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Tidings of Comfort or Joy

Here's a ridiculous story to start us off:

One day my grandfather (that's him in a boater hat in the above photo) punched someone in the face over some disagreement. The recipient of the blow, wounded more in pride than body, wobbled down onto the curb and began yelling, “Iodine! Police! Iodine! Police!”

To which my grandfather responded – and this is the part of the story my father thought was hilarious – “Make up your mind: iodine or police. You can't have both!”

If you don't find this anecdote amusing in the least, I'm right there with you. Why on earth couldn't the man have both? What was so funny about the logic of the rebuttal? And why was my grandfather going around slugging people anyway?

But the phrase “Iodine or police, you can't have both” is, for better or worse, an indelible part of my psyche and genetic memory.

Which is why, when I was singing carols at a nursing home yesterday, and got to the chorus of “God Bless Ye, Merry Gentlemen” that announces “tidings of comfort and joy,” I suddenly thought: “Make up your mind: comfort or joy. You can't have both.”


 In Sick to Fit, Josh LaJaunie and I rail against comfort. We argue that it's the desire for physical and emotional comfort that keeps us from being our best selves, by preventing us from doing the hard things that we need to do in order to be healthy and happy.

We avoid physical exertion because straining muscles and labored breathing are uncomfortable. We binge on junk food because it's uncomfortable to sit with the urge to eat and not capitulate. We give in to peer pressure because we fear teasing or subtle judgment or outright ostracism.

And as we keep seeking and achieving comfort, we generate anxiety. Because the farther we get from discomfort, the more we fear it. Our “comfort zone” constricts until we get freaked out by the thought of saying no to cheese fries or walking in a cold rain or raising a difficult topic with our spouse or friend.

And the reality of our physical existence also generates anxiety. A human body that doesn't move and exert and sweat is in an unnatural state. The only legitimate explanations from the body's point of view are, “I must be really sick or seriously injured or in mortal danger.” Not exactly a happy-happy thought form.

And so lives lived in the thrall of comfort end up in the grip of misery. We're unhealthy, lacking in physical vitality, unmotivated, drugged, and at some level deeply ashamed.

Not a recipe for joy, eh?


In Sick to Fit, we paraphrase philosopher Brian Massumi in defining joy as different from happiness or comfort:

Joy can be painful and frightening. Because, at its core, joy is what you feel when you are growing. When you are starting to move toward embodying your true potential, your authentic self.

Joy can hurt. Joy can sting. Joy can cause you to weep uncontrollably.

But ultimately, joy is the emotion of liberation. So commit to practicing discomfort again and again, and free your joy!

Sounds like we have to choose,  like the dude grandpa slugged: Comfort or Joy. We can't have both.

Or can we?

Comfort and Joy

Did you ever build a fort when you were a kid? If so, I bet you tried to make it strong, impregnable, and safe.

Well, that's not an accident, etymologically speaking.

The word “comfort” literally means, “with strength,” from the Latin root “fortis” (as in fort, forte, fortify, and fortitude).

Something that provides comfort doesn't coddle or weaken us. Instead, it supports and strengthens us. 

What we think of as comfort is a toxic imitation, imposed upon us by an unnatural lifestyle in which we don't have to walk, run, bend, lift, twist, or push in order to procure food or construct shelter.

A lifestyle in which we almost never have to brave the elements or experience temperatures other than “room.”

A lifestyle in which hierarchies of labor and fossil fuels rob us of the necessity of flexed muscles.

There's the paradox: the more we pursue comfort to feel safe and strong, the more we infantilize ourselves. 

And grown-ass man-babies and woman-babies can feel lots of things, but never joy. 

The emotion of liberation is reserved for those who experience liberation. For those who take scary, sometimes painful steps to embody their own authenticity.

Ooh, Ooh, Growing Up

Real babies do it on a daily basis. 

The first step. The first word. The first separation.

As adults, we move toward joy when we model the courage and persistence of babies. Not their helplessness.

And when we embrace productive discomfort as the vehicle toward joy, something strange and paradoxical and wonderful happens:

We start to feel true comfort.

Not the infantilizing comfort of the swaddled babe, but the deep and abiding comfort of living – eating and moving and sleeping and thinking – in alignment with Mother Earth.

Comfort comes in the midst of a holiday potluck when we realize that we are free to eat according to our own goals and priorities, rather than the habits and judgments and addictions of those around us.

Comfort comes when we surrender to the rain and the cold and go for our walk anyway, and know that we are on a planet designed to support and strengthen us.

Breathing an atmosphere delicately and precisely calibrated to support our physiology. Navigating within a gravitational field that hugs us close while letting us cavort and experience independence. Eating from the bounty of the soil, containing exactly the nutrients we need to grow, repair, expend energy, and thrive.

Only when we embrace discomfort can we discover the existential comfort afforded us as earthlings on a living earth, humans relying upon the generosity of the humus. 

And that kind of comfort accommodates and supports joy.

Comfort and Joy. We can have both. 

In fact, they require each other.

Now that is some good tidings!


Two Ways to Make 2020 Your Healthiest Year Ever

Join me and Josh LaJaunie for a Sick to Fit retreat in New Orleans, March 5-8, 2020. We will do our best to make it a life-changing experience, in entirely positive directions!  Find out all about it here.

Make 2020 your healthiest year ever! Find out about my proprietary and surprisingly affordable year of Laser Coaching.

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, my team and I are studying with the best clinicians and teachers in the world, with the goal of introducing it into our health coaching training.

If you're interested in experiencing the magic of memory reconsolidation coaching with me or a member of my team trained in the process, click the link below to open the form in a new browser tab. Someone will 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 🙂

Tip Jar

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 clicking 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,


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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