Upgrading your nutrition is only the first step to achieving your full potential.
In this show with New York Times bestselling author Dallas Hartwig we explore how to improve your brain health, reduce stress, and get your sanity back with simple hacks to your daily habits.
If you’re struggling to keep up with your phone messages, emails, social media, and all of the other craziness of the modern world without losing your mind, this is the show for you.
As you’ll see on this show, technology can affect our health for better or worse. When you learn how to use technology as an opportunity to improve your health, modern advancements can change your life.
Listen in to this show with Dallas to learn:
- Why Bob Harper, host of The Biggest Loser, suddenly drinks bone broth
- How Dallas healed a stubborn shoulder injury with real food
- How to cultivate human connections that make you healthier, happier and more productive
- Why social connections are the new health frontier, and much more…
If daily life has you pulling out your hair, gaining weight, or feeling disconnected, this show is for you.
DALLAS HARTWIG: FOOD, HEALTH, AND HUMAN CONNECTION
Abel: Dallas Hartwig is a functional medicine practitioner, Certified Sports Nutritionist, and licensed physical therapist. He is the New York Times bestselling author of The Whole30 and It Starts With Food. In his free time, Dallas rides his motorcycles, snowboards, mountain bikes, and occasionally enjoys a dram of single malt scotch…
You’re in good company, my friend. Dallas, thanks so much for being here, man!
Thanks for having me.
Abel: A few months ago, Bob Harper, host of The Biggest Loser tweeted at both of us saying that he tried bone broth for the first time because he heard about it from you and a past episode of this podcast. It must be a thrill to see traditional, real foods go mainstream.
He’s a super cool dude and a personal friend of mine. We banter back and forth and I’ll occasionally stick stuff in his brain for future use. It was cool to see the world at large being open about nutritious food, and really the idea that lifestyle choices massively impact your quality of life. That’s relatively new to the general public.
We’ve always known that exercise is important and food is important, but I think it’s really coming home for people that what you do really matters way beyond how many calories you eat and how long you do cardio.
Abel: It’s this idea that food is medicine. But this whole crazy adventure started for you because of a shoulder that just wouldn’t stop aching, right?
My background is in healthcare and my graduate degree is physical therapy. I practiced for almost ten years, and played national level volleyball for a few of those years. As you say, I had a nagging shoulder injury.
As a physical therapist, I connected with some good practitioners and it was frustrating to not be able to follow my own advice and heal.
I suffered from shoulder tendinitis for over a year, and in that time I kept an eye on research as it pertained to rheumatoid arthritis. My younger sister has RA. I was just keeping an eye on new drugs, protocols, modalities. Then I stumbled across a paper written by Loren Cordain back in 2002 or 2003 (this was 2006), talking about certain dietary proteins and how it affected autoimmunity, specifically for RA.
I was like, “Huh… inflammation, food, my shoulder. I wonder if those things are connected?”
Loren’s paper was talking about dietary lectins in legumes. At the time I was eating low fat, “super healthy” diet with some meat, lots of veggies, low fat dairy, lots of legumes. I was doing what I thought was pretty good, and I was lean and healthy except that couldn’t get my shoulder to heal.
At that time, I had no idea about paleo, so it was just eliminating legumes altogether as a category. I was still doing dairy and gluten. It was a significant dietary change just because of what my previous diet was, but it wasn’t a Whole30 or paleo sweeping change. I just changed this one thing. Then it was a deep dive into nutrition as it affects inflammation.
It was certainly relevant for my profession. At the time, I had been practicing for six years and it was frustrating that what they taught me in school to be a good physical therapist didn’t actually work well, especially for chronic inflammation. I started thinking maybe there are other important pieces here. That took me out of the realm of physical therapy, but it helped me as an individual and as a clinician to view inflammation in a much larger way, in a macro way.
I started doing lots of nutritional reading and lots of primary research.
Abel: What did your diet look like before that? Were you eating a ton of beans?
Multiple times a week, but I wouldn’t say every day. I grew up vegetarian until I went to college. My parents viewed health as an important ideal. When you grew up in the 70’s, that was the thing—it’s better for the earth, better for your body, yada yada. I grew up eating a ton of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, lots of legumes and even some really awesome stuff like gluten patties. It’s miraculous I survived to adulthood.
I started eating meat in college and felt better and it supported my activity. It was still boneless skinless chicken breast and salmon. And really I was pretty good as far as the food pyramid went—whole grains, little sugar, low-fat dairy. For all intents and purposes, and as far as I could tell, other than this nagging shoulder injury, I was healthy.
I was performing well as an athlete, slept good, felt good, looked good. But then there was this one little thing.
Then it was a whole new world, because I was like, “Whoa, I can feel so much better.”
Abel: What was it like once you started eliminating the other problem foods?
Well it took me a couple of years to really come around and get into it. I read Dr. Cordain’s book and got into paleo gradually over a year or two. At that point, the paleo community was such a small fringe thing.
I got ahold of Robb Wolf right away. He was a major influence on me. I was dabbling in it and researching the biology.
Abel: Robb has great character. There’s so much meaning behind what he does.
The other day I realized it was almost ten years ago that I had that random discovery. It doesn’t feel that long ago, but I’ve been aware of nutrition as a focal point for human health for ten years.
Abel: Over those ten years, what are some of the most amazing things you’ve seen in terms of people healing themselves? Sometimes, at the beginning, when someone says that eating real food can change your life forever, the response is, “Yeah, whatever…”
We see it impact metabolic health, people go off diabetes meds, antidepressants, or even their sleeping medications.
To see people no longer diabetic is incredible. I’m careful of making claims like, “I cured their diabetes.” But what it comes down to is this: Diabetes is a threshold diagnosis. If you alter the input, you don’t approach those dangerous thresholds.
Understanding the cost to quality of life and medical costs is important—that’s literally millions of dollars in savings.
There are other things, too. Trichotillomania is compulsive hair pulling. It’s not well understood, not common, but we have people who no longer have those compulsions just by changing diet.
Things that are profoundly powerful and influential in people’s lives are alterable.
A lot of those conditions are things that conventional medicine has said “we’ll treat you with anti-anxiety medications or with something that alters your metabolic process or some sort of psychoactive substance.” But ultimately we have to level the playing field and ask, “How do we get the body to work right?”
You could say that my work has cured cancer or gotten someone to the moon, and I kind of wouldn’t be surprised. The impact is so enormous. Honestly, the most gratifying to me is to talk to people every single week who thank me.
It’s not like “you cured my diabetes,” but it’s: “You changed my life in some small way.” But that small impact is the jumping point for massive lifestyle change.
It starts with food (which is the title of my book) because that’s the most powerful jumping off point for some of these other sweeping changes like: quitting smoking, exercising, examining relationships, prioritizing sleep, etc.
To see that I was one teeny catalyst for one tiny change that became a much bigger thing down the road. It’s the butterfly effect. That’s a fun place to be. I take no credit for all the things that happen after that, just that one little thing.
Abel: Things have changed enormously over the past decade. Where do you see this going?
People have developed in general, but the world at large needs this message: Eat real food—plants and animals.
People who really don’t want to know what I do ask me questions and they don’t’ want to hear it. Eat meat and vegetables. No really, just eat meat and vegetables.
There’s a growing awareness that food matters, where it comes from matters. I massively tribute Michael Pollan for being such pioneer and advocate for food production sustainability and those are awesome movements that continue to grow. There’s definitely more work to be done.
But I see a lot more grass-fed, organic, and responsibly produced products.
I’m not a huge proponent of packaged foods, even if they’re “paleo.” They have a place and a role but the reality is that inventing a new packaged food in place of the old crappy processed packaged food is a small step forward and a large step sideways. I’d rather see people take a large step forward.
We see New York Times articles and Washington Post articles talking about sleep, the importance of social interactions, cautionary tales with regards to technology—that’s where I’m most interested in going. I’ve done 150-something seminars on food and now what can I do?
THE IMPORTANCE OF HUMAN INTERACTION
What happens with the way we interact with each other on a person-to-person level in a physically proximate way? Not how to keep in touch via text and Facebook, but how do we engage within conversational distance?
When we’re face to face, I can see you breathe, the hair on your cheek, and see you as a human being and really be present with that. To a large degree, we’ve lost that, and unfortunately that comes at a much larger cost than we’ve previously understood.
That’s where I see things going as a movement—away from food and sustainability and looking at the larger human as an organism and a social creature.
Abel: Health and technology – where human meets machine – will be fascinating. SXSW just happened and there’s been a lot of talk about virtual reality and quantifying health. There will be plenty to study over the next couple of years.
My wife and I have been traveling the last couple of years and one piece of that has been going to the woods and unplugging, zero internet. That comes with its own problems, especially when you run an internet business. But you have a much deeper appreciation for both your own humanity and tech when you completely get away from it.
I’m super into the tech piece not because I’m anti-technology. Not because I think you should get rid of your phone and stop using email and throw away your computer.
You think of the internet as a tool for sourcing data, for problem solving, for connection, but it’s not like a hammer that sits there until you use it. It’s a portal, it’s a gateway, it’s an access point. Even just thinking about that differently, and saying, “How do I need to think about this if I recognise that this is not something I’m truly the master of?” It has profound influence over our behavior.
So, my sort of cautionary tale is about making sure that something doesn’t inadvertently, accidentally take over some corner of your life without you even noticing.
Over the past ten years, technology has so integrated into my life that I didn’t even know it was happening. We did it willingly, rapidly and blindly, and now we’re wondering if it’s okay. Maybe it’s not okay and we need to examine it much more critically?
HOW TO MAINTAIN YOUR HUMANITY IN THE MODERN WORLD
Abel: What are your initial attempts to maintain your own humanity and health in the world we live in?
I’m a work in progress. To your point about an online business, I’m the same. I share information online. So that’s a challenge for sure. One of the ideas I’ve been interested in recently is the balance between creation and consumption.
That’s the lens through which I’m looking at my own behaviors. Am I mindlessly consuming more things than I’m creating?
And if I am, that’s where there needs to be course correction so that I’m spending more time in mindful thought and creation rather than letting it wash over me.
My phone notifications are turned off. My phone never makes noise, the screen never lights up, the exception is that if you actually call me. If you send me a text, nothing happens on my phone. Nothing makes noises, nothing lights up. I can leave it on the table and nothing happens, and that’s been a really big change because it’s not disruptive.
I have it with me all the time, I do business on it, but ultimately the less it comes to me and the more I go to it, the better. When I’m home it’s like a landline. I go to it if I want to use it, like the powerful tool that it is, but because it’s silent and invisible and put away it doesn’t get to call out to me.
Just that distance, putting it back in its place and making it a powerful tool, but not giving it access to me, has been a huge shift.
Abel: When we unplugged for a while, that was the number one thing we loved. All of a sudden instead of our devices being active and constantly pulling at us, you’re unplugged and you’re like, “Why are these things bleeping at us all the time? This is serving nobody.”
Well it is serving somebody, it’s just not serving you. It’s not a crazy conspiracy theory, it’s designed that way.
Abel: Turning that off and using it for the wonderful tool it is. We have libraries in our pocket, we can get ahold of anyone anytime. But it’s important to make that phone call and get together with someone face to face.
It’s about human beings being social. At first we just had alpha text, and then someone was like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could give it context and emotion?” And we got emoticons. But everyone recognizes the limitations. But we give it a little bit of humanity, which is still not real emotion.
Another thing I think is super interesting is the way it calls to us and we let it call, and that’s a pretty universal thing. Everyone I know that has access to smartphones, social media, and the internet uses it really quite often.
I saw an interesting research piece the other day looking at what percentage generationally uses their phones in the presence of other people. A lot of older folks (myself including) grumble at all the younger generations and how they’re hyperconnecting, but the data actually shows that older generations of people (37 and older) actually use their phones more in front of other people than the millennials.
Part of that’s a statement about the universal allure of some of that stimulation, the entertainment piece of it, the addictive component. It’s not just that younger people grew up with it, it’s actually a pretty universal human thing. Even people who weren’t exposed to it until their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s still have a large degree of brain plasticity and still drill in these neural pathways pretty rapidly… so they become habits just as fast as anyone else.
Abel: That explains Farmville.
I’m not playing Farmville, but somebody is.
Abel: Brain scientists are coming up with Candy Crush and Farmville!
Let’s talk a little bit about the social connection piece. Especially when talking about health—people think if you nail down diet and fitness and get that body of your dreams all of your life will be 100% amazing forever.
Abel: There’s that social component, so if getting there means cutting off all those social ties, how do you cope with that?
I used to say that the Big 3 of health and fitness were: nutrition, sleep, and movement. It’s four now. I can’t think about the human health overall without pulling that social component on the top of the list.
People who have restricted diets or are compulsive exercisers often alienate themselves from friends and family, but that’s not usually what causes the erosion of the social connections… because they usually didn’t exist in the first place.
It’s not like you have this awesome social network, and then you decided to get healthy and you lost all your friends.
Usually what happens is that you’re socially isolated and lonely and you’re self-medicating with food or exercise or alcohol or whatever else, and you make some lifestyle changes and you still need to address that social component. That’s what I want to help people do—I’m bringing it out to call it by its name.
Humans are tribal creatures. And being around people or having friends and acquaintances or having lots of online connections doesn’t send your deep powerful subconscious part of your brain messages that you’ve got people who have your back.
Humans need to know on a subconscious level, “Someone’s got my back when it matters. When things go sideways, I’m okay.”
Those relationships take time to develop. Not, “Let’s go bowling or let’s go have a drink after work.” They take massive amounts of time and we’re all so bloody busy these days. By virtue of living in the modern world, having jobs, kids, and whatever… we lose big chunks of time that could be invested in a few close meaningful relationships.
Abel: Many people don’t realize – until they go through it – that problems come with success.
Maybe they have the body of their dreams, but all of a sudden they realize the social component suffers because, for example, it’s not as much fun to hang out with your drinking friends when you’re not drinking. Or it can be more tragic—someone might not believe in your success or might not trust it, or think you joined a new cult.
Especially if you have success with personal transformation, how do you make sure you’re maintaining and cultivating positive relationships?
I used to think in terms of making personal transformation first. I’m kind of turning the whole world upside down because I’m questioning even that.
In terms of long-term impact on your health, I don’t think there’s anything more important than food. However, I’m not sure that necessarily needs to be the same chronological process. So the degree of impact and chronological order doesn’t need to be the same thing.
Making sweeping food changes and making massive improvement in your health hugely impacts your belief that you can do other things… and do other things well. But I don’t think it’s the only way. I’m increasingly wondering whether prioritizing the human relationships that start to down-regulate the stress responses, (chronic stress response being at the core of most chronic disease and chronic inflammation), being able to moderate and stabilize that is a huge direct or indirect influence on human health.
Obsessive and compulsive exercise, extraordinarily restrictive dietary approaches, some of those things come out of really unhealthy psychological places driven by that chronic stress response.
I wonder if some people could become more successful with lifestyle changes if they had the benefit of having robust social networks. It does not necessarily change my recommendations, but it’s shaken things up for me.
Abel: It is something that needs attention.
It definitely deserves a lot more attention. That’s my primary interest right now. When I read primary research I’m reading about:
- Social connection
- Social isolation
I’m looking at hormonal response with epinephrine, norepinephrine, oxytocin—all of these interesting neurotransmitters and hormones directly impacted by human touch, face to face interaction, speaking to each other, feeling supported… and there’s a ton of great research on that but it’s hard to extrapolate out to hard, simplified recommendations because it’s complex.
We’ve gone awry, and we need to do better with this topic, and I’m trying to champion it. I’m making a documentary on it right now. I want this to be a thing that everyone is more aware of. Like you look at the food movement. I’m a long way of having a set of neat and tidy answers, but I want to megaphone this conversation to make it much bigger and louder.
I really feel like, in terms of impact on human health and society at large, the way we have deprioritized face to face human relationships and prioritized technology, the impact is on terms with smoking. Like, in ten years we’re going to look back and say, “Wow, we really screwed that up.”
I don’t have to make a strong scientific data-backed case, because everyone’s like, “Yeah I know, I feel it.”
Abel: I can personally attest that the social component is huge. When my wife and I were travelling, we were living in seclusion. In the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, the closest town was an hour away.
At first it’s wonderful, but then you’re making excuses to go down to the post office to see if someone‘s there to strike up a conversation, and you start talking to the dog… a lot.
It’s wonderful to be able to cultivate social connections again, reconnect with old friends and make new ones. When you’re gallivanting around the world, people don’t talk about those social connections that you want to keep in place. Especially for dudes, we’re awful.
I think you’re right. We talk about the way the world was a hundred years ago where people lived in small villages and towns where everyone knew everyone. They didn’t have to work to spend time in the community with people around them because when you needed meat you went and talked to the butcher.
If you view it from an evolutionary biology lens, it’s a analogous to how we make changes for food. We don’t have to hunt and kill and butcher all our own animals. But a long time ago that’s what we had to do. We get closer to that balance of how the world works by taking advantage of convenience without letting the technology take away from what’s meaningful with that experience, and without turning the food into refined processed modern food. And the analogy holds true with technology.
We take meaningful human interaction and we digitize it and we think it’s the same.
It’s not the same.
Abel: It’s like how we had to “invent” exercise and then artificially insert it into our lives. It seems like we’re losing the same thing with the social aspect of living.
We’ve lost it. Everyone I’ve talked to says there’s a hole there where something used to be. It’s a recognition that as humans, as organisms, we’re not behaving as a group or individually in a way that matches what we need.
If we’re doing it with food, if we’re doing better with exercise, mimicking and echoing some of those ancient patterns, awesome. We need to do the same with the way we connect with other people.
WHERE TO FIND DALLAS HARTWIG
Dallas is the New York Times bestselling author of The Whole30 and It Starts With Food. You can find Dallas on his website at DallasHartwig.com. Check out his blog there and his new podcast, The Living Experiment, which will soon be at LivingExperiment.com.
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
READY TO MEET US? (FUN ANNOUNCEMENT)
Speaking of meeting face-to-face… A few years ago, Alyson and I started an online community called The Fat-Burning Tribe with members from all over the world, and we have an exciting announcement.
The Tribe is having a meetup in Austin, Texas during the Paleo (f)x conference. So if you’re a Tribe member, you can meet us and some of the people that have been supporting you on your journey at our first ever real-world party!
We’re still working out the details, but I can’t wait to meet you in person.
If you’re not a Tribe member yet, here’s what you’re missing (aside from an awesome party):
- A brand new set of 30-Day Meal Plans complete with recipes and shopping lists every month (a $47 value)! You’ll never have to worry about what you’re cooking for dinner again.
- Our extensive health, fitness, recipe, and weight-loss video and article library.
- Monthly Q&A Videos with me and Alyson.
- Our exclusive, super-supportive Facebook group.
If you’re ready to start eating delicious food and shedding stubborn fat by living Wild, check out the Fat-Burning Tribe.
You can change your life right now, and you’re not alone. We’re here to help.
What did you think of this interview with Dallas? How do you see technology impacting the social lives of your friends and families? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.