan for instance, men don’t care about having bigger muscles. They don’t see it as more masculine.

That’s the conclusion a group of researchers came to when they studied body image in Taiwanese men vs Western men in the US and Europe. They found that in Taiwan, pictures of men in their underwear are rarely seen in magazines. Men do nine times fewer chores than women do and are the heads of the household.

The authors hypothesized further that perhaps there are fewer roles in Western society for men to display masculinity, so they have turned to the body as a source of masculinity. In Taiwan, a male’s masculine nature is reinforced in society. I guess you could blame feminism for eroding it in the West? I don’t know.

Whatever the case is, masculinity is about a man’s behavior. Being big and strong is cool too, but if a big and strong body shrouds an insecure society-pleasing individual who works out not for himself but in order to feel more attractive, he isn’t very masculine. The problem with that statement is, everyone likes to say they do it for themselves, but the fact that they’re even doing it, hints that they are influenced by Western beliefs and culture.

I started working out to achieve an athletic goal. I was not interested in bodybuilding and did not perform any bicep curls and didn’t waste my time with bench pressing. Along the way however I also wanted to achieve a different looking body so I changed my workouts a little. I was insecure about my appearance, largely because of the culture I am living in. I have learned from this and now I am more of a man than ever because of the confidence I have developed from within. If my arms look fat compared to 2 years ago, that doesn’t stop me from wearing a tank top in the gym. The bodybuilder however would feel too insecure, because he has cultivated his masculinity not from within, but from the mores of the fitness culture.

I guess you could argue the way a man cultivates his masculinity is entirely based on the culture he lives in. Since there is no one culture in America, men may be lost on how to cultivate masculinity.



Social media gets blamed a lot as a cause of eating disorders and body image issues. A study published in March this year examined this in detail among adolescents in Israel. I will summarize the paper here.

We can’t just blame social media for body image issues without blaming ourselves I’d like to preface this with however. We are the ones internalizing the messages then acting on it. But when we are exposed to media, we may act out on it and let it influence our lives without thinking about it. It surely happened to me when I was a chubby (as I thought) teenager. What about people who instead of having a negative body image, develop a positive body image due to social media? I will talk about that in a bit.

So this study examined people with disordered eating and not eating disorders. Disordered eating is characterized by a preoccupation with weight and food and results in caloric restriction, heavy exercising, and the use of laxatives or diuretics to control weight. I remember for me green tea was my favorite back in the day and I got into that primarily to lose weight (even though I thought the health benefits were interesting as well–I wouldn’t have drank it if it didn’t also have weight loss potential).

The risk factors for disordered eating pathologies (DEPs) and eating disorders (EDs) include the following:

  • body dissatisfaction
  • disturbed body image
  • low self-esteem
  • low sense of empowerment

The researchers wanted to look at how being on Facebook and watching TV shows like Gossip Girl influenced these teenagers’ body image. The whole idea here is that comparing yourself to others is a huge factor in developing any one of the four risk factors I described above (social comparison theory). Again, as I mentioned already, I kept thinking about those “inspiration” photos on instagram and how there are also people who feel inspired and develop a positive body image.

I posted on my instagram two weeks ago about a study (full-text not available without subscription) from Poland that found that teens with better body images exercised more. That confused me a little bit because I thought having a negative body image made people want to work out. But along the way, perhaps the image changes and people feel better about themselves.

To me that’s pathetic but it’s the reality and it will not change. People exercise to change their bodies, not to become healthier (it’s accepted as a nice side effect but it’s not the primary reason!). That’s the generalization and it’s not true for everyone, but true for a lot of people. It’s merely a cosmetic tool in this unfortunate light.

And so those people who develop a positive body image perhaps reach their ideal body. But I think the ideals themselves aren’t that attractive. That’s another story but I have mentioned this on instagram how many “before” pictures of bikini competitors look a lot better than the “after” photos because extreme leanness in females is a turn-off for most men.

I bring that up just as a counterpoint, because I’ve found that this world of eating disorder research seems to be completely separate from discussions on fitness and exercise. They’ll say for example that the harmful media images present people with “unattainable” physiques. Well that’s not entirely true in my opinion; some of them are indeed attainable. My problem with them is that they’re not as attractive as people think and that people aiming to look like that may already have a healthy and very attractive body. They may be unattainable for some due to differences in bone structure however. These worlds are also at odds because body images issues to the ED world is bad but to the fitness world it might be the precursor to a positive transformation. Anyway.

Let’s move onto the findings of this study (fairly straightforward). They had five hypotheses, which I’ll sum up. They first predicted that people with worse empowerment, or ability to critically think about their media exposure and not be influenced by them basically, will have a poorer body image. Next, media exposure was predicted to correlate with more disordered eating and poor body image. They also predicted that chiller parents, basically parents who don’t try to control their kids’ media exposures but are open about discussing them with their kids, have kids with better empowerment. Then lastly, the combination of low empowerment, poor body image, and harmful media exposure predict disordered eating pathology.


They found basically that all of that was true. Watching TV, reading magazines, and being on Facebook was associated with poor body image AND disordered eating. Looking for the presence of both of these things was a strength to this study, because it’s not enough to just say that consuming media results in poor body image. Seeing what people are doing with that information is the next step in showing some level of causality.

What are we to do with the results of this study?

The results aren’t mind-blowing, but it’s the first study to examine these three variables together. But is the solution to cut out Facebook and social media? As the authors pointed out, the comparison among immediate peers like friends results in feelings of poorer body image. A survey conducted by The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt found that 32% of respondents said they felt sad when comparing facebook images of themselves versus their friends.

The explanation for that could be that media images of thinness are often associated with happiness, success, and of course beauty.

If kids are obese and overweight and they want to change themselves that’s great. The problem is, and the reason why I choose to think about this topic, is that being thinner won’t enhance the appearance of most of the people wanting to be thinner. For males, becoming more muscular won’t always make them more attractive either. Will it sometimes? Yes of course; since we’ve fully internalized on a global scale now that muscles look good on men, having some extra muscles can make you look better and indirectly improve your confidence that way. But it’s certainly not necessary for you to be a more attractive or strong man.

For women, the skinny ideals might not even be attractive, but maybe less attractive. Thigh gaps aren’t attractive to all men, and if they are, it might be due to the media influencing them. There is a subjective and objective component in all this but certain traits like body fat indicate our reproductive potential. Having too little of it can indicate less reproductive potential. And that’s why this is important to me, because social media is ruining beautiful women by making them think they need to be skinnier.


Comparing oneself to others on social media can result in poorer body image and disordered eating pathology. One’s sense of empowerment, or ability to analyze peer pressures and influences of the media, is a critical way to prevent disordered eating behavior when exposed to media. This is why the body positive movement is good in my opinion; although there are people who are obese who support the movement as well (who may or may not be unhealthy), the idea of building confidence from within is HUGE for feeling good. I was insecure as a teenager because of my gynecomastia, but after spending years actively working on my confidence, I feel better in all situations.

Strive for a better body if you truly want to; but just think about your ideals and whether or not they’re extreme and influenced by the types of pictures you are exposed to!



I’ve been interested in how people respond differently to exercise because I want to prescribe exercise as medicine. I’m going to keep this post wicked short because I haven’t read this whole paper yet, or had time to digest it as it’s almost finals week for me and I don’t have time. But I have saved it to my folders because this is pretty novel stuff.

This paper found that 21 different genes explained half of the variations in the heterogeneous responses of V02 max in response to aerobic exercise training. Some of these genes help people use fatty acids as fuel more effectively, and some just make their mitochondria more active. I’ll have to talk about this paper in detail another time.

Next week I will start getting back to the topics of health myths and disordered eating. Stay tuned.