Tom Brady and Gisele’s Diet — Pretty Paleo

An interview with Tom and Giselle’s chef at boston.com revealed their diet. Here is the chef in his own words.

Campbell: So, 80 percent of what they eat is vegetables. [I buy] the freshest vegetables. If it’s not organic, I don’t use it. And whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans. The other 20 percent is lean meats: grass-fed organic steak, duck every now and then, and chicken. As for fish, I mostly cook wild salmon.

It’s very different than a traditional American diet. But if you just eat sugar and carbs—which a lot of people do—your body is so acidic, and that causes disease…Sugar is the death of people.

What ingredients don’t you use?

Campbell: No white sugar. No white flour. No MSG. I’ll use raw olive oil, but I never cook with olive oil. I only cook with coconut oil. Fats like canola oil turn into trans fats. … I use Himalayan pink salt as the sodium. I never use iodized salt.

[Tom] doesn’t eat nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants. Tomatoes trickle in every now and then, but just maybe once a month. I’m very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation.

 

Other than the whole grains, they follow the strictest Paleo advice, including the ban on nightshades, which only the most hardcore Paleo eaters adhere to. They also stay away from coffee and dairy.

Paleo Diet Better than ADA Diet for Type 2 Diabetes

A recent Study Published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared two groups of diabetic patients over the span of a few weeks. One group was given a Paleo diet to eat, comprising lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The other group was given the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) which contained low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes. The results? Paleo won.

Results:

Both groups had improvements in metabolic measures, but the Paleo diet group had greater benefits on glucose control and lipid profiles. Also, on the Paleo diet, the most insulin-resistant subjects had a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity (r=0.40, P=0.02), but no such effect was seen in the most insulin-resistant subjects on the ADA diet (r=0.39, P=0.3).

Conclusions:

Even short-term consumption of a Paleolithic-type diet improved glucose control and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes compared with a conventional diet containing moderate salt intake, low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes.

What Sport has the Fittest Athletes?

People often debate, what sport produces the fittest athletes? Is it cyclists, marathon runners, gymnasts, Cross-fitters? In order to properly answer this question we must define fitness, which is different than athleticism.

Athleticism = Fitness + Coordination + Sport related Skills.

Fitness = The ideal mix of endurance, strength, and flexibility.

Some people may question why I have flexibility in this definition. Quite simply, one is fit in order to perform tasks. It’s hard to do anything if you are at home nursing a pulled hamstring or torn rotator cuff. Flexibility keeps you healthy..and hence..fit.

You must be well-rounded. This rules out a bunch of sports.

For instance a cyclist might have the best cardio of all and great lower body strength, but he will score poorly on any measure of upper body strength and flexibility. A gymnast scores exceptionally high on strength and flexibility, but their routines last for under a minute. Compared to other athletes, they have poor endurance.

MMA fighters, decathletes and CrossFitters are the top of the food chain. They have exceptional strength, endurance, and good flexibility. Let’s look at the pro’s and con’s of each sport.

Decathletes

Pro’s: Can run really, really fast. Jump very high, and throw things super far. Ashton Eaton, the reigning 2x Olympic Gold medalist can run the 100m dash in 10.21 sec, the 400m in 45.00 seconds, and the 1500 in 4:14. He can high jump 6’11, and throw a 16 pound ball over 50 feet.

Con’s: Compared to other athletes, their upper body strength is lacking. Many of the decathletes feats can be seen as measures of athleticism, and not just pure fitness. For instance, the hurdles, the pole vault, and the javelin are measures of agility and technique as much as they are of fitness. Although a Decathlete competes in 10 different events. All of the events basically boil down to variations of three skills. Running, jumping, throwing.

MMA Fighter

Pro’s: The most varied of all the sports. One has to learn how to fight standing, clinching, on the ground, and off one’s back. Champion fighters have to be able to go all out for 25 minutes straight. From years of throwing high kicks, and having their joints contorted, MMA fighters are some of the most flexible athletes around. They have an ability to withstand damage, that non-combat athletes can’t even come close to. They have both explosive and static strength (the ability to clinch and hold someone down, keeping the muscle contracted for long periods).

Con’s: MMA is a highly skilled sport, so while many MMA fighters have elite fitness, there are some, such as Demian Maia, who rely so much on skill, that you wouldn’t recognize he was a professional athlete if you ran into him on the street.

CrossFit

Pro’s: CF athletes train specifically for fitness. This gives them an advantage over the competition. They don’t have to spend time learning the chess-game of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu the way an MMA fighter does. CFers are stronger than all but the largest MMA fighters (Brock Lesnar/Bob Sapp). They train in a variety of different strength training events, from gymnastic movements to powerlifting, and running with weighted vests on.

Con’s: CFers tend to lean more towards strength than endurance. Ben Smith, the winner of the 2015 CrossFit games has a fairly pedestrian 5k time of 20:20. This means he would get lapped by the fastest children. The 10-year-old boy world record in the 5K is 17:34. This skew of CFers towards strength over endurance, is the CF’s biggest weakness.

Of the three, MMA fighters, decathletes and CrossFitters, who do you think has the fittest athletes?
Is there a sport I left out?

What is Biohacking?

How does one become happier? How does one become healthier? How can I function at my best? How can I be more focused, calm, and productive?

Biohacking takes the mystery out of human well-being. At it’s core, the philosophy of biohacking is that human beings are biological machines, and that human well-being is not an insolvable enigma. Instead by taking a systems-thinking approach, we can break down the causes and conditions of how humans operate, what causes us to be stressed out and unhealthy, and what causes us to feel vitality.

For a concise definition, I like this one from Dave Asprey:

Biohacking (verb): To use science, biology, and self experimentation to take control of, and upgrade your mind, your body, and your life

Biohacking (noun): The art and science of becoming superhuman.

His noun version of biohacking gets into a bit of hyperbole, but you get the idea. Biohacking is about making yourself better.

Common topics that biohacker’s are interested in include: What is the optimal diet? How can I maximize efficiency in my workouts so that I don’t have to spend two hours in the gym every night? How can I get better sleep? How can I raise my IQ? How can I slow down the rate at which I age?

Biohacker’s are fond of self-experimentation and with tracking results. They’ll use sleep apps that measure how long they were asleep and how much REM they got. They’ll look for variables that could have caused a poor night’s sleep — Did I drink coffee this afternoon? Have I been more stressed out lately? In order to test for stress, they will use heart rate variability monitors and check their resting heart rate upon waking. They’ll look for correlations between mood and the amount of sunlight they got.  Do I feel happier when I get sunlight first thing in the morning? How does my diet affect my mental performance? Is eating too much sugar causing me brain fog?

Biohacking is about becoming your optimal self so that you can enjoy life to the fullest. It’s hard for me to think of a more rewarding hobby to take up.

 

 

 

The 10-Minute Hotel Room Workout

Here is a simple workout that I came up with while staying in a tiny one room cabin in the middle of the woods during a meditation retreat. It requires very little space, and no exercise equipment. So it’s perfect for when you are traveling, only have a few minutes to spare, or can’t get to the gym.

3 Sets of:

10 reps of one-legged squats, each leg.

40 push-ups.

One minute rest in between sets.

 

Easier Version

3 Sets of:

25 squats

25 push-ups

One minute rest in between sets.

 

Female Version

3 Sets of:

15 squats

15 knee push-ups

One minute rest in between sets.

 

Are We Really the Smartest Species?

Homo sapiens are regarded as far and away the smartest species on the planet. So much so, that religious people have thought for centuries that man’s place in the universe is something special. Even, that the universe must in some way be created for us. No other species has the control over nature that we do, the tools we use, or our scientific understanding. We are a complete outlier when it comes to intelligence.

Or are we?

How do scientists compare intelligence across species? One way to do this is brain size. While obviously not a perfect correlation, intelligence does correlate to the size of your brain, even between humans. So who has the biggest brains in the world? Whales. Ok, just looking at brain size is not such a great way to measure intelligence, because the larger your body the more brain power needed to control it.  A better measure is what scientists call the encephalization quotient, which is roughly a measure of brain size relative to what you would expect for an animal that size.

Here are the rankings of extant animals species..

Species     EQ
Human             7.44
Dolphin             5.31
Chimpanzee     2.49
Raven             2.49
Rhesus monkey     2.09
Elephant             1.87
Baleen whale     1.76
Dog                     1.17
Cat                     1.00
Horse             0.86
Sheep             0.81
Mouse             0.50
Rat                0.40
Rabbit             0.40

Seems like a fairly accurate measure of intelligence right? Now, what jumps out at you when looking at this chart? Dolphins. Woah.

Here is a good TED video on how smart dolphins are.  Research shows that dolphins can problem solve novel tasks, have metacognition- meaning they are aware of their own thoughts – For instance in one study dolphins were able to tell researchers whether they knew something was correct or wrong (“Are these two sounds the same or different”?),  or if they weren’t sure if they were right. Dolphins also have complex emotions, senses of empathy, altruism, and attachment. They mourn their dead. Each dolphin has it’s own individual name.

They also come up with ingenious ways to hunt fish. See here..this is truly incredible.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzfqPQm-ThU

Q:But Jevan, if dolphins are so smart, how come they don’t have iPhones?

A: Would you have an iPhone if you lived underwater and had no hands? No matter how smart dolphins are, how can they invent complex tools with only fins?

But still, homo sapiens EQ is higher than dolphins, so we still must be the smartest species right? Not so fast, we have the highest EQ of existing animals. But perhaps not of all time. That prize may go to the neanderthals.

The average neanderthal brain weighed 1600g
The average modern human brain weighs between 1250-1400g

Neanderthals were bigger than us back then, which brings down their relative brain-to-weight ratio, but we have gotten so fat that North American males, on average, weigh more than the 77kg neanderthal. So who has the highest EQ of all time depends on how fat the sample of modern humans we take.

The good news for homo sapiens is that neanderthals devoted much of their brain space to their enhanced visual and physical abilities. Modern humans have more brain space devoted to higher cognition and social networking.

We may be the smartest species after all, but it’s not by much. Our vastly superior abilities in tool making and technology come down not just to our intelligence, but to our opposable thumbs (sorry dolphins) and our greater social abilities combined with the large social networks we formed after the invention of agriculture.

The collective human intelligence has sent people to the moon and made iPhones, but no single person knows how to make even a computer mouse. If I threw you in the woods alone and naked, how long before you are sending a text message? Every human is capable of rudimentary tool building, 7 billion people putting their brains together gives us the iPhone. The great difference between us and neanderthals was that they organized in small societies of dozens of people, while we benefit from the collective genius of billions.

The Awakened Ape: The First Chapter

Here is the opening chapter to my book, The Awakened Ape: A Biohacker’s Guide to Evolutionary Fitness, Natural Ecstasy, and Stress-Free Living. Available on Amazon

awakeape
Introduction

The happiest people in the world don’t wear underwear. If they have clothes at all, it is either a simple sheath that covers their genitals or a cloth they wrap around their body in colder climates. They have almost no possessions. They don’t eat at restaurants, they don’t use smartphones, and they don’t watch television. They don’t have money. They don’t even know what money is. What they have is more valuable — a sense of serenity and self-confidence that would astound the average person. A joie-de-vivre, an easy laugh, and an absence of stress and worry. They love freely and have a deep sense of oneness with the earth.

They are also the healthiest people in the world. They know little, perhaps nothing, of cancer, heart disease, obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, allergies, diabetes or even poor eyesight. They have never been to a doctor. They are athletic, strong and muscular. They do not gain weight as they age or show signs of dementia. Most remarkable of all — for 95% of human history, this described the life of nearly every single human being on earth. Skeptical? It’s ok, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I might not have believed any of this either.

How can we most enjoy the brief moment of time we have to be alive? This question first struck me sometime during my formative years when the finiteness of life and certitude of death became palpable and utterly undeniable. A period of existential crisis took hold, and I became obsessed with finding a solution. I consulted everyone from the ancient Greeks to the most cutting-edge science in search of an answer, mixing and matching like an alchemist working on the philosopher’s stone. Take two parts psychology and anthropology, add a hefty portion of evolutionary biology and sprinkle with a dash of Eastern mysticism. Wash, rinse, repeat, until a dozen years later I have emerged with the concoction you now hold in your hands. This final elixir is not at all what I expected to find when I first set out on this journey. Many of the recommendations to follow will seem at best odd, and at worse sacrilegious, to ears molded in the technology driven consumerist milieu that is the modern world. But it is in embracing our primordial nature that the highest happiness is found.

Since the dawn of our existence up until the advent of agriculture, we scoured the earth from Africa to the Arctic in search of wild game and fresh fruits and vegetables. Along the way, the forces of natural selection attuned us to our environment in such a magnificent way that our hunter-gatherer ancestors felt a natural unity with their surroundings, leading to a life of robust health and merriment. There are tribes of people alive today, hidden in remote jungles of the Amazon and the sprawling Kalahari desert who still live in this ancient way and enjoy the fruits of life matched to its genetic potential. Most people in modern society look down upon these tribes as relics of the stone age. How unfortunate that they don’t have access to the wonders of technology! Yet the scientists who have lived among these ‘primitives’ describe them as the happiest and healthiest people they have ever seen.

The claims I have just made fly in the face of everything that we have been taught to believe and what is considered common sense. I majored in philosophy in college and much to the chagrin of the people unfortunate enough to sit across from me at dinner, I questioned and analyzed everything — from the color of the apples on the table to the most arcane theories in quantum physics. But it never dawned on me that things like stress, worry, and heart disease are modern illnesses. I took it as a given that as I grew older I would slowly lose my mind, my stressful life would cause my nervous system to degenerate, and I would eventually succumb to cancer. Then, while in graduate school and writing my master thesis on the evolutionary psychology of health and happiness, I began poring over the anthropological literature on hunter-gatherers. What I read blew my mind. I didn’t understand how this wasn’t public knowledge. I wanted to run out on the street and grab people by the collar, yelling what I was learning to their faces, “Did you know that hunter-gatherers don’t get cavities? Did you know this? They don’t even brush their teeth!” It is partly in the interests of not looking like a madman, and saving your nicely pressed Banana Republic button-down shirt that I have written this book instead.

Luckily in the last few years, the ancestral health movement, popularly depicted as “the paleo diet” has become hugely successful, and people around the world are thinner, stronger and suffer from fewer illnesses and chronic conditions as a result. A smashing success, and for those unfamiliar with the basics of paleo eating I have devoted a chapter to it. But in this craze to get healthier, thinner bodies, people consistently left out what I consider to be the far more interesting question. Why is it that hunter-gatherers were so happy? Why did they have such great mental health?

It may surprise you to know that psychologists began seriously studying happiness — the most important question in all of human existence — only at the turn of the new millennium. Before that psychologists were focused mainly on treating mental illness, taking a person from being sick to functioning normally. That is where all the money was; people don’t pay for a psychologist when they are simply feeling what Freud called “ordinary human unhappiness”. Since the question of how to make the most of this one and only existence we have on earth has been my driving motivation throughout my entire life and was the reason I studied existential philosophy as an undergrad, I was naturally intrigued by this new development in the field of psychology. I wanted to get my hands dirty. I decided to work in a positive psychology laboratory while pursuing my graduate degree in Mind, Brain, and Behavior Research. In the last decade, the field of positive psychology has blossomed with thousands of journal articles and seemingly as many books published on the subject. The modus operandi for studying happiness has been to take a sample from our modern society and figure out the personality, social, and economic correlations to well-being. Does money buy happiness? Yes, but only to the extent that one isn’t poor. After that it doesn’t matter much. People with lots of close friends tend to be pretty happy and those who are neurotic are not. A lot of this research has been insightful and overall a great boon to our understanding of the human condition. But when asking the question, “What is it that makes a person as happy as possible?” the field of positive psychology has come up short in six key areas. These are the issues I seek to address and clarify. They correspond to the six sections of this book. Let us begin.

The Meaning of Life

How strange a thing it is to be alive! This maelstrom of conscious experience, with its sensations of pleasure, pain, thought, and vision. How different it is to be human beings, rather than the rocks and oceans we share the planet with. How did it come to be so? Why do we feel what we feel? Why do we have the desires, likes and dislikes that we do? The average man is too busy, lost in a world of click-bait ads and Walmart aisles, ever to ponder such questions. The smarter, hard-working, type A’s among us, are too focused on achieving their dreams to question why they have those dreams in the first place. Only in the aftermath of heartache do we even pay lip service to these most important ideas.

That people can live their entire lives without knowing what it means to be a human being is a great misfortune. For without this philosophical foundation, we are liable to flitter away our short lives mired in needless dramas and pursuits. This section is about steering you on course, setting you in the direction of what is truly essential. Lest you worry that I am advocating for a life of pure asceticism or self-flagellation, or that one must devote oneself to some serious cause, I can assure you I am not. This is a book about pleasure and fun, about health and happiness. Through a series of thought experiments, I will argue the attainment of such well-being is the highest purpose to which one can aspire.

Unfortunately, there exists a cabal of contemporary psychologists who believe that any deliberate attempt to improve our happiness will only backfire. Trying to be happy they say, will only remind us of our unhappiness. Even such historical luminaries as John Stuart Mill, the philosopher most famous for espousing the view that pleasure was the greatest moral good, once said, “those are only happy who have their minds fixed on something other than their own happiness.”

As a biohacker, I never understood the affinity for these mysterian views of well-being. Biohacking is the principle that the human body is like a machine, and if we can figure out how it works, we can improve the way it functions. Happiness is not some nebulous ether, but a biophysical state that functions on the principle of cause and effect. In this way, it is similar to having a healthy heart. No doctor would advise his patient to “Stop trying to have a healthy heart if you want to have a healthy heart!”. And no psychologist should be telling anyone that happiness cannot be improved directly. If your attempts to improve your happiness are failing, it is not because it is impossible. It is because you are doing it wrong.

Happy Tribes

The majority of the research conducted on the happiest people on the planet has not been done by psychologists but by anthropologists. This happened completely by accident. When the field of anthropology exploded in the beginning of the 20th century, scientists had no idea that while traveling to the ends of the earth in search of lost tribes they would inadvertently be discovering the happiest people alive. They went out to study their social customs, their ways of gathering food, the tools they use and their sex habits. The study of their well-being was only ancillary, yet anthropologist after anthropologist would come out of the jungle remarking time and again how fit, confident, and relaxed their subjects were. The public found this hard to accept as the reigning belief was that history was a progressive march towards a better culture and way of life culminating in the apex of human existence that was modern European and American society. It doesn’t matter where you are, people around the world have an innate bias to assume that their culture is the best culture, and that everyone else in the world are poor saps who had the misfortune to be born in the wrong time and place. Unlike you.
Enamored with the stories of hunter-gatherers, I traveled deep within the Amazon rainforest to see these happy tribes with my own eyes. After two days of canoeing up the river and hiking through a dense thicket of vegetation, stepping over poisonous snakes and hearing the sounds of growling jaguars, I reached a community of hunter-gatherer’s called the Waorani. I found the women and children to laugh and giggle constantly. The men were stoic, self-confident and stress-free. The anthropologists had been telling the truth all along. I have sprinkled tales from my time with the Waorani throughout this book.

The Why of Happiness

From an evolutionary perspective, it is pretty easy to understand why nature makes an orgasm so pleasurable. For our genes to live on in their quest for immortality, they must make copies of themselves. To do this, the genes of the male must escape from the body they currently inhabit and find their way into the body of the female, at which point they will bond to form a new person programmed to carry their genes further on to the next generation. This bodily exchange of seminal fluid, the crux of what carries us forwards as a species, would seem an odd and perhaps repulsive pastime that no one would indulge in if Mother Nature hadn’t designed our brains to release pleasure-inducing hormones in the process. Our genes reward us for doing their bidding by making the behaviors that propagate our genes pleasurable. Sex is easy to understand. But why do we feel love, joy, enthusiasm, and serenity? Not all animal species feel these emotions. So why do humans? What evolutionary purpose do these emotions serve? And what kind of activities and what kind of society would allow us to feel these emotions more frequently?

The flip side of happiness is unhappiness, which results from negative emotions. The evolutionary purpose of fear and anxiety is pretty simple. It’s not a good thing for our genes to wind up in the belly of a ravenous beast. So we evolved a defense mechanism against large carnivorous predators that might want to eat us. See tiger. Feel fear. Run away. But for the vast majority of us today the most fearful predator we will ever come across is our neighbor’s fenced in German shepherd. So why is it that so many of us suffer from chronic stress, anxiety, and depression? Why is our stress response on constant alert when we have relatively little to be genuinely worried about? The answer to this will be found in the dramatic mismatch between our current lifestyle and the one in which our genes originally evolved.

Training the Mind

The benefits of mind training are so extraordinary that if I were to just come right out and tell you about them, you might think I had gone off the deep end, was a gullible fool, or worse, declare me a charlatan. To win you over to my way of thinking let me first present an analogy, a fictional scenario that has a moral you are already aware of: the benefit of exercise to one’s physique and health. What would it be like if someone from a society of people who had never exercised a day in their lives were to meet someone from a society where exercise was built into the very ethos of their community? A society in which, from a very young age, all of its members engaged in physical activities like running, jumping, throwing, wrestling and lifting weights. As adults, they would resemble our Olympic athletes. Now let’s say a member of this society — we will call him Achilles— is an adventurous type and travels across the ocean to a distant land where he meets the people who are unfamiliar with the concept of exercise. All the people in this society live a desk-bound existence, and suffer the resultant maladies caused by obesity. How would a conversation between Achilles and a man from this society go? I’d imagine that their exchange would be filled with puzzlement and wonder and unintentionally offensive statements, as meetings between people from distant cultures often are.

Upon pulling his boat up on the shore, Achilles is met by a dignitary from this foreign land of roly-poly’s named Mr. Rotund.

Mr. Rotund: Well hello there! …garbled chewing noises …Sorry, sorry, excuse me, I was just eating. tosses candy wrapper to the ground… How do you do? I am Mr. Rotund.

Achilles: Hi, my name is Achilles, and I have come all the way from across the sea to observe what kind of people there are in this part of the world.

Mr. Rotund: Achilles! Ah, well that explains it.

Achilles: Explains what?

Mr. Rotund: You are Achilles! You have the muscular body of the Greek Gods we have statues of in our museums. You are only half human, your mother was a Goddess, which is where you must get that incredible physique from!

Achilles: Why thank you, but that is a silly legend. I assure you that I have two fully human parents, and there is nothing spectacular about my physique as this is what all humans look like. What I have never seen is a creature like you before. In our culture it is only the women that have protruding mammaries.

Mr. Rotund: Do you mean to tell me that you have no obesity in your society? Huffing and puffing as he waddles through the sand. That people from your society do not get diabetes and die early from heart attacks? Hold on..let us slow down the pace. I am getting winded. That they don’t have hypertension, strokes or keep their shirts on while swimming in the pool?

Achilles: Obesity? Diabetes, stroke? I have never heard of these things. Are these diseases you get due to your immense lardness?

Mr. Rotund: Yes! They are terrible conditions.

Achilles: Mr. Rotund, my friend, I do not understand. Why would you ever let your body get like this?

Returning from our imaginary meeting let me propose the following: Achilles, as depicted in our story, could very well have been one of our paleolithic ancestors. Anthropologist Jared Diamond has remarked that the hunter-gatherers he has visited have physiques that resemble miniature bodybuilders. And they don’t go to the gym! Their low fat, muscular physiques are the result of living and eating the way a wild human animal is supposed to. They move frequently, walk long distances daily, often while lugging heavy buckets of water or a large antelope leg on their shoulders. Do this every day of your life and you are going to look like an underwear model.
Contemporary life is spent sitting in chairs. As a the result of this sedentary lifestyle, we watch our bodies generate excess blubber around our midsections until the once beautiful, strong and powerful apes that we started out as, are hardly recognizable. For those of us less inclined to develop a pear-shaped corpulence, we use a technique to stimulate muscle growth and improve our cardiovascular system. We call this exercise. Modern life is so far removed from the way our natural bodies are supposed to move that without the intervention of regular exercise our physical health will rapidly deteriorate.

Now here is the important point — just as our physical health will decline from the sedentary lifestyle we have adopted in the modern world, our mental health is in equal peril from this unnatural environment we find ourselves in. The inability to pay attention, stress, worry, depression and anxiety are the mental equivalents of diabetes, stroke, and hypertension. Hunter-gatherers do not get any of these modern diseases, mental or physical.

Unlike Mr. Rotund, those of us in the modern world are lucky enough to live in a society where the benefits of physical exercise and sport were discovered long before the computer and car, and so along with a good diet we have ways to combat our poor physical health. But what about our mental health? Are there exercises to combat everyday stress and worry? If so, how often do we perform them? Are we mental Mr. Rotund’s, unaware that there is a treatment that would prevent us from getting these common maladies of the mind? Are we resigned to the idea that stress, worry, and low self-esteem are inevitable features of the human condition for which we can do little about? What would happen if we were to meet a society of people trained from a young age in the art of mental exercise, who grew to possess such great mental strength that some of us might be fooled into thinking they were divine? And what if I were to tell you that this has already happened?

One of the many hippies to travel to Tibet in the 70’s was a young Californian by the name of Alan Wallace. He had become fed up with western culture, but fascinated by Buddhism. He wanted to learn how to meditate at the feet of the greatest masters in the world and became a monk in a Himalayan monastery. It was there that his ideas of mental health were completely turned upside down.

The abbot of the monastery was giving a talk to the monks about a common psychological problem amongst Tibetans. He lamented that people have a tendency to think very highly of themselves while putting others down. At the end of the talk, Alan stood up and said, “My problem is not that I have too much pride, but that I often think negatively of myself. I often don’t like myself and don’t think I am very good.” The abbot glanced up at Alan with a sweet expression, smiled and said, “No you don’t.” The abbot didn’t believe him. He had never heard of the concept of someone not liking themselves before.

Similarly in a meeting between the Dalai Lama and American psychologists in 1990, one of the psychologists brought up the concept of negative self-talk. Since there are no words in Tibetan that translate into low self-esteem and self-contempt, it took quite a long time for the psychologists to convey what they meant. But this wasn’t a translation problem. It was a problem of conceptualization. Self-loathing? People do that? The Dalai Lama was incredulous. Once the Dalai Lama understood what they were saying, he turned to the Tibetan monks in the room, and after explaining what the psychologists were talking about, he asked, “How many of you have experienced this low-self esteem, self-contempt or self-loathing?”

Complete silence.

Here was a psychological state of mind so ubiquitous in our culture, that everyone experiences it from time to time, if not every single day. Yet these Tibetans, trained since childhood in the art of a mental exercise they call meditation, acted like they were being told about some alien life form. The Dalai Lama turned back to the psychologists and asked, “Why would you ever let your mind get like this?”

The Nature of Reality

The final and most esoteric aspect of happiness that is left out of all those positive psychology books is talk about a deeper nature of reality. Philosophers on the other hand, have opined on this subject since the very beginning. The man who coined the term philosopher, meaning “lover of wisdom” was Pythagoras, who intertwined his philosophy into a worldview and way of life that only members of his secret sect were privy to. Concrete facts about Pythagoras’ life are few, as there are no surviving biographical sources from his contemporaries. What information we do have was written down many years later and presents Pythagoras as a nearly divine figure, saying he emanated a supernatural glow. Did he know secrets of the cosmos that have been lost to us today? Unfortunately, we will never know as Pythagoras beliefs died with him and his followers millennia ago. What we do know is that his society practiced communalism, had no personal possessions, followed a strict diet, adhered to an ethical code of honesty, selflessness, and mutual friendship. Advice very similar to what you will find in this book. While the wisdom of the Pythagoras has been buried by the sands of time, the teachings of an even more luminous figure from the ancient world remain. The teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, more commonly known as the Buddha, which means “the awakened one.”

What is it that he woke up to? Buddhist philosophy states that in our everyday lives we are overcome by delusion, which creates attachment and aversion and traps us in a cycle of suffering. By waking up from this delusion, we attain nirvana. Nirvana literally means ‘blowing out,’ as in a candle flame. It is by blowing out the flames of attachment, aversion, and ignorance that suffering is extinguished. The result is a mind that experiences sublime peace.

Does this sound too good to be true? As scientists we will examine Buddhism from a secular perspective, focusing on the pragmatic teachings related to ending suffering and increasing happiness while ignoring the dubious religious elements like reincarnation. How does this secular Buddhism stack up to the demands of modern science? Is there truly a reality hidden beneath our eyes that would lead us to extraordinary well-being if we could only see? Is nirvana the highest happiness a human  could possibly experience? Do people actually attain it? Or at the very least, do they get close? How far along the path can we reasonably expect to get? These questions will be the focus of the second half of this book.

Integration

The Buddhist term ‘bodhi’ is often translated in English as enlightenment or awakening. Bodhi refers to a special kind of knowledge, that of the causal mechanisms that lead to human suffering. Our aim here is the same, to fully understand the causes and conditions that lead to suffering and happiness bolstered by the latest revelations in contemporary science. This book seeks to integrate two separate traditions of ancient wisdom with modern science so that we can live the happiest and healthiest lives possible. By learning about the environment in which our Paleolithic ancestors evolved and how our genetics are still wired to that way of life, we can begin to organize the outer conditions (the diet we need to eat, the exercise we need to do, the sunlight we need to get and the social relationships we need to build and maintain, etc) that will give us the best chance to flourish both physically and mentally. From there we will add the most successful techniques ever developed by humans to work on the inner conditions (our ability to relax, focus, and experience states of ecstasy and compassion, etc) of our mental lives — that of Buddhist soteriology.

This book is also about integrating what we learn into our daily existence in a modern world. Obviously we can’t all live like hunter-gatherers in the Amazon or Buddhist monks in the Himalayas; We have jobs, families and responsibilities. Within the pages of this book, you will find tips on how to live in a more natural way while still waking up every weekday morning to brave the congested commute on your way to the office. As you make changes to your diet, begin a meditation practice and stop using shampoo (read on), you will gradually notice a sense of calm and mental balance replacing the stressed out habitual thought patterns that previously occupied your mind. Your waist will narrow, your sense of vitality will increase, and even things like the common cold will be a rare occurrence.

I assume most people will take their practice only this far. That is fine. There’s a lot to be said for being happy, calm and healthy. But for those who feel the calling to make the best of their time on earth and reach the highest peaks possible, this book is also a guide that will point you in the right direction. Follow this path and you may find that one day the world around you has become a dancing, playful thing, filled with a previously unimaginable serenity and bliss.

The “I’m Naturally Fat” Myth

“It takes a lot of work for me to lose weight”

“I’m a big person. If I just live normally, I gain weight. I have to be super strict with my diet and exercise if I want to be thin.”

“As soon as I stop eating healthy and exercising, I balloon up”

“It’s my genetics, I’m naturally fat”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard these excuses, and if you are an overweight person, be honest — how often have you said these things yourself?

But it’s not true. No one is naturally fat.

Your ancestors were all fit, strong, athletic apes. And you too have the genetics of a fit, strong, athletic ape. The problem is that you live so unnaturally now. You have actually had to work really hard to destroy your genetic potential. It has taken you a lifetime of eating a diet of sugary, processed foods, drinking soda, and being a couch potato to become fat and out of shape.

At the turn of the 20th century only 1 in 150 people were obese. Now 35% of Americans over the age of 20 are obese, and the number is skyrocketing. The problem is environmental, not genetic. The human genome has not undergone such dramatic change in only a few generations that nearly half of us now have the ‘obese gene’. In hunter-gatherer societies, not only is there no obesity, there is nobody who is overweight. Everyone is fit and in shape. That’s how humans are supposed to be. That’s how humans naturally are. That’s how you naturally are.

The good news is that your genetic potential to be fit and good looking is so strong, that just by returning to a natural diet and exercise lifestyle, you will lose weight fast and dramatically. Your body wants so badly to be healthy and fit, that it only takes months (or at most a couple of years for the hugely obese) to get back in top shape, despite all the bad habits you have picked up over your entire lifetime.

Stop thinking of eating a healthy diet and exercising as hard work. It’s not. It takes no more effort to pick up the healthy food item at the grocery store than it is to pick up processed trash. It doesn’t take any more effort to order the steak and veggies at the restaurant than it does to order the pizza. Exercise isn’t work, it’s fun. Your body wants to move. It will reward you with feel good hormones when you get your heart pumping. To sit on the couch all day is to fight against your genetics. Your body will make you lethargic and depressed as punishment for this laziness.

It is much easier to be fit and healthy than it is to be fat and out of shape. To be fit and healthy all you have to do is live naturally. To be fat and out of shape, you have to stuff yourself with processed junk and fight your body’s natural desires to get up and move. Stop trying so hard to be fat.

 

 

Are We All Ethical Monsters?

Political season is in full swing, and all of us are drowning in a sea of caustic opinions from news, social media, and twitter feeds. Everywhere we look we have republicans screaming about how Hillary Clinton is corrupt, and democrats shouting that Donald Trump is a racist ginger. People lob insults back and forth while debating whether or not to let in Syrian refugees, or where we should stand on climate change. We always tend to think we are right, and our opponents, a group of depraved morons. But no matter where we stand on the current issues, there is some issue — perhaps one that we haven’t even considered — that all of us take for granted as being perfectly reasonable, but in truth, it is absolutely abhorrent. Or at least, the people of the future will think so.

A mere few decades ago homosexuality was looked upon as a mental illness, and it was hard to imagine a future where the majority of American citizens would support gay marriage. 60 years ago people thought it was OK that black people shouldn’t be allowed to drink from the same water fountains as white people. 100 years ago, a man so widely respected that a giant sculpture of his face was carved into the side of a mountain, proudly stood photographed over the trophy lion he had hunted..

A year ago a dentist killed a lion named Cecil and became the most hated man on the planet. He had to shut down his dental practice over death threats. A talk show host cried on live television over what he had done.

200 years ago, another luminary of Mt. Rushmore, Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves. 400 years ago little girls were hung for being witches. 2,000 years ago people gathered in enormous coliseums and cheered as they fed people to lions for entertainment.

Are we to believe that in the year 2016, we have transcended all ethical debauchery? Looking around the world, clearly we have not. But I propose, that it doesn’t matter how smart, educated, or progressive you are, there are some beliefs that you hold now, that the people of 2316 will think are pure evil.

What could those beliefs be?

Will the people of the future think it ridiculous that we fought in wars or had armies at all? Will they look at our wealth inequality in the same vein that we view slavery today? Will they consider feeding our children Twix bars until they become diabetic rolly-polly’s child abuse?

What do you think? What will the people of the future have to say about us?