It’s 2018, I’m sitting at my desk, head down, acne-ridden, asking someone or something:
What the hell should I eat to fix my health?
Over the coming 5 years I consumed 2362 hours of podcasts, read 124 books, and read 514 papers and blog posts about health.
All I wanted to do back then was to treat my acne.
What happened always ceases to amaze me.
As my physical health got better my body became stronger and felt better.
As my energy increased I gained a better outlook on life.
I became more optimistic.
My mind seemed to work faster, better and was stronger.
The motivation to do increased.
The drive to pursue meaning, to get things done, and to be a better person became explicit.
As my health improved the drive to understand myself became clear.
I had the energy and motivation to go on a journey of self-exploration.
Deep diving into topics such as moral philosophy, spirituality, and evolutionary psychology.
All in an attempt to understand humans better, but ultimately to understand myself better.
I do not think this would be possible without a foundation of good health.
But, my journey into the depths of nutrition didn’t start here.
I want to take you along my journey so that you can get a sense of where you are, where you could be going, and where you might have diverged from mine.
Step 1 – Eat Green, Save The Planet
At 17, I hated authority and thought everyone was stupid.
Friends, parents, teachers, the school system, the government, society, humanity, the universe, myself; all meaningless.
One day I stumbled across a vegan propaganda documentary.
It confirmed my assumption about the moral corruption of humans.
I had been taught to “trust” the science.
As the science confirmed my dark superstitions I could do nothing else than believe it wholeheartedly.
With my blood boiling I determined eating animal products was evil.
My first active dietary choice was to eat vegan.
If anyone remembers me from this time, I’m sorry.
Step 2 – Nutrition Is Important
At 18 I somehow figured out that being healthy should be a priority.
I made a left turn and decided that if my life was to be worth living I had to make it worth it.
I had a moral obligation to take my life seriously and make the most of it.
Well-being was the first target.
Physical health is important to overall well-being.
Nutrition is important to physical health.
Which must mean nutrition is important to me.
At this point, I started devouring information about health like a complete lunatic.
Step 3 – Meat Is Fine, But Vegetables Are Healthier
Vegetables are healthy (I didn’t know why) ⇒ eat more of em.
At this point, I had the idea that to be healthy all you need to do is eat healthy things.
The avoidance of unhealthy foods didn’t cross my mind. Except for the obvious (to me then), like smoking or eating candy all day.
Step 4 – The Super Food Kick
Specific nutrients are the key to good health.
Here you’d see me chug down “superfood smoothies” on a daily basis.
I’d also take a bunch of supplements all in the hope that I would become healthy once and for all.
Dim-3 in broccoli sprouts will activate autophagy.
Phytochemicals in plants will suppress M-tor which will clean my cells and make me live forever!
This period made me feel clever and perhaps even superior.
A real ego boost, which felt nice.
But, my health did not significantly improve.
Step 5 – The Paleo Diet
Holy sh*t, red meat is healthy?
As a biologist, Lorain Cordain’s work on indigenous populations was a real paradigm shift for me.
None of our hunter-gatherer brothers and sisters suffer from modern disease.
The logic follows that we should eat food we are adapted to eat.
In other words, just eat real food.
I started to avoid foods here for the first time.
Less grains, less sugar, less processed foods.
Here things started to improve.
Most likely due to an increase in protein intake combined with eating less processed foods.
Step 6 – The Biohacking Phase
While listening to David Asprey, Dr. Rhonda Patrick and Ben Greenfield I thought it was all about stress.
The logic went – we want to expose our bodies to stress to induce hormesis.
As in, a positive adaptation to external pressure (stress).
Intermittent fasting, bulletproof coffee and a pseudo ketogenic diet.
Of course endurance exercise, cold and heat exposure were in the mix.
Fasting is stressful, a ketogenic diet is stressful, and plant chemicals are stressful ⇒ they will make me stronger (& live longer)!
I still had no understanding of the fundamentals of diet…
Step 7 – The Seed Oil Apocalypse
After reading Deep Nutrition by Dr. Shanahan I started avoiding seed oils as if they were the plague.
Now, things started to improve.
The book also put me on the evolutionary path to understanding diet.
It is built upon the framework laid out by the paleo diet.
The book talks about how our modern food environment led to the degeneration of facial structure, specifically teeth.
Before the 1900s almost no one was in need of braces, now 25-50% of US children need orthodontics.
It seems as if all our modern diseases could be traced back to a mismatch between what we eat and what we used to eat.
Now the idea was much more about avoiding the large dietary mismatches.
Step 8 – The “Protein Is King” phase
Here I started to understand the basics of micros and macros.
The idea was to eat macros and micros in a ratio and amount we are adapted to eat.
With only a basic understanding this did not do much.
What it did do, was make me aware of the importance of protein.
Evolutionarily we got at least 25-35E% from protein.
Today we get around 12E%.
This also happens to be the protein intake that causes humans to overeat the most.
From Marty Kendall’s blog
Step 9 – The “Plants Are Trying To Kill Me” Phase
The carnivores put me onto “plant defence chemicals” and down the rabbit hole I went.
Again, this seems to align with our evolutionary past.
Going carnivore for only a month cured my chronic acne so I knew I was onto something.
But, the more I read, the carnivore diet seems to be the “ultimate” elimination diet and not the optimal diet for humans.
I knew hunter-gatherers loved fruit and honey and that many of them thrived on a high-carb diet.
It couldn’t be the entire story.
Step 10 – The “It’s all about energy production at the level of the mitochondria” Phase
I had been aware of Kruse for a while but his stuff is complicated to a degree where it was hard to put into an existing framework.
As I stumbled across Ray Peat and Morley Robbins at a similar time the idea that energy production was key to health really struck home.
I dove deep into their work, read two books on Peat’s work, and Robbin’s book Cu:re Your Fatigue.
After countless hours of podcasts, books and articles things slowly started to make sense.
I began to put together my understanding of our evolution, our digestive system and cellular physiology.
Mind you I had been studying both evolution and cellular physiology at uni during this time.
I had a somewhat deep understanding of our evolutionary past and how that relates to health.
I also understood cellular physiology but had a hard time applying that knowledge to practical application.
In Peat’s work, I found the missing link: digestion.
The Evolutionary Logic
Eating For Cellular Function
How Digestion Links The Two
Avoiding processed foods and eating real food is not the entire story.
The questions still remain:
What foods are we adapted to?
How do we get the micro- and macronutrients we need?
The answer lies in how our digestive system is built.
It all starts in the gut.
It is where foods transform into usable molecules and get into our bodies.
Remember, the mouth to the anus (the digestive tract) is still outside of our body.
Our digestive system evolved to digest certain foods.
It is literally built for specific foods.
If we eat what it is designed for we’ll allow macro- and micronutrients the smoothest journey into our bodies.
What our digestive system is built for also happens to be the most nutrient-dense food for humans.
To be healthy we want to eat in a way that signals “good” times, all the time.
Evolutionarily this would have been an abundance of red meat + organs, fruit and honey.
Any problem in the body requires energy to be fixed.
The root cause of disease is thus always a lack of energy production.
We want to eat in a way that maximizes cellular energy production.
This also means we want to minimize cellular stress.
This flipped the hormesis argument on its head.
I stopped intermittent fasting, tried to not overtrain and became aware of how certain foods might be stressful.
This made perfect sense based on what I had learnt up until this point.
Red meat and organs are nutrient, protein-dense and evolutionary-consistent.
Fruits and honey are both nutrient-dense, easy to digest, and evolutionarily consistent.
Step 11 – The “I am a scientist, and the subject is me” Phase
“Think, perceive, act.” -Ray Peat
Today I come up with hypotheses of how certain foods or nutrients should affect me and then test if the assumptions are correct.
It’s all viewed through the lens of metabolism.
If something could improve energy production I am likely to test this.
I no longer seek optimal health but instead seek to become healthier over time.
It is a journey of knowledge and iteration.
We don’t reach good health, we only become healthier.
It takes time, there is no quick fix.
Your job is to become healthier over time so that you have the energy and motivation to pursue what is actually important.
Well-being, positive impact, purpose, relationships and community.
I am not here to tell you how to be healthy.
My goal is to inspire you to start your journey to figure out how you become as healthy as humanly possible.