Why Eating Out is Healthy

Humans are social creatures. Think of the worst punishment that people reference in prison: solitary confinement. We NEED to be around people. I’ve always understood this intellectually, but I often lose sight of it by focusing on other areas like health and school instead. However, I’ve realized that mental and physical health depend A LOT on socializing, perhaps as much as food and exercise affect health.

For example, when I was into the Paleo diet and eating “clean” I rarely shared food with anyone because I was consuming a very limited diet. Yes, I was eating a “clean” diet but I was missing a huge aspect of socializing, which is sharing food with people. Only recently, I realized that there are so many health benefits to socializing that are worth the small intake of junk food.

Consider what is “healthier”: the perfect kale salad with wild-caught salmon and extra-virgin-blessed by a rabbi-organic olive oil eaten alone in your apartment OR a white bread sandwich eaten with friends with a few good laughs sprinkled on top? I would argue the sandwich is actually “healthier”. The sandwich with friends has a lot of benefits: laughing, walking to the café, getting outside, developing deeper connections, and other effects we haven’t discovered. I suspect scientific research will show these effects in the coming years. In fact, some research suggests that simply hugging may decrease levels of cortisol (a stress hormone).

Of course, you can always choose healthier options when eating out and suggest more athletic social activities. But if your filter for social activities is only what fits into the “healthy lifestyle” you follow, your activities will be limited. And unless you are a professional athlete (meaning your income depends on your athletic ability), it probably is not worth it. Basing all socializing on a fitness/health activity, such as Crossfit, means if you get injured, then your social life will be severely hindered. Plus when you meet people outside of that group, it will be harder to connect since you are used to only talking to people in Crossfit. An exercise group should just be just one of the many tribes you are part of.

So as much as eating well and exercise are part of being “healthy”, regular doses of in-person socializing are the supplement most of us need more of.

Why We Need Some Stress, But Not Too Much

“Much of modern life is preventable chronic stress injury.” -Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nowadays stress seems to be as bad as sugar, inflammation, and gluten. It is something we need to “cure” with meditation? Or is there such a thing as good stress? And how much is too much?

I realized there is such a thing good stress after reading Nassim’s Taleb Antifragile. Taleb discusses show there are positive acute stressors which strengthen us and negative chronic stressors which weaken us.

For example, if you place 300 lbs on your back and squat 10 times and wait a week, you will be able to lift 302 lbs. The stressor of the added weight has caused you to overcompensate and be able to lift more than 300 lbs. However, there is a limit to how much stress we can take. If you take 3,000 lb and try to squat it 1 time, you will be crushed under the weight. So with acute stressors, such as exercise, the dosage must be right along with the recovery time. Unfortunately, recovery is under appreciated, but this is when the response to a stressor occurs! Consider, that many of the performance enhancing drugs used by athletes are meant to accelerate recovery so the athlete can train again, more intensely.

Acute stressors not only make us stronger, but when deprived of acute stressors we become weaker. Most people have heard that while in space astronauts lose significant bone mass, connective tissue integrity, and muscle mass. These negative effects occur because they lack the stress of weight bearing activity on Earth.

On the other hand, there are other chronic stressors, which gradually wear us down. These include daily traffic, exam pressures, and 24 hour negative news cycles.

So in general we need to 1. Eliminate the damage from chronic stressors, 2. Add healthy acute stressors, and 3. Enhance recovery from these stressors. 

We regularly need to experience acute stressors such as:
-Fasting
-Intense heat exposure, such as a sauna
-Intense exercise (such as interval training or heavy strength straining)

And reduce chronic stressors such as:
-Sitting in traffic
-Financial worries due to a high cost lifestyle (i.e. mortgage, fancy car, a boat, beach house, etc.)
-Constant consumption of negative news
Sitting excessively (this creates excess stress on areas such as the low back and neck)

And enhance recovery from stressors with methods like:
-Acupuncture, massage, or even self care tools like the Nayoya Acupressure mat
High quality, sufficient sleep-this is likely the most important recovery tool.
“Forest bathing”: this is a practice coined by the Japanese which is essentially taking a walk in nature. A 2011 study found that walking in a forest actually led to a larger decrease in blood pressure and stress hormones, than a walk in the city.

Management of stress is not just for today-it may be the most important tool to help us stay functional into old age. Although we may not be quite as sharp and strong as when we were in our 20’s, I am skeptical that old age must be a slow decay towards death.

“We observe old people and we see them age, so we associate aging with their loss of muscle mass, bone weakness, loss of mental function, taste for Frank Sinatra music, and similar degenerative effects. But these failures to self-repair come largely from maladjustment-either too few stressors or too little time for recovery between them”. -Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Is Convenience Always a Good Thing?

“Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. “― Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner

We always seem to rush towards convenience, efficiency, and comfort. We like apps and devices that are more convenient to use. We like squishy, comfy sofas for watching movies. We like food that gives us a quick burst of energy and can be eaten anytime, anywhere.

But maybe we should ask ourselves “What do I need to be convenient?” Some things make us healthy, happy and productive when made more convenient. On the other hand other things make us sick, anxious, and lazy. For example, when healthy food is accessible in one’s house, you are more likely to eat it. But if highly processed, sugar laden foods are accessible we are more likely to eat this sort of junk food.

So we want to make health, happiness, and productivity more convenient, while making compulsive, unhealthier habits less convenient.

Do more of the following really make us more happy, healthy, and productive?
-Social media, email, and other distractions (I am not anti social media but constantly being distracted by notifications is not a healthy, happy, or productive way to live)
-Eating cheap, nutrient poor, processed food
-Passive input activities: web browsing, Netflix binge watching, and following a link to another link to another link…until an hour of life has passed and can never be reclaimed.

An important caveat, I am not suggesting that things like Netflix and potato chips are terrible! It’s just that they are very easy to use in excess and we tend to do so when they are more convenient. On the other hand there are things which take a bit more effort than unwrapping a package or opening an app. We don’t tend to do them naturally and will avoid them when possible.

So we should focus on making the following more convenient:
-Eating quality, natural whole foods (especially vegetables-almost nobody, including myself, eats enough of these)
-Intimate conversations with friends and family
-Reading time tested books like “Letters from a Stoic”
-Creative output: writing, painting, music, dance, etc.
-Physical activity and exertion (only 20% of the U.S. population meets the recommended amount of weekly physical activity )

Convenience, efficiency, and comfort are nice, but make sure they are applied to the right things.

Monday Morning Lunch vs Wedding Cake Moments

Most people fall into two extremes of eating: paying no attention to their diet, consuming every bite of junk food that comes their way OR obsessing about diet as if they were training for the Olympics. The problem is that neither way of eating is productive for most people.

From my personal life and observations as a trainer, I believe it is helpful to separate your diet into: what you eat for Monday morning lunch and “wedding cake moments”.

Monday morning lunch is a meal that repeats over and over. It’s not very memorable. These are routine meals and as such should be as healthy as possible. Habitually rewarding yourself with treats at such routine meals gradually adds unnecessary calories and fat to the body. Also, this creates the unhelpful habit of expecting treats regularly. I am not saying never have a cookie or chips, but such treats are actually more enjoyable when they are infrequent and should be reserved for…

“Wedding cake moments” How often do you go to a wedding? Once or twice a year. How often is it your mother’s birthday? There are some special events that come up very infrequently but are important for another part of one’s health, which is relationships. Don’t be the guy/gal at a wedding so obsessive about their diet that they refuse to eat a slice of wedding cake. Unless you are a professional bodybuilder, a piece of cake a few times per year won’t make much of a difference in your body. Now this doesn’t mean that every single office party or Friday night with friends warrants pizza and another round of drinks! And of course sometimes we slip up and may eat a bit of junk food. However, the stress and anxiety from expecting dietary perfection is just not worth it. Just get back on track towards your standard fuel, because really in the big picture it doesn’t matter that much.

So stick with the Monday Morning Lunch routine most of the time, but allow yourself those “Wedding cake moments”. You can have your cake (being healthy and lean), and eat it too (infrequently, at truly special events).

The Day You Wrote Your Best PT School Essay

The number of physical therapy school applicants has grown massively over the last few years. Now you need more than just “a passion” for PT and a high GPA. The essay is one the last places you can make changes since GPA, work experience, and most other application materials are set in place by the time of the application.

So how should you start writing the essay?

1.Answer the essay prompt: This might seem obvious, but the first time I wrote my essay I was very self-centered and shared the story I wanted to tell. A mentor read my essay and bluntly said “You didn’t answer the prompt”.

The admissions committees are looking over hundreds of applications and will have no time to dissect your essay for hidden meaning. As William Howard Taft said “Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.”

2.”Be Unique”: that may sound like obvious, cliche advice, but many people don’t write unique stories. After a first draft review, a mentor said that my story of “I was injured and found PT” and “I like helping people” was the same as hundreds of other applicants. After hearing this I revised my essay to discuss how my senior college engineering project taught me skills that would help in PT.

Also,  I shared stories from my observation hours and lessons learned from observation. All applicants have observation hours but showing that you’ve learned from them differentiates you.

3.Have a variety of critics read your essay for grammar and flow: Admissions officers are reading hundreds of applications, so your essay needs to be easy to read. I had family, friends, several PT’s, and writing tutors read my essays.

The essay is one of the last things you can control in your PT school application, so make it count.