Jay Shetty invited Shawn Stevenson to discuss his best seller, “Eat Smarter.”
Author and creator of The Model Health Show, Stevenson studied business biology and nutritional science. He was featured in Forbes’ Fast Company, The New York Times, Muscle and Fitness, and many other major media outlets.
“We're a product of our environment. But we're also creators of our environment, once we become aware of it,” he told Jay Shetty.
Coming from a low-income family, Stevenson made it his mission to get a degree. He believed his ticket out of poverty to be through his athletic performances.
The Lost Dream
Unfortunately, at fifteen, he broke his hip during running practice. He received standard care, which involved treating the symptoms without researching the root cause of the injury. And so, over the next two years, he had more injuries that made it impossible for him to advance to the next level.
When he was twenty, Stevenson finally received the diagnosis. He suffered from degenerative disc disease and degenerative bone disease. It meant a progressive arthritic condition of his spine.
Initially, Stevenson believed his eating habits had nothing to do with his getting sicker. Later, he decided he wouldn't accept his condition “just happened.” It eventually felt odd to him that the physician prescribed some pills. “This has nothing to do with what you're putting in your mouth. Go ahead and put these in your mouth.”
Receiving the “free pass” to think he was only a sick person was highly detrimental to Stevenson. He continued his unhealthy eating behaviors and moved very little. In two years, he gained considerable weight and couldn't recognize the person in the mirror anymore.
Breaking the downward spiral usually involves a person or a powerful event. For Shawn Stevenson, it was his grandmother. He explained to Jay Shetty that she believed in him and his ability to change his harmful habits.
He recalls, “And here I was living in Ferguson, Missouri, in this one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, overweight, in chronic pain, can't sleep at night. And my life didn't match up to my blueprint of what success was going to look like. And so it was in that moment that I decided to get well.”
Stevenson was strong-willed. He changed his sedentary lifestyle and eating habits and saw significant improvements. Not only did he lose weight, but his pain diminished considerably. At his following scan nine months later, he appeared healthier than before. “I completely reversed the degeneration. My two herniated discs had retracted on their own. My bone density was normal,” he told Jay Shetty.
Had it not happened to him personally, Stevenson wouldn't have thought this could happen. He admitted to Jay Shetty that he no longer embraces the idea that he was his illness.
What Triggered the Shift
Stevenson believes our brains instinctually try to answer our internal questions. For example, because he asked himself for a long time, “why me,” his brain would only look for confirmations. The shift happened when he changed the inner question to “what can I do to feel better.”
According to a Mayo Clinic study, about 20% of the time, the initial diagnosis gets changed on a second opinion.1 Therefore, Stevenson strongly suggests seeking counsel from someone in the same line of thinking. Ask yourself what you can do to feel better, and your mind will start looking for answers.
After realizing his lifestyle was not sustainable, Stevenson completely changed his habits. The first step was to adjust his nutrition. Initially, he tried to lose weight by replacing meals with protein shakes. But he didn't like this method, so he moved on.
When he started asking himself the right questions, Stevenson began noticing things he had initially ignored. Being versed in research, he read all about bone density. He discovered that there is more to it than the lack of calcium.
Stevenson was intrigued to uncover that certain nutrients would help the regeneration of disc hernias, amongst other conditions. Usually, they are sold in the form of pills. However, Stevenson wanted to take his research one step further. So he started searching for the foods containing those certain nutrients.
Once he identified them, Stevenson flooded his body with these foods. He shared with Jay Shetty his belief that every single cell of our bodies is made from the food we eat daily. He suggested that our bodies automatically become healthier if we eat high-quality meals.
Movement and Exercise
Stevenson then started to look at his physical condition. As a former athlete, it was easy for him to identify his needs. Moving, even if it hurts, is the pathway to healing.
“Body movement is one of the primary drivers of healing, of assimilation of nutrients, of elimination of metabolic waste products,” he told Jay Shetty.
So, in addition to improving his eating habits, Stevenson started going to the gym. He began with easy exercises, progressing as time went by. But he kept moving because, in his view, “life is movement.”
A Good Night's Sleep
Stevenson knew that nutrition and exercise were crucial to improving his life, but there was more. He needed to rid himself of his chronic tiredness. So he understood that a great night's sleep starts in the morning.
Changing his diet, exercising, and spending time under the sun allowed Stevenson to sleep better. He shared with Jay Shetty that our bodies produce regenerative hormones whenever we are active.
What Is Metabolism?
“Life itself is driven by metabolism,” Stevenson told Jay Shetty. In truth, metabolism encompasses everything related to our body functions even though it is commonly only used when referring to weight loss.
However, too often, losing weight is surrounded by negative terms. We learn to restrict and deprive ourselves of certain foods and abuse our bodies through extreme exercise.
In Stevenson's opinion, weight loss shouldn't focus on caloric consumption. He supports Dr. Bruce Lipton's idea of epicalories, which means “above” calories.2 In other words, need to look beyond calories when considering weight loss.
For example, a study compared the caloric intake and caloric expenditure when eating a processed vs. an organic cheese sandwich.3 The result showed that the body retained 50% of the calories when fed processed food.
Weight Loss and The Brain
Research by the New York Academy of Sciences uncovered that brain inflammation is critical in gaining weight.4 The more inflamed the brain, the more body fat gets stored, Stevenson told Jay Shetty. But, conversely, the more body fat one has, the higher the inflammation. So it is a vicious circle.
Inflammation means being set on fire. Stevenson visualizes the hypothalamus as the body's thermostat for metabolism. If this gland is not functioning fully, our bodies will suffer. And one common cause of hypothalamic inflammation is obesity, a widespread condition in the United States.
Stevenson explains to Jay Shetty the correlation between brain inflammation and fat cells. During times of excess, fat cells can grow a thousand times their size. Being abnormally large, they send a false distress signal to the brain. This is how inflammation arises.
Refined oils are one of the leading causes of inflammation, Stevenson said. In his work with Dr. Cate Shanahan, he learned of vegetable oils' damaging effect on health.5 For instance, just smelling those while cooking has the potential to damage your DNA.
First Steps Toward Change
In order to understand what ingredients to use, it is helpful to look at our history. Humanity has been using olive oil for many years now. Stevenson explained to Jay Shetty that swapping out vegetable oil is the first step toward a healthier life.
According to an Auburn University study, extra virgin olive oil effectively reduces inflammation.6 Moreover, it helps heal the blood-brain barrier, which is our body's security system. It only allows good nutrients to reach the brain. However, in modern times, low-quality food affects this barrier and supports the degrading process within our bodies.
The Effects of Stress
In today's world, we have to deal with multiple stressors at once. This is unprecedented in human history and is taking a toll on our overall well-being. Therefore, it is crucial to monitor and give it the necessary attention.
“The problem is that stress is invisible,” Stevenson told Jay Shetty. We tend to ignore it because we can't see it. But its impact on our health is immense.
Placebo and Nocebo Effects
Thoughts have an impact on our physical body and our metabolism, Stevenson continues. So is the effectiveness of a placebo. It proved how powerful our mind is and how it influences the body.
A study called The Milkshake Study involved people being fed milkshakes that contained 450 calories.7 Though they all had the same caloric amount, some were labeled as 200 and some 700 calories. The ones given the “heavier” shake felt more satiated than those who enjoyed the “lighter” version. The result showed how our beliefs influence our physical reality and metabolism.
Similarly, Dr. Lissa Rankin compiled data from multiple studies on placebos in her book Mind Over Medicine.8 It is an effective method in curing various illnesses, including cancer. “So placebo is saying you're going to get this therapeutic benefit,” Stevenson told Jay Shetty.
Contrary to the placebo effect, nocebo influences our health for the worse. In a further study by Dr. Alia Crum, the researchers provoked rashes in the participants' skin.9 They all received an inert cream as an ailment. Some were told it was beneficial, and others that it was harmful. Ninety percent of the patients’ bodies reacted according to their beliefs.
Another exciting aspect was that the patient's trust in their physician influenced the placebo or nocebo effect. Stevenson continues: “Their rapport and belief in the person telling them about the thing impacted their physical response.”
Blood Sugar and Relationships
Not only does the mind affect our bodies' response, but the other way around is also true. For example, Stevenson shared with Jay Shetty how an Ohio State University study linked discord in relationships to low blood sugar.10
We eat high amounts of processed foods and sugar, he continued. This allows the body to experience sugar crush due to abnormal blood sugar levels. The moment when their blood sugar is low, people become aggressive and tend to lash out at their partners.
This seems to be a long-lasting effect. Couples affected by this tend to be more reluctant to resolve relationship conflicts. Stevenson told Jay Shetty: “We tend to be in conflict when our biological needs are off.”
Nutrition and Delinquency
What we eat has a direct impact on our behavior. Stevenson admitted to Jay Shetty that he was prone to violence before turning his life around. “Once I got physically healthier, I started to see people differently. And I started to have so much more patience,” he added.
Stevenson shared with Jay Shetty another study conducted by Oxford University, where prison inmates received different food than usual. The ones eating food rich in vitamins, minerals, and omega threes showed a 35% decrease in behavioral offenses.11
Omega threes are vital for the proper functioning of the brain. Further studies show that subjects who consumed less than two grams of omega threes per day had the highest rate of brain shrinkage, Stevenson explained.12 He stressed the importance of this nutrient for our cognitive function.
Stevenson says the primary source for omega three intake is animal products. So, we must consume fatty fish, eggs, and grass-fed beef. It is also possible to gain it from algae oil, but it is much less effective.
The Path Forward
As Stevenson shared with Jay Shetty, it is vital to understand the close connection between our minds and bodies. Food tremendously affects cognitive performance, but our beliefs influence our body reactions, too.
Eating healthy meals rich in omega threes, exercising, and getting enough sleep is essential for a balanced life. And, in the process, we must remember to feed our minds, too.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “How to Heal Your Gut & Eat Smarter to Improve Your Brain Health” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.