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Howard Jacobson on Staying True to My Mission: PYP 281

Yup, that's me, talking directly to you in this episode.

I wanted to take a break from the guest-interview format because I have a lot on my mind.

Yesterday was my 53rd birthday, and would have been my dad's 100th (he and my mom planned well ;).

I've been thinking about him a lot around this milestone. And I'm on day 3 of a planned 7-day water fast, so my mind is doing all sorts of deep dives that I normally miss because of eating and business.

I wanted to share a bit of my story that I've never shared publicly. It's not dramatic, or amazing, or even particularly unusual. It's just mine, and it's defined who I've become and what I've decided to devote my life to.

It's about my dad, and his early death, and John Robbins, and WellStart. It's about what's shaped my mission, and why WellStart is both a perfect vehicle and a huge challenge for me.

I hope you get something out of it. I'd love to hear your thoughts…


Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.


Webinar Replay: The 3 High Hurdles to Weight Loss and Health

Diet for a New America, by John Robbins

The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and Thomas Campbell II, MD

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Caldwell Esselstyn, MD


Read a machine-generated (and therefore riddled with spelling and formatting errors) transcript here:

Read the full transcript here

This is the plant yourself podcast. I'm Howard Jacobson of, The Big Change Program and WellStart Health.

This podcast is part of my mission to... to...

Today I want to talk about my mission. I don't have a guest but I have a lot of thoughts on my mind and I haven't really done a podcast where I'm doing most of the talking for about three and a half years and I've got a bunch to say and I get comments on the blog and questions and e-mails from people who say they want to hear more about me and I'm always talking with guests and promoting their points of view and drawing them out. And so maybe I thought maybe today would be a good day for me to just riff and there's a few reasons for choosing today.

One is I'm on day three of what I hope will be a seven day water fast. And if you've ever done a water fast you know that things can get kind of intense and 3 and 4 and I'm feeling kind of low energy and reflective and. Kind of both clear and deep at the same time and I don't know if this is an illusion. I don't know if you're going to listen to this and immediately switch it off because I sound like you know I'm on some sort of downer but at least at least the hunger's removing any inhibitions that I would have to share this kind of stuff.

Second thing is yesterday was my birthday my fifty third and 53 sounds pretty old to me still you know somewhere in my head I'm still like a 17 year old and I remember just getting out of college and getting my first sort of fulltime job at a school.

I was an intern teacher and I was assigned to live in a big old house on campus that was also populated by five other teachers and most of us were in our 20s and one guy was 30 and I remember thinking that 30 was like impossibly old. And so reaching 53 also makes me think about you know the next bunch of decades that I hopefully have and what I want out of them.

And it's also yesterday was my dad's one hundredth birthday or would have been had he not died in 1989 at the age of 71 and a bit. And I think a lot about him in general but specifically this this hundredth anniversary really brought him up in my mind. And so this has all been swirling.

And so I wanted to kind of pull all those pieces together along with the work that I've been doing with WellStart and especially because see for the first time with WellStart which is a start up it's got some funding some angel investing venture capital. It's like a real business. And I've always pretty much been involved in you know small stuff in doing my own thing and I could always allow it to be completely mission driven but here I'm a board member.

And so we just had our quarterly board meeting last week and I had to look at you know financial projections and then P&L and cap sheets and all this stuff is really quite foreign to me and it's not something that I look at and I go like oh this is fun. Look at all these numbers on this spreadsheet and oh look at this and you know it kind of can feel to me like business like the purpose is to get a return on investment for our stakeholders especially for our shareholders the early people who put money into this and I suspect that it's quite easy for people to lose track of the mission or at least start to give it lip service when the daily mission becomes keeping the doors open keeping the lights on paying the mortgage and doing all the business stuff.

I’m in the middle of a book that I'm really enjoying. It's called measure what matters. And it's by probably one of the most famous venture capitalists around. His name is John Doerr of of Kleiner Perkins. He was famously one of the first investors in Google. His investments include you know lots and lots of really successful companies including DropBox and a bunch of others.

And one of the things that I was thinking about is like he's talking about these startups and OK and he's talking about a metric or a methodology for management called OKR which stands for objectives and key results.

And it was based on you know from the work of Peter Drucker this great management guru but really developed by Andy Groves at Intel in the early years the in the late 70s and 80s.

And so he's got all these founders telling their stories about how their companies started out what the mission was how they grew and specifically how they grew using this methodology of OKR and it's inspiring it's interesting but I can't help you a little bit sad because when you see how these companies started out like Google like to organize all the world's information and how idealistic they were and then you see kind of what Google has become in terms of bad behavior in terms of decisions that are made specifically for their own bottom line.

The lobbying they're doing the trouble they're getting in the inability to question whether the next big thing they're working on is actually going to help the world or just create more of this kind of corporate surveillance state or listening to Sheryl Sandberg talk about the vision of Facebook as a place something that connects people all over the world.

When we see how resistant they are to anything that takes away from their bottom line. And I'm worried I'm worried about myself getting into that mindset of you know the mission can be compromised in so many ways.

Because we're starting to see financial success and growth and we can I can always tell myself that well we of course we need to grow in order to fulfill the mission. You know the means here are justified by the ends that we're trying to achieve. And of course there's truth to that there's truth to we can't change the world. If we can't be financially successful if we can't pay enough people to do the work if we can't sustain the work ourselves.

But I think there's a line and I don't think that I'm better than anybody else. I don't think that I am more ethical. I don't think that I have a stronger set of values. I don't think my brain is equipped any better than anybody else's to notice my own hypocrisy. So I'm kind of putting this out there as a stake in the ground and hopefully when people listen to this if you see me straying from this mission you'll call me out and you help me get back on track. All right. So the first part of the mission comes from well start Health's I guess it's our unofficial motto which is we want to put chronic disease out of business and this is what really attracted me to the company. When Olivia and I first started talking Olivia Kelly is the CEO of WellStart. And I loved that phrase. And here's why. Because we know that somewhere between 90 and 99 percent of chronic disease is preventable and some number lower than that but not a huge amount lower than that is reversible which means if you think about it that you know millions and millions of people are living with pain with disability with suffering with financial hardship over medicines over lost work over the dozens of daily accommodations that have to be made that cost money or could require paying other people to take care of you or to take care of kids or other responsibilities you might have.

And for me it's personal.

Because of my dad. My dad's name was Joel. He was born on July 30th 1918 and he was 47 when I was born. So that's why I'm 53 and he's turning 100. So he was an older dad but he was in great shape. He was never overweight. He's a small man but five foot six five foot seven and he was always around 145 pounds. And from the time I was about three years old which is to say from the time I remember him he was an athlete.

He loved playing paddle ball and then later racquetball and then later tennis and then squash and he would always have his gym bag with him. He wasn't like you know working out in the gym or running or anything like that but he would work up a sweat playing squash playing racquetball he'd go to different health clubs. This was you know in the late 70s. Well from the early 70s there was paddle ball just or even handball. These are all you know sort of like Jewish sports you played in the northeast specifically like New York, New Jersey, Brooklyn, Queens – and so anything with you know are smacking a ball with your hand or with a paddle or a rocket. He was into he are really good at it and he always had his bag with them. Most days he would skip lunch in favor of going to play. He would hire assistants based on their ability to give him a good game or beat him at whatever the sport was that he was playing at the time. I'm sure that breaks a whole bunch of laws but you know he really enjoyed it. And on weekends every Sunday we would do a family trip up to the Y or to the racquetball club in the Meadowlands and we would play for an hour or two and he would go to the sauna or the steam room.

And so even though he was old a lot older than most of my friends' dads, you know I never thought anything of it even into my late teens. And you know when I was 23 when he turned 70 I just I figured he'd have a long life ahead of him. And then he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and you know here I am I am in college I'm. A student researcher. I had always done well in school and so I thought well let me go see what there is that you can do about prostate cancer.

And so while he was talking to doctors and radiologists and all that and getting the mainstream medical opinion I was sort of looking in libraries and alternative bookstores and at the bookshelf the whole earth center down in Princeton looking for alternative things for other things he could do to deal with his prostate cancer.

And one of the things that never came up was diet.

It's amazing looking back that there were you know I read books in which it said that the whole problem the reason we have prostate cancer is because of energetic blockages in the pelvis. And so trying to work if I can get him to work with like alternative healers who are going to release the muscles and I'm sure there's plenty to that I'm sure you know. I know it's not sort of evidence based in terms of the Western Standard over randomized controlled clinical trial I'm sure you know there were people who saw those connections you know going back through the history of sort of body work and I'm sure there's something to that and I'm sure there's absolutely no harm that can be done by loosening the muscles of the butt and the pelvis and becoming freer.

But my dad was a kind old fashioned man in many respects. And all this talk of sort of a woo energy healing and especially the people who are promoting it in those days where you know just shortly out of hippie hood they really didn't connect with them then it really didn't make much sense. You know he didn't believe in sort of you know Chi energy or orgone energy or prana or those things that came to us from the east he was firmly steeped in the western Objectivist materialist tradition. And so things that he is going to start doing were certainly had to be materialist and Objectivist which he did.

He started doing radiation treatments to shrink the cancer and hopefully make it go away or at least not grow back or grow back so slowly that you know he died of something else. Which is a very common outcome for people with prostate cancer especially the slower growing kinds. And there were lots and lots of books that talked about different herbal remedies or other alternative treatments and it didn't occur to me that there was based there basically following the same model as the pharmaceutical industry except they were using different substances. You know whether it was saw palmetto or rye grass or other formulations like the basic idea was like Do this energy work and take your supplements.

And nowhere in there was there a mention of diet.

My dad loved his food. And he taught me to love food as well. Some of the things we share here together. We're number 7 plate at ping toy Chinese restaurant which was eggrolls fried rice and barbecued spare ribs. We loved the hotdogs we could get at Yankee Stadium and down at the Atlantic City boardwalk. I would always get mine with a grape slushy. We loved all kinds of bread and noodles and blintzes and cheeses. He was not much of a cook except of course when it came to the backyard barbecue.

And he would cook up the hamburgers and he would turn so frequently that they would end up you know half of them would fall into the grill and he would hear he liked them kind of you know almost burnt pretty well done. And he loved egg creams. He loved making chocolate milkshakes. We loved getting ice cream and for dinner of course this is you know the 70s the 80s. We would have meatloaf we would have chicken a lot we would have. My mother was from Vienna Austria so we would have Viennese dishes like goulash: wurst goulash, which was just the hotdogs and eventually we upgraded from the regular hotdogs to the kosher ones. The Hebrew Nationals which we thought were must be much healthier and you know Hungarian goulash with chunks of meat and then for holidays of course there's all the American holidays. But turkey on Thanksgiving but also Jewish holidays with brisket and tongue and different kinds of fish and kippers and smelts. My sister, who was 13 at the time that I was born, loves to remind me that it was the smelts at a Friday night dinner that sent my mother into labor so that I have smelts to thank for my existence.

I'm not entirely sure what smelts are. I think they're sort of like cooked sardines but I could be wrong. I've never actually researched it.

He would have listened to me if I had come to him with a book with evidence with something that said diet can affect the progression of prostate cancer.

But it wasn't out there at least. I couldn't find it. You know might it maybe it was in some weird book somewhere maybe like in the Hygiene Association or some old Herbert Shelton thing but in nowhere in the places that I was looking and I was looking harder than most people. Nowhere was there anything about diet and we just figured his life his diet and lifestyle were great. He was eating mostly unprocessed foods. Except for he loved Mallow Mars and Moon Pies as we all did.

But basically eating a pretty healthy diet. Vegetables with every meal, piece of meat, starch – you know usually rice or potato or noodles. And so we didn't we didn't know we didn't know how preventable I was. So he went through a year of radiation and its aftermath and gradually got his strength up again and on Christmas Eve 1989. He suffered a heart attack which I didn't know about because I had just landed in Israel for a vacation.

And this was before cell phones before the Internet and so I was just doing my thing and they couldn't reach me. By the time I called home on Christmas Day on the 25th in the afternoon he had stabilized a little bit but you know in talking to my mother on the phone I could hear how distraught she was and how serious it was. So I made plans to return home as soon as possible so we scuttled our plans. My girlfriend (now my wife) Mia and I drove straight to Jerusalem and I worked on booking a flight as soon as I could back to New Jersey.

And when I called again the next day December 26 just before getting on the flight my neighbor answered the phone and I knew then that my dad was dead. As soon as I heard her voice and. It was it was heart wrenching. You know it said sort of a quick goodbye to him joking around. He sent me off to the airport. It wasn't you know there was no closure for me. There was no anything. It was just there I was in a foreign country. I was staying in the dorm of a friend of mine whom I knew but not particularly well and sort of everyone was kind of trying to accommodate me.

I remember I was I had just bought this Casio watch and I was not used to it. And I had it on the wrong setting it was a little bit too tight and I was asked as I got off the phone I had clenched so hard that I had this incredible pain in my hand and my arm and I just felt like that was the thing I was focused on. I remember crying out my hand my hand I can feel my hand and went home. You know he had died at around 2:30AM the day after Christmas holiday with the hospital was short-staffed. You know people were off.

It wasn't clear like what had happened whether people weren't paying attention. But like that obsessed me like what could we have done what could I have done what if I had been there. What if it hadn't been that day what if we pay for better nursing for someone to be there with them. And the questions and the self doubts and the blame and the what ifs really haunted me for years.

And the one what if that never occurred to me was What if we knew what if we knew about Dean Ornish and about Caldwell Esselstyn and about T Colin Campbell and about Neal Barnard. What if we had that information. When he first got sick could we have prevented the cancer.

Maybe, maybe not. A lot of men get it no matter what. Could we have slowed it down. Almost certainly. Would we have known that prostate cancer is not necessarily something that you need to treat aggressively. And in fact on the day he died. You can go look this up in the archives in the New York Times science section science Tuesday. There was an article saying that one of the things that happens to men who get radiation for prostate cancer is an increased risk of heart attack.

Talk about timely and ironic so shortly after his funeral I went down back down to Princeton where I was living. And I went to a Barnes Noble bookstore and for some reason I picked up and bought the book Diet for a new America, by John Robbins. It had come out in 1987. I hadn't heard of it.

I don't know why I picked it up. I wasn't interested in diet. I'm only interested in health to the extent that I was trying to find out what kind of herbs and energetic treatments my father needed. But here I was noticing the book from the cover wasn't even you know the cover wasn't out. I was noticing the spine and was drawn to the red white and blue.

Had a nice font for the title I guess and I picked it up and I started reading it and my entire life changed based on that book. I went vegan instantly. I gave up sugar and I gave up a whole bunch of other stuff. And in 21 days I lost about 21 pounds. Without trying without trying to eat less without thinking about health without thinking about weight I was just so stunned that I hadn't heard any of this before.

Friends, that was 1990. That was January of 1990. It's now July of 2018. Twenty eight and a half years later and most people still don't know what I learned that day that I started reading Diet for a New America. That is before The China Study. That was before Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

And that was before Ornish. I just looked in the index there is no Ornish in the O's. There are four mentions of Nathan Pritikin.

But even then John Robbins was putting together an argument that I found so compelling that I didn't need to look at anything else it just made sense to me and I acted upon it and I got my act together.

And at that point I felt like I was becoming heart attack proof I was becoming resistant to the two diseases that together took down my dad. Prostate cancer and heart disease. And most people don't know most people don't know that cry disease is preventable. And reversible through diet and lifestyle. And so when Olivia said Our mission that well start health is to put chronic disease out of business. I thought about my dad. I thought about the suffering that we all went through.

Losing him at the young age of 71 I'll just say a word about him I know it's not relevant to the medical history but just what kind of person he was. He was born in 1918. He grew up in the throes of the Depression and the one thing he wanted to do was help people. And he became a champion for the underdog. He became a labor organizer. He was active in New Jersey politics. He was famous as one of the men who couldn't be bought.

In New Jersey politics there's a lot of corruption that goes back many years. He was a straight shooter. He would take on the big guys in 1974 his friend Brendan Byrne was elected governor and he was my dad was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission which he was very disappointed by. At first he wanted to be the commissioner of labor to help working people in their in their fight to make a decent wage and have good working conditions in health care. He had been a labor organizer with the United Auto Workers with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. He had organized mills up in the Northeast and he had seen people dying from poor working conditions because the bosses couldn't bear the cost of safety equipment of slowing down the production line when something looked wrong.

I remember him bringing that attitude to the New Jersey Public Utility Commission where the first thing he did that I remember he got into the newspaper for was denying New Jersey Bell a rate hike. They had been asking for rate hikes for decades and it was just a rubber stamp. And not only when my father and the other commissioners looked at their request for a rate hike not only did they not granted but my father convinced one other member to actually rollback their rates of their monopoly. They have no competition and they were getting fat off of the backs of the poor and the working class. And that's how he was.

He later became the commissioner of energy for New Jersey I believe it was the first statewide commissioner of energy in the country. He was involved in early efforts to get solar going to create other renewable sources of energy to not pollute our planet. He railed against oil companies in fact I remember that. And maybe in 1980 or 81 the Mobil Oil Corporation took out a quarter page ad in The New York Times blasting him. It was it was titled “The Commissioner Bears His Motives,” and it basically accused him of being a socialist because he felt like the oil companies were profiting every time there was an oil crisis. Every time there were lines at the pump they were actually making more money. Rather than trying to help the economy and the population that was buying it from them.

He was then appointed to the Casino Control Commission a position he really disliked. But his main effort was to foster the growth the development of Atlantic City which has been a war zone. He called it when he became a member of the commission. He said all these casinos who were so you know big and lush and lavish and ornate and beautiful Hakes he said Atlantic City was a war zone with a bunch of Taj Mahals in it and he fought to redistribute some of that wealth to provide employment, to provide education, to provide infrastructure, to provide social support to the inhabitants of Atlantic City and not just let it go to the casino owners, including Donald Trump and Steve Wynn and a bunch of other people who whose only interest was pulling out as much money as they could.

And after that he was appointed by a federal judge to clean up one of the most corrupt labor union locals in the country local 560 of the Teamsters located in Union City New Jersey. And here was a case where he was hated by everyone and the Teamster members felt like they had had their democracy taken away because the leader was imposed upon them even though those leaders weren't union members they were lining their own pockets.

And my father went in and he also had to fight with the companies the trucking companies that were hiring the Teamsters which had sweetheart deals with the old management load with the old leadership for decades and gradually slowly over the course of a year and a half through standing up in full auditoriums with people cursing him and screaming at him and pounding and not letting him speak.

I saw him go to work every single day with the sole objective of restoring trade unionism to that group of showing them how to be proud of the work they were doing how to stand up to unjust working conditions. And he was making progress when he was fired for reasons that I'm not going to go into because it's not part of this story and not too long after that the health problems began.

All this is to say I really miss the guy.

He was a role model that I strive every day to live up to. And sure there was plenty about him that was not optimal. His temper his inability to express feelings his inability to allow anyone else to be sad or angry or depressed or agitated. Growing up in a broken home he remembered hiding under the kitchen sink while his parents fought and not being able to stand any sort of fighting.

So you know part of my legacy from him is wanting to appease everyone wanting to avoid conflict at all cost but still what I got from him was a sense that to be a man you had to show courage and you had to stand up for what you believed and you had to stand up for the little guy who couldn't fight for himself who didn't have a voice. And reading John Robbins’ Diet for a New America there three weeks two weeks after I had to say goodbye to him and seeing another kind of courage of seeing John Robbins who if you don't know is the heir to the Baskin Robbins ice cream empire and walked away from it.

And his argument for veganism was threefold the same one the same we have today about health about the ethics of taking care of animals and not exploiting them and the environmental concerns. Really nothing has changed since John Robbins wrote that book. In terms of the broad outlines of his argument we filled it in with lot more data a lot more details a lot more nuance. But it was all there in 1987 when he published it and in 1990 when I stumbled across it and while my father focused his attention and his warrior spirit on helping humans.

I saw an opportunity to expand it to helping those with literally no voice with the animals to the trees that were being cut down to make room for burger farms in the Amazon. And of course I saw that there was no conflict between caring for people and caring for the environment that the pollution and the animal agriculture was harming the very people who were depending on us for their livelihoods and who are depending on it for their meals.

And as someone steeped in watching my father take on the big guys take on New Jersey Bell, which eventually became Bell Atlantic, which eventually became Verizon. In seeing him take on the cable companies that eventually became Time Warner and Comcast, and seeing him take on Mobile and Exxon and Shell and Chevron and seeing him take on roomfuls and auditoriums full of a hostile people whom he was still trying to help.

I was prepared. I wasn't surprised by the pushback from the dairy industry from the beef industry from pork from chicken from eggs from the junk food manufacturers. Eventually I began to see the link between food and the pharmaceutical industry pushing a profit driven pharmaceutical model of health and dismissing the idea that lifestyle medicine and lifestyle could play a role.

And this all came from my dad and he checked out at the age of 71. He had just played racquetball, he was in great shape, so we thought he recovered from prostate cancer and I lost him and I lost. Years and years of support and encouragement of wisdom.

People used to say that my dad thought that the sun shone out of my ass, and it really was true. He did not think he was going to have a child. And at the age of 47 he got a surprise. He only married my mother when he was forty five and a half. Everyone who knew him was amazed that he did not stay a bachelor. Someone had reeled him in and turned him into a husband and a father.

So no one will ever adore me the way he adored me. No one will ever stand up for me and support me the way he stood up for me and supported me. A part of my task as I have grown up to be that for myself to be my own support and not have to lean on him because I lost him when I was just 24. And there's so much that I missed out on.

So in 1990, you could argue that we didn't know there was a there was a little bit out there. There was enough but it wasn't in the public eye.

But now 2018, after The China Study, after Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, after Neal Barnard's work, after Joel Furman's work, after John McDougall's work, after Forks Over Knives.

We have the data we have the evidence. Garth Davis put it together beautifully in Proteinaholic, the book that I helped him with.

Any doctor who doesn't look at this stuff and see that lifestyle is the first line of defense against disease is not well trained. Sorry, they're not well trained.

When you look at someone like Saray Stancic, who's working on a documentary Code Blue and looking at the fact that all these hospitals have McDonalds in them and other fast food places, and medical education doesn't include lifestyle. It just includes the pathologies and how to treat them with procedures with drugs with things that make people money.

In a world of the Adventist Health Studies, of the EPIC studies in Europe (the largest cohort studies in history) clearly showing the benefits of a plant based diet, with the Blue Zones work of Dan Buettner showing that the healthiest people in the world eat plant based. Now I can say there's absolutely no reason for people to be getting sick and dying at the rates they are from completely preventable and largely reversible diseases.

Just multiply my dad and my family by a million just in the U.S. to see the cost.

I think about the story of my friend Josh LaJaunie, another co-founder of WellStart, and his grandparents; his grandpa whom he adored and worshipped and his grandmother who loved him above all else and how they would you know she would feed them and her food was love and how she died shortly after retiring at the age of 67. And hearing about Josh taking care of his grandpa, his BamBam, who had been a huge powerful man but now was laid low by dementia and couldn't take care of himself anymore. He couldn't wipe himself and lost all his power, all his dignity, and lived out his days as a shadow of his former self.

And I know that these tragedies are occurring daily in households all over the country. What was it, 25 % of us have a chronic disease? Twenty five percent of us are taking psych meds. We are sick, we are miserable, and you know what? We have to talk about the money too.

I know that I separate mission from money a little bit, but I'm kind of in charge of marketing at WellStart right now and of course we want employers to hire us to make their employees healthier. We've got to talk about bottom line. We've got to talk about dollars and cents.

And so I've been looking. I've been studying the effects of the health care crisis on not just individual companies which is huge but on the economy as a whole. And basically it's the rise in healthcare costs with no attendant improvement in actual outcomes we're getting it's getting more and more expensive and we're not getting any healthier.

That is bankrupting America that's killed the middle class that's created this giant chasm between the haves and the have-nots and I'm reminded of my father's work which was basically economic justice through his work as a union organizer. And realizing that the work I'm doing trying to help people become healthier through their diet and through their lifestyles is also a form of economic justice.

And to give you a particular sort of right angle example of this, a friend of mine, a supporter of the podcast, is having a hell of a time getting insurance to pay for the things that she needs. Her problems are not diet-induced; they're not lifestyle-induced. There's stuff that happens to people.

And because we're spending all our money on type 2 diabetes care, on cardiac care, on cancer care, on screenings, on dealing with the downstream detritus of a broken health care system that can't tell people what to do to fix their problems or to prevent them in the first place, there is no money left for my friend. There's no money left for the orphan drugs – the ones for genetic and other condition that too few people suffer from for the drug companies to make back their money on it.

That's where the Western medicine medical system should shine, should be heroic, is in helping people with genetic problems, helping people who have been traumatized and had damage done to them by life by extenuating circumstances where heroic treatment – incredible hours spent in the lab researching – could pay off.

Not in a financial sense, but in terms of helping people in terms of making the world a better place, in terms of giving those folks a fair shot at a healthy life. But we're spending all our money on completely preventable, completely avoidable conditions that we've known about for at least 28 and a half years.

So that's what I'm doing at WellStart. We've developed a platform and a protocol that teaches people that shows them the clear evidence and gives them the skills – both the cooking skills and the walking and jogging skills and the meditation skills and the sleep hygiene skills, but also the mindset skills. The thought patterns, the emotional strength to start to make these changes in a world that still pooh-poohs them.

That still tells you you're crazy if you're eating a healthy diet. That doesn't say a word if you're eating all your meals from McDonald's. But the minute you go plant based everybody's worried about your nutrition. In a world in which bacon is a reason to take in a type 1 carcinogen. A world in which most smart health-concerned people are getting completely the wrong message about what to put in their mouths.

And the astounding popularity of ketogenic diets, of paleo, of low carb. Because people are getting short-term weight loss results and because if they have sensitivity to grains they're feeling better in the moment.

We are teeing ourselves up for additional unnecessary tragedies. As people my age go on the statins, go on the anti-hypertensives, go on the beta blockers, go on the proton pump inhibitors, and then take all of the additional meds required to deal with the side effects of those meds.

Meanwhile their underlying disease conditions are galloping forward. They're not being treated; the symptoms are being treated.

So our mission at WellStart – my mission – is to come up with the very best protocol, the best pedagogy, the best coaching, the best support we can come up with to make this information, this lifesaving information, available, accessible, palatable, actionable, sustainable. We're doing this with companies and we're also doing it for individuals.

So you may remember the Big Change Program that Josh LaJaunie and I founded and we've run for a couple of years that's been rolled into WellStart Health and is the DNA of that program. Big Change still informs what we're after. We're not looking for teeny little changes like most wellness programs. You know: park farther away from the entrance; take the elevator not the stairs; drink more water during the day.

Now all of that is great advice but if that's the extent of it, or that's what we really believe that's all people are going to do and so we don't want to tell them to do something that they're not going to do. And so we're going to pitch the bar so low then we're not going to accomplish anything.

People aren’t going to see improvement. And so then why would they continue doing this inconvenient thing? We're looking for big change: for big changes in diet, for big changes in lifestyle, for people to become again the bipedal animals that we are, for big changes in mindset. And the biggest change of all is that we have agency. That we have some control.

We have a lot of control. We have way more control than we were taught about our own health destiny. And once people start understanding that once people see behind the curtain and they see that we have been lied to by omission and by commission by the media, by the government, by corporate America, by our teachers; now maybe they didn't know any better. Maybe they believed that we wouldn't listen. Maybe they believed that we couldn't do it.

Once you try the plant based diet for yourself for 10 days, for 7 days, for 14 days, for 3 days for crying out loud, you will realize that you've been lied to and the scales will fall away from your eyes.

Not just about food but about so many things that we are taught that we just have to put up with we just have to accept in this world. I haven't even gotten into the part of the mission related to our climate. To our environment. To this beautiful planet, this incredible orb that has everything we could ever need. If you think about the beauty and as far as we know the only one that we've ever found that can sustain our life.

A few months ago I put Josh LaJaunie in touch with Nelson Campbell, who is the director of the documentary PlantPure Nation and the creator of Plant Pure Foods, these wonderful frozen meals that people can buy very inexpensively and make the transition without having to learn how to cook.

And they were together in Louisiana and Josh took Nelson and a few other folks out on a boat to show them where the land used to be. Where New Orleans is going missing. Where the Bayou is disappearing because the waters are rising. Where people's lifestyles are being overturned.

And I'm not going to talk about all the big wildfires and the bigger storms and the heat waves that are that are happening because of our dependence on animal agriculture above any other single factor.

That once you try the food and you see that you get better, you develop a mindset of agency and you develop a mindset of growth: that you can make a difference and that you can make yourself into a person who makes even more of a difference.

That's really the Big Change we're looking for. Yes, we want people to lose weight and get healthy. We want people to reverse their diseases. We want people to have beautiful biometrics low cholesterol low blood pressure normal blood sugar. What we really want people to wake up to accept the mantle that all of us need to accept now if we want to save ourselves on this planet.

I keep thinking about the Dr. Seuss book Horton Hears a Who, where only when the last little Who shouts out does their little world get saved. And I think we're the same: we need all hands on deck. This is not a time for most of us to be relaxing in the cabins below, watching TV or napping. We are in a maelstrom. We are in the perfect storm and we need all of us and we need all of us invigorated and healthy and clear eyed.

And that's really the mission of WellStart Health that I embrace. And of course we can’t do it without running a successful business and making money. We have to promote; we have to market; we have to sell. We have to charge money for this stuff that I would dearly love to give away.

Which I have been giving away through this podcast and through other things. Which Josh LaJaunie has been giving away through personal texting and Instagram direct messaging and Facebook messaging and phone calls with hundreds of people over the last several years.

And we've got to now you know look at hard dollars and cents and figure out: How am I spending my time? How are we spending our money? Are we getting a return? Can we grow this thing to the place where it's big enough to fulfill our mission? Can we make enough of a return for the brave people who have invested in us who have given us their trust, so that others in the future will also invest in businesses like ours?

So that we can continue growing a socially responsible business with the mission of moving the world in the right direction. Are we making enough money to pay our coaches, to pay our Chief Technology Officer, to pay ourselves, so that other people look and say, “OK, I can make a living doing this right.”

People become doctors because they want to help and they want to heal. But they also become doctors because doctors make a good living. I don't want to live in a world where people have to choose between doing what they love – doing the work that ignites their soul – and making a good living. So that's what I'm up to.

This is probably a good time to mention that we have another WellStart public cohort starting soon.

It's a 12 week intensive. It involves me and Josh and others coaching you. It involves daily check ins with your coaches via private text messages. It involves weekly group Zoom calls. Those are video calls with recorded audio available if you can’t make them live. It includes a community in which we get together for group discussions and a forum for people supporting each other, offering each other advice and help and camaraderie, and daily short videos that teach and inspire and empower action.

And the truth is, every cohort is different from the one before it. Every cohort we’re doing a little bit better. We’re a little bit smarter as we learn what works and doesn't work. We've got about 6 cohorts under our belt now and I can say with complete confidence that the next one will be the best one we've ever done.

The overt goals are to help you get to your ideal weight, get fit, and reverse any markers of chronic disease or actual clinical symptoms of chronic disease. To get you well. To get you healthy. To get you lean. To get you fit. To get you energized.

So you too can throw your weight into the fight for our planet, into the fight for our people, into the fight for a world that we want to live in. So if you're interested or if you know anyone who could benefit please send them to They can read all about it and if they have questions they can reach out to me directly: . If they’re ready to get started, they can go to

One more thing. Josh and I held a webinar called, “The Three High Hurdles to Weight Loss and Health” in which we shared what we've discovered through coaching hundreds of people. The three biggest mindset mistakes people make – and we're not talking about making mistakes with cooking breakfast or too much oil or stuff like that that's easy to correct.

Instead, we talked about the mindset shifts that are needed to sustain success. The hard part. and that's where I think we are distinguishing ourselves in the marketplace: through our understanding of behavioral science and through our coaching protocols and through the way that we're using technology to reach people in a very high touch way. If you're interested in watching or listening to that webinar, you can find it at

If you enjoyed this episode, and you’ll like to support the mission of this show, you can become a patron at Another great way is to write a review on iTunes. Thanks!

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The next WellStart Health cohort starts on August 13, 2018. Find out more and reverse your space at

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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.

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Looking for Transformational Change?

You know how when you discovered plant-based eating, you basically went, “Holy shit, how come the entire healthcare system isn't totally embracing this as one of the most powerful keys to disease prevention and reversal!”?

That's how I feel now about a psychological approach to transformational change called “Memory Reconsolidation.” Few psychologists have heard about it, and when they do hear the radical transformations it can bring about in a very short time, they're often skeptical to the point of disbelief.

But I've added Memory Reconsolidation work to my own coaching, and can attest to its amazing efficacy. So much so, that I'm devoting the next year to mastering it, studying with the best clinicians and teachers in the world, and then introducing it into health coaching through my trainings.

Right now, I want to triple my coaching practice to get more and more opportunities to do this work. And I'm lowering my fees – a lot – to make it easier for people to work with me.

If you're interested in working with me (and willing to commit to a minimum of 2 months), click the link below to open the form in a new browser tab and I'll get back to you within 3 business days.

Yes, I'm interested in Memory Reconsolidation Coaching.

You CAN Change Other People!

Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.

What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.

Discover our straightforward, replicable process here: You Can Change Other People.

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 🙂

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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,


Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – AvIvA Lael – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Bandana Chawla – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Shannon Herschman – Linda Ayotte – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Peter W Evans – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Marjorie Lewis – Tricia Adams – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – Brian Tourville – Mark Jeffrey Johnson – Josie Dempsey – Caryn Schmitt – Pamela Hayden – Emily Perryman – Allison Corbett – Richard Stone – Lauren Vaught of Edible Musings – Erin Hastey – Sean Owens – Sagar Naik – Erika Piedra – Danielle Roberts – Michael Leuchten – Sarah Johnson – Katharine Floyd – Meryl Fury – for your generous support of the podcast.


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13 comments on “Howard Jacobson on Staying True to My Mission: PYP 281

  1. Karin says:

    Felt I knew your Dad after this podcast. Hope you are doing well after fasting. Was unable to get on the app to hear your webinar for big change. Will you replay in in a different format?
    Be well, Howard

    1. Howard says:

      Sorry that the webinar didn’t let you in! You can listen/watch the replay here:

  2. Shari A Schmidt says:

    I lost my dad just a couple of months ago. He was 77. He died after having open heart surgery (a triple bypass) having kidney issues and pneumonia. He also had Parkinson’s disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis and clots in his legs. He too was a paddleball, volleyball, handball, tennis player. Always ‘fit’. We also grew up eating lots of Jewish food including lots of meat and fat and the treats of Entemann’s products. You didn’t know back then how to help your dad, but I did. And I tried. So so hard. For 5 years I tried to get him to pay attention to his diet and change what he put in his mouth. But he refused to listen. So, don’t think that having the info back then would have saved your dad. He might have listened, but more than likely he either wouldn’t believe it (doctors know much more than we do) or wouldn’t give up his favorite delights. Sorry that your dad wasn’t around to be a grandfather for your children but it sounds like he was a wonderful man. Happy birthday to your dad and to you! Hope to see you soon. Know that even though you couldn’t help your dad, you are helping so many others.

  3. Harry says:

    This was an amazing episode, Howard! Thanks for sharing all those details about your dad and your experience of him. And thanks for spending an episode articulating your perspectives on and passion for a plant-based approach to health. I found it inspiring to hear it all at once as I move towards my own plant-based mission. And Happy Birthday! 😀

  4. Kathryn says:

    Happy Birthday Howard. Thank you for this raw, honest, and
    motivating episode. Hearing experts spew facts can get boring.
    Hearing someone speak from his heart is connecting and
    inspiring. Thank you for all you do. May you be blessed
    and may you prosper in all ways.

  5. Lori says:

    Great episode, Howard. I felt your sincerity in your voice and in your story. I lost me dad when I was 19, my mother when I was 29. Both to lifestyle disease. I watched them suffer. I watched them try to be good patients. With both we ended up just, “waiting to die”. I’d like to think that both of them would have been receptive if I knew then what I know now. But I don’t know. I have made choices in my ow
    n life to not pull the trigger to my genetic gun, but I watch my remaining family members proceed to kill themselves. I love them, but I’m terrified. You inspire me to keep trying, and to reach out to ANYONE who wants a better life. The power if whole plants!

  6. Robyn Chuter says:

    Thank you Howard. This episode was a tour de force. So many elements of your story echoed mine, that it was quite eerie. My Dad was also 47 when I was born. Like your father, he had a temper and struggled with emotional expression, but he had a rock-solid sense of social justice and raised me to do what was right, not what was popular. I lost him to a heart attack when he was just 11 days shy of his 75th birthday. Like Shari who commented above, I already knew what to do to help him (Diet for a New America had fallen into my hands when I was about 22, while I was studying naturopathy, and Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease followed hard on its heels), but Dad wasn’t willing to change his ways. I too was left without closure and with a mountain of regrets that I had not figured out how to ‘sell’ him on the dietary change that almost certainly would have kept him alive for many more years, so he could enjoy being a grandfather to my 2 children, the first of whom was born 2 years after he died.
    Grief is an alchemical process. Our anger, guilt, regret, disappointment and sadness go into the fire, and are transformed into a vision for how we can best serve the world in the time that we have on earth, and the determination to realise that vision. I would not be the health practitioner that I am today if I had not suffered the crushing blow of losing my father, and you would not be the trail-blazing wellness warrior that you are, either.
    Happy birthday to you and Joel.

  7. Steve G says:

    Thanks Howard! I am a brand new listener and this was my first podcast listen. It was so awesome, to the point, honest and heartfelt. I had a similar relationship with my dad who passed at age 68 when I was 25. He passed away from emphysema but I could feel the emotions you were describing. It is very refreshing to listen to someone who doesn’t have an agenda and I will be listening to past and future podcasts with enthusiasm. thanks again!

    1. Howard says:

      Steve, thanks for your kind words, and welcome!

      I’m sorry about your dad – emphysema must have been an awful thing to live with and die from.

      Be well!

  8. Val Ferg says:

    Now 3 years into my plant based journey… this beautiful episode did SO much to reinvigorate me and inspire me to become the example I need to be in order to reach the people I love. Through your podcast interviews, you have already helped me in so many ways, Howard, but this episode was nothing short of heroic in my opinion. Your Dad would be bursting with pride right now if he could see how many people’s lives you are changing for the better. Happy Birthday, mentor extraordinaire.

  9. Ann Jesse says:

    Hi Howard,
    I just listened to episode 281 which was such a lovely tribute to your father, and it spoke to my heart.
    I have aspired to a vegan lifestyle for about a year and half now and have been an avid listener and supporter of PlantYourself for awhile now.
    Back in February of this year, I lost MY father, Buck, at the age of 73. He, like your dad, was an incredible athlete as well as a servant of his fellow man – helping people to earn their GEDs and feeding the homeless on Saturdays. Buck had a cycling accident in 2017 that he never seemed to recover from. After fighting cellulitis for several months with a battery of antibiotics, his immune system shut down. During the last week of his life, we discovered he also had a bone marrow disorder which contributed to his demise. That, combined with sepsis and pneumonia, was the cocktail of ails that took him.

    I too wonder what I could have done to educate him of my findings re: the benefits to myself and our planet thru a plant-based diet. But instead of wondering what could have been, I will work toward what CAN be done. My badges of honor are a sense of peace and control that I’ve never felt before.

    That peace and control was particularly pronounced earlier this week when I received lab results from my annual checkup. Absolutely every measurement was near perfect. I am 50 years old, and this is the first time in my adult life that I can boast an HDL/LDL ratio that is in the healthy range. I have always had high cholesterol and for years just chalked it up to genetics.

    So I guess what I’m saying is this. Though I can’t share my findings with my dad on this earth, I can honor his memory by sharing my findings and health wealth with the world around me. I know you are doing the same.

    Thank you for all you do, Howard! God Bless!

  10. Julie Bodnar says:

    Happy belated birthday Howard! I finally had time to listen to your podcast – it was great to hear more about you and how your mission was influenced by your father’s examples of courage & living his beliefs. His voice came through loud and clear through you – a beautiful legacy! This podcast was particularly helpful to me because the last few weeks I’ve been feeling like I’m spinning my wheels trying to build a nonprofit plant-based support community where I live. Your talk inspired me to get at it and keep spreading word about the lifestyle that I know is best in so many ways. Can’t give up. Thanks again!

    1. Howard says:

      Thanks, Julie! So great to hear about your community work. Little seeds everywhere 🙂

      One of the reasons I chose the name “Plant Yourself” 🙂

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