The fact that some people believe in a “plant-based diet” and that that’s even a phrase shows me how confused people really are. Every diet humans have ever eaten on this earth was plant-based. Let’s break down a few things real quick. As always, it’s important to define our terms. Have you ever witnessed or participated in a Facebook discussion that went no where because people did not define their terms? It happens all the time. So what is a plant-based diet? Because I ate potatoes this morning and potatoes are plants…

What the plant-based diet really is:

  • vegan
  • vegetarian
  • semi-vegetarian
  • low in red meat
  • low in saturated fat
  • low in dairy
  • low in eggs
  • low in sugar
  • low in vegetable oils
  • high in legumes
  • high in whole grains
  • high in starchy carbohydrates
  • high in vegetables

The plant-based diet is actually an effort to limit meat and be as vegan as possible. No positive health benefits of animal foods are discussed in plant-based circles. The reason is twofold: the China study, and sustainability.

I’ve been reading various things about nutrition since 2008. Back then, Michael Pollan was very popular. His stance on a plant-based diet (let’s abbreviate it as PBD for now) was informed by the wastefulness of factory farming, the negative health consequences of processed foods, and the lack of connection to food. I don’t think Pollan was ever against eating meat, he just advised not eating too much of it in this famous quote:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Now, reading through the Omnivore’s Dilemma, I have realized one more reason why people are so often confused. With the plethora of uninformative information on the internet, it’s much easier for our minds to stick to a phrase that clicks in our minds. The intricate details in Pollan’s books don’t filter their way through the average vegan’s consciousness. Instead only the eating plants part does. Perhaps one reason this was appreciated by the plant-based community is that “The China Study” was published just a year before “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

T. Colin Campbell claims to have conducted the largest epidemiological investigation into meat eating that ever existed, and claimed that meat eating, in China, a nation where meat has a strong place in the diet, increased mortality. Vegans around the world cheered.

I was vegan for an entire year, but I had a difficult time believing that red meat was inherently unhealthy based on my research. Nevertheless, Michael Pollan’s words amplified the PBD, and people immediately forgot that adding plants to meat isn’t wrong, and being vegan isn’t healthier than eating meat in moderation.

We live in a melting pot, in America at least. There is no traditional recipe for colds, flus, migraines, and no traditional food culture. This I believe is one inevitable reason why confusion exists. Pollan says the same thing, adding that this dearth of unifying beliefs increases individuals’ susceptibility to fad diets. Let me explain now why I think the PBD is just a massively confusing idea that should be discarded from your consciousness immediately.

Forget the plant-based diet, a balanced diet is better

As I explained in 2012 in this video, there is one single reason why the China Study fails. Denise Minger’s data analysis seemed to discredit many of the conclusions drawn from the observational study well enough, but I still had lingering questions. Below are the main ones:

  • What are the net health effects of eating meat as part of a balanced meal containing plants?
  • How is it even possible to statistically adjust for increased patterns of unhealthy behavior in people who eat too much meat?

I’m going to start with the second question. In large observational studies, we may conclude that eating more meat is unhealthy. But with statistics we can kind of take away the effects of smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. These adjusted analyses seem to find no evidence that eating more red meat is unhealthy. I’m not a statistician, so I’m not sure how math can figure this out honestly.

When one smokes, doesn’t move much, and eats more red meat, which in America implies more fast food, and likely more sugar and vegetable oil, how is it possible even to distinguish this type of meat eating from someone who eats meat with herbs, olive oil, salads, and is physically active?

There are synergistic effects of our lifestyle choices on our health. If eating a balanced diet results in “X” improvement to our health, and exercising results in “Y” improvement, a balanced diet and exercise together may result in something beyond just X and Y. Statistics however adds up X and Y, or in our case, subtracts it from the equation to determine what the effect of just eating meat is.

You can eat meat and be plant-based at the same time

Now let me answer the first question. I think most readers would agree that a double-patty cheeseburger from any chain fast food restaurant in America is a highly processed meal low in nutritional value that is not ideal for health.

But how healthy is it to eat a steak cooked with rosemary, with some salad, and baked potatoes? This is a fairly typical meal. We could argue about this all day and night, but the rosemary offers protection against any excess fatty acid oxidation in the meat as its cooked, while turning on anti-inflammatory pathways in the body like Nrf2. If the meat is grass-fed, it likely contains higher amounts of omega-3 and vitamin E. The steak in addition contains B-vitamins, zinc, carnosine, carnitine, and other health-promoting nutrients (I’m only isolating them because that’s how we’ve been taught to think about nutrition). The salad contains folate and stimualtes bitter receptors on your tongue that enhance the secretion of digestive enzymes.

The fast food meal containing red meat is high in refined carbohydrates, low in fiber, low in bitter tastes, contains cheap vegetable oils that are likely oxidized, and high-fructose corn syrup (in the ketchup). The meat is not good quality nor is it grass-fed. The overall effect of this meal is likely very very different from the overall effect of the second meal.

Here are some pictures of meals that I made recently (except for the lunch picture) that were plant and animal based at the same time. Let’s just call it a balanced diet.

Baked Oxtail and Potato
Shallots, garlic, soy sauce, and beef broth (cooked with carrots, onion, and shiitake mushrooms) went into the oxtail. Mustard oil was used to coat the potato wedges as they baked. This meal is certainly much more than just meat-based.





Lunch at an Indian Restaurant

This typical Indian restaurant lunch comes with chicken curry, chickpeas (chana), yoghurt with some veggies in it (raita), and a dessert. Many flavors balance this meal out from an Ayurveda perspective. It’s not anywhere close to being as balanced as a home-cooked meal, but I digress.

Tacos With Salsa, Radishes, Lime, and Onion

Tongue tacos served with tomatillo-haberno salsa. As in Mexico, I served this with raw radish slices. I garnished the tacos with cilantro and white onion (next picture).

Tacos de Lengua (Cow Tongue Tacos)

I sent this photo to a friend who replied “nice pinterest photo.” In case anyone else thinks that, I will just add that this photo was taken with an iphone6. It’s not even that great as parts of it are blurry since the lens can’t focus perfectly. Anyway, these tacos tasted like Mexico and I was proud of myself. The corn tortillas were non-GMO, and everything else was organic. This meal is at least 50% plant-based.


So although PBD advocates learn more towards veganism, and plants constitute perhaps upwards of 70% in their diets, for me, 30-50% is enough (from total calories). Perhaps in the future I will track based on calories and volume how plant-based my diet is, but a ballpark estimate seems good enough for this issue, as I’m not sure what the point of doing that would be anyway.

Adding herbs, spices, and vegetables to meals containing meat raised sustainably and healthfully is plant-based in my opinion. Not only that, the combination of plants and meat creates delicious meals that the vegan cannot emulate. There’s an instinctual drive to come elements in our environment to feed ourselves and our tribe, and I believe this universal predilection is quite health-promoting.

In contrast, cutting the meat out and focusing just on plants is shutting the door to millions of person-years of cultural wisdom (ok person-years is an epidemiological term but it applies here). Yes we are living longer than humans who lived in unsanitary conditions in the past. The diseases that kill us tend to show up after our reproductive years are over, so maybe people think that eating meat increases the likelihood of these diseases. But it’s possible to eat meat healthfully, as meat raised in an open environment eating grass has antioxidants, anti-aging nutrients like carnosine, and is nutrient-dense, and it can be flavored with herbs and spices, and then finally served with more plants. Thus, I am all for combining plants and meats together. I need my turmeric.

As you filter through the swath of information on health, I hope articles like this help you make sense of things and encourage critical thinking. What are your thoughts? How plant-based are you? Comment below and continue seeking balance!

In part one, I rambled about how modern science has flaws and thus cannot be trusted in nutrition research sometimes. With saturated fat and cholesterol science, the research is often on people who have unhealthy lifestyles. As a result, red meat has become the villain. Eggs and steak aren’t bad for you folks. From these studies people will say eat more fruits and vegetables for nutrition. Eggs and meat are some of the most nutrient-dense foods out there. Have you ever eaten a steak and felt like your brain worked better afterwards? I have. That is science folks. Science isn’t just going to pubmed and finding articles to support your theories. That’s reading science. Doing science involves experimentation. Your career description does not need to read “scientist” for you to practice science. Your career may be listed as “scientist” and you may not be doing science sometimes because of your biases.

Knowing that I feel better sometimes from eating meat shows me that on some level it is good for me. In other ways, it certainly may not be good for me and I am open to multiple possibilities. Unfortunately people with their heads up their asses call this anecdotal evidence, ranking it too low to be considered legitimate on the hierarchy of evidence. BULLSHIT! I am completely opposed to that idea. Anecdote is often not reliable. But it can become reliable with careful experimentation.

Now one way eating lots of red meat may not be good for me is because I am only eating the muscle component of the animal most of the time. I am not eating the collagen-rich parts like organ means and making broth from the bones. Lately, I’ve been lazy and have been feeling too busy in medical school to devise a holistic nutrition plan for myself that involves organ meat consumption and use of the whole animal. I don’t farm and am not as connected to my food as I should be. Modern science that concludes meat consumption in Americans on the standard American diet is bad for everyone is also coming from a place of extreme disconnectedness to food. We are modern and fashionable but disconnected to the dirt underneath the cement underneath the carpet underneath the sock underneath our feet supporting our bodyweight.

So that in a gist is part one. In this post I will go through a different thought experiment to prove to you why you cannot rely on studies on meat consumption.

Why epidemiological studies on saturated fat consumption should not be trusted

First of all, these studies actually show no association with heart disease. STILL however people condemn saturated fat. Like HELLO PEOPLE. READ THE LITERATURE YOURSELF. Nevertheless, back in the day when the sugar companies made fat the public enemy to increase the epidemic of obesity in America while profiting off of sugar sales, people went on low fat diets. Large studies like the Nurses Health Study (NHS) and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) have attempted to answer questions about how to live healthfully. Briefly, epidemiology is about studying a population (like nurses in the NHS) and attempting to find a pattern between a factor in their lifestyle and an outcome. Outcomes might include death for example which is the most important one, or maybe a risk factor for death like low HDL and high triglycerides.

Now, it’s clear that low fat diets don’t do much for your health except in certain situations. I only believe in individualized and intuitive eating for optimal health. I believe in the Blood Type Diet by Dr. D’Adamo. It’s individualized. I don’t believe in Whole30. That is a one-size fits all kapha-reducing weight-loss program (kapha is basically like obesogenic in Ayurveda. Diets that eliminate heavy foods are kapha-reducing from that perspective and I think the lingo is easy to understand. People who diet and exercise too much lower their kapha and yin to unhealthy levels and suffer health problems). Whole30 caught on because people mistakenly associate weight loss with health (even medical students fall for this trap). Only true in some cases. Like the person on the standard American diet.

So take my diet. I will make a dinner like in this photo frequently.

Dinner: random vegetables, garlic, meat, some other spices perhaps.

I’ll take some healthy oil, like coconut oil, toasted sesame oil, butter, ghee, and NOT canola oil, corn, safflower, or soy oil (avoid vegetable oils as if your life depended on it) and heat it up. I may have spices on the pan already dry roasting like cumin. I add vegetables to it like onions and tomatoes perhaps. I may add some more spices. I will add more vegetables and meat and salt and just cook that food.

I will eat this meal with some type of carbohydrate like rice (brown, red, and white) or buckwheat noodles or starch-rich yellow potatoes. Once in a while I’ll have lentils (daal made bengali style, one of my comfort foods) with this meal to reduce carbohydrate consumption (unfortunately my extended family despite eating a spice-rich diet that protects DNA also enjoys a high white rice diet without accompanying physical activity resulting in obesity and diabetes).

Now please tell me this. Has a study ever been done evaluating how the effect of cumin, coriander, black pepper, onions, spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes, cooked together in a meal with RED MEAT the VILLAIN hurts my health? HAS THAT STUDY THEN CONSIDERED THE REST OF OUR LIFESTYLES (LIKE EXERCISE HABITS, STRESS, ETC.) AND BEEN ABLE TO PROVIDE AN APPLICABLE CONCLUSION FOR MY HEALTH???

The WHOLE POINT, or RAISON D’ÊTRE (I love how expressive the French are with anger) of epidemiology is to find something that APPLIES TO THE GENERAL POPULATION. When the grandfather of epidemiology found in 1853 after meticulously tracking the public water supply in London that water contaminated with people’s shit and piss was causing the vast majority of illness from cholera, he found something applicable to the whole population. There were two water companies in town. One had pipes right next to shit and piss and the other did not. The ratio of illnesses was like 71:5. Pretty god damn obvious there. Correlation does not equal causation in epidemiology. But to common sense, it does. When the correlation is that high and people are dying of cholera, you should just assume causation.

Meat consumption fortunately doesn’t cause people to drop dead like drinking eight glasses of shit and piss-infused water (might as well call it tea at this point or a tincture) does. Unfortunately, it is harder to find cause and effect relationships with foods, herbs, exercise, and so on. You can exercise and still be unhealthy if the rest of your lifestyle is. So if we cannot rely on epidemiology to tell us if meat is healthy how can we answer the effect of meat on our health?


The answer to this question lies in the concept of synergy. When you mix red with blue you get purple. Purple contains both red and blue, but the effect it has on you when you look at it is not simply a mix of the effect of viewing the color red and viewing the color blue. Purple is a relaxing yet luring color to me. I associate it with mysticism (what do you feel when you see purple?) Red is more fiery, sensual, and loud. Blue is cooling, stable, and chill, yet powerful. Of course, this is very subjective but hear me out (science actually is more subjective than people realize). The feeling I get when I look at something purple is not the feeling I get from viewing blue plus the feelings I get from viewing red divided by two. The effect is entirely different. It is new. it is not 1 + 1 = 2.

Thus, when determining how eating red meat and spinach together affects health, we should expect some additive properties (one plus one equals two), some cancelling effects (one minus one equals zero), and some novel synergistic effects (one plus A equals god knows what) that cannot be explained by adding together studies looking solely at meat consumption with studies looking solely at spinach or dark leafy green consumption (or n of one experiments where you just eat meat and see you how feel and just eat spinach and see how you feel then add those up and average them–of course adding up qualitative things to average makes no sense but you get the point). Add stress to the equation and physical activity and you have more room for synergy. There are a million, literally, additional factors that can affect this process.

Red meat itself has so many synergistic compounds in it. Yes there is some saturated fat and cholesterol. Rats and mice fed high cholesterol and high saturated fat diets may end up with clogged arteries, but that is not because just of the saturated fat and cholesterol but because of the unnaturalness of the diet, the inability to process those fats and metabolize them like humans do, and for a variety of other reasons. Regardless that diet does not contain vitamin B12 found in red meat, or alpha-lipoic acid a powerful anti-aging anti-oxidant compound, nor does it contain L-carnitine which helps shuttle fatty acids to the mitochondria for fat oxidation, nor does it contain carnosine another energy-promoting anti-aging nutrient, nor does that diet contain heme-iron which is a highly absorbable and digestible form of iron, nor does that disgusting abominable diet off of which so much catastrophe has ensued from inapplicable laboratory research contain the other combination of B-vitamins in red meat, nor OLEIC ACID THE HEART-HEALTHY fat in OLIVE OIL of which there is almost as much of as saturated fat in red meat (Gary Taubes talked about this a lot and although I think his low-carb hysteria wasn’t entirely true he is a pioneer in nutrition science without even having a degree–goes to show you who you can trust, as while he discusses the evils of carbohydrates the Dean of nutrition programs at top universities condemn organic food and tell you breakfast cereal from Kellogg is healthy because it is enriched with vitamins but mainly because those companies are affiliated with the university somehow…yea don’t study nutrition at a big university or become a registered dietician if you aren’t ready to swallow conventional bullcrap), nor the omega-3 fatty acids present in GRASS-FED beef, and how there is actually less arachidonic acid in grass-fed meat, as well as more vitamin E. Oh man, the list goes on and on.

I’m taking a nutrition class right now that discusses the effects of supplemental minerals and vitamins on health. The studies have examined one nutrient at a time but your body never works that way. Yea sure supplemental vitamin C may reduce this this and that but the whole food will do the same and more things many of which are unpredictable due to the concept of synergy.

Conclusion on synergy

I have rambled a lot so here is the take away about synergy, which was the entire point of part II. Synergy happens when you eat a whole food versus a supplemental vitamin. Red meat for example contains many vitamins and minerals, antioxidant and anti-aging compounds, and omega-3 fatty acids if grass-fed. The synergistic effect of this on your health cannot be predicted from studying the scientific literature on each one of these single nutrients. You may gain an idea but will not know the exact effect.

Part of the reason why you’ll never know is because the synergy also involves how the whole food interacts with the WHOLE YOU. You are a combination of your genetics and environment. Nature and nurture. Your stress levels, physical activity, social actiites, personality, overall happiness, television usage, phone usage, and other factors will affect how red meat affects you physiologically and energetically. This will sound like mumbo jumbo to people who only know how to think reductionistially, like my former self years ago. But lets look at physical activity. Eating carbohydrates after exercising has a different effect than eating those same amount of carbohydrates resting. Although other factors don’t have such noticeably strong effects, there is something happening. I honestly ate dinner today while psychologicaly stressed about something that happened to me reently at school. I very likely did not digest that food as well as I would have if I were at peace mentally, as the mind is connected ot the heart which is connected to the lungs, which is connected to everything else. Indeed as I tried to fall asleep I realized I hadn’t eaten enough and this was mildly stressful as it’s harder to fall asleep. I practiced some stress reduction techniques and slept well.

Final statements for part II.

I am once again not citing any literature, because that is a diversion from doing science yourself. You must take it upon yourself to practice observation, hypothesis formation, experimentation, analysis, then reproduction and expansion of previous experiments, to form valid concludions about what works for your health. Unfortunately, no one is going to figure it out for you.

The studies are limited in design by how much they can truly see. A good scientific study has to have a simple research question that can isolate the effect of one treatment/condition. In this case that would be say, red meat consumption. That study will not factor in exercise, smoking, and all the other factors. The statistial analysis will aim to remove those variables but still, the conclusion will not apply to the guy like me who exercises, eats spices, vegetables, meditates from time to time and tries to be healthy and eats meat. I’m too rare, even though my I shouldn’t be as my diet should be much much better. It’s just that those studies will look at average people who really aren’t doing much for their health. Of course, if red meat was a potent neurotoxin, we would see an effect no matter what and it would be strong. But when the effects aren’t like that, it gets way murkier and that’s why I have shied away from analyzing that kind of literature. I still read nutrition science literature from time to time but always think about how applicable it truly is to the general population. Not much usually I don’t think.

That’s it for part two. In part three I will share the latest research on the subject of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. Stay tuned!

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.

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.



I’ve been trying to “follow my instincts” for a while now, because as a kid, I always laughed at how I would second guess my instincts and end up with the wrong answer or the like. With my 6.5 years of anaerobic training in the gym, I realized early on that if I trained with a set schedule, I would feel burnt out in about 8 weeks. The tried and not so true three times a week of intense MWF (monday, wednesday, and friday) strength training would lead to overtraining. Before I explain that more, let me explain what this post will be about: in this post I will share my own experiences with adrenal issues caused by inappropriate recovery from an unbalanced exercise regimen and most importantly, what you can take away from it.

Strength training

As I said, after about 8 weeks, I felt burnt out from a typical MWF set schedule. Three days a week doesn’t sound like a lot when you consider that some people run every day. But it’s a lot when you look at the overall amount of stress hormone the athlete churns out to cope with the training.

In strength training, the goal is to increase the amount of weight the athlete can lift. In powerlifting and olympic weightlifting, athletes must also maintain a certain weight. Usually this weight is achieved shortly prior to the competition, and the strength is obtained more steadily earlier in the season. There is often a bulking phase then a cutting phase when the athlete attempts to lose weight but maintain the strength he or she accrued from the bulking phase.

Regardless, the training sessions often involve near maximal activity that is a lot different in the nervous system than running or doing martial arts. The type of training would be more analogous to sprinting with weights, not jogging. My body often feels like sprinting, running, boxing, and doing body work activity, but lifting weights requires stronger activity (that’s the best way I can describe it as I haven’t found any exercise physiologists describe this anyway). After my adrenals started feeling burnt out, my tolerance for heavy weightlifting plummeted as I will shortly describe in a little more detail.

My experiences

My sport was neither olympic weightlifting nor powerlifting, or bodybuilding, sprinting, football or any other anaerobic sport. I had one single goal in mind, and that was to jump higher and dunk a basketball (got to 38” vertical and dunked a dodgeball but haven’t attempted basketball because I didn’t hit 40” yet). I was inspired by my performance in the long jump in high school one track meet and I became absolutely obsessed. The type of training I was supposed to do according to my research was a mix of plyometric work (how high jumpers train) and olympic weightlifting with powerlifting (squats and deadlifts). My goal was to maintain my 150lbs endomorph frame at <12% body fat and gradually increase my strength to body mass ratio.

I definitely increased my strength a lot, but retrospectively, I realized how rigid my beliefs and my training were. I frequently posted my workouts on an online forum with other very dedicated young men with the same exact goals. But unlike them, I never tended to follow a program. I hated following the instructions of personal trainers (but became one myself years ago), so I devised my own programs. It was called, lift as heavy as you can, as often as possible. Secondary to that, I was supposed to follow my instincts during the workout and stop once I was tired enough; this meant I only stopped once I felt like my muscles had had enough. If I chose a weight with which I could grind out three reps, like the 100lb dumbbell lunges in the picture, I would do sets of three until I felt like I couldn’t do another set of three (so I would end up doing between two to five sets of three usually).

Athletes who do this type of training are advised to take a deload week: during this week the athlete is supposed to avoid heavy lifting and partake in recreational activities. Any weightlifting must be performed with a lighter weight and with high reps. It feels so much easier than lifting heavy weights. The lighter weight just doesn’t seem like a threat to the nervous system, so fewer fight-or-flight hormones like adrenaline are released.

I didn’t listen, and eventually I got used to the feeling of always lifting pretty heavy (I preferred to use upwards of 80% of my one repetition maximum, performing between 2-5 reps, but my favorite was lifting above 90% because I felt like I would become stronger faster). Overtime, the constant adrenaline-heavy fight-or-flight training in the gym left me feeling a caliber below my usual self, in all areas. I would fall asleep more easily in class, my feet were colder (and are cold), I wouldn’t sleep as deeply or wake up as refreshed, and I would feel less motivated. This took a few years to really accept.

There is no one term to describe these symptoms, but I guarantee you I’m not the only one who experiences this. Another common symptom that co-occurs with the aforementioned ones are a loss of affect, or emotion; fewer highs, fewer lows, and a blunted emotional response to things. Haven’t looked up any research articles on that, but if you know me then you may know that I highly value the anecdote and the qualitative aspects of peoples experiences. Collectively, they can be meaningful, as you may see in the book coming out.

So today, I wanted to share this experience of mine, to alert you to the fact that intense fight-or-flight training can eventually lead to a type of burnout. If you take adequate rest (which isn’t defined strictly and depends on you), properly manage other stresses in your life, sleep well, and add variety to your training, you may never experience this issue. I still have no idea as to what the statistics are in the CrossFit community, a very prone one to these issues, but if you have any clues let me know.


This year, in 2014, I finally took a stab at letting go of my rigid exercise goals, and my incorrect training philosophy which involved lifting near maximal weights during every single workout, for weeks on end. In 2013 I finally started eating normally (instead of avoiding all “empty” calories, sugars, salt, and processed foods) which helped a little but not enough. As I mentioned in passing, I just felt like I would get stronger faster if I lifted in a lower rep range (I usually preferred 2-3). That’s totally wrong. The 5×5 approach seems to work best for people, and that involves a much lighter load than the ones I was lifting.

Initially, meaning 6.5 years ago, maxing out gave me this adrenaline rush. But today, I don’t get the same adrenaline rushes. The ability of my body to have those rushes has been impaired, and I finally realized that I needed to stop lifting heavy weights to get that back, and it did work. As soon as I took a few extra days off, I felt more of a rush during the day, and a greater ability to focus and have energy. But if I went to the gym and lifted heavy, instead of feeling a rush, I felt down, and my brain felt foggy.

So today I tried going and doing one lift for my legs, and I got the classical symptoms I’ve been getting for the past several months: a foggy brain feeling accompanied by very mild dizziness and fatigue with no desire to continue. I call it a depression, versus the stimulation I received before. I remember when I was 17 and I did my 3×3 (three repetitions for three sets with a very heavy weight with which I could only do three reps with) I would feel a surge of adrenaline and testosterone following the workout. Today I wouldn’t even be able to work like that because any heavy leg exercise gives me a subtle but noticeable depression of the nervous system that makes my brain feel constricted in an odd way.

During my senior year of college (2013) my friends noticed how red my eyes got following my maximal squat workouts. Here I also maxed out with multiple sets of two to three reps for several months until I reached my goal of 2xBW (squatting a mass greater than two times my body mass). I believe weightlifting increased the intraocular pressure due to the breathing pattern it causes (valsalva maneuver versus steady inhalation and exhalation) which reduces the supple of oxygen in my brain. That’s a total guess but it sounds like what I’m feeling today when I can’t be in the gym for very long until my brain just tells me to go home.


It’s pretty obvious for most people, but most people also sometimes look up to the people for whom it is not so obvious. In other words, most people think it’s crazy to be dedicated like the people they sometimes look up to in the fitness world, but those dedicated people are the ones who will develop the problems, and currently have them, due to their hardcore attitudes. My hardcore and rigid attitude made it extremely difficult to let go of my training goals, it was an identity crisis. During those years, I felt more passionately about my training than anything else. Now I have been able to let go successfully but I still go to the gym and have worthless exercise sessions and realize I need to recover still.

I don’t know what the correct medical term would be for the odd type of feeling I get these days when lifting, but I know it will go away with time. I have been addicted to the adrenaline rushes I would receive in the gym while listening to screamo and other intense music and now I am working on repairing that system and making keen qualitative observations about my wellbeing.

I think a lot of people in the fitness world aren’t ready to admit they have this problem, but I also think a lot of people will find this obvious. What isn’t so obvious to me, is how healthy weightlifting is. They said it’s healthy, but I wonder how the stress response differs among person to person, and how some people (angry men) experience stress rather than stress relief from activating their sympathetic nervous system so much in the gym. I’ve trained hundreds of people in gyms, and I eventually had to accept that maybe there was something noteworthy going on in people’s bodies when they intuitively didn’t want to lift heavy weights (especially women). It’s a research question that I’m not sure has been adequately studied.