Why Workout Motivation Doesn’t Last

Keeping regular workout motivation is hard. Here’s my latest video on what to do about it (it’s only 4 minutes, so give it a view!):

Most of us can’t seem to work out daily. We look on the internet for workout motivation. We keep searching for the right exercise gear, clothing, and right workout program. Sometimes, when we hate ourselves enough, we decide that we have to change. We even start exercising and it goes on for a while, but then we fail.  What’s going on here? Why can’t we do something that we know is good for us! Let’s find out.
Oh, by the way, you can check references to every single claim I’m about to make in the video description on YouTube. Let’s look at 3 reasons why we can’t stick to a workout program and what we can do about it.
First of all, we treat exercise as something that’s done only in the gym. Or when we have the proper workout clothes on. Or if it’s done in the morning. If we miss the first few minutes of class at the gym, or we have to leave early, we say that it doesn’t count. We say it only counts if we’re completely drenched in sweat, and are pushing our bodies to their limit. But the science says that any and all physical activity counts. When you take the stairs, it counts. When we park far away in the parking lot, it counts. A good rule is to stick with what’s called the ventilatory threshold–the point at which it is hard to hold a conversation with someone. Research says that at that rate, we feel good about ourselves and want to keep exercising. And when we start liking exercising, we don’t need workout motivation to keep doing it.
Secondly, most of us treat exercise as a chore or punishment. It’s something that we “have” to do, “should” do. We’ve heard the scientists, or our own doctor has told us that we need to workout. And that’s exactly why we can’t get ourselves to exercise. When you workout to reduce your cholesterol, or to be “healthy”, you won’t feel motivated to work-out. When we “should” all over ourselves by telling us that we have to do this, we must do this, we create resistance. Our minds immediately say “oh yeah? you can’t make me exercise!” The solution? We are much more likely to do things that we decide to do for ourselves. This is called Self-Determination Theory. Stop making exercise into a punishment and find a reason to enjoy it. We’ll get into the best reasons to workout in just a moment. Before that, let’s look at…
Thirdly, the reason we fail at exercising daily is because we make it about losing weight. We don’t know how we will look like in 6 months, 12 months. And so, we give up when we don’t see any changes quickly enough. That’s the danger of making weight loss or looking good into your motivator. We don’t know when it’s going to happen. Instead, the research shows that people who make exercise and physical activity into something that makes them feel better right then and there, they stick with it.
It’s having more energy, it’s feeling better about the day, feeling more in control. Find a reason that you yourself decide, not a reason that someone else gives you.
Even if weight loss/looking good is your second or third reason to work out, you will still be less likely to workout. You dilute the energy of your goals by having too many reasons to move. Make it about making your day better and you’ll stick with it. In conclusion, remember 3 things:
  1. Exercise doesn’t happen only in the gym or in gym clothes. Find ways to move everywhere you go.
  2. Stop “shoulding” on yourself. Find a reason to exercise for a reason you enjoy – making your day better, feeling more energized, jamming to music, being in nature, or being with your friends.
  3. Stop making it about weight loss or looking good. That will definitely happen, but move to enjoy life now, not in the future.
In short, find ways to move throughout the day, and do it in a way that you enjoy and improves your day right now. Getting started with an exercise habit will change your inner identity so that if you do want to hit the gym and push yourself hard, you can one day.
If you make working out into a gift for ourselves to improve our day, you won’t need motivation to do it everyday. How can you do that today?
Leave a comment in the video to let others know, and hit the like & subscribe button for more of these videos.

Why Digital Health Apps Won’t Save Us

A Digital Health App Won’t Help You Get Fitter, Live Longer, and Sleep Better

Touted as the ultimate fitness app, the Fitbit is a marriage of digital health with wearable technology. The device and app sold by the millions. Turns out that Fitbit‘s heart rate tracking is dangerously inaccurate.  Fitbit is meant to help you track sleep, measure activity throughout the day, give you notifications to workout, etc.

This is an emerging trend. I closely follow Rock Health, a venture fund dedicated to digital health. Each week, its newsletter mentions funding deals in the digital health space. Massive amounts of capital are allocated to companies where technology trumps common sense.

The premise behind these companies is that digital technologies will help us fix our health. However, I would like to argue that this is not the case. If Peter Thiel were to ask me his contrarian question, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?“, I would say that the premise behind most digital health companies is misguided. Technology will not help us save ourselves (at least in this case).

Why?

I’ve spent the last 3 years reading hundreds of medical journals in my spare time, and trying to make sense of how we can live longer, healthier, and fuller lives. I’ve spoken with hundreds of doctors, nutritionists, public health officials, and professors in related fields. I started writing in this space late last year, and got a lot more involved in this field by leading the Outreach team at NutritionFacts.org this year.

What has come up repeatedly is the importance of education, and people carefully curating their social, emotional, and mental lives to support their growth. Health is a game of changing the mindset of people, and apps are not designed to change mindsets. They’re designed to be addictive. Tracking sleep is pretty useless unless we address what’s keeping us up at night.

When a technology tool helps us reconnect to that old-fashioned sense of curating our lives, then we can change. Otherwise, a Fitbit used to make you fit makes as much sense as a Californian touting their environmentalism by driving an electric car, but using a dryer for their clothes instead of drying it in the sun: a useful illusion.

We tend to use shopping as a means of relieving the anxiety in our lives. For many of us, shopping in a traditional mall has replaced shopping technology products. And if they’re “personal development” oriented, hey, it’s a good thing, right? Sadly not.

Life changes begin with a change in mind-set. There is no gadget or app that will accomplish this for you. There is hard work involved. It means quitting mindless consumption of media designed to keep you complacent. It means taking charge.

Markets and consumers live on the hype and bust cycle (yes, I know it’s called boom-and-bust cycle you Keynesians!). And while technology companies in this space can be highly valued, I do not agree with their worth. They may have the market caps, the sales, etc. But does it change a person’s life, even incrementally? Would the fittest Fitbit users have achieved their level of health even without the device and app? I would argue yes.

I would bet that an infinitesimally small number of companies in the digital health space actually create products that matter. Ginger.io and Omada Health comes to mind. Most on the other hand, are focused on allowing technology to trump common sense. Many will undoubtedly sell well and make their investors a tidy return, but by tapping into the public’s need to consume away their anxiety for health, giving them an illusion of better control.

What’s the alternative? The alternative is to change what we consume (for our bodies and our minds). The return on that investment will be astronomically higher.

This is somewhat ironic for me to write, as a person deeply interested in figuring out how digital health can change the world. In my recent grad school application, I wrote about this in depth. It seems like I’m criticizing an industry which I wish to impact.

Not so. I was mistaken a few years back when I wrote this post. I too fell into the trap of pursuing value from the market’s perspective compared to value in terms of how lives can be affected. Since 2013, my viewpoint has changed substantially. Ideas of space exploration, and rubbing shoulders with billionaires and celebrities had a glamour attached to it, but was far too superficial.

Instead, this decision to work in digital health is much different. I’m in it for the long haul: a lifetime. I see my work as tackling the harder problem of changing mindset, perception, and motivation by using technology. I dare say this work may be less profitable than marketing a “magic” app, but I will be satisfied with the value I create.

An Open Letter to President Anote Tong from the Republic of Kiribati

The following is a letter I wrote to President Anote Tong from the Republic of Kiribati. It was inspired by a conversation he had with Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED Conference.

11 January 2016

Re: Climate Change and Kiribati: The way we can all make a difference!

Dear Mr. President Tong,

It saddened me greatly to hear about the struggles that the people of Kiribati are facing. Climate change has become a very real problem for you, and sadly far too many world leaders are not reacting strongly enough to the threat it poses.

Listening to your recent conversation with Chris Anderson, I was left humbled and inspired by the courage of you and your people to face this challenges as you adapt to deal with this threat.

At the same time, I can understand your deep frustration in working with large organizations (governments and industry) to take this issue seriously, and take drastic action to curtail this catastrophe.

The status-quo is too profitable, easy, and comfortable for the powerful interests at bay. In the face of such odds, it is easy to get discouraged.

However, you hold a position of incredible respect in front of the people who come to listen to you speak. You have the power to deliver a message of personal action to all those who listen: an action that would do more to slowdown the advance of climate change than the laborious and unfruitful lobbying you have experienced in dealing with industry and governments.

I do not wish to sell you anything. I do not work for any industry interests. All I wish to do is share an idea that can transform the world significantly and help you save your country. If you approach it with an open mind, you will find that my claims are cited and accurate. While this action is simple, it could be difficult for many to implement. Yet, you will become a force of powerful action to all those with whom you share your message.

First let’s look at what the status quo solutions are: switch to renewable energy sources; recycle more; use more public transit; switch to electric vehicles and stop polluting as much.

These are all good solutions but the impact of them is limited.

For instance, converting to wind and solar power will take 20+ years and roughly $43 trillion.1 Do you have this time? How will you encourage organizations to spend this much money? Even if a hundred of you spoke, action of this scale will take a while to implement.

Natural gas is an intermediary solution. However, hydraulic fracking uses 70-140 billion gallons of water annually, and the emissions are still significant.2

What will you do when your peoples way of life is threatened when the oceans are fishless by 2048?3,4 How can you avoid the fact that 3/4th of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted?5,6 By giving out more licenses as you are doing? Do you give away the last vestiges of your dwindling fortune or will you ask for something more that everyone can do?

How will you stop the 1-2 acres of rainforest that are being cleared every single second?7 How will you reconcile that the hunger for a so called better life is infecting the rising middle class as the population increases and reaches 8 billion? 10 billion? The world population grows by 228,000 people every single day.8

In all honesty, you are either being deceived, or have resigned your power into the hands of larger players to solve this problem. If you believe that any one country or any one company pledging to reduce their carbon footprint will matter, you are deceiving yourself, and losing precious time in the process. All these issues are massive and ordinary people cannot rally against them. We must surrender our power in the hands of the powerful. You cannot spread a message of true hope this way.

Here is what you must do: you must encourage individual action because you and I cannot afford to keep waiting and hoping and giving away our power to those that have no interest in changing. You tried that for a lifetime and it has not worked.

So what is the most powerful action that everyone can take to stop climate change? What is this thing that causes more greenhouse gases than all of the transportation sector put together? What action could it be that all of us can start taking to halt climate change?

You may laugh at the suggestion I am making. But that would be to your detriment. While you may be applauded by many as you rally against climate change, the actual impact you will make will be minuscule compared to the impact you can make.

The answer is simple: stop eating meat, stop consuming dairy and eggs, and yes, stop eating fish.

Here’s why:

As per the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation modes.9 As for carbon dioxide, livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of it annually, or 51% of all worldwide emissions.10

Cows raised for their meat produce 150 billion gallons of methane every single day.11 Methane is 25-100x more destructive than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period to the environment.12, 13

Beyond that, raising animals for food is responsible for 65% of all nitrous-oxide emissions – a greenhouse gas 296x more potent than carbon dioxide which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years as per the United Nations.14

Are we really going to ask industry to stop polluting when most of the pollution and inaction is due to the willful ignorance on our plates?

Even if we were to stop using fossil fuels, we would exceed 565 gigatonnes limit by 2030, all from raising animals.15 Instead, if we worked to reduce methane emissions, we would create tangible benefits immediately!16

We are also failing to look at the tremendous amount of resources used to eat meat, dairy, fish, and eggs.

1,800 litres of water are used to produce 1 lb of eggs, and 3,406 litres of water are used to produce 1 lb of cheese.17 As for red meat such as beef, it takes 5,678 litres of water to raise 1 lb of beef.30 Indeed, animal agriculture uses between 20%-33% of all fresh water in the world today.18

Animals used to produce food take up a third of the earth’s ice free land.19 Animal agriculture has created more than 500 nitrogen flooded deadzones around the world in our oceans making it the leading cause of ocean dead zones, water pollution, and species extinction in the world.20,21

Why is this?

Because every minute, 7 million pounds of excrement is produced by animals raised for food in the United States alone.22 Because 130 times more animal waste than human waste is produced in the US alone – 1.4 billion tonnes from the meat industry annually.23

Indeed, the leading cause of rainforest destruction is livestock and raising feed for livestock.24 We could push for them to not cut the rainforest, or find other practices. Or we could stop people from wanting to eat meat and tackle the issue at the root.

What about world hunger? How will we feed such a growing number of people? Well, the fact is that we are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people, yet the vast majority of the land and resources are used to raise animals and their feed instead.25

On any given area of land, plants can produce 15x more protein than animals.26 We can feed the world.

If you advocated people to take personal action by cutting the animal foods, you would make each person contribute 50% less carbon dioxide.28 Each person you inspire would help save 4,100 litres of water, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions every day!29, 30

President Tong, changing the world begins with changing ourselves. You can be a true messenger of peace as you explain to audiences worldwide that they too can change the world if they change their lifestyle. It is not difficult, nor do you sacrifice your health for it. The science on this is indisputable: when people stop eating meat, dairy, eggs, and fish, and get their nutrition from whole plant based foods, their health improves for the better.

All it requires is a small change every day to eat less animal foods and eat more plant foods. Like with everything, we can get used to this. There is incredible variety, deliciousness, and abundance to be found in this way of life. Whatever discomfort you face initially will go away as people adapt to the rich flavours of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and spices.

Will you take this simple action that can save you, your people, and your country or will you keep spreading the message of false hope? Will you keep labouring into the deaf ears of faceless bureaucracies powered by financial interests and power structures or will you spread the message that can make a difference?

Will you inspire people to take action or will we spend another decade talking more about “awareness”?

The choice is yours.

In writing this, it has been my hope that you look at this issues afresh. I hope it changes your thinking and gives us all real hope. You now have a message of personal action to give everyone. If you wish to speak further, feel free to reach out to me. In my own small way, I have been taking action to work on the same problem that you have been. We are allies ultimately.

You have more to gain from spreading this message than anyone. Don’t let the will of the tongue get in the way of the life of the planet.

Sincerely,

Dhawal Tank

Canada

 

The following is a list of citations for all of my claims:

  1. The Cost Of Going Green Globally
  2. “Draft Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources.” EPA Office of Research and Development. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2011.
  3. “Overfishing: A Threat to Marine Biodiversity.” UN News Center.
  4. “General Situation of World Fish Stocks.” United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
  5. Science, “Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services”.
  6. National Geographic, article Nov. 2006
  7. World Resources Institute, “Keeping Options Alive”.
  8. World Population Data Sheet
  9. Fao.org. Spotlight: Livestock impacts on the environment.
  10. WorldWatch, November/December 2009. Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC, USA. Pp. 10–19.
  11. Ross, Philip. “Cow farts have ‘larger greenhouse gas impact’ than previously thought; methane pushes climate change.” International Business Times. 2013.
  12. “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions.” Science Magazine.
  13. Ibid.
  14. “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006.
  15. Oppenlander, Richard A. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. . Minneapolis, MN : Langdon Street, 2013. Print.
  16. U.N. Press Release, Climate Summit 2014.
  17. “Meateater’s Guide to Climate Change & Health.” Environmental Working Group.
  18. 27%-30%+ of global water consummation is for animal agriculture. 
  19. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Livestock a major threat to environment”
  20. NOAA News, 2014.
  21. “Risk Assessment Evaluation for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Office of Research and Development. 2004. ; “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006.
  22. 335 million tons of “dry matter” is produced annually by livestock in the US.“FY-2005 Annual Report Manure and Byproduct Utilization National Program 206.” USDA Agricultural Research Service. 2008.
  23. Animal agriculture: waste management practices. United States General Accounting Office.
  24. “Livestock impacts on the environment.” Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations (fao). 2006. ; World Bank. “Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon”
  25. Cornell Chronicle, “U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists”.
  26. “Soy Benefits”. National Soybean Research Laboratory. Retrieved 2010-04-18.
  27. Oil, water: “Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003.
  28. “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK.” Climactic change, 2014.
  29. “Water Footprint Assessment.” University of Twente, the Netherlands.
  30. Journal of Animal Science. “Estimation of the water requirement for beef production in the United States.” 

 

Ideas in 2015

I had originally decided to write this as a post with the best books I read in 2015, but ideas are a lot more general and books are not always the best place to get ideas. I hope these ideas serve you as well:

1. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

This book was a game-changer for me. Everywhere around us, the stories that rise to the top are stories of people who had massive success. We hear about stories of Zuckerberg, Gates, Warren Buffet, et al. We hear about companies such as Instagram and Uber which are creating or transforming entire industries. Seeing all this, I used to get down on myself. I would wonder why others were succeeding while I was not. Perhaps something was wrong with me. The ones who made it are just more special or more worthy than me to have made such quantum jumps.

Not so. The Slight Edge talks about the incredible power of changing the definition of success to taking any action towards a worthwhile ideal. The book also has the idea that success is easy if the practice of success happens over time.

Consider the idea of losing weight. You know that drinking soda will not help you in that area. However, if you’re with friends you realize that drinking that can of soda in that moment will not make you gain weight. But you also know that NOT drinking that can of soda will not help you lose weight. And that’s where we fail. It is easy to say no at that moment to that soda, but it also easy to say yes. Yet, compound decisions like that over a long enough period of time and we are not able to succeed with our weight goals.

You can apply this to all areas of your life: schooling, fitness, relationships, business, etc. In fact, I ended up listening to this book 3-4 times this year. I found it to be absolutely powerful and I highly recommend it. The book helps you really understand the idea of the slight edge and how it can be applied to all parts of your life. It really is the secret between success and failure in life.

As a result of this, I ended up taking and following through on an online course by the University of Berkeley and edx: The Beauty and Joy of Computing.

While it may not have an immediate benefit in my life, I understand that getting more skills under my belt that interest me will undoubtedly pay off in the long run. [for more on that, read Scott Adams’ highly fun book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.] There were more areas that I applied the slight edge in, which I will get into below.

2. Giving > Getting

This idea was profound and was inspiring by a few books: The Go-Giver by Bob Burg, Become An Idea Machine by Claudia Altucher, and Choose Yourself by James Altucher, Charlie Hoehn (whom you should definitely follow), and the work I’ve done with BAPS Charities.

The goal of the list above isn’t to name drop, but to share the tremendous commonality of this idea to success and happiness that people have found again and again in all walks of life.

The idea is simple: the best way to have a fulfilling career, relationships, health, etc is to give first. James and Claudia Altucher propose the idea of giving out great ideas to people and companies. Coding, production, etc can all be outsourced, but good ideas cannot. The goal is to exercise the idea muscle (which is a muscle like any other part of your body) and give give and give the best away to people who can use it. This leads to conversations and conversations lead to opportunities to contribute. I have literally emailed founders at companies with ideas and gotten a positive reaction.

Textbooks for Change, Akira.MD, Ginger.io, and OpenCare  have been a few companies I’ve done this with in the last 2 months alone and have been blown away by how much I have learned about them, but also how appreciate they have been with my insights and ideas. In one instance, I have had a chance to become an adviser to the company.

Bob Burg and Charlie Hoehn mention that giving out ideas, but also connections, and opportunities will lead to more exciting career fulfillment. This is something that I plan to dive very deeply into in 2016. I find this method of forging a career to be a lot more rewarding than the apply via a cover letter and CV to jobs and move ahead. By giving with any expectation of getting anything back before any real tangible opportunity, we are much more likely to get a positive response back.

This technique above helped me make new friends as I’ve reached out to people I’ve admired and shared ideas that they may like.

3. Education != Schooling

 

John Taylor Gatto is a revelation. I first stumbled across his 5 hour interview titled The Ultimate History Lesson. As New York State’s teacher of the year, and New York City’s teacher of the year many times over, he had had enough and had to quit.

Gatto goes deep into the history of schooling and goes on to outline with startling clarity how modern schools are not designed to educate citizens, but rather designed to create a class of workers. These workers are conditioned over at least 12,000 hours of forced schooling to base their intellectual and emotional value and worth in external approval, have others set the agenda for their lives. The system is designed to enforce hierarchy and class structure so that most do not deviate from it.

He goes on to highlight alternative methods of education, which should develop the…

  1. Ability to define problems without a guide.
  2. Ability to ask questions that challenge common assumptions.
  3. Ability to work without guidance.
  4. Ability to work absolutely alone.
  5. Ability to persuade others that yours is the right course.
  6. Ability to debate issues and techniques in public.
  7. Ability to re-organize information into new patterns.
  8. Ability to discard irrelevant information.
  9. Ability to think dialectically.
  10. Ability to think inductively, deductively, and heuristically.

If you are short on time, at least carve out 1 hour to listen to his lecture titled “The Seven Lesson School Teacher: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

If you are more interested, there are many interesting ways to follow-up. Gatto’s book titled Weapons of Mass Instruction come to mind. There is also a massive open-sourced learning community that untethers education from schooling and encourage people of all ages to take control of their education. These ideas make it very clear that fixing schools won’t do it. For a real revolution, we must learn to educate ourselves. We must learn to take control of our own lives and not wait for the power-that-be to grant us the golden ticket of our destiny.

I know this all sounds very conspiratorial, but after doing your own independent reading and listening to the story that’s laid out, you cannot help but get how true the story presented above is.

Understanding these ideas helped me understand many of the feelings of general helplessness, loneliness, and poor self-image I have often experienced (or keep experiencing at times). Understanding the role of schooling in my life has given me such a large portion of my power back. It has helped me be bolder in my thinking in actions, fear less, and find happiness and self-worth in my own self.

4. Move!

Spark! The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey at the Harvard Medical School convinced me beyond a shred of doubt that daily exercise is a great lifetime practice not just for my body but also for my brain. As a nerd, it was the brain talk that convinced me to start exercising daily.

Aerobic exercise changes the brain completely and significantly impacts its ability to learn, manage stress, ward off and treat ADHD, depression, and addiction. The opening chapter alone is worth the price of admission as Dr. Ratey highlights the impact of exercise on a school population with an absolutely staggering impact.

I’ve been almost pretty disciplined since this summer to have kept a regular exercise habit going. Exercise has become a mainstay in my life and without it, I have a hard time thinking and functioning well. My body gets antsy after a while if I haven’t exercised. I highly recommend this book for those who do not take exercise seriously because it presents ideas on how the brain itself is impacted.

Credit goes to the incredible Special Ops trainer Mark Lauren for writing You Are Your Own Gym to help me devise a High-Intensity Interval Training program.

That was 2015 in a set of ideas. I’ve tried to present the most life-changing ideas above. I hope some of them were useful to you. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or clarifications you would like and I would be happy to go into them.

Why I Went Vegan – The Ethical Compulsion

Why Love One but Eat the Other?
www.beveg.ca

Note: If you are just joining this post, the series began here where I chronicled my journey. It is a good place to start.

Ahimsa paramo dharmaha

Non-Violence is the highest ethical code

Perhaps it’s because I have been grounded in Eastern philosophy where the idea of karma and re-incarnation is central to life. In simpler words, it means what goes around comes around. If I cause someone to suffer directly or indirectly (through paying others to do it), it definitely comes back my way as well. In such a universe, the idea of consuming such animal products that comes through intense suffering is automatically repulsive.

I do not wish to bombard you with images of factory farms for meat and dairy (yes, even dairy). This isn’t about grass-fed or free-range options either. This is about why I felt personally compelled to switch and a few of the arguments I’ve seen against it.

People think of vegans as bleeding heart types who let their emotions run their lives. But let me re-frame it another way. Isn’t letting millions of living creatures suffer immeasurably for the pleasure they provide your tongue a greater example of letting emotions run one’s life?

One of the most amazing moment of cognitive dissonance is the obsession with pets in the Western world. Dogs and cats are looked after extremely well. Yet, cows, pigs, and many other animals are easily killed and just conveniently ignored. I’m not sure how people can completely ignore this. It is one thing to tune out the violence that is happening hundreds of miles away in other parts of the world. But when dead carcasses end up on your plate everyday, how can people turn a blind eye towards this obvious (for a lack of better word) hypocrisy?

So what if you could make a difference?

My Issue with Dairy

I can’t comment anymore on meat. I’ve been a lacto-vegetarian since birth, so the transition away from milk has been the most interesting one.

I think this is the part that shocks most people. As an Indian, milk has very much been part of my culture. Sweets, and most foods have some component of dairy in it. When I announce that I do not drink milk for health and ethical reasons, I’m met with a lot of resistance.

“But milk is good for you!” “How dare you go against your culture!” “Milk doesn’t hurt anyone”.

And so, here are 3 reasons why I do not wish to support the dairy industry (on top of the health and environmental reasons):

Full disclose, I am adapting this from Ethical Vegan here.

1. Cows are repeatedly beaten harshly. 

All you need to do is a simple YouTube search to find this out. You’ll see the extremely common practices in North American dairy farms of using pitchforks, beating cows with heavy objects, having their tails smashed, and a lot more.

This isn’t meant to shock you. It’s meant to create understanding so you can make an informed choice regarding this. Unlike plants, all these animals are living sentient beings with central nervous systems that can feel the intense pain of this.

Every time we consume dairy, we support this system. Isn’t it worth it to find a better way of getting your calcium than this? Although to be fair, the strong-bones-from-milk argument has been thoroughly debunked.

2. Cows are repeatedly (for a lack of a better word) raped.

Basic Biology for you: A cow needs to be pregnant in order to produce milk. Cows are routinely impregnated (raped) as soon as they are capable of it, so they can produce children and keep producing milk. This is done until they cannot bear children anymore at which point they are promptly disposed (murdered).

What’s more, males are turned to veal, and excess “inventory” is killed off because there is not enough milk to spare for the mother to give to her children.

Yup, you support that when you consume dairy. No thanks. It’s not for me.

3. The cow is then executed.

Once she cannot produce any more milk, cows are stabbed in the throat left to bleed out. Or you can hang them upside down, slit their throat and let them bleed out. After being beaten, stabbed, punched, raped repeatedly, taken away from her children, and being good productive milk producers, this is their final reward.

Is cheese really worth it? The milk? The yogurt? I’m not sure.

It’s easy to tweet/instagram/post an quote on compassion and make yourself look spiritual and conscious. It’s another to actually act on it.

As Steve Pavlina puts it in his post “Prisoners”:

Caring is not intention… or emotion… or fluffy, squishy thoughts of love and oneness. Caring is action.

My lacto-vegetarian friends cannot ignore the facts above. They are indeed supporting this when you consume dairy. This series of posts is trying to prove that it is possible to survive without this. Why not do it?

Addendum: Here are some other commonly cited ethical arguments against being a vegan. I won’t attempt to address all of them here where others have done a much better job of it.

Addendum 2: How could I forget this one!

If you really truly honest to goodness curious about all the ethical side of things, take the time and watch this. I promise you that it will change your perspective on everything:

Earthlings is honestly the thing that tipped me over the edge to the cause.

 

Why I Went Vegan – The Scientific Evidence

Note: If you’re just joining this series, you may want to here, the first in the series.

In my last post, I explained the personal journey that took me down the path where I started switching to a whole foods plant based diet. In this article, I want to explore the scientific evidence that helped me arrive at this conclusion.

I did not seek this information with a set conclusion in mind. Rather, I let the evidence inform the conclusion.

Digesting this post will take some time, however, if you properly review the actual scientific evidence, you will find information that can significantly reduce incidents of chronic disease in your life, put money back into your pocket, make you a more informed citizen, and generally increase your well being.

Instead of me writing a long article and probably messing up the science, I am going to defer to the expertise of doctors who have spent their entire lives in the field of understanding nutrition. I have already cited my reliance on The China Study, but for this article, I will rely on the work by Nutrition Facts. To copy directly from its website:

NUTRITIONFACTS.ORG is a strictly non-commercial, science-based public service provided by Michael Greger, M.D., launched with seed money and support by the Jesse & Julie Rasch Foundation. Now a 501c3 nonprofit charity, NutritionFacts.org provides free updates on the latest in nutrition research via bite-sized videos. There are now hundreds of videos on more than a thousand topics, with new videos and articles uploaded every day.

I highly recommend that after watching Forks Over Knives, you consider subscribing to the its youtube channel, or sign up for the free newsletter on NutritionFacts.org.

Why nutrition?

People undervalue diet and lifestyle changes and show an overconfidence in the ability of pills and procedures to prevent disease, but if patients were told the truth about how little they’d benefit, 90% said they wouldn’t even bother taking them.

And so, prevention is worth a ton of cure.

To quote from Nutrition Facts again:

Did you know there are diets proven to not only prevent and treat but reverse our #1 killer, heart disease, along with other deadly diseases such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Nutrition is a big deal, and getting it optimal really matters.

What about what my doctor tells me?

Sadly, your doctor probably did not study nutrition at all during his/her time in medical school. In 1984, only 27% of all the medical schools surveyed in the United States required any course work on nutrition. 

But that was 20+ years ago! How about now? Well, in 2010, the number is at 25%. Even then, with thousands of hours of preclinical instruction, only 11-20 hours are dedicated to nutrition.

Sadly, physicians may be missing their most important tool to treat their patients.

Show me!

Once again, instead of me blabbing on about this, I’ll let the expert talk about this. While this talk does not explain everything, I hope this serves as a good jumping off points for you to start your own investigations on this matter. Nutritionfacts.org is once again a great place to start.

Here we go. It’s a long video, but always fascinating, always backed up by replicable science from reputable peer reviewed journals not funded by industry interests:

What about low-carb/grain belly/paleo/Atkins/etc diet? That should be better, no?

Nope. Sure, you may get rid of some weight, and gain some muscle with these low-carb type diets. But this series is about optimizing health (which incidentally also includes a slimmer waist).

But optimal health? No. See here and follow the rabbit hole with the rest of the articles/videos.

The Atkins diet (and by the way, all variations of these grain belly, paleo, etc are all variations on this type), has been thoroughly debunked by credible science from some of the most reputable institutions in the world. See here.

I’ve seen some very over-weight people taut the benefits of low-carb in front of me. I’ve seen people with a history of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, etc all mention that that they’re on a low-carb diet. As you could tell from the evidence posted above, they are suffering from these things BECAUSE they are eating a low-carb diet (which in turn is compensated by high-fat through nuts/seeds/oils/butters/etc).

So what should I eat?

Once again, here is a summary about this. Scroll down to see the slideshow.

Next…The Ethical Compulsion.

Sources

Please go onto nutritionfacts.org, look up the video listed, and click on “Sources Cited.”

Why I Went Vegan – My Personal Journey

Eat a Diet of Pizza, Burgers, and Milkshakes, and no one bats an eye. Switch to a diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and everybody loses their mind!
The struggle is real!

Ever since I made the transition to cutting out animal products from my diet, I’ve met more people who have questioned me about my choice than any other choice I’ve made. Suddenly, everyone becomes a nutrition expert. This series of posts is my attempt to explain why I made the decision to switch.

In this series of posts, I will write from the following few perspective:

So let’s get on with it.

Note: This is a 2,500 word post. If you don’t like to read, just go on over here and see the pictorial guide on what I eat in my diet.

My Personal Journey

Coming from an fairly traditional Indian background, I was raised as a lacto-vegetarian. That means all plant based foods, but also with dairy (cheese, yogurt, butter, milk, etc). You would think this would automatically put my family into a healthy category, but not so.

My family (and extended family) is filled with people suffering from heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and everything in between. When you think of India, you might think of malnutrition, slums, etc. However, for the working and middle class populations in India, the diseases of the Western world apply. Heart disease, strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis,  etc hold sway in a very big way.

Unfortunately, instead of using this information to improve, I found that most Indians (including Indian immigrants living outside of the country), would find band-aid patches to solve their issues. Herbal tonics, supplements, etc are a huge industry. One of the largest companies that makes such supplements is Dabur, which is valued at US$8 Billion. The Ayurvedic Medical Industry is a multi-crore rupee industry in India.

In this way, India is no different than Western countries such as the United States. The only difference being that since India has a long past with Yoga and Ayurveda, people often use these to justify the effectiveness of these supplements and tonics.

Don’t get me wrong, Yoga and Ayurveda are definitely very effective systems, when used properly. These systems of well-being have been used for thousands of years. However, taking an Ayurvedic supplement or tonic to counteract eating a 1,000+ calorie of fat and sugar in a dessert does not count. Sadly, this is the attitude shared by many Indians.

The Result?

  • 30 million people diagnosed with diabetes in India (source). This means India has the highest rate of diabetics in the entire world for any one country.
  • 45 million people suffering from coronary heart disease. Very soon, this means that India will have the highest rate of heart disease in the entire world. By 2030, 36% of all deaths will occur from this (source)
  • Heart disease deaths count to 9.4 million/year worldwide. India “contributes”  2.5 million out of that, costing over $2 trillion (source).
  • There are 1.3 million fractures from minor incidents in India related to Osteoporosis (source).
  • By 2020, 1.4 million cancer cases will emerge from India (source)

The list can go on…

The common and most effective way to treat all these above conditions relates to changing lifestyle, with nutrition being the number one factor. We will discuss this when we get into the health portion of this series.

But what is India doing and what are Indians doing to counteract this? We already looked at the over-reliance on supplements and other herbal tonics to “cancel” out the negative effects of an unhealthy lifestyle.

Here are some other things:

  • An incredible focus on accessible medicine for all. There is a tremendous amount of capital and effort spent on improving access to treatments to all of the above conditions. This is a noble and worthy cause and should be pursued.
  • “Fit” washing. Much like green-washing, where companies over-emphasize the environmental qualities of a product in the hopes that the customer will buy it vs its competitors in the aisle, “fit” washing is becoming big. Everything from “atta” (or wheat) based Maggi instant noodles (now tainted with traces of lead found), to all sorts of “healthy” oils manufactured using some magical technology that are supposedly good for your heart.
  • Whole Milk consumption still dominates the market for its purported high calcium content, ignoring the high fat content. Meat, poultry (chicken and other bird meat), and eggs consumption is skyrocketing as income is rising (source).
  • If you google the menu of your favourite Indian restaurant, you will find an over-reliance on butter, oil, meat, cheese (paneer), and milk solids. This is the aspirational cuisine of the masses.
  • For all major Consumer Packaged Goods companies (Unilever, Nestle, Kraft, Coca Cola, Pepsico), India (and other developing countries) are the highest growth markets. More of its processed sugar, fat and salt laden foods are finding their way into the Indian market and marketed as cool foreign aspirational products for the rising working and middle class.

So it was within this context that I had to make a transition to a whole foods plants based diet. No dairy, little/no processed foods, no oil, and of course no soda.

The High School Years

We had moved to Canada when I was in middle school, but in high school, I started to get my family to make slightly better choices with what we ate. Brown bread replaced white bread. Whole milk was occasionally replaced with 2% milk. But for the most part, we ate the way an average Indian does: filled with fats, sugars, salt, soda, etc.

The Undergrad Years

This was when I discovered The China Study. This study was the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and was considered the Grand Prix of Epidemiology. The researchers were respected (T. Colin Campbell from Cornell University), and the research methodology was comprehensive (tracking a large sample size over a 20 year period). The work was done through the University of Oxford, Cornell University, and the Government of China.

This book presented a very clear picture on how the science unequivocally showed that what we were doing in our household was not working. Since then, I have read a lot more research on the topic, and I will go into it in this series. This observational epidemiological study spurred many other experiments in the lab, in intervention studies, etc and it all pointed to the same picture.

I resolved after reading this book that I will switch to a vegan diet. To me, vegan meant cutting out dairy. And that’s what I did, to my mistake.

The Vegan Diet

I moved to a vegan diet soon after. I cut out the dairy and moved to mock cheese, mock meats, lots of seeds and nut desserts. Life was great a vegan. I thought that if this is what it means to be a vegan, this could be pretty easy. It was easy to switch, I didn’t get the big deal.

However, I would get cravings sometimes, and I would give in. It’s only later that I realized this to be part of “The Pleasure Trap” (something we will discuss in detail in the series “How to Switch”).

I felt very righteous and smug about turning vegan. I would taunt the superiority of my diet to others, giving them advice. I would seek out vegan restaurants and eat their high-fat entrees, full of satisfaction that I was doing what was right for my body.

But it wasn’t. I was getting fatter. My skin was not as clear as it had been. I felt tired and lethargic. Being a vegan wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. I would get these cravings and I did not know how to handle it. So I would binge through my cravings at times, feel guilty, and then go back to eating ‘vegan’. This was a mistake.

Technically, drinking soda and eating chips all day also makes you a vegan. And in many ways, that’s what I was doing. I may not eat chips and soda, but I was eating vegan cakes, muffins, cupcakes, soy cheeses, lots of cashews, nuts, seeds, and oils. Margarine and vegan butters were also on the menu. I could still eat Indian food, just without the butter and cheese. And I felt that I was enlightened. This was a mistake.

Dealing with Family

While the above transformation was happening, it was a struggle to get my family to see my view. Not willing to read all the research papers, or the China Study, I was forced to just keep insisting that I was right. This was a faulty approach, which prolonged their adoption for a while.

At first, it wasn’t that hard, because although I was vegan, I wasn’t eating the right kinds of food. I could pretty much continue eating what the family ate, except a few times, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy dessert with them. No worries, there were plenty of rich vegan desserts, and I would occasionally cheat (and feel guilty, but then cheat again).

But I kept insisting I was right. Without any social support (Indian parents love to see validation, if such-and-such’s mother/father/son/daughter/cousin isn’t eating like you, you must be weird), it was an uphill battle.

This all changed when I sat them down and showed them the documentary Forks Over Knives. This is a fantastic documentary that is focused on the science, but illustrated in a very colourful and personal way sharing other human stories as others make a transition to a proper diet. Seeing this documentary, my mother started crying. She thought about her parents, my grandparents, and realized that the way they were eating in India had contributed to many of the health conditions they were going through. My family started to “get it”. The documentary had a great shot of a 75+ year old Dr. T. Colin Campbell biking away fiercely, and that image alone made them realize that for a long and healthy life, they would need to change their diet.

One of the best moments in the film (and I’m paraphrasing here) was when it mentioned that while people might say: “what’s the point of living if I can’t eat x, y, and z?”, none of them have said that once they’ve had their first stroke, or given a short time left to live.

This documentary was transformational in garnering the support of my family for me to pursue this lifestyle. However, as I mentioned, I was still getting fat, energy levels were low, my skin wasn’t clear, etc. Where do I go from here?

Going 80/10/10

This is when I stumbled across The 80/10/10 Diet. I was contemplating that perhaps I needed to go raw vegan. Really increase the amount of nuts/seeds I ate. But the high-fat route was not working. This was also the time that I stumbled upon FullyRawKristina on YouTube. I loved the energy she exuded, and I loved the simplicity of the 80/10/10 diet.

It was a mostly fruit diet. Meals would be simple fruits. Feeling hungry? Eat a bunch of bananas, or dates, or other high-calorie fruits. Have a large salad in the evening to get your fill of minerals. It was very easy. Fruit is absolutely delicious. We started buying large quantities of fruit.

(Note: 80/10/10 means 80% carbohydrates, 10% fat, and 10% protein). The author of the book made a very compelling argument on why most vegans fail to reach their goals. He mentioned all the things I had done on a “vegan” diet: eating nuts/seeds, lots of vegan desserts, and fake cheese, etc. It didn’t work. He advocated a much more “natural” diet focused on completely uncooked, unprocessed foods.

And I loved it. I lost a ton of weight, I was high-energy all day, and my thinking became incredibly clear. My skin was the clearest it had ever been, I was a different person.

There were a few downsides: eating would take a lot of time. Even when I made smoothies out of all the fruits I ate, it took forever to go through it. Buying so much fruit also became expensive. And I found myself spending a lot of time eating. We would have to time everything just right so that we always had fresh ripe fruit in the house. And I would get a few cravings for eating salt and starches. It was also incredibly difficult to be social with this diet. I would bring along a bunch of fruit when I went outside with friends. I would get eyeballs, and it just became messy to go through it all. I also missed eating warm foods (especially in the Canadian winter).

I had to make a few changes. Looking back, I realize that this still felt like an optimal way to eat. It felt great, and it was a lot fun. It was also incredibly simple. Mono-meals (or a meal just focused around one fruit) were so easy to plan). However, given these limitations, I had to search again.

Starches

This is where my journey ends. I went back to watching Forks Over Knives, and followed through a bunch of references: Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (renowned for being President Bill Clinton’s doctor after his heart attack and helping him go “vegan”) and Dr. John McDougall came to the forefront for me. They were at the forefront of the research, credible experts with decades of practice not only in the lab but also in treating conditions (and reversing it all together!). 

Reading Dr. John Mcdougall’s books, I quickly realized that eating a starch-based diet: whole grains, beans, rice, corn, etc is all I needed. Their prescribed diet made perfect sense. I could be social in social settings, I wouldn’t be eating all the time like I did when I mostly ate fruit, and I could enjoy my fruits and vegetables as needed.

No oils though, and no fake/mock meats, or any of those highly processed desserts. The focus was on simple starchy foods, with low fat. It was all about eating whole foods that fill you up. Starchy foods: whole grains, beans, rice, corn, potatoes, vegetables. This became the bedrock for how I eat today.

And you know what? It worked (and it’s working).

That’s why I hate describing myself as just a vegan. I’m not a vegan. I eat a whole foods plant based starchy diet.

Oatmeal for breakfast, typically some brown rice along with salsa for lunch, and a simple Indian meal for dinner (typically beans/lentil type of soap along with rice or rotis (whole wheat bread).

I feel great, the meals are easy to plan, the food is inexpensive, I can be social when I’m outside with friends. Thankfully, eating out has almost died down completely because my palette has gotten accustomed to this diet and eating outside food just feels too overly processed and overloaded with sugar, salt, and fat.

Next up in the series, we will discuss The Scientific Evidence behind this diet. In the meanwhile, if you have any questions/comments/concerns, leave it in the comments below, and I will try to address them as best I can.

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