How YouTube, TED Talks, and Plant-Based Eating Changed Me Inside and Out
Last year, this was me. People considered me successful by most measures. I had a good job, and nice home, a family who I loved and who loved me, dogs, and positive career trajectory. However, I knew I was lacking in several key areas, and felt frustratingly stuck. Some of those areas, you can see in that picture, and some you cannot.
On June 17, 2016 I made myself a promise. I promised to take one year to focus inward and fix myself, then turn outward to positively impact the world. At the time, I had no idea how I was going to do either.
I didn’t know it then, but the path that I started that day led me to dramatic shifts in my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.
Here I am just six months later.
The most obvious outward change was my weight, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. My body looks and feels completely different, my relationship with my spouse deepened, I learned to be there for my kids in a way that I never was before, and in short I learned how to be a better human being. Behind the eyes of this smaller man is a smarter, happier, more patient, loving, compassionate, grateful, confident, and resolute brain.
No, I don’t have everything figured out… As I begin writing this on the one-year anniversary of that decision, I’m still learning and growing, and I plan to continue growing until I leave this life.
I feel strongly that telling the story of this past year may help someone out there. Maybe I can give them hope. Maybe I can give some tools. Maybe I can give some advice to avoid my pitfalls. Maybe I can just give a possible place to start. If I can help one person, I’ll be deeply happy.
Part 1: My World One Year Ago
To begin, I was in rough shape physically. I struggled with my health and weight since I was in grade school with little to show for it but a series of small wins followed by big losses. I thinned out a bit in high school and fattened up in college. My weight displayed the all too common yo-yo trajectory for years after college. At my largest, I weighed almost 300 pounds on a 5’11” frame. My knees were starting to bother me. I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without feeling out of breath.
Even worse, several indicators in my bloodwork started to show signs of bigger trouble around the corner. My cholesterol hung right around the borderline mark (200 mg/dL), but my HDL (the “good” cholesterol) was super low (under 30) while my LDL (the bad) was elevated. My triglycerides were beginning to elevate (over 220 mg/dL). I found out later that those factors taken together made up some of the first signs of metabolic syndrome, a precursor to insulin resistance and ultimately type 2 diabetes.
Honestly, I tried hard many times to lose weight and be healthier with some success, only to gain it all back and then some. I tried fad diets, including low-carb, low-fat, calorie counting, and shake diets all to no lasting impact. I briefly started a high-intensity workout series only to injure my knees trying to do burpees and lunges in my nearly 300-pound form. Yes, most of the time I started some plan, I lost some weight initially, but as soon as life changed or the diet ended, all my willpower was depleted, and all progress was erased.
“At my largest, I weighed almost 300 pounds on a 5’11” frame.
My knees were starting to bother me. I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without feeling out of breath.”
In June of 2016, I was 34 years old, and at the time was amid one of many self-described “screw-it” modes that I tended to slip into after every diet push. I weighed about 275 pounds, up about 15 pounds from the most recent low that I had achieved after quitting diet soda (which succeeded) and trying to stick to a low carb diet (which failed).
What’s a “screw-it mode”? Each time I switched into that mode, all the rules seemed to go out the window when it comes to health. I stopped exercising, my appetite was out of control, and my willpower was gone. Every store I entered or restaurant I visited became an opportunity to get snacks or junk food. I knew on some level what I should be doing, but something in me ended up picking up the wrong things anyway.
When I went to the grocery store, I’d leave with a cream-filled doughnut (or two). When I went to a restaurant, I’d order and eat huge portions of junk. It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to toss down a full six-pack of tacos and a pound of fried potatoes from that taco place. At other fast food places, I’d order from the budget menu and end up with five burgers or chicken sandwiches for lunch.
Worse yet, I’d do much of this in secret. If no one else knew or saw it happen it was somehow better – even my wife. My wife is the most patient person I know. She was never judgmental, rude or pushy about my weight. I know she was disappointed that I never seemed to get my health right, but in a loving way. Maybe I just didn’t want to disappoint her in front of her face, or maybe I somehow thought that if others didn’t see me eat so much it somehow didn’t count. I even went so far as to often order two drinks with that six-pack of tacos or five burgers just to make it seem to the person taking my order like I was sharing it with someone else. Insane, right?
My wife never really knew how much soda I used to drink, because I always did so at work. In truth, I could easily drink four to six 24-ounce bottles of diet soda per workday. I always finished those cream-filled doughnuts on the way home from the store. If I picked up dinner for the family, I inevitably got something which I ate on the way home – sometimes a whole extra meal for myself. If I went to get burritos, I’d have a full-size quesadilla before ever getting back to eat my double-meat burrito with extra cheese & sour cream with my family. If I went to get subs, I’d eat an extra double-meat foot-long on the drive home.
“I could say “no” to those things for a time – sometimes a few weeks, and sometimes a month or two
— but never for good. I was an addict.”
Occasionally, I’d go to get a treat at DQ for my wife and I to share. We loved the peanut butter cup blizzards, and would split a large one (yes, I probably ended up with 65% of it). For anyone with a calorie calculator, one of those is about half as much as a normal person’s entire caloric needs for a day crammed into one 21-ounce paper cup.
On many occasions, I ordered two of them. The challenge was to eat the first one on the way home before the one to share melted. I remember sitting in my car in the DQ parking lot stuffing down an entire large blizzard fast enough to make my teeth ache.
At the time, I had no idea why I did all those things. Society told me that eating this way was a moral failing (gluttony), and that if I had a backbone or any willpower at all I wouldn’t do them. Perhaps you’re thinking some of those judgmental things right now about me, about yourself, or about someone you know. “If only I could just push myself away from the table earlier, I’d be just fine,” I thought. I expected more from myself, and perhaps that’s why I did so much in secret.
I could say “no” to those things for a time – sometimes a few weeks, and sometimes a month or two — but never for good. I was an addict. Not to drugs or alcohol, but to something just as devastating in the long term: rich foods. While it may not have been as instant or acute as a heroin or opioid addiction, this addiction was ruining my body, straining my relationships, and endangering my life.
A large part of me gave up hope, and my inner dialogue shifted heavily to excuses and procrastination.
“I am too stressed to care about that right now,” I told myself.
“I don’t have time.”
“Once [insert deadline here] is done, I’ll lose weight.”
“I’m big boned.”
“It’s my genetics.”
“I’m not really that bad… Just look at that person over there.”
Why am I telling you all this? I’ve told literally no one what I just wrote above. I’m hoping you can look at me as I was and see someone that was worse off than you in this area. I’m also hoping to reach those people that can relate to some of the behaviors I described above.
If you’re thinking, “Wow, he was so much worse than me.” Good! You should have an easier time than I did. If you’re thinking, “Wow, that sounds a little too much like me.” Great! I am living proof that you can do better, and here are some tools that can change your life if you let them.
Part 2: Enter YouTube Learning (and TED Talks)
By far, the most powerful tool that I used to kick off and keep up my transformation was YouTube. I know what you’re thinking… We waste so much time as a society, it’s mind-blowing, and isn’t YouTube just another way that people waste time? How many cat videos does the planet really need? I agree that much of the content on YouTube wastes the digital space that it takes up in the server farm, but it’s a mistake to completely overlook the tremendous potential of this medium.
Without YouTube learning, I firmly believe that none of the changes in my life would have occurred. YouTube is one of the most powerful self-improvement tools in existence that many people consume but almost no one uses well.
Used properly, open-source learning platforms like YouTube can provide new and challenging information, create a virtual support system, and give external inspiration or motivation to push past periods of low internal drive. Using YouTube, I’ve done things as light-hearted as learning to play the Harry Potter theme on piano to help inspire my daughter in her piano lessons. A little more importantly, I made huge upgrades to my knowledge and belief system surrounding food and nutrition that allowed me to lose and keep off weight I’d been struggling with since I was a freshman in college. I’ve also examined deep questions and found insights about who I am, who I want to be, and even explored my purpose on his planet.
Let me back up a little bit to explain.
I’m an unapologetic nerd, and I love learning new things. If I ever watch TV, I watch the history channel and anything I can about science and technology. I’d been an avid consumer of TED talks for over five years. I had their app, and loved to listen to the latest talk that they posted – whatever the topic. There have been some epic talks over the years, and I never missed any of the featured talks as they popped into the app daily. I listened when in traffic (yes, only listened), and watched when on a walk or a treadmill.
“YouTube is one of the most powerful self-improvement tools in existence that many people consume but almost no one uses well.”
For those that don’t know, TED talks started as a Silicon Valley conference where individuals at the forefront of their fields could unveil their newest projects, work, and technology. TED is an acronym standing for Technology, Education, and Design. Inventions like compact discs, the Macintosh computer, cordless charging, and a variety of other technologies first debuted at TED events through the years. Today, there is an annual TED conference still hosted by the “official” TED organization, but there are also satellite conferences hosted by other groups called TEDx conferences. There are even themed conferences on specific topics, such as TED-Med, which focuses on medical advances or TED-Ed, which focuses on education. Millions of people watch TED talks from all around the world, and many of the most popular talks have tens of millions of views.
“Wait a minute,” you may be thinking. “If TED Talks are so great, how could you listen to them for years and still have all your health problems?”
Well, it all comes down to focus, intention, and a glitchy app. At one point, my perfectly functioning TED app started some performance issues after a phone operating system update. It shut down in mid-stream, and sometimes sat in limbo with nothing loading. I was crushed. The one thing that kept my commutes sane and occasional exercise bearable began to fail me.
Fortunately, TED has a YouTube Channel. Problem solved… and then some. The TED app was great, but there were several advantages to listening on YouTube. First, YouTube has a nifty little function called “Auto Play” so I didn’t need to manage anything in-between talks if I was in the middle of a walk. Second, YouTube actively finds related content to the video you’re watching to suggest similar talks and topics. Third, while I generally passively let the TED app decide what was the featured video of the day, I began put a bit more thought into the kind of video I wanted to see when watching on YouTube.
One of the other important changes was that YouTube broadened the source of the content to TEDx events in addition to the official TED conference topics, allowing me to pick up additional talks in a topic line. Honestly, some of the most useful talks I heard were TEDx speeches. Beyond the TED or TEDx stages, I’ve listened to lectures at medical schools, nutrition debates held by the USDA, and hundreds of other high-profile events and speakers.
“I made huge upgrades to my knowledge and belief system surrounding food and nutrition…”
The combination of these factors allowed me to choose the types of topics I listened to, and dig deeply into the topic lines that interested me. In fact, all I needed to do was find one talk on the topic that I was interested in, and I could hone in on other talks on similar topics easily.
With this small change, my listening time was enhanced dramatically. Rather than listening to multiple talks about various subjects over the course of an hour-long walk for example, I dove deeper into the topics that made sense to me. It began to turn from a moderately educational entertainment stream to a focused learning session.
Before I discuss some of the topic lines, talks and videos that made an impact in my year of growth, you should know a few things about YouTube learning. Anyone with a cell phone can make a YouTube video with almost no investment, which means there is a lot of flawed, useless, incorrect, or even hateful information on YouTube. Do not let this stop you from using this powerful tool, however. I wrote a separate article with a few tips for e-learning that can be applied to YouTube, podcasts, or any other open-source internet learning platform, which you can find here.
With all that said, you can stay relatively safe on YouTube by staying within the universe of TED and TEDx to start, and that’s exactly what I did for quite a while. There are thousands of hours of content on surprisingly varied topics. Along the way, I picked up books and other courses to delve deeper into the topic lines that were most helpful.
Part 3: Useful Talks and Topics
Over the past year, I listened to hundreds of hours of ideas, insights, and stories from brilliant researchers, authors, teachers, and doctors. Early on in my year of growth, I started making a list of the more impactful talks and ideas that I implemented. This is NOT an exhaustive list, but I tried to present general topic areas, and give some commentary about what I learned or implemented in my life. Each of the talks mentioned is linked so you can watch the talk if you haven’t seen it before. It’s highly recommended that you do.
Topic 1: Finding the Why.
In 2009, Simon Simek gave one of the great TED talks, titled “Start with Why – How great leaders inspire action.” If you haven’t seen it, please do. I saw this talk years ago, and looked at it as a brilliant insight into leadership, communication and marketing. However, early on in my year of growth, I used this message to craft a willpower boost in my pocket. I made a small PDF formatted to fit on my phone, which I called “My Mobile Why Chart.” It was quite simplistic, but using images and words it listed the primary reasons why I wanted to regain control of my health.
The first page simply had a few clip art images, and there were several other pages listing the various reasons in major aspects of my life, including family, career, and personal satisfaction. It didn’t look like much to be honest, but looks didn’t matter. All of the images on the first page were tied to POWERFUL visualizations.
For example, there was a little picture of a father holding a baby, but it didn’t represent me with my either of my children. It represented a vision of my son holding a child of his own someday. He gazes into that beautiful child’s eyes and feels a moment of pain and regret, pausing to think how nice it would’ve been if his daughter could’ve met her grandpa, who died of a heart attack before she was born.
There was little picture of a young woman in a wedding dress… It was my daughter sitting before her wedding, in a stunning dress, her hair done just right, and the perfect makeup on getting ready to begin the ceremony. Only, she looks at the mirror and wells up in tears because her dad wasn’t there to walk her down the aisle.
A cartoon picture of a family of four wasn’t just a picture representing our family. It was the last photo we ever took as a family. I can see my wife looking at that picture thinking how difficult the last three months had been since I passed away. The house is quiet, and she looks tired to the bone raising two kids who suddenly have no father.
What would I do to make sure these things didn’t happen? I would crawl on my hands and knees through broken glass. I would belly-crawl over hot coals. I would spend every cent I ever made.
How dare I ruin these moments for them! And for what? A cookie? A steak?
I intended to pull out the why chart every time I ordered in a restaurant (which was always troublesome for me), or thought about getting a snack at the gas station or grocery store. I later found that I rarely needed to see the chart, but just knowing it was there allowed me to almost instantly steel my resolve at the moments I needed it most.
I felt the pain, saw the visualizations, and asked myself what would I do to stop it? Would I say no to that bag of chips? Would I order something healthy? OF COURSE!
The key to this was not the chart itself, but rather the emotions they elicited. Even today, those visualizations are so vivid, so real, and still so powerful that I can’t bring them up and describe them in detail without fighting back tears.
Later, I developed a few other tricks and habits, which will be discussed further on.
Topic 2: Addiction, Cravings, and Willpower
I knew at some level that I had a problem with food. I thought I was just a weak, awful person. One of the first realizations that this was more than just a moral or self-control failing was through a talk by Dr. Doug Lisle at TEDxFremont, titled “The Pleasure Trap.”
This talk opened my eyes to the possibility that there was something biological rather than moral or psychological underlying my unhealthy relationship with food. Lisle points out that the food environment we find ourselves surrounded by in the western world is full of super-normal stimuli – foods that are far richer than they would ever be found in nature. Eating the richest food in the environment is extremely adaptive when living off the land, but not when you’re surrounded by many sources of extremely rich food all the time. Worse yet, the pleasure you gain from eating the super-normal stimuli starts to erode over time because you get habituated to it.
When I saw Dr. Lisle’s talk, I didn’t know anything about the doctors or eating plans that he listed when he started talking about healthy food choices. Frankly, I probably would have shaved months off my learning curve by just doing some research on those names, but I didn’t. We’ll visit some of those names in the nutrition section below.
At the time I first watched this talk, two ideas struck me as intriguing: first, that this “pleasure trap” describes any addiction. The second was the idea of habituation. So, essentially I was stuck eating destructive foods and getting about as much pleasure from them as I would if I had never started eating the bad food to begin with.
That described me perfectly. I disliked vegetables because I thought of them as bland, tasteless and not interesting. I filled my diet with salty, savory, sweet, and fatty things because those were the ones that tasted normal to me. Ever since I had my own car, my lunches were generally fast food. I wasn’t savoring every bite of the half-dozen cookies or six-pack of tacos that I ate in a sitting – it was just normal.
This talk alone wasn’t the tipping point, but it set up a basis for looking at my problem as an addiction. Reframing the problem as an addiction was powerful for me because I had no experience fighting moral or psychological battles, but I had real-world experience breaking free from an addiction to diet soda. It was difficult, but I did it. That experience gave a glimmer of hope that perhaps there was a path. Maybe I wasn’t really as weak as I was telling myself. Maybe it wasn’t 100% my individual problem or weakness, but also a problem of the environment I found myself in (which I could alter).
Much later, I bought Dr. Lisle’s book, also titled The Pleasure Trap, which I highly recommend to anyone needing to learn more about this topic (I actually wish I had bought it earlier than I did).
Okay, so now I believed that I might be dealing with an addiction or at least exhibiting addictive behavior. What could I do about it?
There was definitely info about that. Soon I found this extremely popular 2016 TED-Med talk by Judson Brewer, called “A simple way to break a bad habit.”
This talk discussed ways that he worked with people to quit smoking and several other bad habits. The key piece that I applied from this talk was the idea of truly feeling a craving, and looking at it as if I were a scientist trying to observe every detail of what I was craving, and what I was experiencing if I gave in. What I discovered was that food cravings were not as bad as I thought they were, and simultaneously I wasn’t getting that much satisfaction in the foods that I ate because of those cravings anyway.
Jonathan Bricker’s 2014 TEDx talk called “The secret to self-control” beautifully complements this concept of truly observing a craving by taking the idea one step further.
Bricker calls this technique “willingness”, and he uses the metaphor of just “dropping the rope” rather than trying to play “tug-of-war” against a craving. Rather than fighting against it, simply acknowledge it, and let it run its course. In other words, let the craving stand over there in a corner of your brain and do its absolute worst, but know that you don’t have to act on it.
I asked myself, “Really, what is the worst thing that happens from being hungry?” Maybe I feel a little anxious, and my stomach hurts. Maybe I get a headache, feel tired, or feel uneasy. In a little while, it passes. If I really think about it, I’d much rather feel those things for a little while than have a bad cold for a couple days. I’d much rather have a bad cold than have the flu. I’d rather have the flu than a broken bone. In fact, if I listed all the things that I would not like to have happen to me, feeling a little hungry or cranky because I didn’t get a cookie ranks about the lowest in terms of severity of physical and emotional symptoms of any type of bad thing that I could think of. Why would I be literally killing myself to avoid this meager sense of discomfort? Looking at it that way absolutely changed the game for me (and frankly made me feel both silly and angry that I would let such an objectively weak sensation ruin my health).
I spent quite a while on the addiction and self-control path in the TED and TEDx universe. Although I can’t quite nail down the exact moment or exact speech, one other insight I gained was what I call finding the “Why Not”. If other people can do difficult things like give up smoking, why not me? If there are reformed alcoholics out there, why not me?
One other piece that I learned was that repeated exposure to talks in this path created an external source of willpower and energy rather than constantly relying on my own internal willpower stores. Similar to the idea of a “seminar high”, when you listen to an hour of talks about willpower and breaking habits, it’s much easier to say “no” or make the right choice during the next craving.
Other notable talks along this path were by:
Al Switzler – “Change Anything! Use skillpower over willpower”
Switzler’s talk contains a number of great ideas, including the idea of being both the subject and scientist when it comes to yourself, and being willing to experiment to find what is right for you. Also, he mentions that the people who are truly successful making any major changes in their lives tend to do so through a homegrown solution that they piece together for themselves rather than following a strict plan or protocol from an expert. Third, he mentions that no plan is complete unless you have a plan for how to deal with setbacks. I recently watched this talk again when writing this article, and realized that those three points applied perfectly to my past year.
Dan Ariely – “Self-Control”
All of the talks by Dan Ariely are highly recommended – he has a brilliant way of exploring motivation and why people do what they do. What I learned from this specific talk was the relative difficulty of giving up a current benefit for a future reward. Every choice about healthy eating boils down to this unfortunate dilemma.
Robert Greene – “Key To Transforming Yourself”
This talk’s central theme helped reinforce the idea of developing a mindset of constant learning, and that there’s really no wasted experiences and knowledge. “AutoPlay” during an hour-long walk can send you down many rabbit holes and topic lines you didn’t exactly intend. However, if it’s informative or educational, I don’t consider it wasted time (especially if you’re moving your body while you do it). You never know when one specific corner of the tapestry of ideas and knowledge you’re creating in your brain will become useful, so continue to learn and experiment.
Topic 3: Creating Positive Habits
One other path that helped immensely this year was the idea of creating positive habits. People form habits to make our lives easier. Certain behaviors and decisions become automatic, and this generally helps reduce the decision-making load that our brain deals with daily. However, habits can be destructive if they end up being unhealthy. Fortunately, habits can also be created or changed, and some very intelligent people have done great work to explore exactly how this happens.
One such person is BJ Fogg, from Stanford University.
To be honest, primary way I applied this talk to my life was slightly contrary to the point made in the talk. Fogg identified that people tend to be able to start a new habit when they 1) tied it to an existing behavior, and 2) made it small enough that it didn’t seem like much effort. One of the examples he gave was flossing a single tooth after brushing your teeth, or doing two push-ups after using the bathroom.
I implemented something similar in my life, but rather than just doing two pushups, I decided to do as many pushups as I could every time I used the bathroom in my house. When I started this habit, I could do 16 pushups at a time. Today, my latest record is 57. Depending on hydration levels and how much I was at home, I ranged from 200-350 pushups per day. I’ve since moved on from this habit to a slightly more intensive pushup regime tied to my lunch hour walks where I get 250-300 pushups over the course of a 45-minute walk every other day (I’ll let you know how that goes), but I still start every day with one (or sometimes two) sets of pushups before I get dressed in the morning.
In case you’re wondering, pushups and walks were pretty much my only forms of exercise during the past year, except for an occasional bike ride or two recently. I’m starting to experiment with other exercise styles, but haven’t found one that I can truly say works great for me.
Another great talk in this topic was by Charles Duhigg, called “The Power of Habit”.
Duhigg gives a bit more depth about the habit cycle, breaking it down into two steps: the cue (or trigger), and the reward. He encourages people to premeditate the cue and reward beforehand rather than trying to make the right decision when in the heat of the moment.
Between these two, and multiple other talks in this topic line, I implemented multiple habits that helped me transform my health:
Meal tracking: After I ate (cue), I recorded what I ate in my mobile app (I used LoseIt!, but there are dozens of other choices out there). Later I started simply snapping a picture in the app when I reached my weight goal and wasn’t as concerned about meticulously counting calories or macro-nutrient content.
Walking: At lunch time (cue), I went for a walk either outside or at a local indoor track. When surfing the web or doing other computer tasks at home (cue), I walked on my treadmill desk (where I am right now). Some days I’d get upwards of 25,000 steps, but my normal level is closer to 12,000-16,000.
Pushups: Discussed earlier, but after using the bathroom at my house (cue), I’d go into my bedroom and do as many pushups as I could. Today, I do as many pushups as I can every 5 minutes when I go walking at the track three times per week – similar principle but different cue.
Food re-association: When I saw an unhealthy food that I thought I liked (cue), I thought of the worst possible aspect or version of that food. For example, if I saw a package of chocolate chip cookies in the breakroom, I’d think of the worst possible stale value-brand brick of a cookie that I’ve ever tasted. If I thought about a DQ Blizzard, I thought about my aching teeth from trying to eat it so fast in the car. If I thought about a cream-filled doughnut, I thought about the oily and gooey mess that would get on my fingers trying to eat it. If I saw a bag of tortilla chips, I thought about the worst stale chips I’d ever eaten. Adding to this what I’ve learned about nutrition (discussed later), now I’ve gotten to the point where most of the foods that used to be my biggest problems frankly aren’t that appealing.
Meditation: The most recent habit I picked up is a daily meditation routine. I’ll talk more about this in a later section. Briefly though, I currently use the 6-phase meditation by Vishen Lakhiani, the founder and CEO of MindValley. It’s nothing like the “clear your mind” style of meditation that I used to picture when I heard the word “meditation.” It’s engaging, active, purposeful, and leaves you with a sense of gratitude, connectedness and purpose to start every day.
Topic 4: Intermittent Fasting
The next tool that I learned more about was intermittent fasting. Originally, I was exposed to the idea through a shake diet I heard about through a friend of my wife. Part of the program was a cycle of 1-2 “cleanse days” per week which included eating nothing, and only drinking a concoction (which honestly tasted horrible) of their “cleanse” product on those days.
Initially when I heard about this, I thought they were nuts. I thought my body would go into “starvation mode”, that my metabolism would be shot, and that I’d lose all my muscle. It was out of the question.
The next day, I ended up stumbling upon this talk by Mark Mattson, a professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. titled “Why Fasting Bolsters Brain Power.”
Mattson gave a great historical, evolutionary, and physiological case for intermittent fasting. This talk gave me the mental pause to question my beliefs about fasting.
Other talks that further reinforced the idea:
Phil Sanderson — “Fasting: A path to mental and physical transcendence”
Sanderson discussed a week-long fast regime called the “master cleanse”. I never tried a “master cleanse”, although I may at some point. Largely what I gained from this talk was the confidence that a person could go without food for even a week and not destroy their metabolism or their muscles. If he could do that for a week, I reasoned, then a day or even two wouldn’t hurt.
Valter Longo – Fasting: Awakening the Rejuvenation from Within
Dr. Longo conducts research related to aging, cancer, disease and fasting (or fasting-mimicking diets), and presents several interesting findings in this field.
There are multiple ways to implement fasting, whether it’s reducing your eating window to only 4-6 hours per day (i.e. skipping breakfast, and eating all your food for the day between noon and 6 p.m.), 24-hour fasting, or even 48-hour fasting. Today I still do 48-hour fasts occasionally, but it’s not a water-only fast. I’ll basically eat one meal of primarily non-starchy vegetables (along with a little bit of beans, corn, or potato) adding up to less than 500 calories each day. It’s amazing how much salad or riced cauliflower & broccoli you can eat and not even get close to 500 calories.
One huge caveat about fasting: it’s not right for everyone. My wife (who doesn’t need to lose ANY weight if you ask me) has tried to incorporate fasting without much success. And, if you make the right nutrition choices it isn’t truly necessary. The one advantage that fasting brought which I believe helped in making my nutrition choices was that a 48-hour fasting cycle kind-of resets a person’s taste palette. In his TED Talk mentioned above, Dr. Lisle discussed a water-only or even a juice fast as one method to use to help break free of “pleasure trap” foods, and help you find the great taste again in healthier choices.
Topic 5: Nutrition – Choosing a new Lifestyle
Ah, Nutrition… I cannot think of a more clouded topic than human nutrition. There are hundreds if not thousands of “experts” all claiming to have everything figured out. There are corporate interests, billions of dollars, and competing agendas. There are tens of thousands of studies that show seemingly contradictory findings. But through it all, no other topic dominated my thoughts, learning efforts, and learning time over the past year like nutrition.
The reason was simple: I intended to reboot my eating style completely. I started out losing weight last June using a brute force method for about 2 months (mid-June to early August 2016) on a shake diet plan including 1-2 days of intermittent fasting per week. I lost a respectable amount of weight doing this – around 30+ pounds. I kept it afloat largely using the cravings control, willpower and habits methods discussed above.
However, several things about that plan were not sustainable. First, I was not eating enough calories. Considering two intermittent fasting days per week and only one solid food meal on the days I could eat, my daily caloric intake was somewhere between 950 and 1150 calories on average, which is less than half a healthy level. I knew eventually I would need to stop the shake plan and start eating again. I also knew that if I began to eat the same way I always had (or worse yet – begin another “screw-it mode”), all that work would be for nothing.
I was sure there was answer out there that would work for me, but I just needed to find it.
Before I go any further on this topic, let me be clear about two things: first, I don’t have everything figured out. I am a student not a master. Second, I don’t judge or criticize anyone for what they eat or don’t eat. Chances are, I’ve eaten far worse things and in greater quantities at some point in my life. The challenge for every one of us is to find the best way to eat for yourself. To do that, you need information. You also need to trust your experience. What foods help you look and feel your best? What foods help you perform your best, without crashes or lulls in your energy throughout the day? What foods do you feel good about buying and consuming?
I’ll lead you through the learning process I went through in choosing the eating style that I’ve lived on since August 2016. I’ve used this eating style to finish (and thus far sustain) the balance of my weight loss targets. My cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and other metabolic indicators improved dramatically:
So, what’s the eating style? To sum it up in a sentence, I eat plants and things made by plants, and I try to minimize heavily processed foods of all types, whether they are proteins (“fake meat” vegan products or protein powders), fats (like oils and shortenings), or carbohydrates (juices, white flour, corn syrups, sugar). Another way to say it is that I eat a Whole Foods, Plant-Based (WFPB) diet.
If you knew me personally, you might be asking yourself: how did I of all people… A guy who ordered my double cheeseburgers plain because I didn’t like the few shards of iceberg lettuce or onions they may accidentally include on there… A guy who ate double-meat burritos with no beans and extra cheese/sour cream, and often with a whole extra chicken quesadilla on the side… A guy who generally disliked all but about three vegetables, and on multiple occasions used the phrase: “That’s not food. That’s what food eats…” How did I come to thoughtfully choose, implement, and ultimately deeply enjoy this lifestyle?
To be honest, one of the keys was this unassuming 2014 TEDx talk from Brian Kateman, titled “Ending the debate between vegans, vegetarians, and the everyone else.”
In this talk, Kateman introduces the idea of “Reducetarianism” as a spectrum of all eating styles with the common desire to eat fewer animal products. Vegetarians and vegans land at the furthest edge of this spectrum, but they’re on it as well. He argues that rather than fight about moral superiority of one method or another, people should realize that we can all be on this spectrum, whether we choose to consume animal products or not. I watched this talk somewhere in the second month on the shake/intermittent fasting diet, and realized that I was being a “Reducetarian” just by eating shakes for breakfast and lunch each day.
I didn’t think much about it at the time, but this single talk made me much more willing to consider eating fewer animal products as part of my ultimate lifestyle. My wife was initially shocked that I of all people would bring up an idea like eating less meat, but she liked the “Reducetarian” concept as well. She loves animals of all types, and the idea of eating fewer of them resonated with her too.
Within a couple weeks of deciding to consciously “reduce” my animal product consumption, I realized that I didn’t need them or miss them as much as I thought I would.
Another important talk for me early in my year of growth was this one by Christina Warinner, titled “Debunking the Paleo Diet.”
Warinner studies the diets of paleolithic humans as a researcher, and provides great analysis on why the current iteration of the “paleo” diet doesn’t match what she sees in her research. She’s not advocating a plant-only diet by any means, but she poked enough holes in the current way that the paleo diet is often understood and implemented that it gave me pause. Warinner discusses evidence of whole plant foods, and even things like barley starches found in the dental accumulations of Neanderthals who died tens of thousands of years before agriculture was invented. She also mentions that there is no single paleio diet — the diet of paleolithic humans would have varied based on the local environment.
I wasn’t a hard-core paleo person, but I generally believed the underlying paleo-like ideas that that grains and carbs were bad, and that eggs/meat + non-starchy veggies was the pinnacle of a healthy meal. I based my belief in part on the assumption that this was what our ancestors ate all the time, and thus what we evolved eating. Warinner gave me reason to question that assumption.
Warinner’s talk wasn’t the only one that forced me to question assumptions. Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s TEDx talk, titled “I Love Nutritional Science” also challenged me in many ways.
The best ideas from this talk were twofold: nutrition density (judging a food by how much nutrition you receive for each calorie consumed), and G-BOMBS, which is an acronym for the six most healthy foods: Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries, and Seeds/Nuts. By the nutrition density scale, basically all processed food, and anything with animal products or oils falls toward the bottom of the list. Fuhrman has written several books on nutrition, with my favorite being The End of Dieting, which I purchased. I don’t follow a strict “Nutritarian” eating style since I eat more whole grains than Furhman recommends, but nutrition density remains a key consideration in my food choices to this day.
The interesting thing is this: without first seeing the talk from Brian Kateman on ending the debate between vegans, vegetarians, and the rest of us, I probably would have never given Furhman’s talk (let alone his book) a chance. Even when I first heard Fuhrman speak, I thought his ideas were way too out there for me.
Rip Essylsten’s talk, titled “Plant Strong & Healthy Living” was also a little too out there for me at first. He advocates a strict plant-based diet with no oils as a way to take on chronic lifestyle diseases, citing his experience turning around the health of his fellow firefighters in Austin, TX, and also the work by his father, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.
The first time I watched this talk, I thought, “Wow – I could never do that.” But, I did decide my “one thing” for that day was to watch this movie he mentioned, called Forks Over Knives. Both my wife and I watched the movie, which I believe is still on Netflix, and edged a lot closer to thinking that there might be something to this idea.
Later, I watched the 2011 talk given by Rip’s father, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who discussed his research on coronary artery disease and a whole foods plant-based diet as not just a prevention, but also a surprisingly effective way to allow the body to begin to heal the disease that may already be there.
Dr. Neal Barnard gave two TED talks, each addressing diseases that afflict millions of people in this country: Alzheimer’s and Diabetes. According to Dr. Barnard, diet plays a key role in the development of both conditions. His research in diabetes was particularly interesting for me because I knew on a certain level that developing diabetes was a very real possibility for me, given my most recent bloodwork.
In this talk, Barnard discusses the underlying mechanism for insulin resistance, and how a plant-based diet low in added fats (like oils) can be used to not only prevent, but also reverse type 2 diabetes.
Bernard’s second talk, delivered in Bismarck, ND, focused on Alzheimers, and it’s well worth the 17-minute time investment.
One non-TED talk I highly recommend by Dr. Barnard is a more recent talk concerning dairy. Dr. Barnard recently wrote a new book, titled The Cheese Trap, which I highly recommend. I have a signed version of this book on my shelf from a book signing event in his home town of Fargo, ND. I had a chance to meet him and personally thank him as one of the people that influenced my regaining control over my health. Aside from being a brilliant researcher, doctor, and even a musician, he’s a genuinely nice man, and he was gracious enough to chat with me one on one for a while before the event.
One other talk I watched early on was by Dr. John McDougall, titled “The food we were born to eat.” McDougall posits that starch from whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, and root vegetables is the best source of energy for humans. When I first saw this talk, I was completely turned off since I still believed that all carbs were bad. It was 180 degrees different than I was told about healthy eating.
Since then, as I learned more about nutrition and experimented with what works for me, I’d have to say that the diet McDougall recommends closely resembles what I eat today, with the exception that I probably eat slightly more fats (from plant sources only like avocados, nuts & seeds) than he recommends. I think his target is less than 10% of total calories from fat, and I land somewhere in the 12%-16% range. McDougall’s latest book, titled The Healthiest Diet On the Planet, resides on my bookshelf, and I highly recommend it.
A longer talk that I recommend everyone listen to at least once is by Dr. Michael Greger, titled “Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death”. Dr. Greger goes through the top 15 causes of death in the United States and discusses how plant-based eating has been shown to prevent almost all of them, can be used to treat most of them, and can even reverse the progression of a third of them. Greger later wrote How Not to Die, a best-selling book that I purchased and read more than once. As an aside, one of the most striking elements of the book was the sheer volume of references to medical research that Greger cites throughout the book… Something close to 2,500 citations to published medical research; far more than any other nutrition book I’ve ever seen.
So, after a litany of plant-based examples like this, you might be thinking: “You just brainwashed yourself into this view by watching nothing but pro-plant-based views for hours and hours.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The talks I listed above were just a few of the huge variety of talks that I went through which argued for and against various forms of eating. I watched the great nutrition debate held by the USDA, where advocates from a variety of eating plans, including the low-carb Atkins approaches, the more balanced “ZONE” diet, a calorie-focused model, and the plant-based model.
I also spent a lot of time listening to talks by folks who argue differently, and I still see some good points in what they do. Dr. Peter Attia is one example. Attia is in my opinion one of the most well-reasoned advocates for a low-carb eating style. He spent over two years in nutritional keytosis (meaning that even though he was eating, his body still used the products of fat as its primary fuel). Here’s a link to his TED talk surrounding diabetes and insulin resistance. He helped found a non-profit called NuSci, with the goal of doing the nutrition research with a team of experts who all advocated different eating patterns to reason out the best and most practical ones. I didn’t implement any of his nutrition advice (which tends to be a derivation of low-carb eating), but after seeing other talks by him, I admire his willingness to set aside his personal biases, and work with people that don’t think the same thing to try and find the best path experimentally. I also wish his research team well.
At the end of the day, I learned about multiple different diet plans, ranging the spectrum from plant-based high carb, extremely low fat like the Ornish diet, to the extremely high fat/protein low carb advocates like paleo, bulletproof, and Atkins, and various incarnations in the middle (like the Zone diet). I skeptically took in as much information as I could from a variety of sources, added them to my personal experiences and made the best decision I could with the information at hand. Because I’m an insufferable nerd, I made a spreadsheet listing pros & cons of each style, and looking for common ground. I also had the advantage of practical experience of trying many of them at some point in my life-long struggle with weight and eating.
As a silver lining to doing a relatively stupid thing with the expensive and unhealthy shake/fasting plan, I took the opportunity of eating virtually nothing as a giant “reset” button, and I took the reset seriously. I was going to start from zero preconceptions, with a goal of finding the ideal diet for myself.
What I found works for me may not work for everyone, and I’m fine with that. However, continuing to use the excuse of confusion to do NOTHING is not really a valid strategy. One of the common themes that all these diet “experts” agree on is that the standard American diet is completely broken.
Am I perfect in my adherence to the WFPB lifestyle? Yes and no. I have been exceedingly strict on the “Plant Based” part, and that one step alone eliminates 99% of the problem foods that used to cause my overeating (ice cream, pizzas, most cookies, fast food, cheese, and more). Similar to how an alcoholic needs to avoid all drinks, I need these foods completely out of my consideration set, and a plant based diet does that for me to a large degree. Yes, there are plenty of “plant-based” foods that are completely unhealthy, such as french fries, potato chips, and soda. However, that’s where the “whole foods” piece comes in, and I seek to minimize all processed foods (especially oils) as well.
Unfortunately, sometimes when eating out or at other locations I am grudgingly flexible on the “whole foods” piece, whether it’s in the form of white rice/white flours, or even some simple sugars, such as using brown sugar on oatmeal or sweetened almond milk when unsweetened isn’t available. I sincerely wish I didn’t have to bend on these rules when eating out, but that’s the world we live in currently.
Will I eat plant-based for the rest of my life? At this time, I can’t imagine what would change my mind. I went into this as a lifestyle, and haven’t regretted my decision. In fact, the variety of non-health arguments surrounding this eating style also hold a tremendous amount of merit. Even if you were to (somehow) prove to me definitively that I’m no better or worse off health-wise, I’d still make the same choice.
I’m not talking solely about the ethics/animal treatment arguments, which never used to resonate with me, but started making a lot more sense after I started looking objectively. Beyond that, plant-based eating is less expensive (big plus for an accountant), easier to prepare (I’ll get into cooking a little later), uses far less land and water resources per calorie of food by more than 10X (efficiency is also a big plus for an accountant), is better on the environment, and better for society as a whole.
I think of plant-based eating as a social inevitability… At one point or another, we will either wake up to the evidence or we will be forced to change by the environmental and healthcare crises we’re creating through these practices. Consuming animal products is no longer necessary for anyone with access to the year-round food availability that we are so fortunate to have in this country (and in many other parts of the world). A couple hundred years ago, animals were a mobile source of needed calories, work, and wealth. Today, we have a choice. The sooner we realize that as individuals, and ultimately as a society, the better off we will be.
But, I digress… those points are probably better addressed in greater detail in a different article.
Topic 6: Cooking
So, by August, I had a pretty good idea that I wanted to give plant-based eating a shot. The only problem was that I had no idea how to do it. Most of the meals I’d cooked in my life had meat at the center, some type of simple or processed carbohydrate as a side, and few if any veggies at all. In addition, eating out successfully is nearly impossible since most restaurants where I live may have a vegetarian dish or even two, but seldom anything vegan. Even if they have a vegan dish, chances are it’s covered in oil or contains a processed vegan protein meat substitute. In short, I had to learn how to cook, and fast. I also needed to learn how to order in restaurants, and fortunately there was recently a great talk on that very topic by Mary McDougall, the wife of Dr. John McDougall.
The first place I started was with some of the books that I was reading, notably the books by Dr. McDougall and Dr. Fuhrman. I also picked up a cookbook or two, including the Engine 2 Diet Cookbook (this was put together by Rip Esselstyn, whose talk was also listed above). Cookbooks are interesting, but I’ve never really been a fan of complex recipes and measuring exact amounts of everything. I’m not organized enough to have 17 different ingredients on hand all the time for one dish. Mostly I use cookbooks as inspiration for making dishes out of things I have on hand.
Fortunately, YouTube has plenty to say about plant-based cooking, and one of the best in my opinion is Chef AJ. She created a 13+ episode series called “Healthy Living with Chef AJ” for the FoodyTV channel, which I highly recommend.
Chef AJ also hosts a weekly series posted on her YouTube channel called “Weight Loss Wednesday”, which contain a variety of interesting guests and good food tips. This series is streamed live for the customers of her “ultimate weight loss” program, but all the episodes are available on YouTube for anyone to watch.
Another great channel to think about is by Rosa Tron, also known as Cheap Lazy Vegan. She specializes in simple recipes presented in a quirky and entertaining style. Many of her dishes are inspired by Korean food (which I love). Some of her recipes use ingredients that I tend to avoid (like oil or peanut butter made with oil), but it’s easy to adapt what she does, and the food tastes great. I’m one of the 300,000+ subscribers to her channel, and I’ve learned a lot.
Both Chef AJ and Cheap Lazy Vegan have videos about meal planning, and batch cooking where you can cook for your entire week in just one day. Plant-based cooking lends itself very well to batch cooking because of the simplicity of the recipes. Honestly, I haven’t started doing this as a normal practice, but I’m still intrigued by the idea and want to give it a try at some point. Every time I make a batch of three-bean chili, bean & lentil tacos, or Chinese noodles with peanut sauce, I make a LOT and we end up eating it for the next several days.
One other channel I would recommend is the Whole Food Plant Based Cooking Show, with Jill Dalton.
Dalton is even more strict on things like pastas and rice than I am, but the meals she creates with veggies are great, relatively simple to do and super healthy.
There are dozens if not hundreds of other plant-based or vegan cooking tips on YouTube, so if you’re not sure where else to go just do a quick search. Please remember, though, that just because something is vegan it is not necessarily health-promoting. Twizzlers and potato chips are vegan foods.
So, what kinds of foods do I eat? I took a lot of pictures through my LoseIt! app, and here’s a good example of some typical meals that I eat regularly:
Breakfast: I basically eat the same meal for breakfast every day, and I LOVE it: Old Fashioned Oats mixed with about a tablespoon of ground flaxseed, topped with fruit (generally an apple but sometimes berries or grapes), and unsweetened almond milk. I eat this cold – it’s like a very hearty bowl of cereal. Often I’ll add some Ceylon Cinnamon on top of the apples.
Lunch: After I go for my walk at noon, the lunches I eat are generally at my desk. I have only a microwave to work with. Generally, I’ll bring leftovers from the night before, or make a big batch of something like a three-bean chili and bring that each day to work for the balance of the week. Here’s a few examples of common lunches:
Potatoes (cooked in the microwave), topped with riced veggies, a little bit of ground flax and salsa. I add a tiny bit of the ground flax or maybe 4-8 almonds to a dish like this because there are nutrients that are fat soluble (thank you Dr. Greger), so you don’t absorb them if there’s no fat in the dish. However, you don’t need very much fat at all to get the absorption to happen.
This whole plate of food is fewer than 500 calories.
Whole wheat pasta with a pasta sauce made without oil. The mixed greens are topped with salsa (yes, I love salsa), and a tiny bit of flax once again. I’ll eat about half of the bag of carrots as well, and polish them off as an afternoon snack.
Three-bean chili and brown rice mixed together, along with a plate of fresh veggies and a couple of kiwis for dessert. In case you’re wondering, yes I actually arrange my food like this before eating it (even if I’m not taking a picture). Don’t judge me.
Chinese noodles and stir-fried mushrooms & veggies (no oil) on a bed of kale greens. The dark sauce on there is coconut aminos, which is like soy sauce but with much lower sodium.
Every so often I’ll make these Chinese noodles with a peanut sauce using PB2 (de-fatted peanut powder), powdered ginger, coconut aminos, and unsweetened almond milk. Thank you Cheap Lazy Vegan for the inspiration on that sauce.
Keep in mind this is a “sometimes” dish for me because these noodles and the defatted powdered peanut butter are not “whole foods”.
Dinners: We eat a LOT of varied veggie dishes, but here are a few that I really enjoy and keep going back to:
Whole wheat pasta with a non-oil tomato-based pasta sauce. In the sauce there’s some water sautéed cauliflower , onions and mushrooms, and around the edge is a mountain of peas.
This dish is taken directly from one of Chef AJ’s shows – essentially a fill your own squash bar. Take a few slices of baked squash and make up a variety of other ingredients for toppings. This time it looks like it was some peas, water-sautéed mushrooms, green onions, and salsa.
The drink in the corner is unsweetened almond milk.
Saturdays are generally sushi night at our house and we all love it. I use fillings like lightly steamed
sweet potatoes and asparagus, fresh avocado, cucumber, and peapods. Brown or white rice both work fine (lately I use a 50/50 mix).
I also love the fact that the nori sheets are a natural source of iodine.
Black & pinto bean tacos with brown rice and salsa. All the bean dishes I make are with canned beans with no salt. For tacos, I add some cumin, garlic and other Mexican spices, or even use a low sodium taco seasoning from the store.
Generally, I like to use corn tortillas since the wheat ones are made with white flour and oil. If we don’t have any tortillas, I just add the taco filling to a bed of greens for a taco salad. Avocados are optional if you’re wanting to keep fat content lower.
The little tortilla chips are made by quartering some corn tortillas and baking them in the oven until crispy.
Chickpea & Lentil curry over basmati rice. I added corn to this one, but usually it’s sweet potato, cauliflower, or some other veggie.
This dish is a “sometimes” treat at our house because I use a store-bought mild curry sauce that contains no oils or animal products, but does contain a little bit of coconut cream, which is one of very few sources of plant-based saturated fat that I know of. I’m not too worried, though, because this entire plate has less than 1 gram of saturated fat. I’m hoping to find a good (mild) curry recipe that I can make at home with an almond milk base, but I haven’t found one that I like yet.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of the kinds of things that are possible with plant-based eating. I had to cut the pictures off at some point, but there’s an endless variety of foods that I could have shown, including: bean burgers, pumpkin pasta, sweet potato lasagna, quinoa and kale, and many more dishes. I’m constantly amazed at the colors, tastes, and textures of this great food, and I haven’t gotten bored or tired of any of it. If anyone wants more info about how I make a specific dish, I’ll see if I can add a bit more details or find a link to a recipe.
Lastly, I hope this also gives you an idea that I don’t hold back on portions. I’m a volume eater, and I needed to find an eating style that allows me to continue to eat a lot of food without weighing and measuring things or I’d never stick to it. I weighed and measured a lot during my initial weight loss, but now I don’t bother.
Eating whole plant foods means eating primarily low-caloric density foods, and avoiding the high-density processed foods and oils. An entire pound of boiled potatoes (basically a full plate of them) is only about 320-375 calories, depending on the variety. Just top them with veggies and salsa instead of adding the butter and cream that so many people do. Avoiding oils is another secret to caloric density… If I wanted to have 120 calories of something, I’d much rather eat a half cup of black beans or 2/3 cup of cooked rice or 2 full cups of butternut squash than needlessly add a tablespoon of oil.
Topic 7: Meditation, mindfulness, personal growth and transformation
I’m not sure how I stumbled onto the topic line of meditation and personal growth, but I believe it was this talk by Vishen Lakhiani, the CEO and founder of MindValley.
Lakhiani outlines a simple but powerful structure for a quick meditation session that he uses to begin each day. The six phases are: Compassion, Gratitude, Forgiveness, Future Dreaming, Picturing Your Perfect Day, and then a Blessing. Lakhiani elaborates on each one in his talk, and I decided to give it a try. I’ve been opening or ending almost every day with one of these simple sessions for the past couple of months, and I’ve noticed tremendous gains in my confidence, purpose, happiness and sense of wellbeing.
I wouldn’t have described myself as “unhappy” by any means, but just taking a moment to remember and picture all the things you’re grateful for from the previous day or week takes happiness to a whole new level. I now actively notice and appreciate things that I am grateful for during the day, and give myself a moment to feel the gratitude. I find that the good things in life are more apparent and memorable than the setbacks during any specific day. I take a moment to appreciate tiny things like a gentle cooling breeze on a hot day, the first sip of green tea in the morning, or the friendly smile of a stranger. I’ve also cultivated a deeper appreciation for the bigger things in life like time spent in conversation with my wife out on the patio after putting the kids to bed for the night, or playing with my children.
I wouldn’t have described myself as “unforgiving” by any means, but it’s truly powerful (and sometimes challenging) to take a moment to bring up, relive, and forgive grievances against others and against oneself. Because I tend not to hold on to grievances as a practice, many times I end up forgiving myself for stupid things I’ve said, done, or left undone.
I’ve always been a driven and goal-oriented person, but spending several minutes each day to visualize my version of future success, and then picturing how my day will unfold to help bring me one step closer to realizing that vision is extremely empowering, motivating, and positive.
In short, I feel much better about myself, my future, and those around me.
One other beautiful talk by Lakhiani is his speech on what he calls the three most important questions.
In it, he makes a distinction between two different types of goals: means goals and end goals. Too often, we set goals for ourselves that are merely means goals… Things like getting a certain GPA, a certain salary level, a promotion at work, a good review, or amassing money in general. We only want to do them either because someone else told us they were what we needed to do, or because they are a means to something else. The ends goals are what you arrive at after asking yourself “why” (sometimes many times). The end goals are what end up truly mattering to you as a person.
I’ll leave you to watch his talk to discover the three most important questions which help you identify your end goals, and I highly encourage you to take the time to start your answers to those questions as well. Lakhiani takes you through a timed exercise in this talk, which is important for the process. However, feel free to revise and hone your answers over time as life progresses.
In addition, I can’t recommend enough that you spend some time in the YouTube channel for Lakhiani’s company, MindValley. There are truly valuable talks and ways of looking at the world. I purchased his book, Code of the Extraordinary Mind, and ended up later taking a MindValley course, called Becoming Limitless.
There are a few speakers in the MindValley playlist that are a little too out there for me, but even if I don’t find every single talk useful right now, I don’t let that distract from the positive things that can be learned and implemented from folks like Vishen Lakhiani, Jon Butcher, Eric Edmeades, and T. Harv Eker.
As I look back at the last year, I feel great about the progress made in so many areas of my life, but I also feel a tinge of regret. I wonder what life would have been like if I’d taken this path sooner. Many of the talks and subjects I listed above have been out there for years, but I never knew they existed. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been in the right place mentally yet to let them make a difference in my life. But perhaps I could have made these changes years ago. I could be even further along in my health and vision of an athletic body than I am today. I could have figured out how to contribute to the world, and be much further along the way in doing so. I could have given my wife the husband she deserves so much earlier.
Unfortunately, I can’t turn back the clock, but I can impact my future. I’ve made peace with who I was before and how long it took to wake up from that, but for anyone out there thinking that they need to make a change in their lives, don’t wait. Start with a promise of your own. Find your “why”, then fire up YouTube, or grab a book. Start learning, start experimenting, start your own road to health or the change you desire, and start living.
Next Steps: How to help
One of the most common questions I get asked after people read this is, “Dan, how can I help?”
You can help in three ways:
Share this site. If you’re on twitter, tweet about it. If you’re on Facebook or Google+, link to it. If there is someone in your life who you thought of when reading this, please let them know. This site has zero revenue and therefore zero ad budget, and will only be seen if readers like yourself decide its worth sharing.
Share your story. The Blog section is for you. If you’ve had success in transforming your health or any other area of your life, feel free to share your story using the blog section. I’d love to turn this site into a free, hope-filled litany of examples of real positive transformations. If you’re just starting out, feel free to comment there too! Chances are that someone else out there may be facing the same thing, and you can give and receive support in your progress. Any contribution will enrich the conversation.
Share your positivity. It takes courage to contribute to the blog, so please take time to read and offer support or advice to those who are sharing their stories as well.
Afterword: What’s next for me?
The coming year will be all about learning how to contribute to the world. This article was my first attempt at doing so, and I plan on doing public speaking to share my story and experiences to help spread the word about the power of YouTube learning and plant-based eating. There are also several other initiatives that are currently in their planning phase, and I’ll write more about those in time using the blog.
In case you’re wondering, any of the book links above do NOT provide any affiliate income or other revenue for myself or this site. I’m paying for this site out of my own pocket without any expectations of monetary return. I own all of the books that are linked, and recommend them highly to anyone wanting to learn more about nutrition and health.
Thank you for reading, and please share this with anyone you believe might benefit from reading it.
Obligatory disclaimer: I’m an accountant, not a doctor. None of the advice in this article should be construed as specific medical advice. If you are interested in making changes to yourself and your situation, please consider doing so with the help of a qualified medical professional. If you’re interested in seeking out a doctor that understands plant-based nutrition, a good place to start is plantbaseddoctors.org.