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You Learn Something New Every Day… If You’re Not Careful

Updated: Apr 9

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. The year is 200 AD, and I’m passing by the Coliseum, where to my surprise, I see these massive, muscular gladiators sitting down to eat….. their vegetables….

The term "gladiator" is derived from the Latin "gladiatores" in reference to their weapon, the gladius, which is a short Roman sword. However, gladiators were also referred to as "Hordearii," which translates to "eaters of barley”. Laboratory analysis of gladiator bones has confirmed that their diet was primarily plant-based. This grain and vegetable diet was not a result of their poverty or slave status, but rather is understood to have been a strategic choice for maximizing survival in the arena.

In this blog, I want to share some things that I have been reading and watching, that have motivated me to want to learn more, and that have inspired me to begin to experiment with some changes in my life. My previous career was in mental health counseling, so I have to share this joke with you as I begin this blog, hoping you will find it helpful:

“How many psychologists does it take to change a light-bulb?

Just one.....but the bulb really has to want to change.”

So here we go, in a bit of a free-association style delivery:

The Global Burden of Disease Study, the largest study of risk factors for disease in history, concluded that the number one cause of premature death in the United States, and the number-one cause of disability in our country, is the Standard American diet. The Standard American Diet's negative impact on the health and longevity of Americans cannot be overstated. It contributes to the growing rates of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cognitive decline, ultimately leading to premature death.

In 1970, the average weight for an American man was 178 pounds. Today that average weight is 200 pounds. The United States currently has approximately 258 million adults, and 108 million of us are obese. That is over 40% of us, with another one third meeting criteria for overweight. Of this subset of obese persons, 62% have metabolic syndrome. And astonishingly, another 22% of those of us who are not obese, also have metabolic syndrome. This syndrome is dangerous and can put us at significant risk for Type 2 Diabetes, as well as hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. Equally concerning is the fact that approximately 20% of American children and adolescents are obese, dramatically up from 5% in the 1970's. Severe obesity can shorten lifespan by about 10 years, equivalent to life-long smoking, while extreme obesity can result in premature death of approximately 14 years, impairing the quality of life significantly in the years prior to death.

Our bodies have evolved over millions of years, primarily in environments where food scarcity was a constant reality. This evolutionary pressure shaped our metabolic systems to efficiently store and utilize energy. Our ancestors' diets consisted of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats, while processed carbohydrates (white bread, ice cream, potato chips, breakfast cereals, etc) were nonexistent. Our bodies evolved to adapt to natural periods of fasting and feeding, which promoted metabolic flexibility, sometimes burning glucose and sometimes burning stored fats.

Our bodies have two primary fuel systems, similar to a hybrid car, that have evolved to work together: glycolysis, which breaks down glucose for energy from the food we eat, and ketosis, which processes ketone bodies (primary components of our stored fats) for fuel. These metabolic systems serve different functions, but they were designed to work together, switching back and forth depending on our nutrient status. Glycolysis was essential for quick bursts of energy needed for hunting or escaping predators, while ketosis provided a steady source of energy during times of food scarcity. Adapting over millennia to be used interchangeably, each system can rest and repair while the other is in primary use.

However, in our land of plenty, most of us never rest our glycolysis system, over-fueling it continuously with the poor quality components of our Standard American Diet. The "trash" in our fuel damages our bodies, and the overabundance of excess calories are stored as fat. And with no break in the ingestion of food, our bodies can't use the amazing healing mechanisms that are designed to turn on during times of caloric restriction. Our poor food quality damages our blood vessels and organs, and our style of eating never allows for the engagement of our body's essential systems for healing that damage.

In his new book, Outlive, a manifesto on the prevention of slow death from chronic illnesses, Dr. Peter Attia shares a quote regarding the concept of prevention: “There comes a point where we need to stop pulling bodies out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” Dr. Attia has focused his practice on the prevention of illness and the promotion of vitality and health in the lives of his patients, a state that he asserts they can potentially maintain well into their golden years. He emphasizes healthy nutrition as foundational to vitality.

Dr. Attia introduced the concept of a Golden Years Decathlon, urging us to consider earlier in our lives what skills and functional abilities we want to maintain during the last phase of our lives. For example, as grandparents, do we want to be able to sit on the floor and play with the grand kids, getting up on our own? Do we want to be capable of withstanding the rigors of travel abroad, walking the streets of interesting cities and lifting our carry-on luggage up to the overhead compartment? These skills can be maintained by most all of us, if we begin early enough with training.

Physical activity is crucial for preventing chronic illnesses of lifestyle. Dr. Attia emphasizes the importance of incorporating both aerobic exercise (like cardio), resistance training, and strength training into one's fitness routine. Exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and aid in weight management.

Skeletal muscles function not only to help us move our bodies about in the world, but they also act as an energy store and play a crucial role in energy metabolism, particularly in the storage and utilization of glycogen. When we consume a meal, the excess energy is stored as glycogen in various tissues, including skeletal muscles. Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, stimulates the uptake of glucose by skeletal muscles, where it is converted into glycogen for storage. During exercise, skeletal muscles utilize their stored glycogen as a quick and ready primary energy source. Additionally, skeletal muscles can act as an endocrine organ, secreting proteins called myokines, which play a role in inter-organ communication and metabolic regulation. Therefore, skeletal muscles not only serve a mechanical function but also play a vital role in energy storage, metabolism, and inter-organ crosstalk throughout the body.

In addition to nutrition and exercise, Dr. Attia emphasizes the importance of one’s mental health as a foundation for overall well-being. He has openly discussed his own struggles with depression, including hospitalizations and psychotherapy, crediting these interventions as having literally saved his life. He urges us to devote ample attention to ourselves and our relationships, asking us to consider “What is the benefit of longevity if we are unhappy in our lives.”

Medical experts in our country have now validated fasting as a primary intervention for many chronic illnesses plaguing the American population. The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine presented their opinion that intermittent fasting can improve many life-style related conditions such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disorders. Multi-day fasting has shown similar efficacy. Also known as extended fasting or prolonged fasting, these fasts typically involve abstaining from food for a period of 48 hours or more. Fasting creates conditions in our body that set into action the remarkable programming our bodies have for self-restorative healing.

Dr. Valtar Longo at UCLA, one of the world’s leading researchers on fasting, recommends a multi-day fast to enhance the immune system. His team found that fasting significantly improved outcomes for patients with cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Older immune cells are retired and new ones are produced in the process of autophagy. In another study, women with breast cancer, who fasted for even relatively short periods, showed a 64% reduction in the recurrence of their tumors.

Autophagy is a highly orchestrated cellular process that acts as a biological recycling program. The process was first identified in 1963, with a more complete understanding of its biological mechanisms not coming until 2014. Both physiologists who did the pioneering work on autophagy received Nobel Prizes for their findings. Yes, it is that important, and most of us haven't even heard of it!

When our cells detect a deficit of fuel, as in a fasted state, they respond by attempting to increase their efficiency. The primary function of autophagy is to eliminate damaged or malfunctioning cellular components, such as old/inefficient organelles and mis-folded proteins, while simultaneously providing essential building blocks for the regeneration of new, healthy structures that perform better. Think of it as your cellular garbage disposal and recycling center combined.

While intermittent fasting has gained well-deserved popularity for its relative ease of implementation and potential health benefits, multi-day fasting offers a unique and powerful set of advantages. It activates metabolic reset, the process of "metabolic switching" that occurs when the body shifts from using glucose as its primary energy source to using fatty acids and ketones. This switch typically begins after about 12 hours of fasting, when the body's glycogen stores are depleted. This metabolic switch is associated with a range of physiological changes, including increased insulin sensitivity, antioxidant defenses, and mitochondrial enhancements, which increase as the fast is extended. Multi-day fasting also surges cellular autophagy (cleaning and repair) to a degree unmatched by other methods. Additionally, it promotes hormonal regulation and immune system support to a greater degree than intermittent fasting.

When we incorporate both methods of fasting into our lifestyle, we give ourselves the best of both worlds. Many fasters are choosing to engage in the deep health benefits of a multi-day fast once or twice a year, while utilizing intermittent fasting on a day to day basis throughout the rest of the year. With a healthy feeding plan such as this, "cheating" on vacations and weekend outings can be done guilt-free.

Inflammation is another important phenomenon to understand about our bodies, as it is a double-edged sword. When properly controlled and balanced, it serves as a natural protective mechanism, defending us from harm and promoting health. However, when inflammation becomes chronic, it can lead to a range of health problems.

One of the keys to prevent chronic inflammation in our lives is to adopt a lifestyle that includes healthy food choices, since some foods promote inflammation, while others possess anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, we need regular physical activity, healthy stress management, and adequate sleep to function well and feel good.

Regarding healthy food choices, a plant-based protein provides us with positive phytochemicals, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins that reduce inflammation, optimize the microbiome, improve blood supply, and optimize your body’s performance. Plant-based foods have 64 times the antioxidants of animal-based foods.

A plant-based diet is beneficial for lowering cortisol levels because animal proteins can increase cortisol in the body. The stress hormone, cortisol, is linked to reduced muscle mass and increased body fat. Cortisol plays a crucial role in regulating stress, metabolism, and sleep. High levels of cortisol are associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high levels of triglycerides. Starting a plant-based diet drops cortisol levels significantly to healthier levels.

Certain foods can help regulate the release of cortisol, including green tea, nuts like almonds and walnuts, oats, kimchi, and red peppers. Increasing healthy carbohydrates as part of a whole food diet may also reduce circulating cortisol and dampen psychological stress-related cortisol responsiveness.

The fascinating documentary The Game Changers on Netflix makes some paradigm-shifting assertions about plant-based and animal-based protein. I encourage you to check it out if you haven't already, and check out their website at

A long-standing "truth" in human muscle physiology has been the assertion that we need animal protein to build strong muscles. However, all protein originates in plants; animals are a "middle man" food, nutritionally dense, but inefficient in many other ways.

Research has determined that plant-based protein is equivalent to animal-based protein regarding strength gains in muscle resistance training. One cup of lentils has as much protein as 3 eggs or a 3 oz steak, with no significant sacrifice in protein quality. While animal protein appears to confer slightly more lean muscle mass, primarily in younger subjects, the differences were small and both fuel sources supported good muscle growth for most subjects. Have you ever seen the muscles on a (vegan) silverback gorilla?! They are "as strong as an ox" (another muscular vegan), and a bit closer to us on the evolutionary tree.

Plant-based proteins have some significant advantages over animal proteins to consider, in that they confer protective benefits against chronic illnesses (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity) and they are vastly more environmentally sustainable. Additionally, in contrast to animal-based proteins, plant proteins offer several advantages for athletes (and the rest of us), including improved circulation, reduced inflammation, and better glycogen storage, which can enhance athletic performance and recovery time after a hard workout.

The NFL’s GOAT Tom Brady is a flexitarian in his diet, focusing on avoiding foods that are known to cause inflammation, such as dairy, sugar, gluten, refined carbs, caffeine, and processed meats. As a result, his body may be better able to recover from intense physical activity, leading to improved performance. Brady's diet consists of 80% plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The other 20% of his food intake is lean animal protein, such as fish or chicken. While Brady's diet is not the sole factor contributing to his success, it is one aspect of his overall lifestyle and wellness routine that he believes has played a significant role in his longevity and performance on the field.

Novak Djokovic, the world-renowned tennis player, attributes much of his success to his strict and disciplined diet, which is primarily plant-based and gluten-free, avoiding dairy and refined sugar. Djokovic's diet consists of a variety of foods including vegetables, beans, white meat, fish, fruit, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, lentils, and healthy oils. However, it's important to note that he tends to limit his intake of meat and fish, and will only consume them to boost his protein intake on particularly heavy training days.

Scott Jurek, one of the greatest ultra runners of all time, 7 time winner of the most grueling ultra marathons, and the man who set the world record time in running the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail, is a vegan, eating no animal-based protein, no eggs, and no dairy. Kendrick Farris, a vegan, is a three-time Pan American Games champion, the current Pan-American record-holder in the Clean and Jerk as well as Total Weight, and the only American weightlifter to compete in the last three Olympic Games. Patrik Baboumian, a vegan, is a professional strongman and former Germany's Strongest Man with multiple world records including the front-hold, keg lift, log lift, and super yoke. Dotsie Bausch, a vegan, is an eight-time U.S. national cycling champion, a two-time Pan American gold medalist, and an Olympic silver medalist and the oldest champion in her sport at 39.5 years old. Additionally, Carl Lewis, Olympic Superstar with 9 golds medals, set all of his personal bests after switching to plant-based diet at 30 years of age.

On the other hand, Michael Phelps, American swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals, ate tons of animal-protein and sugary energy drinks in his training regimen. However, he never tried a strictly plant-protein training regimen, so maybe........we will never know. It must be said that Michael now eats a much healthier diet than he did in the years of his intensive training regimen.

It is reasonable to assume that currently most professional athletes eat significant amounts of animal protein. A body builder relative of mine, reports that the plant-protein model has been tried and abandoned by some of his training friends, who could not sustain their muscle mass on plants as well as they could with animal-protein, and aesthetic muscle mass is the primary objective in body building (versus strength, endurance, speed, coordination).

Alternately, other body builders, as in the film The Game Changers (Nimai Delgado and Misha Janiec), have been very satisfied with their muscle profile on plant-protein. Individual variables and goals may be at work here to explain the different outcomes. As a subset of athletes, body builders can experience significant health problems, if they use excessive steroid and growth hormone supplementation, and practice extreme and irregular diets, as many of them do. The sport of professional body-building is unfortunately filled with tragic stories of athletes whose lives end prematurely from their unhealthy training regimens.

Dr Robert Vogel, NFL cochair on cardiovascular health, states that there is a direct correlation between what we eat in a meal and endothelial function, the lining of our blood vessels. Animal fat in the blood damages the endothelium, causing inflammation and eventually plaque build-up. Fat from avocado does not have that effect. A single animal-based meal can impair blood flow by as much as 27% and this impairment can last up to 6 or 7 hours. Plants have the opposite effect, improving endothelial function, and thereby improving oxygenation to muscle tissues, enhancing their performance.

Overwhelming evidence supports the assertion that the Standard American Diet promotes cardiac disorders, and 85% of those who are experiencing their first heart attack die. Those who get all their protein from plants reduce their risk of heart disease by about 55%. The only diet found to reverse coronary artery disease is a plant-based diet.

Dr. Dean Ornish, prominent physician, researcher, and author states that chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and endothelial function all significantly affect our health status. A diet high in animal protein results in a 75% higher risk of premature death from all causes and a 400-500% increased risk of death from most forms of cancer (prostate, breast colon), and type 2 diabetes. In 2010, Medicare announced coverage for Dr. Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease, making it the first time that Medicare has covered an integrative medicine program.

Kaiser Permanente, the largest managed care health insurance organization in the United States, has been advocating for a plant-based diet as a way to prevent and reverse chronic diseases in its members. The organization has advised its 15,000 affiliated doctors to recommend a plant-based diet to their patients. Here’s what Kaiser Permanente has said to its doctors about a plant-based diet:

  • A plant-based diet is associated with a longer and healthier life span.

  • It can help prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

  • Plant-based diets may be especially beneficial for those with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid disorders, or cardiovascular disease.

  • The future of healthcare will involve an evolution toward a paradigm where the prevention and treatment of disease is centered on another serving of fruits and vegetables.

More findings on plant/animal proteins:

About 75% of all the agricultural land in the world is used for animal livestock production. The livestock sector is the single biggest cause of wild animal habitat destruction in the world.

On average, livestock animals consume 6 times more protein than they produce.

The livestock sector is responsible for approximately 15% of global emissions, which is about the same as all the combined transportation-created emissions in the world.

Meat, dairy, egg, and fish farming use 83% of the world’s farmland, while providing only about 18% of the world’s calories. If the entire world ate in the way the average American eats, we would need 38% more planet than we have.

One hamburger represents 2400 liters of embedded water.

According to research approximations, about 8% of Americans currently follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. In Europe, the number is about 10%, and over the world population, the estimate for vegan and vegetarian diets currently is at about 25%. Although the plant-protein market is growing a little faster than the animal-protein market now, the animal market is vastly more dominant, and is expected to remain dominant, producing around 70% of the world's protein supply in 2050.

Many researchers say the single best way for an individual to directly reduce their carbon footprint on the planet is to switch to a primarily plant-based diet. Estimates suggest we can reduce emissions by up to 73% by shifting away from animal protein.

Well, you learn something new every day, eh?!….whether walking on your way to the Forum, or just sitting on your couch watching Sunday’s NFL matchup. Hopefully you are intrigued enough now, if you are one who is lounging for too long on that couch, to get up and start by carefully examining the contents of your refrigerator.

Of course, you don't have to do anything different if your current lifestyle is working for you, (hopefully with some consideration given for our world community). And... although our bodies are mostly the same, we all do have distinct individual differences, so interventions that work for some won't always work for others.

If you decide to experiment with some changes, you don’t have to do everything at once. And you don't have to do Everything ever. But making a few small changes that resonate with who you are and who you want to become can literally change your life. So I encourage you to begin that transformative journey. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.

At Fasting and Thriving Retreats we strive to bring you relevant information regarding a holistic approach to healthy living. A Fasting Lifestyle will help jump start your journey into health. Take this opportunity to learn more. For an individual, free assessment use the QR Code below and schedule an appointment with one of our experts.

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