My Biohacking Beginnings

I, like many of you, have always (okay…usually) tried my best to be healthy, and I have gleaned my personal understanding of “healthy” from governmental recommendations (like the well-known Food Guide Pyramid, which has since been replaced by MyPyramid and MyPlate), anecdotal information from family and friends, tips from leading fitness and nutrition experts, and articles or research findings. For years, my definition of healthy was pretty simplistic: eat “right” and exercise. However, from my birth until the summer of 2016, I had no idea how loaded the terms “healthy,” “eating right,” and “exercising” really were.

Before that summer, I had ascribed to the low-fat diet that I had been programmed to regard as the holy grail of healthy eating. Since I wasn’t consuming much fat, I was, by default, consuming more carbs (and more sugar, which was often sneakily hidden in the processed foods I’d buy). For health and budget reasons, I usually packed my own food for the day: for breakfast, a Yogurt Honey Peanut Balance Bar; for lunch, a peanut butter sandwich, banana, and pretzels; and for snack, an apple and a fat-free flavored yogurt. Even though I was eating every two hours, I was always hungry. I used to joke that I was on the same schedule as a newborn; I needed to eat every 2-3 hours or I’d get “hangry,” and no one wanted that. On my way home, I’d often stop at a store to grab a quick snack of Smartfood popcorn or some other seemingly innocuous on-the-go item. For dinner, I’d whip up something easy like pasta, a salad, or, my personal favorite, “snack dinner.” (I coined the term “snack dinner” to mean “the quantity of my cheese + cracker snack just got so out of control that it approached a dinner-sized portion, so eating a true meal on top of that would be gross.” Don’t judge!) I was always (okay…again, usually) eating appropriate portion sizes and staying within the bounds of the recommended caloric intake for a person my age.

Further, I was attempting to exercise (at minimum) five times per week. I was mostly cycling in spin classes, lifting weights, and StairMaster-ing at my local gym, and I was constantly feeling guilty if I missed a session.

Despite all my best nutrition and exercise efforts, I felt sluggish and puffy. I was never dangerously–or even noticeably– overweight, but I never felt particularly awesome in clothes. I settled for the “this is just how I was genetically predisposed to look” excuse and was a generally happy person. I didn’t realize there was a more fulfilling (and filling!) way to live.

One night in the summer of 2016, my boyfriend mentioned a podcast: Vinnie Tortorich’s Fitness Confidential. He was trying to introduce me to the world of podcast-ing (now, I question: How did I ever live without them?) and thought I’d be interested in Vinnie’s frank and informed approach to health and fitness. (He had heard Vinnie on Adam Carolla’s podcast; now, Vinnie is a regular on The Adam Carolla Show) Since I had oodles of time on my hands (*that teacher summer life*), he downloaded 20+ of Vinnie’s podcasts to my phone. I was instantly hooked not only to Vinnie’s podcast but to the idea of podcasts in general, and I listened at every possible moment: cleaning my apartment, working out, cooking dinner, walking around Manhattan. (If you listen to a few of Vinnie’s shows, you’ll see why it’s so easy to get hooked. He’s quite the character!) Vinnie introduced me to the idea of “NSNG,” an abbreviation he coined meaning “No Sugars, No Grains.” According to Vinnie, eating sugars and grains makes us all overweight, puffy, lethargic, and cranky; to improve our lives, we should eat more fat and whole foods and way, waaaay less processed crap. Since I was on the low-fat, high-carb, high-sneaky-processed-sugar train (the aforementioned Yogurt Honey Peanut Balance Bar contains a measly 7g of fat but a whopping 18g of sugar!), his suggestion to replace grains and carbs with fat left me skeptical. Further, Vinnie emphasizes that exercise is a “poor way to lose weight”; according to him, diet is 80% of the equation and exercise only 20%. Wait, what? A celebrity trainer is saying nutrition is more important than the exercises he is paid to teach people day in and day out? At first, I thought Vinnie was a true crazy person. He had only made a living successfully training celebrities and maintained a six pack into his 50s…what could he possibly know? But, I kept listening a) because, as I mentioned, he’s super entertaining, b) I was so confused and in disbelief that I wanted to hear more of his “crazy” ideas, and c) full disclosure…at that time, I really didn’t understand how to download other podcasts to my phone. Fortunately, one of my longtime friends was also a well-respected celebrity trainer, so I did what any good friend would do: I bombarded him with all of my questions. To my surprise, my friend–my supposed ally!–confirmed all of Vinnie’s apparently not-so-crazy ideas. Theoretically, I had learned a new and better way of eating…and I couldn’t unlearn it! So, then what?

At the end of my summer break, I revamped my grocery list and jumped on board the NSNG train. Within a couple of months, I was more energized, more sated, less puffy, and a few pounds lighter, and I achieved all of those results without stressing when I missed a gym session. I still went to the gym three or four times a week, but I did so with a new intention of gaining strength and maintaining heart health. Even though my goal had always been to be the healthiest version of myself rather than to lose weight, I quickly realized how transformative the NSNG lifestyle could be for any person who was trying to lose weight. I felt better than ever before while simultaneously eating delicious, rich foods and working out less. It was a true win-win!

Then, I realized there was probably an entire world of health and lifestyle improvements that were unbeknownst to me. I started researching other podcasts about wellness (now, I was a podcast pro!) and learned so many informative anecdotes from MDs who had taken an interest in nutrition, naturopathic doctors (NDs), nutritionists, and other wellness geeks (like me!).

At this point in time, I also started to grow extremely frustrated. As previously mentioned, I had always cared about my health. If I, a health-conscious and curious individual, had learned all of this critical information because I was an inept podcast user who had free time one summer, how would everyone else find out? How would my busy, well-meaning friends and family sift through faulty research findings that are sponsored by sugar-selling conglomerates? How would they recognize that the government-issued nutrition recommendations were designed by politicians who are constantly pressured by sugar and grain lobbies? Health and wellness guidelines in this country have gotten–and are still getting–really, really corrupted and terrible, and many MDs (by no fault of their own) do not know how to treat root causes of diseases that are sprouting up as a result of the Standard American Diet (SAD); most only know how to do what they were taught, which is to prescribe medication that acts as a “Band-Aid” for any issue. It goes without saying that our healthcare system is spiraling out of control; the issues that require prescription Band-Aids are multiplying more quickly than ever. The country’s healthcare system needs some gigantic changes, and I’m just a little ol’ English teacher! What can I do? What can we all do?

At present, we can don blinders and ear plugs and dive into our own research, realizing that even “scientific findings” may be sketchy. Or, we can get so motivated to enact change that we start our own blogs! Fortunately for you, I am doing both; I will happily take on the sifting and searching for you. When I determine any optimizing health and/or lifestyle change (a.k.a. a “biohack”), I’ll post it to this blog. My intrigue with Vinnie’s podcast initially related solely to nutrition and exercise, but, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve gone down a true biohacking rabbit hole this past year. I’ve learned more than I ever expected to learn about household and skincare products, fasting, epigenetics (say what?), vitamins…you name it, I’ve probably listened to a podcast about it. Thus, the biohacks I recommend in my posts will cover a wide range of topics.

As with anything, it’s easy to get frustrated by the things we can’t control, so let’s focus on the things we can do to achieve optimal (not just normal or average) health and lifestyle habits. There’s a true grassroots effort in motion to improve wellness outside of the standard healthcare system. Let’s join it!