Your intuition to eat when hungry is incorrect with reference to getting you leaner. "Hunger" is caused by the secretion of a hormone, ghrelin, which happens to occur when growth hormone is released. In fact, not only does the drop in blood sugar and therefore decrease in insulin help engender growth hormone production. Ghrelin itself stimulates growth hormone release (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v402/n6762/full/402656a0.html). Growth hormone protects muscle and promotes fat loss. If you think hunger is a helpful predictor of when you should eat, you are exactly mistaken. Being hungry is the primary symptom of profound body fat loss. Ask anyone who has ever gotten extremely lean, and they will tell you that they gleefully embraced the painfully deep hunger that accompanied their morning fasted cardio sessions precisely because that is the only time you know for certain that you are losing body fat. The more hours and more frequently you do this, the leaner you will get. As long as you continue to stress skeletal muscle regularly and average a daily sufficient nutritional intake, you will lose zero lean mass in the process.
Every possible thought, belief, action, behavior and habit lies within a dense and outstretched forest. Every time you bring one of these behaviors or thoughts into being, you start a path through the wooded thicket. Your first pass is a difficult one. Branches catch you in the face. You are scratched. It's work, hard work, cutting back the vines and overgrowth. But the second pass is easier, if only a little. Over time you beat down the path, smoothing it over until it's a nearly effortless pass. By the millionth time, you have invested in paving it as a superhighway, and there isn't a single obstruction in your way.
We've all been there: on a drive home or to work or somewhere, we arrive not even realizing how we got there. We've traveled the road so many times that it's on autopilot. It's effortless, because you've perfectly carved that trail through the forest. When we're faced with road construction on our familiar pathway, it's irritating and exhausting, because we are running a different combination of circuitry, a different pathway of action potentials firing across the brian. It's unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and depleting.
The forest, by the way, is the neural network of your brain; and, in fact, we do carve physical, visible grooves in it with repeated behaviors, thoughts, actions, beliefs, feelings, reactions, vices, work ethic, eating habits, anger management, immune function, addiction, etc.
These grooves are easy paths of neuron firing. So, when you decide to change a behavior or thought pattern, you are quite literally confronted with the option to either go down the old easy path or break out the machete and get to work. The good news is you can do it. The bad news is that even after you travel the new trail, the old one is smoother. And every time you start your day, you can either take the paved path or hack down some more vines and crawl over a few more logs and stones. When you're tired, sick, sad, or demotivated, which path ya gonna take?
It's going to take a long time for an abandoned superhighway to look unappealing. You have to invest a lot in the new trail. But, in time, your new path is easy and moss grows over the old one. Cracks form in the old highway's surface. Vines come snaking back across the way; and trees sprout up through the double yellow lines themselves. The forest will retake the old highway. But it's going to be a while. Meanwhile, you've yet to invest just as much in the new trail.
Any behavior, belief, emotion or action of the brain can change. Another path lies within the forest. But you must not only create it and travel it. You must cultivate it and commit to the destruction of the old one. It's a mistake to think that just because you've formed a new habit that the old ones are gone. They are still there, pristinely awaiting your return. Only when the old ways become unfamiliar will their appeal wane.
It takes time, a lot of time. But it's legitimate. Most of the "cheat" or "I-could-never-imagine-giving-up" foods are not actually food. My mind doesn't classify them as food anymore. When I look at wheat bread or processed foods with grain proteins I get the exact same response as when I gaze upon gravel on the ground. I can eat it. I could eat it. But why would I? It's not food. You never step out of your car, catch a glimpse of gravel, and say to yourself, "I could never imagine giving up eating gravel for the rest of my life." You have long ago committed to never eating gravel. You have given up gravel-eating for your whole life, because, in your mind, it isn't food.
This took me about 3-4 years. I'm not a robot or a superhuman. I'm just some guy. So I suspect most significant behavior changes will take 3-4 years of unbroken 99% compliance. The first pass is the hardest. Subsequent travels prove easier. But when you're tired and beat down, there is comfort in the old familiar which requires a redoubling of efforts to avoid for the next few passes. Some addictions and pathologically imprinted Pavlovian-conditioned beliefs and feelings will certainly take a lot longer. But longer is not forever.
So, when you break out the hatchet, the pruning shears, the chainsaw or bulldozer, remember that the battle isn't won just because you carved a new path. The battle isn't ever really won. Three months of great drive will not wipe your memory banks clear. Old demons will call you quite clearly for years to come. But at some point, as you invest in your new superhighway, your new you, your new brain, your new heart, your new behaviors and thoughts, the old path will be nothing but a largely forgotten, vaguely familiar, perilous and unappealing path. With the vast forest of possibilities, why travel down an old disrepaired road that gets uglier with every day? One day, there won't be a single reason left.
I'm no expert. I don't know much. The more I learn, I find the less I understand. But I have completed over 10,000 consults while working in the fitness industry. I've hired and developed hundreds of fitness professionals. And I've worked with and/or seen tens of thousands of clients during their fitness journeys. So, through the course of observing and contemplating this sheer volume, I learned a couple things about the fundamental needs to set one up for success. Psychologically or emotionally (however you need to categorize it), happiness is at the center. Though we may be driven by a continual desire for improvement, a certain amount of happiness and gratitude for our current station in life wards off the fatalism and defeated-mindset which prevents progress. This happiness is a skill, not an outcome from attaining or accumulating more. Like all other skills, it must be watchfully cared for, cultivated and practiced.
Unfortunately, people think they'll obtain happiness by getting whatever they want; but the opposite is true. Wants are momentary, and so is the fleeting happiness that comes with getting what you want. Just like when people who don't manage their money well win the lottery and still end up bankrupt, if you haven't learned how to be fulfilled with what you have, you still won't be fulfilled with more. You'll just have more to weigh you down and complain about, ever-feeding the dissatisfaction and a desire to fix what ain't broke in the first place, causing harm in the process. People who seek happiness through getting high tend to only increasingly require a greater high to get them almost as happy as they were before it all.
Shawn Achor rocked the world a few years back with his TedTalk (https://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work?language=en) on how we invert the equation of happiness. Convincingly, he argued that people who've developed a positive outlook first wind up more capable of succeeding at any given task. Negativity, depression, and even neutral or "realist" outlook is on average about 30% less efficient and effective at everything.
The international poverty line is $1.25 per day or $1.90 per day, depending on which source you consult. Over 12% of the world lives at or below this line. Over 42% of people in Africa live at or below this line. If we move the number up to $3.10 per day, well over 2 billion people fall below the line. Try to take this in. If an average American had his housing paid for for the month, all groceries purchased for the week, all transportation and communication needs taken care of, he could not operate at this number. Just think of one day's utilities to keep the lights on and water flowing. Forget about heat or cooling. You are wealthy.
I frequently post news stories about people who have all odds against them. Sometimes it's an amputee who is still a badass athlete. Sometimes it's a 100 year old person who started working out 8 years ago and is fitter than most people in their 30s on up. When I first started athletic training, whenever people started griping about the woes of life (as if billions of people hadn't dealt with their identical problems and worse), I'd generally retort, "at least you weren't born in a ditch in Calcutta."
Maybe that's offensive. But it ought to be. We ought to feel shame and conviction at how well we have it, and how readily we jump in to justify our waste of talent, gifts and wealth. Include me in this. I'm not talking about cultivating blissful naivety. Become an actual realist. Don't hide behind the moniker of "realist," when it's really a strategic pity party. Upward comparisons have become the order of the day, which is totally ludicrous if you think about it, since you're contrasting your environment or lifestyle against .01% or less of the current developed world population. If you're reading this, just being a fluent English user means you are in the top 10% wealthiest people who've ever lived on the face of the earth. If you have access to clean bottled water or clean running water, you are wealthier than Medieval nobility and aristocrats. Thanks to advances in technology and science, even some of the most oppressed people in the modern world have better lives than the rich of every prior century in history.
Now don't dwell on the conviction. Don't swim in a pool of shame. Likewise, don't drown in a sewer of excuses. Just properly evaluate how good you have it. You have it good. Be grateful. Be empowered by knowing how much you really have already. This is arguably the biggest part of getting skillful at happiness. If your personal evaluation is always targeted at dissatisfaction and want, you are beginning on the wrong foot. You are developing the skill of unhappiness. And some of us are so good at unhappiness that we wear it like a badge of honor.
It's an obvious fact that children generally have far more energy than adults. Why exactly is that? I believe a big part is that they have not generated the skill of unhappiness yet. They are actually in the moment, loving it for itself and dreaming about future wonders. You know full well that days where you are excited, fulfilled and happy you can rock it out no matter how little sleep you got or how long the day is. We adults have become far too good at dwelling our mind on anything but the moment we're in; and we exhaust ourselves by imagining phony challenges when we don't even face a real challenge in our day. People in the developing world have to figure out how to not get murdered on the way to potable water every day. You are anxious and depressed because your Facebook feed has some positive updates of people you envy, or negative updates of people you disagree with. You have it really, really, really, really good.
Outside of Shawn Achor's takeaways, there isn't much to add in the way of homework to cultivate the skill of happiness. I can just as easily fall into the trap of upward comparisons, and sometimes do when interacting with some of the wealthier people I know. But I have to remind myself this is an upward comparison on a single criterion. People are people. And some of the richest people out there have severe escapism issues, cannot sleep at night and spend less time with their kids on a weekly basis than I do. You see what happened there? I put the emphasis on what I have that others don't, instead of what others have that I don't.
I have clients with whom we have made Shawn Achor takeaways or other non-fitness related behaviors part of their program. We review weekly progress, what worked, what didn't. And it may sound crazy. But I have had people who are required to turn in to me 3 or more gratitudes per day and all of a sudden they are changed. In some cases, their actual personalities transformed. Likes and dislikes alter. In some cases, people started making progress in their fitness or careers again just from their outlook changing by virtue of these practices.
It isn’t a cheesy optimism exercise. It’s an accurate perspective borne out of an effective skill. You just have to build it, practice it, become increasingly able with it, just like you would with any other skill. You would not wait around for the world to gift you with any other skill. Don’t wait for a magical change in circumstances to gift you the skill of happiness either. You know for a fact that you have to practice to cultivate prowess on an instrument, a foreign language, a new sport, or any hobby, diversion or game. Happiness is no different. Practice. Practice. Practice. Oh, and one more thing: practice.
Earlier today my son, daughter and I were heading back home from the park which is about a one block walk from our house. He was on his bike; and I was pushing my daughter in the overpriced jogging stroller. Exiting the park, the pathway has a low grade incline, which turns 90 degrees onto another path that is a slightly higher incline, which leads onto our adjacent street which is a lower uphill battle. My son started up the initial hill, and at the first sign of resistance he stopped pedaling to "take a break." He then found himself completely incapable of even starting up that very same hill, let alone the next two hills. He was confused and looked at me for an explanation or help. I said, "you just learned a valuable lesson in momentum; the only time you take a break is before you start the hill or after you finish them all."
My son is you. The hills are the psychological and physiological challenges on your way through weight loss. Once you have committed to losing weight, you are traveling up a hill. If you take a single momentary break while you are on the hill, you have made a fatal error in judgement. You will not make it to the top without returning to the bottom again to muster momentum anew. Be all in; or be all out. Lukewarmness is a transgression of Biblical proportions.
If you need to lose 40lbs, ANYTHING shy of 41lbs lost is still climbing the hill. With my most driven clients, we don't slow down until they are 5 or 10lbs past their goal or the leanest physique they desire. When you reward yourself with a break after anything less than the goal number, you have fallen into the trap of Sisyphus. If you aren't familiar with this tale, Sisyphus was a Greek mythological character who eternally rolled a stone up a hill, repeatedly starting over, never to obtain the summit or rest. Coincidentally, this was his punishment for deceitfulness. I see a strong parallel with how honest you must be with yourself.
Once you go after it, commit to nothing less than the summit. Resistance will happen; and you must be prepared to grind through the discomfort in order to reach the peak. Continue pedaling. Do not submit. Keep the momentum.
The Modern Priestly Class Is The Greatest Health Hazard in Human History
People like to invoke "science," "scientists," "researchers," "medical experts," and "expert consensus" as authoritative. I include myself among those who make this mistake. Those words in quotations and related phrases have become code for the contemporary priestly class. Medical and scientific authority have become the amplified modern version of the Medieval Vatican, issuing dictums to parishioners, nominal members and non-members alike. The problem, of course, is that scientific paradigms are not just frequently overturned, but are supposed to be. They are not end point conversation stoppers. They are conversation starters. Many people cite a position or finding, drop the mic and walk away. That's a fundamental misunderstanding of scientific inquiry; and it's really a pathetic appeal to the current priestly authority. Appeal to authority is always dangerous. It's a logical fallacy in fact. Our faith in some experts, even the majority in a field, is misplaced in modern dialogue. We are engaging the mechanics of logic and debate less, while invoking our favorite icon(s) more. That makes the modern priestly class the most dangerous of all time; and they are ruining our health. But in the end, we have no one to blame but ourselves for having outsourced our own thinking and our own personal responsibility for our health to the modern priestly class.
In 1992, the group Rage Against The Machine released a song named "Killing In The Name." Specifically, it's about white authority and corruption, namely Klan involvement in law enforcement. However, the overarching theme of the song is that part of human nature is to create centers of authority and unthinkingly follow them: "and now you do what they told ya; now you're under control." The point is that while authority is on your side, you tend to feel justified in your support of it. While you agree with authority, you tend to scrutinize it less and less. While it's leaving you alone, it's really easy to believe in its rightness and even righteousness. It becomes very easy to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing. No one is too rational or dispassionate to avoid falling into this trap. While authority gains popularity, its errors get magnified, and the acolytes cannot even see the increasingly egregious errors anymore. All the while it dehumanizes opponents, causes increased strife, and destroys the very ideals it had set out to bolster. The answer, of course, is Rage's crescendo chorus, "f@&$ you! I won't do what ya tell me!" Like them, let's repeat this a few dozen times in a row loudly and to music (by the way, this 40 seconds of recording is the best for attempting a personal record in any athletic endeavor). Remember this line; and invoke it every time an authority figure directs you to do something which makes no sense, with many repetitions if necessary.
When I was very young, around 3 or 4, I was infatuated with paleontology. I memorized all the names of dinosaurs, their timetables, their classifications and characteristics. By the age of 5 I found a good friend, Gerardo De Los Santos, who was equally infatuated. We both began to realize over the next few years, especially when contrasting our respective dinosaur books, that the same bones led different paleontologists to different conclusions. Revisions were constant. Names changed. Different rock strata yielded similar species. The same bone was used to make a case for a tiny species' femur or a larger species' thumb. Around 7 years old I learned that uniformitarianism, the required assumption of all radioactive decay dating, has numerous counterexamples. In formal logic, it requires only a single counterexample to completely dismantle a rule, let alone a theory or hypothesis. I was so fortunate to learn that discovery is not a fixed truth so much as an organic waltz. My favorite science writer when I was in my teens, Michael Shermer, used the term "provisional truth" to describe a discovery which seems to have the current best explanatory capacity. Provisional truths are only so good as they can provide some usefulness. The greatest of discoveries is only momentarily pragmatic, not indefinitely authoritative.
For over 20 years the American Medical Association tacitly to blatantly recommended smoking cigarettes (http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1848212,00.html). In the 1700s many if not the majority of scientists on earth believed in spontaneous generation, despite Louis Pasteur's work. Some iteration of abiogenesis still remains in popular favor despite no empirical evidence, but based only on an inductive argument which begs several prior questions. From the start of the Human Genome Project in 1990 or earlier up until 2013 or later conventional geneticists declared authoritatively that 1% of DNA is coding and the rest is some sort of leftovers or "junk." The proponents of that position have become apologists doing a revision dance almost daily for the last three years. Further advances in the understanding of epigenetics, membranome and proteome are going to keep them dancing for decades to come. Germ theory led to a chronic over-sterilization of our homes, hospitals, skin and digestive tracts to the tune of unprecedented allergies, sensitivities, autoimmune disorders, destroyed biome and superbugs, some of which can't be destroyed with bleach. Western medical researchers up until very recently thought that dietary fat and cholesterol caused heart disease, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/07/the-sugar-conspiracy-robert-lustig-john-yudkin) and despite NEVER proposing or confirming a known biological mechanism that would account for causation. You may think we know better today than we did in the past. Possibly. Yet, if you're right, tomorrow we will know better than the past... which... is today.
We need scientists and doctors. I cannot emphasize this enough. However, our need for their work must not be confused with their work being ineffably perfect. Scientists and doctors get a lot of things wrong, and not just on occasion. They get things wrong constantly and consistently even on the same topic for decades. That's not a bad thing. That's just a reality of discovery. They do the best they can with the tools available and the technology of the day. Discovery is a process, not a final product. Stop thinking of a scientific discovery as the end of a road, so much as the beginning of a fork in the road. The danger is when we begin thinking of discoveries as final, their champions as final authority, and all opponents as Luddites, Philistines and buffoons. This stops the process of discovery. This stops the debate of subjects, and begins the "my guru can beat up your guru" soliloquies. Some people blame this oversimplification on news media and technology; but infotainment outlets are just delivering what the public wants: convenience, lack of nuance, and reduction of complex subjects to the priest's sound byte.
The most erudite experts are people. Only people. No matter how many credentials they have and suffixes after their names, they are absolutely never unquestionable. They are the new priestly class, carrying the burden of being the "bearers of truth." But like all other priestly classes, this does not insulate them from criticism. In fact, it means that their ignorance, naivety, objective wrongness and insidious agenda can be hidden in a layer of infallible expertise. Like always, that is supremely dangerous. Consequently, it is a civic duty to incessantly doubt and investigate every single claim of the priestly class, especially consensus beliefs, but certainly individual claims. Reopen old investigations. Find errors. Revise with extreme prejudice. It is the right of the layperson, no matter how few suffixes he has, to exercise his first amendment freedom against the tyranny of authoritarianism and aggressively criticize to his dying breath the logical fallacy of appeal to authority or consensus. An argument must stand or fall on its own merits, not the merits of the errant human stating it, since the prevailing winds of societal values change with and within every generation anyway.
Frankly, nobody wants the liability associated with being objectively definitively right anyway. Ever hear the sayings, "do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?" or "do you want to be right, or do you want to be rich?”? Look at what's happened in medical malpractice lawsuits. As a society, we started to believe a surgeon should be 110% successful, incapable of mistakes, and that diagnoses are an end of discussion. Any deviation from this expectation and people feel completely justified in suing a clinic or doctor. It's ludicrous. Nobody wants that pressure. And nobody should have that pressure. They do the best with the tools they have and the technology of the day. If we turn our attention to science research, it's no different. Researchers don't want personal liability in being right. When some scientific discovery upends theirs, they tend to get defensive. It's unnecessary, because we (including them) need to realize that their first pronouncement was only provisional. Of course it's wrong. Everything and everyone is wrong in time. It's just a matter of how much less wrong we can be over time.
The modern person may think that the most pernicious appeal to authority was a Medieval kow tow before "the church." The historical reality, however, was that religious hierarchy never held as widespread of thought control as any modern proclamation made by the NIH, the NAS, the AMA, the CDC, the WHO and to a lesser extent the FDA. When they tell us to jump into a pile of used syringes, we say, "how long should we roll around in them for improved health?" Around 1980 the new priests in the US and UK told us to cut out dietary fat. We listened with such vigor that obesity and comorbidities skyrocketed beyond any point in human history. The new priests have marched more secular individuals (numerically and percentage-wise) to an early grave than the death toll of all ecclesiastical warmongers combined. Try to remember how disconnected and segregated the world once was, a world that never had more than a grand total of 500 million persons until a few hundred years ago. To be sure, old empires received duties from all over the world. But none commanded total obedience like the priestly class of today, a priestly class which wields dominion over all 530 million people in North America and a heavy hand on the 7.5 billion people and growing population of the world. Authorities still send our young people to die in unpopular wars that aristocrats want. Egregious failure from highest authority is not a thing of the past, nor a contrived religious behavior. Don't forget that the words skepticism and skeptic do not come to us from modern thinkers. They are Greek words from the ancients. We modern people are not so sophisticated. The Protestant Reformation was a 16th century widespread movement (after many prior attempts) thumbing its nose at the supposed authority of the day. Where are our modern widespread reformations? Nowhere. If dialogue, open debate, and massive reformation are hallmarks of progress, we are living in arguably the least progressive time in history. Critics of a finding and debate of a subject have always existed. Let's embrace that again, rather than constantly invoking the rhetorical devices of appeal to the authority or concensus of the modern priests.
The priestly class and its followers avoid debate by minimizing opponents, the act of which itself is an ad hominem fallacy. And I would argue that only in very recent history have we reached a point where the priestly class has convincingly brain-washed most acolytes into believing that issues are beyond debate, beyond question, beyond settled. The modern priests appeal to peer review or internal audit to bolster their divine revelation. However, there are many examples where these tools have failed miserably, especially when grant money, funding and careers are on the line. Gary Taubes, best known for ending the calorie and salt myths, started out by demolishing "bad science" in physics. Yes, physics. If ever there were ever a scientific field that we would expect to be empty of fraud, it would be physics, especially given the alleged rigor in peer review and publishing. Alas, even hard science, empirical and applied sciences fail: the Challenger takeoff in 1986 is just one dramatic example.
Researchers and scientists in human biology, nutritional and health sciences clearly have a lot more prestige and dollars at stake than physicists. The grand total multinational collaborative effort to find the Higgs Boson particle at the LHC was a few billion dollars. This was the largest financial endeavor in the history of physics. Contrast that against just today's current market valuation of just the top five or so pharmaceutical companies, which is in the trillions. Put that aside for a moment and simply exert basic critical thinking. Peer review and internal audit are safeguards to ensure the old belief system isn't overthrown. It's not a conspiracy. It's just the way of the world. Those who obtain power don't give it up. And there is no greater power than being the "keeper of truth." I repeat, the modern priestly class is the most dangerous of all time.
Don't mishear me. I get the same visceral response that you do when I hear people argue that vaccines are responsible for autism or that there is no anthropogenic climate change. But I have to ask myself (and I hope you'll do the same), "how much of my knee-jerk rejection of an idea is due to indoctrination by the modern priests and present popular culture?" The fact is that most of these debates are built on false dichotomies and strawman fallacies anyway. There are always more than two possible positions. You don't need to be pro-vaccine or an "anti-vaxxer." You can believe in the benefit of vaccination and be hesitant about the increasingly aggressive schedules. Neither demonizing vaccines nor demonizing people who hesitate to do all 60 vaccines on their children immediately will move society forward. You don't need to demonized climate change concern or demonize "deniers." People can recognize that humans have an impact and that we don't know how great our impact is and that we ought to put some effort into controlling what we can. They aren't either/or propositions.
Licensure, accreditation and certification are well-intentioned and necessary. Once a field has reached a reasonable conclusion, critics should have to work hard to overthrow the paradigm. Absolutely they should. But let us start by allowing the free speech of the critics in the first place. If they aren't allowed a hearing, how will we ever learn more? Even kooks can be onto something. Many great scientific discoveries were completed by total nut jobs. If your criterion for being taken seriously in a science field is that the scientist's beliefs should align closely with peers, where does that put all the eccentrics like Newton and Einstein? We have to be careful that we aren't conflating provisional truths with absolute truths. We have to be careful that we are not confusing credentials with absolute unquestionable authority. Debates should be encouraged, not avoided. Criticism should be welcomed. Having a different idea is just that: having a different idea. Our societal aversion against engaging opposing ideas is growing. That's dangerous. That's anti-modern. That's regressive. It prevents our growth and the growth of our opposition.
I have a client who's a brilliant cell biologist. He is the quintessential, authentic scientist, a representative of the top .01% who make it to postdoctoral research and beyond, publishing in the most esteemed journals. His current work is breakthrough Alzheimer's research. More than once he's lamented the bureaucratic tape that weighs down his field, explaining how peer review can be used to stall the recognition and momentum of a research team based solely on who is friends with whom or whose funding is tied up with whose research. I asked him how many people in the field get fed up and leave. He said, "almost everyone." There are so few lifelong legitimate researchers who stay at reputable university and "disinterested" labs that it's laughable. With the current state of American science, we cannot produce another Nikolai Tesla or Jonas Salk. Today, Tesla's experiments wouldn't be allowed outside of a government-controlled facility, and certainly not done by someone without proper schooling. At best, he'd be on trial for terrorism. Salk's work on polio would never even get funding today. He would need to first convince a consensus of peers that polio is curable before even being allowed to search for a cure. If the current consensus behind the funding was that polio was incurable, he would've never even had the opportunity to seek a cure. Lest we forget, nowadays no scientific discovery is worthwhile anyway unless it is profitable and can be commoditized. We are done learning. It's all about cash flow now. Where do you think most of those former university researchers are ending up? If they stay in a science field, the best way to feed their families is working for one of those trillion dollar pharma companies or their shadow subsidiaries.
I understand. As humans, we want things to be simple. It requires a lot less mental energy to point to an authority than to engage in the mechanics of an argument. But wrestle we must. Humans have limited resources; and it is unrealistic to stay informed on every topic. I get that. We get too excited about simplifying, however, and about the prospect of shutting down an opponent with a final knockout punch. I do too. The thing is, discovery does not work that way. At best, it's provisional for the moment. At worst, it's a harmful conclusion built upon prior incorrect assumptions.
Several writers have taken to the task of showing us that we don't actually even like science. It's too fluid. It's not the impregnable oracle we want it to be. What we like is a popular authority, shrouded in the terminology of science, which entertains us and hopefully threatens and belittles those who don't share our worldview. One blogger, Maddox, has gone to the trouble of showing that, on the popular page "I f***ing love science," posts which are merely photographs devoid of science garner the greatest attention and likes, while posts which involve actual science or scientific workshops garner far less attention and oftentimes almost no likes (http://thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=youre_not_a_nerd). Other writers go further, pointing out how few people are in scientific fields and how abysmally we pay the workhorses in the field because we don't actually value real scientific discovery (http://mashable.com/2013/09/20/why-you-dont-love-science/#_V59yl6aFqq9). Instead of laying our fealty at the feet of our chosen authority to score worldview points, why don't we debate, agree to disagree and lay money at the feet of childhood science education instead? I'm not talking about more priestly indoctrination. Just teach kids how to think, inquire, discover. You know? It used to be called the scientific method. Somewhere along the line the scientific method took a backseat to philosophical conformity. If you don't believe the same thing as the rest of us, well, you're just not a real scientist.
That's called circular reasoning, by the by:
What constitutes being a real scientist?
Having the same philosophical beliefs as the rest of us.
But why do we have those beliefs?
Because they're correct.
But what constitutes "correctness"?
That we all believe it.
As far as I can tell, most medical professionals and scientific researchers have worked extremely hard to get where they are. We need them. We need to appreciate them. Specialists are impressive in their areas of expertise. Doubtless, they command our respect. What they've done is admirable, and very few deserve our contempt. However, none are above criticism. There is no status a human can attain which places him beyond fallibility. None.
I've seen an increasing trend of people defending our modern day priests and nobles like we are trying to get back to an errant version of 600 AD Britain. Firstly, the privileged have never needed defending. Secondly, it's 2016; and no one is above audit or reproach. We have to learn to be ok with the fact that oftentimes incorrect information comes from the authorities and correct information comes from non-authorities. Frankly, we have to rethink "authority."
We're at a historic moment, wherein the familiarity of what the priests say drives our beliefs and we ignore that fact because whatever they proclaim is "incontestable science." Arguably, the number one driver of human behavior is familiarity. We humans developed all of these wonderful techniques of logic, analysis, scientific inquiry and reason, only to regularly ignore them. People keep smoking when they've determined that they no longer want to. People stay in abusive relationships when they know they shouldn't. People who say they want to lose weight keep doing all the behaviors that made them fat. The electorate routinely votes for the status quo even while in the very act of lamenting the status quo. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't. The devil we know is current scientific authority and consensus. The devil we don't know is scientific inquiry. Yes, the idea that very little is settled is unfamiliar and scary. However, that's how inquiry works.
Because people want to point to a single final authority, they get confused when one headline reads, "eggs are bad for you," and another reads, "eggs are good for you." Guess what: those headlines are not scientific. Read the actual published research paper rather than the New York Times summary and you'll find that no one ever stated the headline, oftentimes the study was tainted, and more often than not two opposing findings can be explained if you do a very tiny amount of critical thinking. Moreover, keep in mind that these are all provisional truths which have many gaping holes.
Personally, what I found when I made my way through the entire USMLE1 medical lecture series is that there are many systems in the body whose mechanisms are well understood. By virtue of that, a lot of nutrition and epidemiological studies are redundant, entirely unnecessary, built on uninformed assumptions and myopic in scope. USMLE1 is a massive load of information. Most doctors are going to forget the majority of the material but what they regularly encounter. Researchers never necessarily encountered the subject matter that has already fundamentally explained the very systems they are trying prove one way or another. This includes systems which are very well understood. A real common example is the citric acid cycle. People who studied physiology, human biology, biochemistry, and chemistry forget that we can feed fuel into cells independent of glucose and insulin. There have been countless studies of and medical advice given on the ideal carbohydrate intake for the human animal being 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 or 90%. What about ZERO PERCENT? What about five or ten percent? Our cells do just peachy with beta hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate. Any increase in glucose will blunt receptors and work various organs much harder. We know this; but it's practically completely ignored in study after study and in contemporary medical parlance.
I realize this subject matter is emotionally charged. People are going to read into this many things I'm not really saying. I'm not taking any sides. I stated quite clearly that most of the time two opposing "sides" are actually an incorrect oversimplification. This is just a call to action to think. And rather than launch into all of the various subjects where the modern priests are measurably hurting us and themselves, just consider a handful of my personal experiences wherein listening to the priestly class needlessly cost me tens of thousands of dollars, years of pain and almost my life and the life of my son:
I used to run long distance. By midsummer 1999, about 60 miles per week was an average. Even early on I was suffering consequences from bad mechanics during all that volume. I went to great sports medicine doctors, got second opinions, tried NSAIDs, had X-rays, went to multiple physical therapists, and searched. I foam rolled long before most people had even heard of such a thing. I iced. I did heat. I stopped running altogether. I learned about extremely complex postural and gait assessments, muscular imbalances, compensatory patterns. Nothing ever helped, except temporary relief from some of my own corrective exercise protocols. Most weeks I hobbled. Several MDs threw around the terminology "chronic acetabular inflammation." Originally, IT band was suspected. Nobody knew.
In a final move of desperation, at the age of 25, I went outside my insurance network to see the number one orthopedic surgeon in the Midwest for this type of issue. This guy fixes the most elite of professional athletes; and I was lucky to get a meeting. I shook his hand. We exchanged niceties. He didn't think I was a candidate for surgery, yet. He had only one new recommendation: see his physical therapy specialist, a brilliant Canadian who had PhDs in physiology. The three minute meeting with the surgeon was almost a thousand dollars out of my pocket. Then I was on to the therapist. His recommendations provided some brief relief. And that was pleasant given that his fifteen minute appointments were over a hundred dollars a piece out of my pocket. I later learned that he was doing what is now considered muscle activation technique or MAT. Inevitably though, the debilitating pain came back.
During all this searching, employees of mine made suggestions. Some of them had their Masters Degrees in Exercise Science. Some were medical students. Some were simply certified trainers. But none were full-fledged doctors. So, how could they possibly tell me something more helpful than all of the top people in the specialty medical world? This question begs the question. Implicit within it is a faulty logical error, but a popular one: no one but the priests have the truth.
Two years later, in 2008, at the insistence of one of my long time employees, I attended an intensive 40+ hour workshop for my own CECs for one of my certifications. During this hands-on Active Isolated Stretching workshop, unexpectedly, something occurred which all of the best minds in the field had been completely incapable of bringing about: my pain vanished. Hips and back unlocked completely for the first time in ten years. Keep in mind, there were many days leading up to that workshop when I could not walk without a brace and assistance, pain meds, and a lot of teeth gritting. After that workshop, there were no more IT band issues. There is no more chronic acetabular inflammation. There is no more wasted time talking to people who know less about this than I do simply because they once obtained a suffix I don't have.
All along, one of my own employees, just a certified personal trainer, held the only answer I needed while I plied through the specialists, spending years of my life in pain. I and they soldiered forward with the notion that once we get the right diagnosis, we can begin the right treatment, and all will be well. None of those doctors or therapists will be called to account for malpractice. I won't be getting a refund. I won't get those years back. And the trainer, the only one with the pragmatically correct knowledge, will never charge hundreds of dollars for a few minutes of ineffective time. Diagnostic agnosticism was the number one solution. There was no need for priests, correct diagnoses, gait analysis, treatments and the like. Instead, there are progressive protocols which work wonders regardless of pathology. AIS is just one of them. But they all capitalize on agnostic progression by improving blood flow in all tissues and improving movement without undue irritation or pain. In fact, one could argue that this simple method is basically the answer to any injury which surgery can't fix and some that we think we need surgery to fix.
In 2011 my son was born with an incredibly complex autoimmune condition. My wife and I have seen the best pediatric allergy specialists in the world. Every meeting we only found that they knew a minuscule fraction of what we had already learned through our extensive reading on the subject. Given my prior history with medical professionals, I enter most meetings completely unimpressed, but open to the possibility I might learn something useful. However, a pediatric allergy specialist who left school even only a year ago looks incompetent next to my wife's academic rigor in sifting through our son's disease. Those who left med school five or more years ago never even learned most of the recently discovered paradigm-altering complexities of autoimmune diseases and gut biome, unless they encountered a talk on the subject at a seminar or took it upon themselves to learn after matriculation. The field is evolving fast; and professionals are not keeping up.
The real kicker was when we discovered on our son a cancerous lesion requiring surgical removal. A pediatric dermatology specialist at one of the most highly rated childrens hospitals in the world stated unequivocally, "there is no possibility of correlation - the skin is separate from what's going on underneath the surface." My wife and I looked at each other in disbelief. This is an easily-contended statement. The skin is an organ wholly integrated with and dependent on other organs. What happens to the skin if the cardiovascular system stops shuttling blood to it? What happens to the skin if the liver is compromised? What happens to the skin during kidney failure? What happens to the skin when the immune system has hyper response to an allergen? What happens to the skin when hormones change during puberty? She is an expert in a very tiny specialized field, and she isn't a rogue. Peruse the American Academy of Dermatology website, and you'll find that she was toeing the party line.
You might be thinking that those are isolated or rare events. So, allow me to summarize every single one of the many emergency room visits we've had with our son. My wife and I have had to double check the ingredients of whatever drug the doctors, nurses or PAs were about to administer, because, although it is in our son's chart and we say it every time, NO MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL who just read it and/or heard it from us, seems to know that dextrose solution or corn-based suspension will kill our son. He would be dead a thousand times over if we entrusted him to the care of the modern priests.
In Fall of 2014 I was infected with Lyme Disease. It was a complicated journey. I met with doctors at four different clinics. In the midst of it, I went to see THE infectious disease specialist at one of the most prestigious clinics in the Twin Cities. I had only been reading about the disease for three weeks; yet my replete understanding versus her ignorance was alarming. She didn't know about different titers, kill kinetics, disease pathology, testing protocols. She told me point blank I couldn't have Lyme since I tested negative the month prior to meeting her. I strongly encouraged her to retest, since ALL of the best bacteriology on Borrelia shows it is immunosuppressive, and a positive test is nearly impossible at outset before antibiotic administration (an MD friend of mine prescribed doxycycline on suspicion weeks beforehand). She didn't know this. She didn't believe me. She begrudgingly relented against her training and listened to my stubborn insistence. On the retest I TESTED POSITIVE FOR LYME ON ALL TITERS. I would be dead or completely incapacitated today if I had bowed before the medical establishment. The good news is that I got billed $650 out of pocket for the infectious disease specialist telling me the wrong information and fighting me on retesting.
In March 2015 I tore my right pectoral tendon off of the bone, likely in part due to how thoroughly the Lyme had ravaged my body just months prior. Three different clinics imaged this. All three radiologists, two sports medicine doctors, and THE number one surgeon in the area for this concurred: complete sternal head avulsion. That was the diagnosis, so that was the surgical repair. Unfortunately, one year later, we found out that all six specialists were insufficient in their diagnoses. I had also torn the muscle belly from the tendon. I suspected it at the time, raised the possibility, but was ultimately disregarded, because... I'm not a priest. They were wrong. I was right. Again. But because I, like you, am so brainwashed into believing medical science is of the gods, I didn't listen to myself in the face of overwhelming credentials. And now it's too late to surgically fix the musculotendinous junction. Will I get a refund of the $30,000 we spent on medical expenses last year? Nope. I'm permanently disfigured. But even daring to describe these events I run the risk of societal ostracism, and being labeled a crackpot or quack or anti-intellectual. That's where the level of discourse is nowadays: the exhortation for more rigor in people's analytical thinking is considered anti-intellectual.
None of these were subpar doctors. Everyone I met with is the best of the best. These are the absolute best the medical science world has to offer us. And don't get me wrong: they are good. They are very good. Some are great. But they are only good at a part of a modality. That is limited in scope. In the end, I always ended up understanding more that was pertinent to my situation than any specialist. I obtained the right answer. They had ideas couched in diagnoses. But they were wrong, because they are humans. They are just humans. They are just humans.
Sometimes they are robots spitting out dogma, oftentimes archaic outdated dogma from a long bygone era. It's just what happens as we learn more and make scientific advances. No one can stay on top of them all. Inevitably, this leads "authorities" to state completely outdated information as authoritative. It would take a lifetime for them to read every new scientific publishing. People are no less human by virtue of a suffix. And in many cases they are far more susceptible to the frailties of humanity, because they can hide their ignorance, their naivety, their objective wrongness, and their agenda behind that suffix. They may not even know it. It is dangerous, and it is severely costly to shame the public out of learning, forming their own ideas, and vetoing with extreme prejudice the most brilliant of accredited, licensed, suffixed specialists out there. We need more doubt of authority, not less.
I was just recently reminded of how dangerously brainwashed we are, as I tried to help a suffering man whose sports medicine doctor and physical therapist abjectly failed him. A young guy, trying to figure out a low level injury he'd had, posted a question on a strength and conditioning Facebook page. From my own experience and observing hundreds of fitness professionals with tens of thousands of clients, I offered a perspective on social media. Others did as well. All of a sudden, the devotees of medical dogma swooped in to attack the credentials of anyone trying to offer insight. It was shocking. I felt like I was watching a 1940s television show with people who think if you don't have certain suffixes you are not entitled to the first amendment. I understand the fear of ill-informed opinion being held on par with informed opinion. But that fear must transcend title, suffix and credential.
In the end, no one found fault with my words. Instead, the outrage was that I dared to even opine without a medical degree. Never mind that I have worked over 80 hours per week, 50 or more weeks per year, for the last 12 years in the wellness industry, in workshops, hiring and developing fitness professionals, attending hundreds of hours of medical lecture, shadowing cardiologists and working with exercise physiologists, MDs, nurses, nurse practitioners, specialists and the like. Never mind all that because it is as irrelevant as an ad hominem attack. I have more than 40,000 hours of pertinent experience to injury pathology and corrective exercise. That's the equivalent to the COMBINED EXPERIENCE of four sports medicine doctors who've been in practice for ten years each. But that is irrelevant. Credentials are irrelevant to an argument. An argument must stand on its own, regardless of who's offering it. It must be dealt with on its own merits, not the merits of one writing it.
The irony is that personal attacks on me for offering a perspective occurred on the same day when I posted a miraculous client recovery video. In the video I posted, a 61 year old client of mine who had suffered a fairly severe hamstring and adductor tear just weeks prior was completely recovered already. Meanwhile, the young man on the Facebook page had suffered some sort of low level hamstring injury with no improvement months later and explicitly asked for ideas. Answering him was considered heresy.
We want there to be some sort of magical prestigious oracle when it obviously just doesn't exist. Even one of my clients three years ago was seeking some sort of ultimate answer. She has gastroparesis, an ailment that greatly slows the digestive tract. She had already learned certain foods were better or worse for her; but she wanted some more finality. I spent the better part of a weekend reading every germane published paper I could find, even some behind paywalls. I scoured PubMed and PlosOne. During our next session, I summarized the best findings out there: probably attempt a period of minimal fasting to help heal possibly-damaged tissue in the digestive tract; ginger shows promise; one drug appeared uniquely highly rated for this specific problem - metoclopramide. Unsatisfied, she booked a multi-day stay at the Mayo Clinic. I thought to myself, "people fly in from all over the world to Mayo - their specialists are going to have some awesome insights." Sadly, after running untold numbers of tests, and charging obscene bills, their summary was identical to mine. Identical. Well, it wasn’t entirely identical, because they left out one thing I mentioned and still believe is the main driver of gastroparesis: cytokine release affects digestive tract motility (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3196622/). This has actually been known for a long time, but apparently not at the Mayo Clinic. Long story short, there are foods which you are not overtly “allergic” to but still cause an immune response which irritates smooth muscle lining and leads to choking, vomiting, indigestion, heart burn, and/or GASTROPARESIS. Tragically, there are very good specialists who think this is quack science because they haven’t read their own journal, the official Journal of the American Medical Association which has openly embraced this possibility as recently as May of this year (http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2521970).
Appeal to authority is a fallacy I've run into many times, and not just in the domain of corrective exercise. My favorite is in the nutrition realm. Dozens of times I've had doctors and dietitians offer demonstrably incorrect dietary guidance to my clients. They tell pre-diabetic and diabetic patients to eat 4-6 small meals with 40 or more grams of carbohydrates each. This is like telling someone with tolerance to caffeine or alcohol that the only way you will become sensitive to caffeine or alcohol again is by having 4-6 doses of caffeine and alcohol per day. Occasionally, my clients dare to pipe up. They say their coach explained that the affliction itself is caused in part by carbohydrate intake which can often best be tempered by restriction of carbohydrates (i.e. - in the exact same way that if you want to become sensitive to caffeine again, you have to abstain long enough to let receptors re-upregulate and the caffeine can work the way it's supposed to again). Rather than engage the argument, or talk about the known mechanics of physiology, every single time the doctor or dietitian has retorted, "and what are his credentials?" They can't even help themselves; and it makes me wonder if they at all understand pancreatic function, the citric acid cycle, insulin receptors or glucose transporters. So now I just tell clients to test blood sugar after eating a high fat meal devoid of carbohydrates and then test glucose after 40 grams of whole grain carbohydrate. Don't listen to anybody. Just see for yourself. But beware: once you start taking truth into your own hands, you're going to miss out on the ease of listening to suffixes. Forevermore you'll be forced to apply rationale to determine if the authority figure is actually making sense or if he’s a highly paid twit.
Each individual's lack of willingness to challenge authority is really what makes the modern priestly class the most dangerous. The priests are at fault to be sure. However, we share culpability by gifting them so much power. Reading is hard. Thinking is harder. Testing your own blood sugar is unfamiliar; but conducting your own experiments is actual science. Blindly following someone is not. Being practical and sensible instead of convenience-seeking is difficult. We want so badly to point to a fortress of unquestionable authority in this world. It just doesn't exist here. You are your authority. Despite this apparent reality, I've done thousands of interviews wherein people couldn't even list the medications they currently take, let alone the last ten years of their health history. It's shocking to me, but the absolute norm. If you don't do it, who do you think is going to pour over your data and connect the dots? Not everything is in your chart; and, as I discovered with my son and dextrose or corn derivatives, even when something is in your chart and they read it there's still no guarantee that the note registers in the professional's mind.
Exerting energy in your own interest is necessary. No one is going to do it for you. When you're sick and dying, and the hospital can't figure it out, do you think they're going to skip the bill because they have your best interest in mind? When the NAS or NIH change their position on a topic, are they going to reimburse all of us the trillions of dollars for the years we went on their wild goose chase or followed their incorrect advice? Only you have your best interest in mind. Do not entrust it to the priests. Invoke the words of Rage Against The Machine, "I won't do what you tell me!" Repeat as necessary. Daily become increasingly informed about the issues which affect you. Don't outsource your brain. We have to take responsibility for our own health and for applying intellectual horsepower to the scientific provisional conclusions we believe. When we do that, the modern priests won't cease to exist. We need them. But they'll be demoted to the position they should've occupied to begin with: public servant - danger and authority to no one.
Happy Independence Day (emphasis on the Independence part)