Are you sitting down? Because I have a shocker for you: sometimes, according to my wife, I can be exasperating.
The main thing is, I get on these health bandwagons, impulsively turn our world upside down, and then totally forget about it.
Like the time I read about the dangers of nonstick cookware, and insisted that we throw out (not even donate, mind you!) all our teflon pots and pans.
So imagine her surprise when Mia opened a box I'd ordered from Amazon that contained a Cuisinart nonstick skillet. I happily informed her that I wanted to be able to make hash browns and pancakes without oil, like I saw on a Dr McDougall video.
“But what about the teflon coating?” Mia pressed. “You said that was bad for us and made us get rid of all our coated cookware. Like three months ago.”
Huh. Somehow that had totally slipped my mind, but it did have a familiar ring to it.
Cheese Creeps Back In
Then there was the time in early 1990 when I read John Robbins' Diet For a New America and promptly eliminated meat, dairy, white flour, and sugar from my diet. I lost 21 pounds in a month, and never felt better. I quickly morphed into a total whole food vegan evangelist, bothering everybody about their unenlightened food choices.
And then somehow, without even noticing, all those things crept back into my diet. The low point was in 1999, when my daughter was three, and I was arguing with her at Parkway Pizza in Ewing, New Jersey, when she insisted on removing the cheese from her slice and just eating the tomato sauce sodden bread base.
Again, it was Mia to the rescue, reminding me that once upon a time I had considered cheese akin to poison.
Yup, Howie, you certainly did.
The List Goes On
I don't want to bore you with all my other self-improvement initiatives that turned out to be fads. The running fad. The tai chi fad. The Eishens yoga fad. The massage therapy fad.
Suffice to say that I lacked a certain sticking power, and I knew it.
Even as I became besotted by the next thing, the new habit or endeavor that would change everything and finally make me the person I wanted to be, there was a nasty little voice of “realism” in the back of my head saying, “Oh boy, here we go again. How long is this one gonna last? How much money are we gonna waste on gear and lessons?”
It was kind of annoying to be me, to tell you the truth.
Aside from the bipolar swing of initial excitement and later neglect, I felt out of integrity.
I knew I couldn't trust myself to keep my own commitments to myself.
Running After Josh
That was pretty much my life in May 2016, when I hung out with Josh LaJaunie for the first time.
He was visiting because I was looking for my next book to co-author after Proteinaholic, and his story had inspired me when I saw his before and after photos on Garth Davis' Facebook page.
We had scheduled Tuesday through Friday to record his story, after which I would do some prose magic and turn it into a gripping and inspiring memoir.
Josh had driven up from Louisiana in his Ford King Cab, along with a 50-pound bag of Chackbay red potatoes and all his running gear.
First order of business was to decant a few pounds of potatoes into my Instant Pot. That, smashed over raw kale from the garden, was what we ate until we ran out, at which point we cooked more potatoes and repeated. The only additions to that diet were nooch, yellow mustard, and sriracha.
Second, I asked Josh if we could go running together the following morning. After all, as a “participatory journalist” a la George Plimpton (Paper Lion) and Stefan Fatsis (A Few Seconds of Panic), I wanted to write about running as a runner, not just a spectator.
We ran almost seven miles on Wednesday morning. I walked the hills, theatrically clutching my sides to let Josh know that it wasn't laziness, but more a sense of impending collapse, that kept me from matching his pace.
Josh stayed a few meters ahead of me most of the way, encouraging, chatting, taking my mind off the self-inflicted torture that would surely never end.
When I saw my mailbox again, I gave a prayer of thanks to whatever gods there be, and loped home. It was done.
Friday morning we repeated the circular route, this time in the opposite direction. I was still working to keep my eyes open as Josh bolted out of the driveway and into the road.
“I like to start out hot,” he explained as I cajoled my heart into pumping to match the sudden and unexpected spasm of exertion.
This time he ran ahead of me. Never so far that I was out of sight for long – I suspect that he didn't relish the chore of telling Mia that I had dropped out of sight somewhere between Crawford Dairy and Hamlet's Chapel, and that the turkey vultures would surely lead them to the body if they could be patient.
But no mercy and no quarter this time. As I trudged up hills, Josh crested them and continued until he disappeared from view, forcing me to speed up to stay in hailing distance.
And the run to the mailbox this time was a full-on sprint. Heart hammering, breathing labored, thighs screaming. I was flying.
And that's when I fell in love with running for real, for good.
Somehow I knew that as I bought a new pair of Xero running shoes, a fancy Garmin GPS watch, running shorts, running singlets, a running belt, a running hat, running gloves, running spikes for ice, and running socks, that this time would be different.
There would be no giving up.
I can't tell you how I knew. It just felt qualitatively different than all the other times. It wasn't a giddy excitement that I felt when running with Josh. It was more like a homecoming. Like, “This is the kind of man that I was meant to be.”
One who moves his body the way it was designed to move. One who fuels it with high-performance fuel like red potatoes and kale. One who embraces discomfort rather than fleeing from it whenever possible.
I try to explain to people how Josh's example, his physical presence, flipped those switches in my brain. But I can't.
I guess you had to be there.
The Josh Effect
The better I got to know Josh, the more I realized that I wasn't alone in having this experience. His family – his mom, brother, sister, grandfather, and brother-in-law – had all embraced his plants and running lifestyle and had gotten healthy and fit.
Family! Where I come from, family are the people we never take advice from! How the hell did he do it?
And then there was the group of ex-fat-boys that came to be the Missing Chins Run Club, who got a taste of Josh's medicine and u-turned their health trajectory on a dime.
They told similar stories: reading about Josh on Facebook, and listening to his Rich Roll interview, and shyly asking to run with him when they were in town, and getting transformed.
One guy wrote recently in the Chins secret Facebook group about going on a run with Josh while on a business trip in New Orleans. The same thing happened to him. Josh told him, “I'm gonna push ya, but I ain't gonna hurt ya.”
That day, he quit drinking and started on a path that has continued to this day. By his own account, he became a better parent and husband thanks to that run. He's now a running coach, by the way.
How did that run transform him?
I guess you had to be there.
There are some things you can't get from a book. Or a video. Or a class. Or an online platform.
Some transmissions happen only in the flesh, when people are DOing something together.
If you want “it,” whatever “it” may be, then you've got to hang out with someone who's got “it.”
More than that, they have to embody “it.”
Your “it” may be different from my “it.”
Maybe you want to embody peaceful and mindful love. You can sit with all the Headspace and 10% Happier apps in the world, but they won't hold a candle to a retreat led by a genuine practitioner of metta meditation.
Maybe you want to stop eating crap and fuel your body like the holy place it is. You can buy cookbooks and watch documentaries, but nothing will turbocharge your development as much as a couple hours in the kitchen with someone for whom this way of eating is second nature.
The online world is so vast, so shiny, so rich, and so calculated to suck up all our attention, that it's no wonder we love spending time there.
And it has value, for sure.
Without Facebook and Rich Roll's podcast, I never would have met Josh.
Without social media, you probably wouldn't be reading this.
But the digital world needs to be a prelude to real life, not a substitute for it.
For Big Change, you can't read it in a book. You've got to Be There.
All of Which is a Sneaky and Longwinded Way of Saying…
- If you want the “it” that Josh has…
- If you want to get inspired and directed and challenged and cherished into growing that “it” in your own life…
- If you want to have a 3-day experience of health and joy and food and movement and community that you can never “un-have”…
- If you want to stop farting around with feints and fads like I did for so many years…
- If you are ready to stomp your excuses and finally embody your best, most authentic human self…
Consider joining us on an upcoming Sick to Fit Retreat.
Sick to Fit New Orleans: March 5-8, 2020
We'll be focusing on the 3 M's of Big Change: Menu, Movement, and Mindset.
Online, our programs are highly structured, and carefully orchestrated. In person, the exact opposite.
We'll be shopping, cooking, walking, jogging, sightseeing, talking, resting, laughing, stretching, breathing – and we don't have a set schedule. We aren't going to be walking around with clipboards.
There will be no PowerPoint presentations, no easels, no lectures.
No binder for you to take home, no worksheets to fill out, no continuing ed texts or credits.
Just an organic experience curated by me and Josh. To create a space where “it” becomes contagious.
Where “it” manifests as a fundamental mindset shift that changes everything from here on out. Like it did with me, with Josh's family, and with the Missing Chins.
You can read the details, such as they are, at https://sicktofit.com/nola.
The first step is an enrollment interview with me, where we ask each other questions and figure out if the weekend will be a good fit for all of us.
After that, if you're accepted and you want to attend, you'll be asked to pay at $100 deposit, with the balance due on January 27.
You can lock in early bird pricing ($1150 for an individual, $1650 for a couple sharing a queen bed) for the rest of this month. The price goes up on February 1, 2020 to $1350/individual and $1850/couple.
What “It” Do You Want?
In what ways do you want to grow this year?
Lots of those ways don't require an in-person transmission of “it-ness,” of course.
Maybe you want to learn Thai cooking, or public speaking, or fluent Dutch. Those are all skills that can be learned and practiced and grown, at least to some degree, via app or book or YouTube or Masterclass. You don't need in-person experiences to get started, and possibly progress pretty far.
Maybe it's a deeper shift, but one that you are confident you can achieve through time and focus and effort. Like viewing life with more positivity and gratitude, or becoming more productive during your work hours. Again, there are known techniques that you can apply to make progress.
The really big “Its” aren't in either category. They are the “transcendental shifts” that catapult us from one experience of life into a new one.
They are so juicy and important, and mean so much to us, and hurt so much when we don't have them, because they are the keys to unlock and heal really deep wounds.
For me to become true to my word and to embrace discomfort changed everything else about my life. It was the jolt I needed to “grow up” after an extremely coddled and entitled childhood.
By definition, we can't grow an “it” like that without help. Without community. Without an external buttress to push against when our inner experience is telling us to bail and quit.
I promise you, somewhere out there is a person who embodies the “it” you're looking for. When you commit wholeheartedly to growth, they often “magically” appear. (I'm a skeptic about stuff like this, so I think in terms of, “They were there all along but you couldn't see them in that light until you were ready.”)
Whether it's Josh, or me, or Aunt Ethel, or the quiet woman in the farthest cubicle at work, or a stranger on the bus, the embodiment of your next phase of evolution is out there.
First thing, get clear on the “it” that you want. Name it, if you can:
Next, think of how that quality would manifest in someone who embodied it. What would they look like? What sorts of things would they say and do?
Do you know anyone like that? If not personally, then maybe a fictional character, or famous person, or even an animal.
Who in your life is closest to embodying that it?
Now figure out how to spend some time with that person. In person. Depending on the relationship and their profession, you may have to pay them for their time. But often you don't. You might barter, or just ask a favor that you intend to pay forward.
And go get “it.”
Because sometimes, you just have to be there.
Bonus: Bruce Springsteen's world premiere of “You've Got It” in Bergen, Norway in 2012
Become a Health Coach
New cohort beginning Fall 2021. Live classes will be 10-11:30am US Eastern Time on Wednesday, so this is a Europe- and Africa-friendly class. Also for folks in the US, Canada, and Central/South America who have flexible mornings.
Find out more and apply here: WellStartCoach.com.
New Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight
Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.
It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂
This podcast is not underwritten by advertising, so I can experience complete editorial autonomy without worrying about pissing off the person paying the bills. Instead, I pay the bills, with your help. It's free for those who can't afford to pay, and supported by those who can. You can contribute to the growth and improvement of the podcast by . Click the “Support on Patreon” or “Donate” buttons on the right to help out.
The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.
It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.
You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.
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